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Ask the expert: impact of agent frustration on customer satisfaction.

Q I've been seeing some of the wild stories from your Outrageous Interactions promotion. I am a supervisor of a fairly large call center, I hear a lot of stories every day like those submitted to your contest. Im my call center,

I see just how frustrated some of my agents get on a daily basis and I know there can be tough customer circumstances to deal with, but there has to be a way to teach my agents how to better manage their stress. Working in a call center isn't easy, but I need them to perform at 100%. I wonder if they can really do that under pressure. Do you think it's ok for agents to express so much frustration?

A Being an agent in any call center is undoubtedly a difficult position. However, as a supervisor it's important to understand the potential impact of your agents' frustration and what you can do to control it. After all, a high level of agent frustration could be causing more damage than you think. Let me show you what I mean.

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It's recognized that an agent's demeanor can directly impact the bottom line of the business. When an agent is frustrated, it often signals burnout, which can ultimately lead to turnover (an internal concern). That turnover clearly leads to additional costs in recruiting and training thus affecting the bottom line. An agent's demeanor also impacts the quality of the customer experience, and is often a key "driver" of customer satisfaction or dissatisfaction (an external concern). In other words, if you provide poor customer service you will have poor financial performance.

The CFI Group (www.cfigroup.com) developed the methodology used by the University of Michigan's American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI, www.theACSI.org) that establishes a direct relationship between customer satisfaction and a company's financial performance. According to The New York Times, this ACSI is the "definitive benchmark for how buyers feel." The Harvard Business Review notes that a 1-point change in ACSI is associated with a 4.6 percent change in market value.

So, whether in a positive or negative way, agent demeanor can impact customer satisfaction, which in turn impacts the bottom line. Here are some suggestions to help you identify whether specific agent demeanor is something that should be raising a red flag, or making you wish you could mass produce clones of some of your agents:

1. Listen to the "voice of the customer" by implementing automated post-call surveys--Don't rely solely on internal performance metrics, but consider quality" as including external feedback from customers. There are numerous benefits to this suggestion:

a. Primarily because listening to the voice of the customer will help you determine what is causing the "highs" and "lows" in your customer satisfaction ratings.

b. Additionally, using automated surveys removes the agent from the process, thus eliminating the agent's influence on survey results.

2. Identify "drivers" of satisfaction--Ask questions based on what you want to measure: Is it really the agent's demeanor or is it the process the customer goes through to receive information or resolution that really drives them crazy? What is more important to your customers; agents who are knowledgeable or agents who are nice? (Both are essential, but the information will help you prioritize training and coaching activities.)

3. Monitor any gaps between internal and external perception--This is a crucial step that is not to be overlooked. By developing key performance indicators that measure not only the agents performance on the call but also the customers perception of the agent's performance, contact centers get a more accurate view of the ovetall customer experience.

4. Tie survey results back to specific agents--Identify who might need additional coaching and in what areas; use recorded calls of successful agents with high satisfaction scores as training tools.

Tim Passios is Director of Solutions Marketing for Interactive Intelligence Inc. and has more than M years experience in the contact center industry. Interactive Intelligence is a leading provider of IP business communications software and services for the contact center and the enterprise, with more than 3,000 installations in nearly 70 countries. For more information, contact Interactive Intelligence at asktheexpert@inin.com or (317) 872-3000.

A Special Editorial Series Sponsored By Interactive Intelligence

By TimPassios, Director of Product Management, Interactive Intelligence
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Title Annotation:Ask the EXPERTS
Author:Passios, Tim
Publication:Customer Interaction Solutions
Date:Sep 1, 2008
Words:717
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