Home > Columns > CRM Columns

Call Center Week 2016 Preview: Employee Engagement

CRMXchange

Presented By: CRMXchange



Call Center Week is just around the corner. The event organizer, IQPC, a multi-national  producer of events in a variety of fields, predicts that more than 200 sponsors/exhibitors and 2000 industry professionals will be on hand at the Mirage in Las Vegas from June 27-July 1.

Key themes of this year’s event include creating a truly effortless customer experience and finding new ways to anticipate customer needs.  Looking ahead to the opening, CRMXchange spoke with a cross-section of sponsors to gain insight from their perspectives on the factors that are driving such developments. In this installment, we look at the growing importance of keeping employees engaged and motivated in conversations with two solution providers with specific expertise in these crucial areas, TalentKeepers of Orlando, FL and Canadian-based Power2Motivate.

talent.2016Employee engagement is a term that has surfaced over the past nine years, according to TalentKeepers CEO Christopher Mulligan. “When we started 16 years ago, the focus was on retention,” he said. But in the intervening years, a growing body of research was done which identified and began to quantify the benefits of having an actively energized workforce. “Too many companies have experienced the phenomenon of having workers who ‘quit and stay’,” noted Mulligan. “An engaged employee is a person with the ability and willingness to contribute to organizational success. Someone who brings discretionary effort to the table has dedication usually associated with a volunteer or someone at the executive level.”

The nature of engagement has rapidly changed with the emergence of millennials as the largest group in the workforce. In Mulligan’s view, they bring a different attitude and have their own specific drivers to full engagement, such as the desire to be teamed with like-minded coworkers. Other important factors are involvement in decision making, including the extent to which employees feel able to voice their ideas, have these views listened to and valued by management, and the opportunity for job development.

Recognizing these imperatives is particularly important for customer care operations. “The contact center is a high-velocity environment which can contribute to employee turnover,” said Rob Purdy, CEO of Power2Motivate. “It’s important for management to keep on top of employee attitudes, using such methods as pulse surveys and checks and balances scorecards to know what they’re doing right and wrong.”

But management attitudes can make all the difference in successfully engaging employees …and leaders have to do more than give lip service to the concept. “Eighty percent of all American employers acknowledge that engagement is important and consider it a strategic priority,” said TalentKeepers’ Mulligan. But he freely acknowledges that the actual number of companies making a concerted effort to improve engagement is far lower. “A successful program is like two performers working together to keeping plates spinning on a stick; it requires executive support as well as the active involvement of HR and operational leadership. If you have one but not the other, it’s insufficient and the plates will go crashing to the ground.”  

He sees linking engagement to performance metrics in service and sales as a crucial parameter for success, as well as getting management to establish a budget for engagement activities. “The execution gets a lot tighter when a company invests in a program,” he observed. Mulligan also takes it as a positive sign that numerous organizations are creating executive-level positions such as ‘VP of Engagement’.

power.2016 Purdy, who founded Power2Motivate in 2007 (an offshoot of the Carlton Group and Global Reward Solutions which he started in 1988), believes that companies need to foster “a climate of loyalty” to both engage and motivate employees. “It’s an important step to build a program with employees involved,” he said. “People tend to gravitate to places where they’re treated well.” As an example, he cited an offshore contact center environment in Malaysia where all employees involved in planning the program had unilateral access to such benefits as lunches, birthday cakes, and more.

Even in these more enlightened times, turnover in contact centers is still often a major issue. “In too many cases, contact centers are a high-volume recruiting and training engine”, said Mulligan. “They’d rather have someone in place for a few days to occupy the seat, but once they hit the floor without really knowing what’s expected of them, the organization has nothing to show for it. It’s important to get contact center executives to truly understand the costs associated with turnover,” he said. “In surveys, only 23% were aware of the economic impact. Many simply consider turnover part of the cost of doing business”.

Mulligan cited statistics that showed that it cost approximately $8,780 to replace an outsourced agent (in-house costs can run even higher). In some BPO environments with 100 seats, the turnover rate will be 100% over several years, resulting in $878,000 spent on agent replacement. “Leaders still tend to underestimate their impact on both employee engagement and retention. In companies with programs in place, leadership retention goals are set and those in charge are held accountable.”

Mulligan believes that creating better growth paths in considered one of the more important measures to support retention.  “In too many contact center environments, the levels are CSR1- CSR3. It would be more appropriate to have rankings up to CSR12.” He believes businesses should focus as much on employee Net Promoter Score (NPS) as customer NPS - would agents recommend their company as a good place to work. One tactic they recommend is conducting “stay” interviews, (as opposed to exit interviews) to learn why incumbent employees are remaining on board.

Purdy suggests that turnover is not an issue in every contact center. Companies are best advised to commit themselves to providing a quality work environment. He cited one organization that provided sleep quarters for agents handling unexpected extra shifts. The corporate environment extends to work-at-home and outsourced agents. “Technology makes it an effective strategy for both economic and skill reasons, but you still have to ensure that those who are not onsite feel like an active part of the organization’s infrastructure,” he noted. “Activities like town hall meetings and live chats where remote employees log in keep everyone involved.” Similarly, Power2Motivate works with companies to help motivate and engage tens of thousands of technology channel partners, treating them like real partners with product education and motivation programs.

The proof of the value of effective engagement programs can go directly to the bottom line. “One client told us that the results we achieved had a positive effect on their stock price,” said Mulligan. “When you treat people with respect, you can accomplish a better customer experience.”