How Do You Improve Customer Service Agent Performance?

Here at Velaro, we draw a rather clear line between analytics and reporting and performance management. The former gives you numbers; the latter gives you the tools to do something about them, primarily through “coachable moments.”

Customer service staffing accounts for 67-76 percent of the total cost of running a contact center, according to Strategic Contact. To get a positive return on this hefty investment, you need to be sure your customer service reps (CSRs) are doing their job as well as possible. But how?

This question gets to the heart of an issue that’s dogged companies for years. As technology has improved, analytics and reporting have become much more robust. It’s easy, for instance, to tell how much time an agent spends on the phone or in a live chat, or how many customer touches he or she handles on a given day. But it’s a lot harder to turn that raw data into results.

Fortunately, it’s not impossible.

Customer Service Analytics vs. Performance Management

Here at Velaro, we draw a rather clear line between analytics and reporting and performance management. The former gives you numbers; the latter gives you the tools to do something about them, primarily through “coachable moments.”

Imagine, for instance, an agent who’s spending an inordinate amount of time in live chats with website visitors, yet consistently receives high marks from customers in post-chat surveys. He’s obviously solving their problems – and doing it quickly enough that they’re not frustrated. What’s going on?

With traditional live help analytics, there’s pretty much no way to know. You can ask the CSR, but he probably doesn’t have an answer. He’s making customers happy, but he’s also a drain on efficiency (and ROI from that huge labor spend). It’s tough.

With performance management capabilities in hand and coachable moments in mind, things are different. In this case, you can review transcripts of the agent’s chats as soon as you recognize the disparity between length of chat session (usually an indicator that problems aren’t being solved) and positive post-chat surveys. Turns out, the CSR is resolving customers’ issues as quickly as anyone on staff … then turning the chat to unrelated topics. He’s a gregarious guy, and he loves chitchat about the weather, the big game, a shared love of cats – whatever. He’s friendly enough, so customers love him. But it’s still a waste of time.

If your website live help platform allows for chat shadowing and private messaging, you can correct the issue without negatively impacting the agent’s knack for creating customer happiness. You, the manager, can watch his chats in real time. When he begins to veer off topic, you can provide a gentle reminder (to his eyes only) to stay focused. A pleasantry or two is fine; being friendly with customers rather than cold and mechanical is absolutely a good thing. But spending half an hour chatting about Game of Thrones isn’t what you want or need from your CSRs. By addressing aberrant behavior as soon as it arises, you can slowly coach the agent and create positive, lasting change.

The Limits of Performance Management

Of course, this kind of performance management isn’t for every company or manager. Small organizations with only one or two CSRs might not have the staff or time necessary to devote to identifying and acting on coachable moments. Likewise, large organizations that have simply accepted extreme turnover in the contact center as a fact of life might not care.

The sweet spot is in the middle. Live chat performance management is for organizations that:

  • Place a high degree of emphasis on customer service;
  • Recognize the potential ROI generated by a well-trained, effective agent, and;
  • Have knowledgeable, hands-on contact center supervisors.

In this kind of organization, the ability to methodically change behavior and gently improve CSR performance is absolutely invaluable. Agents, after all, are expensive. Why not get the most out of them?

Free Live Chat Vs. Paid Live Chat: Is It the Same?

These days, it’s not hard to find a website live chat vendor. Frankly, it’s not that hard to find someone who will give you live chat software for free. And free is great, right?

These days, it’s not hard to find a website live chat vendor. Frankly, it’s not that hard to find someone who will give you live chat software for free. And free is great, right?

Well … sometimes.

We’re not going to sit here and tell you that there isn’t a place for free live chat software (or low-cost live chat software). It’s all over the place for a reason: It works for a lot of companies. Is yours one of them? Maybe – but if you have enterprise-grade needs, probably not.

If you’re looking at free live chat software, the first thing to think about is reliability. This is particularly important for eCommerce retailers, where the twin aims of deploying a live chat app are reducing cart abandonment and increasing average deal size. Commodity live help providers are certainly capable of keeping their solutions online most of the time, but that’s no great shakes. Even a few hours of downtime each month can be remarkably harmful.

If a system outage means a live chat agent isn’t available, you’re not able to answer that “one last question” between the customer and the Buy Now button. What’s worse, a greyed-out CTA is actively working against your efforts to turn site visitors into brand evangelists. Instead of the store with great products, you’re the guys who can’t even keep basic functionality running correctly. Not only are deal sizes not increasing, they’re becoming zero. That’s bad.

(Don’t bother asking a free live chat provider for an SLA, by the way. Any percentage of zero is still zero … and that’s about all they could refund you for outages.)

What about data security? It’s a big deal now – and it’s only getting bigger as website live help moves into more industries and vertical markets. Nowadays, we’re not just talking about “How wide is the Size 10?” and “What’s the return policy?”. Live chat agents are increasingly capturing credit card numbers, Social Security number and other critical information. It’s stuff that simply can’t leave your control, under any circumstances.

Imagine you’re using a free live chat platform. When someone asks where user data is routed, what’s your answer? You probably don’t know. Again, that’s bad. Security is huge, and a proper audit trail is a big part of the puzzle. If you can’t provide that, trust is hard to come by.

Of course, not all free live chat solutions route data though indeterminable locations and unsecure servers. What about the ones provided by the customer service industry’s big guys? They’re trustworthy, right? Absolutely!

(But they’re also incomplete.)

The live chat package that came with your CRM is inexpensive, but there isn’t much to it. It’s little more than a doorbell to your website; agents can take chats, answer questions … and that’s the end of it. There’s no third-party integration, no reporting to speak of, and no analytics. Forget making your next chat better than the last; improvement is a guess, at best. The price is right – the feature set isn’t.

Don’t get us wrong: There are certainly cases where free live chat works just fine. But when you’re at a point where reliability, reporting, analytics and performance management matter, it’s time to step up to an enterprise-grade solution.