Chris Escobar

How to motivate your agents to go above & beyond

Call center agents are the first point of contact when a customer calls for any reason. They do everything from helping answer questions, managing complaints, providing more information to making outbound sales calls.  They’re the ones who directly interact with our customers. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that we need to pay more attention to what drives their performance and engagement.

I think it goes a bit like this— Happy agent, happy customer… booming business!

Having your agents engaged can improve productivity, decrease staff turnover, reduce operational costs, increase profits, and in turn increase customer satisfaction.

If that sounds like something you want for your call center, keep reading to see what strategies Chris Escobar, Senior Manager of Member Experience at Planet Fitness, uses to keep his agents engaged…

You recently attended CCW Vegas, what were some of the highlights from the event?

Chris: There are two sides to a call center – first the operational side and then the people side. The operational side is all about making sure everything is going well to run my contact center – agents arrive on time, average handle time, NPS etc. Managers usually get the end of the day reports on the operational side, but the people’s side is not reported on.

This year at CCW, it’s exactly what they focused on – agent engagement. It was great to hear from different industry leaders on this topic as agents are a key aspect of the whole call center.

Where has your experience begun with agent performance & engagement?

Chris: I have managed call centers for 10+ years, & mostly focused on the operations metrics. They are easy to track, have become industry standard and every just wants to see that. But on the other side, we have the people aspect. It’s harder to track the soft skills – agent motivation, their mental health & well-being. And hence these sometimes don’t get discussed in leadership meetings.

It’s not that we didn’t care about it, it’s more about knowing how to track it & then really motivate & coach the agent. Hiring a new person & training them is very expensive, so being able to motivate & engage the agents you have today does make better business sense.

How do you keep your agents engaged?

Chris: It starts with the company culture!

A company I worked for years ago is well known for its core values and mission. They didn’t stop there. They would ask each department head and it goes all the way to the director level to set their own mission for the team. For customer support teams, it was unheard of. But it had a huge impact on me as our team mission was a north star for me. It was something I could relate to & aim to achieve. It wasn’t one of those missions that were very high-level and didn’t really apply in my day-to-day role.

This was an important lesson for me, and I realized that people are not there only for pay. Agents are here for a reason, and they need to take calls, so let’s figure out how I can motivate them to do that.

Do I need to create a North Star, so agents feel better about what they are working towards? Do I need to up the engagement internally by giving them an employee of the month? Or is it visual recognition?

Let’s talk about some metrics now. What are some important KPI’s that you have used to evaluate an agent’s performance?

Chris: It really depends on the call center, what stage we are at, what’s our focus etc. In my current role at Planet Fitness, I’m focused on member experience. So, I don’t care how long the call takes (to an extent) as long as the member’s concerns have been addressed. I don’t want anyone taking 20 minutes to resolve a call either. 

Our agents are measured on quality assurance, wrap-up time & system accuracy, which is all about whether they’re making notes or they’re clear and concise. Then there’s occupancy and utilization. So, occupancy looks at times available to take phone calls vs. the time that you were not available to answer the phone calls. Utilization looks at the time that you were logged into work vs the time actually worked. We don’t want to punish them for things outside of their control, like if they have meetings or if there’s not a lot of calls coming in a particular day. But if I had to pick one or two metrics definitely quality assurance & occupancy.  

What other trends are you seeing in agent engagement today?

Chris: One of the top ones that I’m seeing now are the perks that companies offer today. These perks are becoming a differentiating factor, and why an agent wants to work for one company over another.

But I think we need to get them excited about the job beyond the perks. Perks can draw a different kind of agent, one who likes the perk but is not engaged. The perk at Planet Fitness is that you get constant coaching & leaders are influenced on your growth, which I think is valuable in the long term.

As a contact center manager, how do you engage with your agents?

Chris: I think of myself as a people leader more than an ops leader. I make sure I engage with the team and talk with the other frontline agents, not just the supervisors. As a senior leader, I make it a point every morning to go and talk to all of the agents as much as I can or say hi at the very least. At the end of the day, they appreciate seeing my face and knowing that I actually care. Lastly, I’d rather lead from the side rather than in front. I can show my managers the way, but then I would just have to do that all the time. As a leader, I’m on their side and I coach them on how to lead their teams.

To summarize, here are a few things you can do tomorrow to motivate your agents:

  • Have a North Star for your agents to achieve towards
  • Spend some time with your agents to show them you care
  • Start tracking employee engagement & wellness

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