Present and Accountable: Paving the Way for Agent Adherence
A key agent-level metric in any contact center is Adherence to Schedule – also known simply as “adherence” or, in less evolved centers, “get your butt in your seat NOW.” Adherence to schedule measures how often agents are logged in to take calls (when they are scheduled to do so) as opposed to sitting in the break room or parking lot crying for their mother.
Adherence is not only an important productivity metric, it’s one that agents typically accept and buy into since it is within their direct control (unlike other traditional productivity metrics such as Average Handle Time and Number of Calls Handled Per Hour). Agents know the impact they each have on service level (assuming they have been taught this in training, another best practice) and they know their schedule – what time they need to arrive in the morning, be back from breaks/lunch and emerge from under their workstation after a panic attack. If an agent is not in his or her seat when he or she is supposed to be, it is almost invariably that agent and that agent alone who is accountable.
Best Practices in Measuring and Managing Adherence
Now, just because adherence is a relatively popular metric with agents doesn’t mean your problems are solved. It’s essential to set a feasible and fair adherence objective – one that meets the contact centers’ and customers’ needs without forcing agents to pee in a jar at their workstations. As with virtually every other metric, there is no universal industry standard for adherence to schedule per se, though most leading contact centers shoot for 85-90% adherence. Meeting such an objective would require each agent to be available to handle contacts 51-54 minutes for each hour they are scheduled, thus leaving enough time for runs to the restroom, seeking assistance from supervisors, or searching the help wanted ads for a less demanding job.
An important note: Scheduled time away from the phones – such as breaks, lunches and training – is not counted as time assigned to handle contacts, and thus should not be factored into adherence to schedule measurements.
When measuring and “enforcing” adherence to schedule, it’s important to remember that agents are human beings (in most cases) and need to be treated as such. Merely telling agents that they must be in their seats at certain times “or else” will do little to foster agent buy-in and commitment, and a lot to foster agent graffiti and arson. The best contact centers are able to get agents to meet adherence objectives without having to resort to force or hypnosis. Below are some of the non-invasive and respectful tactics top centers utilize to keep agents in their seats:
- Educate new-hires (and remind existing agents) about the meaning and importance of adherence and the impact that each agent’s adherence to schedule has on the customer experience and each other’s sanity.
- Do a solid job of forecasting and scheduling (workforce management) to ensure that agents don’t have to frequently endure call deluges, which will cause burnout and tempt agents to take longer breaks – or not show up at all.
- Actively involve agents in the scheduling process – e.g., enable them to access schedules, request vacations and bid for/trade shifts right from their desktop. This ensures more buy-in from staff and helps to trick them into thinking they have at least some semblance of control over their fate in the contact center.
- Look for ways to make the job more enjoyable and engaging, such as: rewarding and recognizing agents for regularly meeting the center’s adherence objective; providing agents with fun stress-reduction techniques they can use during and between customer interactions; offering star agents the opportunity to work from home; and, of, course, removing the steel bars and the seatbelts from their workstation.