What's a good way to improve customer experience (CX), satisfaction, and loyalty? Start by increasing employee engagement. Organizations with highly engaged employees can typically expect higher productivity, quality, and employee retention. And when those employees are customer service agents, it can positively impact a business's relationship with their customers.
Engaged agents buy into the organization's vision for CX, understand the role they play in making the vision a reality, and do their best to deliver on expectations. Their commitment shows in the quality of their customer interactions. Contact centers try to influence agent engagement by providing competent leadership supported by workforce engagement management (WEM) tools.
What is employee engagement and why does it matter?
Employee engagement is a measure of an employee's commitment to their employer and their employer's business objectives. Engaged employees are typically passionate about their jobs and willingly give more of their time and talent to their organization. They clearly understand their roles and how their performance affects organizational results. They are satisfied when the business does well because they know they contributed to the success.
Employee engagement shouldn't be confused with employee satisfaction, which essentially measures how happy employees are. Just because someone is happy doesn't mean they're willing to put in the effort to make their employer successful. Some people might post high satisfaction scores because they're able to goof off at work or because they like the company's health insurance plan. Goof offs won't help businesses achieve their goals and will likely have a negative impact on highly engaged employees.
What causes employees to be engaged? It's different for everyone, but here are some factors that commonly contribute to engagement:
- Professional development - Employees respond well when organizations invest in their development.
- Opportunity for advancement - Promoting high performers sends a positive signal that results will be rewarded.
- Mission and vision - Employees who feel good about their company's products, services, values, and culture will likely be more committed to helping the business achieve success.
- Social responsibility - Especially important to younger workers, an organization's commitment to making the world a better place can increase engagement.
- Rewards and recognition - Everyone wants to feel appreciated, even if it's just a pat on the back at a team meeting.
- Flexible schedules - Providing flexible start and end times, paid time off, and the opportunity to occasionally work from home can inspire employees to go the extra mile.
- Competent, caring managers - It’s often said that employees don’t leave their companies, they leave their bosses. Supervisors play a key role in employee engagement.
- Effective communication - Businesses that are transparent, honest, and communicate with employees frequently will earn more commitment than those who don't
Employee engagement is ultimately about performance and improved business outcomes. According to a Gallup study, organizations with high employee engagement experience a 17% increase in productivity, a 41% decrease in absenteeism, and a 24-59% decline in employee turnover. And these results carry through to the bottom line - businesses with highly engaged workforces can realize a 20% increase in sales and 21% higher profitability.
Achieving a high level of employee engagement isn't an easy task. The same Gallup study cited above estimates that only one third of the US workforce is engaged. The statistics show it's worth the effort, but clearly there's some work to be done. Below is a discussion of how contact centers are using workforce engagement management software as one tool to increase agent engagement. But first, let’s talk about measurement.
How to measure employee engagement
Measuring employee engagement is important for several reasons. It helps uncover hidden issues, sends a positive message to employees that the organization cares about their input, and when done regularly can tell the business if it's making progress. Measurement is typically accomplished by surveying employees and asking them questions related to the drivers of engagement discussed above (development, recognition, flexible work schedules, etc.) as well as concepts like organizational pride and likelihood to recommend their employer as a good place to work.
Soliciting employee feedback can backfire if there's no visible follow through. That's why it's important to publish results, communicate action plans, and make visible progress. This should result in even better engagement scores on the next survey.
What is workforce engagement management (WEM)?
Savvy contact centers recognize the importance of employee engagement and are actively trying to better engage their agents. If only one third of the overall workforce is engaged, that could mean that two thirds of the agents handling important customer interactions are either indifferent about their organizations or actively disengaged. It's hard to completely mask this type of attitude from customers, so businesses should be concerned. Additionally, in an industry plagued by high agent turnover, the bump in retention that characterizes a highly engaged workforce has a lot of appeal.
In an effort to boost agent engagement, many contact centers are deploying workforce engagement management software. WEM tools support the entire agent employment life cycle, including onboarding, professional development, scheduling, motivating, and more. Gartner coined the phrase "workforce engagement management" and included the following categories under the WEM umbrella:
- Recruitment and onboarding
- Evaluation and improvement
- Time management
- Assistance and task management
- Metrics and recognition
- Voice of the employee
Agents are at the center of WEM software design. Ideally, workforce engagement management solutions act as a unified suite of tools that actively increase agent engagement by supporting concepts like professional development, flexible scheduling, and performance transparency. Engaged and motivated agents should be more likely to deliver exceptional customer experiences.
