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Boost ROI by Enhancing Agent Performance

William Seidman, CEO and president of Cerebyte
William Seidman, CEO and president of Cerebyte

An inbound customer service call center generated a 1,000% ROI in just four months of work. An outbound telesales call center doubled sales of a key product in just two months. These are just two examples of companies that generated significant ROI by changing focus and investing in their managers and staff.

Calculating ROI for call centers can be complex because there are so many different types of call centers. For outbound telesales centers, the calculation is relatively straightforward—compare the cost of the call center versus the sales generated. For inbound call centers the calculation is less direct—compare the cost of the call center against the value of factors such as customer retention, satisfaction and/or loyalty. As one inbound call center expert put it: “We are the last line of defense against losing customers. When they call us they are already upset and considering leaving us. We keep them with us.” Assigning a quantitative value to such factors isn’t easy.

Agent PerformanceConsequently, when thinking about how to improve call center ROI, it is important to have an approach that can improve both the tangible results of increased sales and intangible attitudes and behaviors required to better serve current customers.

Real-time mentoring of both call center representatives (CSR) and their team leaders is one of the best ways to help call centers improve ROI in any of these diverse environments. Great mentoring gives call center personnel:

  • Motivation to want to become excellent in their role
  • Specific knowledge and skills needed to effectively perform critical functions
  • Guidance on and support for applying the above in the “messy real world”

As such, mentoring is vastly more efficient than other forms of development. Traditional approaches to development such as instructor-led training and most e-learning generates about six minutes of value for every hour of development and takes people away from the phones. In sharp contrast, great mentoring generates 54-58 minutes of value for every hour of interaction and can be done even while people are on the phones.

The challenge is to provide mentoring amid the intense daily pressures-without taking people off the phones or reducing support for the people while they are on the phones-and for potentially hundreds or thousands of people spread throughout the world. You want to keep your best people working with customers or supporting those working with customers, not spending large amounts of time mentoring others.

New neuroscience research on mentoring, and the development of innovative technology based on this research, can help call centers improve ROI. With the right knowledge and tools, companies can provide great mentoring for all their CSRs, even if large numbers of people need to be mentored simultaneously.

Capture the “Secret Sauce”

The first step is to extract the “secret sauce” of how CSRs (and their team leads) think and act. Often, top CSRs are unconsciously successful, in that they don’t know exactly what makes them different from lower performers. To overcome this, a “discovery” process is used to ask the top performers a series of questions-derived from research into how the brain works-that guide these CSRs to articulate what they do well and how they do it. The questions are so precise that an organization can uncover both the conscious and unconscious aspects of how these top performers generate great results in very little time. After all, who doesn’t enjoy talking about something they are really good at?

The single most important, and most unconscious, difference between top performers and others is that the top performers are motivated by a “compelling purpose” – their personal commitment to creating a greater social good. Once you understand the compelling purpose, the organization is in position to map out how these top CSRs typically guide colleagues to adopt the compelling purpose as their own. This then forms the basis for a highly actionable, real-time development program that can be shared broadly. The top performers describe the attitudes and skills needed to consistently achieve the compelling purpose.

Since the technology based on this neuroscience research is typically cloud-based and accessible through mobile devices, it’s inherently flexible and scalable.

Like the way the discovery process gathers information, the resulting development programs use neuroscience to give lesser performers the experience of having a great mentor at the exact moment of optimum value and in a way that is consistent with real-time, time pressured environments. More specifically, great mentors use a series of specific cues to guide development of lesser performers, stimulating desirable neural responses. These cues include:

  • Asking their mentees for their views about why this is so important, and in the ensuing discussion, creating alignment on the compelling purpose (simulates endorphins and dopamine).
  • Guiding the mentee to see a clear “Path to Mastery” that has four distinct steps, thereby reassuring the mentee of probable success (builds a “cognitive hierarchy”):
    • Think about your role correctly
    • The basic attitudes, behaviors and skills to be mastered
    • More advanced attitudes, behaviors and skills to be mastered
    • How to consistently apply these basic and advanced capabilities in the messy real world
  • Providing specific “tips” about how to handle real situations in support of each of the steps in the “Path to Mastery” (suppresses fear responses).
  • Providing action assignments (“Now go try this”) that generate the desired improvement in real-world conditions without taking time away from their “day job” (uses self-directed neuroplasticity to create new neural pathways).

The technology uses these same cues. Since the technology based on this neuroscience research is typically cloud-based and accessible through mobile devices, it’s inherently flexible and scalable. Imagine that, right before a CSR goes into a challenging call with a customer (or even during a challenging call), she pulls out her iPhone and reviews how the expert handled a similar situation in the past. Now repeat that for hundreds of customer calls across the entire call center team. No single mentor could ever hope to match that timeliness or scale.

Comprehensive Selling Program

Let’s look at how it works from a practical standpoint. We recently worked with one top-performing call center telesales representative to build a model that highlights how she sells so successfully. Using the discovery methodology, we captured her highly effective telesales model in just two-and-a-half hours. Based on her inputs, we created a comprehensive selling program integrating two distinct product lines.

When lesser performers read and interacted with her compelling purpose, they pictured themselves having the same compelling purpose, which caused a release of endorphins and dopamine. The research shows that when people believe they are doing something of great social value, endorphins and dopamine flow, making them more open to new ideas and tremendously accelerating learning and application of new attitudes and behaviors. The lesser performers neurologically wanted to be as good as she was. This positive effect occurred within several minutes-within the time constraints of the call center.

Once deeply engaged, the lesser performers wanted to know exactly how she achieved her success. The discovery process had yielded a well-defined path to success and specific means of achieving that success. This was reinforced with short bursts of practical application, also based on her specific guidance, to develop their new behaviors while they kept pace with routine selling behaviors they had already mastered.

This practice guidance, which is typical for most call center programs, required conscious, practical application of the new attitudes and skills into real situations for about 30 minutes per week, for about two to three months. Since this practice phase was relevant to their current work, the CSRs didn’t realize they were transforming, so they didn’t resist the time requirements. The result was significant ROI that could be easily measured.

In addition to sales and ROI numbers noted above, behavioral measures of CSR attitudes and behaviors show that the personnel completing the phone representative and their team leaders’ programs consistently demonstrated 90%-98% of the attitudes and behaviors of the top performers. Similarly, turnover in call centers, a major cost, is drastically reduced. One call center’s turnover dropped from 40% annually to just 4% and another dropped from 35% to just 3%. Some of this is due to having both CSRs and team leads go through these programs, optimizing the culture for performance. In other words, everyone became almost as good as the top performers and they liked it so much they stayed. Reducing the cost of turnover is all by itself a major factor in increasing ROI.

Mentoring CSRs is effective, but hard to achieve for most call center organizations. By capturing what truly drives top performers and using modern technology to instill that expertise into your organization – just as a great mentor would do it – you can achieve remarkable performance improvements and a great ROI.

Dr. William Seidman is a recognized thought leader and expert on the application of neuroscience to transformational leadership and change throughout any organization. He is the CEO and president of Cerebyte.

– Reprinted with permission from Contact Center Pipeline,

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