Poor Agent Performance; Can’t or Won’t?

Poor Agent Performance; Can’t or Won’t?

One of the most challenging jobs for a call centre manager is dealing with poor agent performance. After all, wherever poor performance is not adequately diagnosed and confronted, the costs are enormous regarding rising customer complaints, lost productivity and lost profits.
Therefore, an essential step in the performance management system is to diagnose why the performance problem occurs — the “root cause”. If we don’t correctly identify the causes, how can we possibly figure out the solution?

Poor Agent performance in call centers typically fall under one of three basic types:

  • Unsatisfactory work, concerning quantity, quality or other KPIs
  • Breaches of work practices, procedures, and rules, such as excessive absences, workplace theft, health and safety violations, or harassment of other employees
  • Underperformance related to employees’ problems

As a call centre manager, it’s important to distinguish between problems that are caused by workplace environment factors, and those that result from employee-specific issues.

For example, if the ideal number of calls handled by an agent per hour is 15 but the reports show an agent is handling 19 calls per hour, and on further drilling down on the agent’s performance you realize that he’s sacrificing quality on the expense of quantity. What do you do?

Read More: Coaching Your Team To Win in 2018

4 Reasons Your Agents Are Performing Poorly

Anytime an agent doesn’t perform how they are expected to perform; it’s often because of 4 main reasons:

  1. They don’t know the expectations- The agent may not know that they are supposed to make 15 calls per hour
  2. They are not getting feedback on performance- the agent may know that they are supposed to make 15 calls per hour but they don’t know they are making 19 calls per hour because they don’t get any feedback or they are just not counting.
  3. They can’t do it because of environmental obstacles
  4. They won’t do it because of mismatched consequences

How To Diagnose and Manage Poor Agent Performance

  • Do Your Agents Know Your Expectations?

At Call Criteria we’ve realised that poor performance because of a lack of knowledge on expected behaviours is most common with new agents. So if the agent doesn’t know what is expected, the agent needs to be coached on the level of performance expected, how performance is going to be measured, what is measured, who measures and who provides feedback. But most importantly, you need to explain the why. Why every single agent needs to adhere to the performance requirements and the consequences of what happens when the performance requirements are met and when the expectations are not met. Therefore, you’ll need to reiterate this message right from when you are interviewing and periodically as a reminder throughout your interactions.

  • Are Your Agents Getting Timely Feedback?

An agent may perform poorly because they know what is expected but they are not getting information that their performance does not measure up to the expected performance. You might consider empowering the agents with self-coaching tools. That’s why Call Criteria QA services provide visual performance reports to show what’s happening in the call centre allowing both agents and coaches to get real-time feedback on the expected performance.

  • Are Your Agents Free of  Environmental Obstacles?

Some agents fail to perform as expected because of environmental obstacles. As you think about your call centre agents, what obstacles do you think prevent them from performing as expected? Maybe they are not the right fit; perhaps they don’t have the right resources, they are not quick to adapt to new systems/software etc. And this is precisely why you need to be clear on what you expect regarding performance; there are only too many obstacles.

  • Are You Giving Your Agents Mismatched Consequences?

In this case, the agent knows what is expected of them, they have been getting feedback on their performance, they don’t have any physical restrictions, but they still won’t perform as expected. Such cases are mostly about consequences. Either there are no consequences, or there are mismatched consequences. The agent may be getting a positive reinforcement for negative behaviour. For example, even though the agent has been handling 19 calls per hour and is making more sales, hurrying through calls and leaving customers feeling mishandled will affect the qualitative score. Therefore the agent should not be reinforced positively just because the sales figures are good.  The treatment for this diagnosis would involve identifying the right reinforcements for each agent based on their current performance and by understanding the different characteristics of consequences.

Bonus Tips:

  • Seek Input From The Supervisors

Once you diagnose the challenges affecting performance in your call centre, it is crucial to seek input from your supervisors and team leaders about the problem. More often than not, they will have suggestions that can help you further pinpoint the cause.

  • Hire An Expert

You should also ask for feedback directly from agents, for both individual and general performance issues. But most importantly, you should consider working with a third party quality assurance team like Call Criteria to save time, costs and avoid biased reports.

  • Criticize the work not the agent

When you’re discussing poor performance with agents, the best approach is to talk about the performance itself, rather than the person. Making a call centre performance problem personal can lead to resentment — and instead of improving performance, you may end up losing valuable agents.