Peak Season Planning Secrets: Breaking Down Barriers to Maximum Productivity

The last post in this peak season planning series shared ideas for onboarding agents quickly and effectively and reviewed two fundamental frontline metrics that matter most. This week, the third and final post in the series focuses on increasing the productivity of new customer support reps.

When you get down to it, there are three barriers to rep productivity:

  1. Situational: The environment in which reps do their work. This is everything from the training room to desks. It plays a much larger role in productivity than many give it credit for.
  2. Institutional: The organization’s view of the role of their reps. This may commonly be articulated as, “that’s the way we’ve always done things.” An institution’s perception drives their decisions, which affects their outcomes.
  3. Dispositional: The attitudes and beliefs of the reps themselves. When people don’t perform to expectations, it is for one of three reasons: they don’t know how; they don’t understand why it matters; or, they know how and why it matters, but they just don’t care. Each of these reasons requires a different approach to effectively overcome it.

Each of these barriers may appear in singularity or in concert, as a horrific manifestation of Murphy’s Law. But fortunately, you can alleviate or eliminate any of them once they’re known—no matter how major, or minor, their existence in your organization. Here are a few ideas for recognizing and overcoming these productivity barriers during your peak season planning.

Situational barriers

There isn’t a silver bullet to designing a universally “good” environment, but there are several essential factors that experts believe positively contribute to agent performance.

  • Spatial Organization: One of the most effective spatial design strategies in contact centers today is the grouping, or “teaming,” of workstations into functional clusters of reps.
  • Aesthetics: Small touches like colorful artwork on walls and the presence of plants go a long way toward creating a positive vibe and fending off burnout. And painting over drab walls with cool bluish-green hues has been shown to effectively keep calm agents while their enhancing mental alertness.
  • Workstations/Ergonomics: Increases in productivity aside, OSHA estimates that employers spend roughly $120 billion annually on direct and indirect costs related to ergonomics. These costs can be reduced by investing in furniture such as adjustable chairs and desks, and wrist and foot rests.
  • Acoustics: Many well-designed centers attain “acoustical privacy” by introducing partial-height screens, highly absorptive ceilings and walls, and “noise-masking” systems.
  • Lighting: Contact centers require two separate, but complementary, lighting systems: uniform ambient light and task-lighting for hard copy reading and writing. The best ambient lighting system is “indirect lighting.” Such systems shine upward, reducing glare and creating a calming level of light in the workspace.
  • Special amenities: Companies that are serious about enhancing agent performance take the design of their contact centers beyond these basics. Facilities and perks that help agents cool down and gear up include quiet rooms, fitness centers, cafes, and even outdoor amenities like volleyball courts and barbeque pits.

Institutional barriers

Overcoming institutional barriers can be a bit tricky, as they are often within organizational comfort zones and the result of financial, cultural, or leadership decisions. But clinging to the status quo can be dangerous as consumer expectations evolve and change. Organizations who overcome these barriers frequently do so for one of two reasons: force or choice. Those who do it by choice see more improvement in agent productivity than those who wait until they are forced to change.

  • Force: Companies are forced to change because of pressure from competition or consumer demands. Sadly, this is the most common reason organizations address their institutional barriers. It’s a reactive approach that often happens at the last minute after the business’s long-term sustainability is already compromised. Obviously, this is not a recommended path for overcoming institutional barriers.
  • Choice: Some organizations proactively recognize that they must evolve or change to stay current with or ahead of market and consumer trends. These leading organizations understand that the standard for great service is actually defined by consumers, not organizations, and they are willing to let go of “the way we’ve always done things.” These organizations are nimble, but most characteristically, they proactively seek feedback from their customers and frontline teams, and implement the people, process, and technologies necessary to deliver the best possible customer experience. If you want to overcome institutional barriers, start by creating and encouraging a culture that collaboratively defines and improves service.

Dispositional barriers

You can resolve all the institutional and situational barriers in your organization and still struggle with dispositional barriers. I could easily write a blog book (or two) on tackling the different dispositions in customer support organizations, but it’s important to examine how they specifically affect a rep’s time to proficiency. As I mentioned, there are three reasons agents struggle with performance. You can uncover these through training and coaching processes, by asking reps a few simple questions. Here’s a look at what each of dispositional barrier mean and what you can do about them.

  • They don’t know how: To uncover this barrier, ask a rep to “show you how to do something.” This is first step toward assessing if their delayed proficiency is due to a skills problem. If this is the case, resolve the issue with refresher training and assisted guidance.
  • They don’t know why it’s important: If a rep shows you that they know how to do something but struggles to do it consistently, ask them “why is this important to do?” If the rep is unable to articulate the skills value, resolve the issue by discussing the business impact and reasoning for the skill and behavior.
  • They know how and why it’s important, but they don’t care: If you discover that a rep knows how to do something, and can articulate its value, but still doesn’t do the skill, it may be that they don’t care about it. In these cases, attempt to resolve the barrier through an active dialogue about why the rep doesn’t care, and explore a path for getting their buy-in and agreement. You’ll make one of two discoveries: the skill is trivial and could be replaced or modified, or the rep has an attitude of indifference and isn’t a fit for their position. While it may not be a fun conversation, it’s important to properly understand and discuss the root cause of the issue.

And that’s it! If you want to have a great peak season planning session, and improve your team’s time-to-proficiency, it’s important to remove the barriers that get in their way. I hope you found this week’s blog valuable, and that this entire series on peak season planning for improved performance provided some insights and ideas to take to your own organization. Good luck and best wishes!

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