The evolution from workforce optimization (WFO) to workforce engagement management
Many of the software tools that now comprise workforce engagement management were previously grouped together as workforce optimization (WFO) solutions. WFO is an approach that emphasizes controlling agent labor costs and optimizing the contact center workforce. It's very data driven and can seem cold to agents on the receiving end of it. People don't want to be treated as "costs" nor do they want to be "optimized."
This is especially true of younger Millennial and Gen Z workers. Millennials change jobs more frequently than any other age group, so they're a slippery bunch to hang on to. According to Deloitte research, millennials also have a pretty low opinion of corporations in general - less than half think:
- Corporations behave ethically
- Business leaders are committed to improving society
- Businesses have any ambitions beyond making money.
Treating these employees like faceless "costs" just won't do. Instead, they want:
- A high-trust culture
- For managers to take a sincere interest in them
- Flexible work arrangements
- Personal and professional development
WFO evolved into WEM because the workforce optimization approach fell short in light of changing employee expectations. Workforce engagement management still includes labor management elements - it would be foolish to drop those - but WEM includes expanded elements to support the entire employee life cycle and focus more on partnering with agents to collectively achieve business objectives.
Why WEM matters
In today's "experience economy," every customer interaction matters. Consumers demand exceptional experiences from businesses. They will reward organizations that provide great service and turn their backs on those that don't. Even one bad interaction can send formerly loyal customers into the arms of competitors. In light of this environment, the role of customer service agents is more important than ever. To win on CX, businesses need agents who are invested in the company, sufficiently supported and developed, and who own their performance results. In other words, they need engaged agents.
Of course, employee engagement isn't just a technology effort. Many factors contribute to engagement. But the right technical tools can support and at least partially automate broader employee engagement initiatives. Below is a discussion of some of the applications that are within the realm of workforce engagement management software.
Overview of workforce engagement management applications
There are a number of contact center applications that fall within the WEM category. Here are some of the more common ones.
Contact center agents are some of the most measured employees in all industries. Just about every aspect of their performance is measured. We know how many contacts they handled, how long they put callers on hold, their average handle times, first contact resolution rates, number of escalated contacts, customer satisfaction scores, and more. It can be overwhelming without the right tools to organize and help make sense of it all.
It can also feel like "death by a thousand cuts" if agents are counseled every time one of these metrics dips below target. Effective performance management programs need to inspire agents to own their performance and strive for continuous improvement. The best performance management systems support these goals with features that streamline feedback, make performance stats visible and transparent, and use creative ways to motivate agents to step up their games. The ultimate end goal is to have engaged agents whose performance is aligned on organizational goals. Here are examples of performance management features that work:
- Agent dashboards - If agents are to achieve specific performance targets, they need access to timely, easy to understand data that shows them how they're doing. Dashboards use visual devices like gages, graphs, and red-yellow-green coloring to present data so it's easy to spot trends and identify if performance is higher or lower than target. Additionally, agent dashboards that include team-level performance allows agents to benchmark their own performance against team results and motivate the team to collectively achieve the targets together.
- Performance plan workflows - Some performance management software streamlines performance improvement by helping supervisors identify agent focus areas, define objectives, provide specific tasks to complete to improve performance, and then measure the results of the performance plan. Agents on performance plans can be rewarded along the way for reaching interim objectives. Streamlining the performance plan process relieves supervisors of some administrative burden so they can now spend more time on meaningful coaching.
- Gamification - Gamification is the process of modifying behavior by creating performance-based competitions and rewards. For example, an outbound sales-focused call center might focus their gamification effort on sales conversion rates. Agents can win perks for meeting interim targets, a leader board ranks agents according to performance, and the ultimate winners could receive additional rewards. Not only can this type of competitive gamification improve overall results, but when implemented in the spirit of friendly competition, it can significantly boost agent engagement. And gamification isn't only for sales agents. It could be used with help desk agents to motivate them to close tickets more quickly, or for all agents as an incentive to improve quality scores.
- Virtual stores - To redeem the rewards they earned during gamification challenges, agents could visit a virtual store to choose their prize. This lets them select rewards that are meaningful to them, rather than giving them a one-size-fits-all coffee shop gift card. Afterall, not everyone likes coffee! These store fronts don't just support gamification. Supervisors could award store points as an ad hoc reward for an exceptional phone call or agents could earn a trip to the store on their anniversary date. Organizations can be creative with how they use their virtual store.
