Most contact center supervisors are promoted from the ranks of the agents themselves. This promotion often has a negative effect on the performance on the team. There are 2 reasons for this. Firstly, according to the Pareto Principle, this agent is usually one of the 20 percent of the team that produced 80 percent of the results, so promoting a top performer will remove him from the place where he can have the greatest effect on the team’s results. Secondly, the agents find themselves in a leadership position for which they have no experience and little, if any, training. The skill-set required to be a good agent is not the same as that of a good supervisor.
Holding agents to account for their performance is a specific skill, how to present an agent’s poor performance back to him without insulting or alienating him and then get agreement on what improvements need to be made and how to put them into practice. Newly promoted supervisors have their own supervisors as a model for their behavior. They were also untrained, so the cycle of poor leadership and poor results continues. The cost of this poor leadership is increased recruitment and training costs as agent attrition remains higher than the minimum and reduced operational performance because agents are not motivated to produce the maximum possible performance.
There are many techniques to hold agents accountable for their performance but they all have certain things in common.
Most methods start with the supervisor presenting the facts about the agent’s poor performance to the agent. In one respect, this should not be difficult, since most contact centers monitor their agents’ performance on a second by second basis. The difficulty comes with the language the supervisor uses and attitude he displays. The supervisor needs to present the information in an objective, unemotional manner. It’s better to concentrate on the facts and avoid using words like “you always”, “you should have” and other phrases which contain either assumptions or opinions.
In most methods, the next step is to give the agent time to respond. Many new supervisors feel uncomfortable about this because either they feel that they are right and don’t want to have to justify their decisions or because they do not know how the agent is going to react and they want to avoid a confrontation. The benefit of giving the agent this space is that the supervisor will learn a lot about the agent’s attitude. If the agent is apologetic and takes ownership of the problem right from the start, it will make solving it a lot easier. If the agent decides to adopt a confrontational tone, then it gets this out in the open where the reasons for this can be addressed immediately.
Once this has been done, the final step is to make the agent realize how he is responsible for the performance issue in question. The supervisor can kick off this part of the discussion by asking “How do you think we should address this?” If the agent’s attitude is less co-operative, perhaps the appropriate question might be: “If you were in my shoes, how would you deal with this situation?”
Once again, it’s a good idea to give the agent space to answer these questions. If the agent takes responsibility for the situation and proposes a workable solution where he will make most, if not all of the effort, to solve the problem, then all you need to do as a supervisor is to set an appropriate target and agree when to review progress. If the agent either fails to take responsibility or does not have enough experience or knowledge to propose a workable solution, then the supervisor will have to propose a solution of his own, discuss it with the agent, set the appropriate target and agree when to review progress in a follow up meeting. Unless there are very strong reasons, the responsibility to put the solution into practice should always be given unambiguously back to the agent.
With practice and support from senior management, the newly promoted supervisor can use these techniques to ensure that all issues are addressed quickly and effectively and that his team will get the attention that they need.