Companies seeking to improve customer experience to boost business may be overlooking a critical component in the mix: staff.
This is according to African contact centre experts polled for a new African contact centre trends publication produced by Interactive Intelligence.
A panel of experts in South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria noted that the human resources component of contact centres often gets overlooked as companies direct their attention to technologies, strategies and metrics. But the contact centre staff are the frontline of the business and their role is becoming increasingly important.
To ensure that these agents and their supervisors are able to function effectively, they must be empowered to do so through access to the right technologies and information, through ongoing training and supportive mentorship, and even through infrastructure planning that ensures they are able to get to work easily and work in a comfortable environment, say the experts.
Gavin Atkinson, CEO Call Centre Division at BankServAfrica, notes that many contact centres currently give new agents brief training and inadequate salaries. “The result is that agents see the job as a stepping stone, not a career. In future, agents will have to be multi-skilled and very knowledgeable. So they should be given intensive initial training, the right salaries and reward structures, and to be placed on a career path with real opportunities for growth.”
Jackie Naughton, CEO of BYC Consulting, says getting the human element right starts with effective recruitment and training. “You need resources with the right attitude toward customer KPIs. It’s not just about dealing with an enquiry in three minutes, you need to deal with it effectively in three minutes. The right recruiting and ongoing training is imperative,” she says.
“Greater focus must be given to training and on giving agents the tools they need to make decisions without having to escalate to multiple departments,” adds Job Njiru, Head of Customer Experience at KCB Bank Group Kenya.
Roland Mazery, Chief Operations Officer at Velociti, points out that contact centre agents are often young people starting out in their first jobs, and they may not have their own transport. It is important to plan the physical facilities with a view to ensuring that agents can reach the centre using public transport, and that it is safe for them to come and go at all hours. “You also need to make the contact centre an environment that it pleasant to work in. It is a high pressure job, and squeezing people in too close to each-other raises tensions. When we look at premises, we consider: is transport available, can the staff get to shops easily, can a canteen with subsidised food be made available?” He notes that contact centres traditionally have a high staff turnover, but that happy and experienced agents are becoming increasingly valuable, so efforts must be made to keep staff happy.
Supervisors too, must be empowered to deliver, note the experts. Deon Scheepers, Manager Sales Operations Africa at Interactive Intelligence, says current contact centre metrics are not always geared to ensuring the best customer experience and often do not support effective management. “Contact centre management needs to be supported with the right performance tools, including real-time and historical reporting, , quality Management, real-time speech analytics, workforce management and customer satisfaction surveys and process automation,” he says.