- Employee surveys - Voice of the employee (VoE) is a component of workforce engagement management and employee surveys are one way to collect information on what agents are thinking and feeling. Some contact center performance management software includes employee survey functionality that allows organizations to configure employee surveys, distribute them to the agent desktop, and report on the results. This allows organizations to quickly take the pulse on any number of topics and will boost engagement when agents see organizations taking action on their feedback.
Workforce management software is a critical component of workforce engagement management because it determines staffing levels and generates agent schedules. Both of these outputs substantially impact agents. When not enough agents are staffed, agents can feel overwhelmed by volume. Conversely, overstaffing can lead to boredom (and disengagement) and create a scenario where agents are asked to leave, sometimes involuntarily, before their shifts are over.
As for schedules, employees want both stability and flexibility. For a contact center agent, this might mean being scheduled for the same days and shifts every week, but also being able to occasionally swap shifts with co-workers or work from home. Additionally, agents want to know their schedules well in advance of their first shift and to be notified promptly of schedule modifications.
World class workforce management software includes features that make forecasting more accurate and empower and engage agents by giving them more control of their schedules. Here are some examples:
- AI-infused forecasting - Forecasting is a complex task, especially for contact centers that support multiple channels. Workforce analysts typically apply algorithms to historical data in order to predict future volume. There are several algorithms to choose from, and if the analyst doesn't know which one to use, software with artificial intelligence can identify the best algorithm for their unique situation, resulting in an optimized forecast. This will ultimately lead to better hiring plans and agent schedules.
- Agent input - For maximum engagement, agents should have input into their schedules. This means considering preferences and time-off requests when schedules are produced. The best WFM tools take agent input a step further by also allowing shift bids, requests for overtime, shift swaps, and more. And in the case of overstaffing, for example, agents can receive alerts soliciting them to take voluntary or paid time-off so that schedulers don't have to unnecessarily send someone home who needs the hours. Increasing control of schedules and reducing friction are bound to lead to higher agent engagement.
- Agent access - Scheduling tools are suboptimal when agents can only access the functionality from their workstation. Good WEM solutions enable agents to access scheduling tools from their smartphones, tablets and home PCs. This allows an agent to manage their schedule anywhere and anytime, including grabbing that extra shift that just became available. Additionally, agents should receive alerts when their schedules change.
Quality management is an essential part of every contact center's operations, enabling them to ensure every agent is handling customer interactions according to CX standards. When done well, quality programs engage agents in active conversations that develop them and lead to better performance. However, traditional QA processes have some shortcomings that can harm agent engagement. For example, they may not include a representative sample of an agent's handled contacts, resulting in unfair quality scores.
Industry leading quality management applications, an essential part of workforce engagement management platforms, have features that solve some of these issues and increase agent engagement. Here are some examples:
- Analytics infused quality - Quality applications that are infused with analytics provide contact centers with the ability to review 100% of contacts from every channel and flag the ones that require further attention. Compared to partial sampling, this leads to more representative and fair agent quality scores. Additionally, quality management analytics can pinpoint problem areas, resulting in more targeted agent coaching and development.
- Dispute workflows - Quality evaluations shouldn't be one-sided. Agents should have the opportunity to present their side and dispute evaluations if they don't agree with the outcome. Some quality management applications automate dispute resolution processes with workflows that streamline the two-way communications that characterize the best quality management programs. Listening to agents and considering their opinions is a good way to improve engagement.
- Agent self-improvement - Agents who care about their performance will appreciate the self-improvement features offered by some quality management systems. These can include capabilities that facilitate self-evaluations, provide access to customized best practices libraries, and make it very easy for agents to view their quality scores by making them available on the unified agent desktop. This engages agents by giving them more tools to develop their own skills.
Reframing workforce optimization as workforce engagement management is an approach that makes a lot of sense in our modern economy. Organizations that want to succeed need to engage their employees by developing them, providing schedule flexibility, listening to and acting on their input, and teaming with them to achieve business goals. This is especially true in contact centers, where customer service agents play a pivotal role in delivering exceptional customer experiences. Engaged agents will go the extra mile to ensure customers are well cared for.
NICE has the workforce engagement management applications you need to engage your agents
NICE CXone Workforce Engagement and Optimization (WEM) unlocks your team’s potential by providing tools to inspire employee self-improvement, amplify quality to enhance customer experience, reduce labor waste, and ensure regulatory compliance. To learn how our customer NeoNova experienced success with CXone, watch Best Practice: Empower your Agents w/ Performance Management. Then read How to Engage Agents in Your Contact Center Quality Management Process From Start to Finish for ideas about how to make your quality management process more effective.