The Anatomy of an Effective Contact Center One-on-One Conversation

Image by Mikko Koivuneva from Pixabay

Whether it’s called a one-on-one meeting, or a coaching conversation, or a performance check-in, this regular conversation between a supervisor and an employee is essential to an effective and high-performing contact center. In a recent article on Why Contact Center Quality Assurance Matters I stated my case for a robust and consistent quality assurance program. But here’s the thing — quality assurance is useless unless feedback is delivered to the contact center agent in a way that will help them improve their performance. 

This is one of the reasons consistent conversations with agents are so important. In my current role, we’ve spent time discussing and honing our approach to these conversations to make them as consistent and effective as possible. In this article, I’ll share the key elements in effective one-on-one conversations that will help you truly invest in the quality, productivity and well-being of your contact center agents. 

Let’s take a look at the five parts of an effective one-on-one conversation.

Part 1 – Care about the human first

Raise your hand if you’ve ever been guilty of diving right into the feedback portion of a conversation with an employee. I’ve committed this infraction a time or two — especially in cases where I had some particularly difficult feedback to deliver. I tend toward ripping the band-aid off and getting down to the nitty-gritty.

We must resist this urge and instead use these meetings as a way to get to know the human we’re meeting with. What’s on their mind? How are the people and things in their lives that are most important to them? What do they love doing outside of work? 

I’ve worked in environments where managers were encouraged to keep employees at arm’s length. “Be professional and business-like.” Nonsense! Make a human connection with the human you’re coaching and you’ll build the trust necessary for them to receive and apply your feedback later in the conversation.

Part 2 – Review the quality of their work

We’ve already established that quality assurance is important. This is the perfect time to discuss the results of these evaluations. As you reviewed a handful of customer interactions, discuss the things the agent did well as well as those things they need to improve. 

It may be tempting to show the agent a checklist and talk about a score, but resist this urge. Instead, talk about the ideal behaviors in comparison to how they performed. If needed, demonstrate the skill and practice with the agent. This is the best way to ensure that the quality of their interactions improves in the future.

Before we talk about productivity and efficiency, I’m always careful to emphasize quality over quantity. If your focus as a contact center is on First Contact Resolution or Next Issue Avoidance, your agents need to know that consistent, high-quality customer interactions are the priority. Any pressure to speed up without proper tools and training could cause quality to suffer.

Part 3 – Review productivity metrics

A discussion on productivity still matters even though it’s slightly less important than quality. While quality is essential, agents need to know how to balance both — delivering high quality while also working efficiently.

As we talk about productivity, there’s one thing we always aim NOT to do. We do our best to NOT show our team every metric under the sun. We have two important criteria when determining which metrics to show our agents. First, we only show the metrics that we want them to improve. And second, we only show them metrics they have some control over and power to improve. 

It’s also important to clearly understand what productivity looks like for your team. For team members that primarily take phone calls, we look at occupancy which is the percentage of their time performing productive tasks. For our agents that primarily handle email, we look at the number of emails sent per hour. In both of these cases, a focus on quality ensures that agents don’t do anything to artificially game these metrics. 

Part 4 – Prioritize training and development

Throughout the conversation, there will be opportunities to discuss training and development opportunities for each team member. Ideally, you should regularly identify ways to help agents become more efficient and increase ability and knowledge. Here are a few key areas to focus on:

  • Look for areas where agents can navigate their tools more efficiently and find answers faster. In many cases, you’ll learn best practices from your more productive agents that you can share with the rest of the team.
  • Make note of the types of cases where agents are excelling and others where they aren’t. In some cases, you might find that they don’t handle or even avoid certain cases altogether due to a lack of training or confidence in the topic. It’s time to train and empower them to handle those.
  • While you’re on the topic of training, be sure to ask them what they want to learn. There are certainly going to be areas where they want to grow — or perhaps topics where they are less confident. Furthermore, they may have long-term goals and dreams beyond the contact center.

Keep in mind that most people want to excel in their work. By continuously focusing on training and development, you equip them to do their best.

Part 5 – Review and set goals

We built a one-on-one dashboard in Google Sheets that reveals several things pertinent to the conversation including performance on quality and productivity metrics. But one of my favorite sections is where agents and supervisors can input their goals. When we talk about goals, we’re specifically focused on the following types:

  • Goals to improve quality and productivity
  • Goals to boost training and job knowledge
  • Goals for personal development and growth both inside and outside of work

The SMART framework is a great tool to ensure that these goals can be achieved. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound. 

In each one-on-one conversation, take time to review progress on current goals and agree upon new goals and the steps to achieve them. And be sure to celebrate goals that have been achieved.

Rinse and repeat

Finally, we must not forget that one of the most important aspects of the one-on-one conversation is that it happens in the first place. In a busy contact center, it can become easy to push these conversations off in favor of the day-to-day busyness. Instead, schedule these at a specific time on the calendar.

My favorite aspect of this five-part approach to the contact center agent one-on-one conversation is that it’s holistic. By focusing first on the human, setting qualitative and quantitative goals, and prioritizing their personal and professional development you are helping team members continuously improve. Furthermore, you are building a more engaged workforce and your customers will absolutely notice the difference.

If you have any questions or comments about this approach, I’d love to hear from you. Leave a comment below.

This article was created as part of the Vistio Knowledge Collective.

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