How to Engage Your Contact Center Agents Through Empowerment

There's a fundamental link between employee engagement and empowerment.

Engagement is defined as the extent to which an employee is deliberately contributing to organizational success. This means an employee needs to know how success is defined.

An engaged employee also needs to be empowered to contribute to that success.

I recently facilitated a webinar in partnership with NewVoiceMedia to explore the connection between engagement and empowerment. It was a great conversation and participants asked a lot of fantastic questions.

You can view the webinar here. My responses to some of the participant questions are below.

Q: We're thinking about doing an annual agent engagement survey. What are some best practices you can share?

My advice is a little counterintuitive: Don't do an annual survey! Imagine if you looked at any other important metric just once a year, such as your financials or customer satisfaction. That sounds ridiculous on the face of it because it's too infrequent a measure to take meaningful action.

Agent engagement is the same thing.

For smaller contact centers, you can skip the survey entirely. If you have just 30 or 50 agents, you don't need a survey to understand whether your agents are engaged. You can easily assess that through ongoing dialogue.

Let's say you have a large contact center with 1,000 agents. You can do a monthly survey where you divide your agents into six groups and survey each group once per month. That way, each agent will only be surveyed twice per year, but you'll get a monthly snapshot of agent engagement.

One word of caution: Make sure your agent engagement is done properly so it doesn't become a waste of time.

Q: Are there methods you can recommend to stop or transform the "negative group thought" downward spiral that seems to occur in large and small contact centers?

We tend to have a different outlook when we feel like things are being done to us versus when we feel like we have control over our own destiny.

So you can avoid the downward spiral by involving agents in problem-solving efforts and encouraging them to focus on improving what they can control. In my experience, agents are much less likely to be disengaged when they feel as though they are making a difference.

Q: How can I help my call center process improvement "black belt" facilitate change to increase engagement in a leadership team that is resistant to changespecifically with getting buy-in from directors?

When I hear the term "black belt," I'm assuming this is in reference to someone who is using six sigma or another process improvement methodology.

The strength here is that a process improvement professional should be very data-driven. So, your “black belt” should be able to frame the problem using data for your senior leadership team.

For example, can you demonstrate how a lack of engagement is costing the company in terms of turnover, customer churn or some other key metric?

You will probably get more buy-in if you approach your senior leaders with hard data and a concrete plan.

Q: How to keep agents motivated each day?

This is another answer that might seem counterintuitive. We often assume that agents need to be motivated, but I think we've got it all backwards. Agents don't need to be motivated at all.

What we need to do is prevent them from being demotivated.

Research from call center consultancy firm Benchmark Portal shows that agents are pretty optimistic when they join an organization, but they gradually get demotivated over time as they feel like they aren't able to make a difference.

This brings us back to empowerment. We can keep motivation levels high by empowering agents to do a great job.

Q: Any tips on re-engaging long-term/tenured employees who have become stagnated or negative, as they have been here for several years and are now complacent.

The first step is to try to figure out why they are getting stagnated or negative. This involves a discussion with the agent to understand their perspective.

In many ways, this reminds me of the techniques you use to manage an employee with a bad attitude. You need to get really specific about what you're trying to improve and then work with that employee as a partner to find a solution.

Q: I'm encountering resistance from other departments/managers when I tell them I want to empower agents to provide services or resources that, up until now, were under their authority. Any advice for convincing people who are outside the Customer Service department on the value of agent empowerment?

I would start by thinking about those other departments and try to understand what's in it for them. People can sometimes get territorial about resources in a company, but they'll be more likely to share if they feel that sharing with you will help them in some way.

Q: How to minimize the absenteeism and the turnover?

The simple answer is to make the job suck less.

Absenteeism and turnover often happens when people don't really want to be there. So, try to hire the right people to begin with. Once they get to your company, give them the training they need to understand exactly how to do their job.

Finally, work with your agents to empower them so they feel they can make a difference. Agents will be much more committed to the organization if they understand the customer service vision and are committed to helping achieve it.
Jeff Toister
Jeff Toister

Jeff is the author of "The Service Culture Handbook: A Step-by-Step Guide to Getting Your Employees Obsessed with Customer Service. " He is also a nationally recognized employee training expert and a sought after speaker with more than 20 years of experience.

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