One of the best Star Trek episodes (in my ever-humble opinion) aired in 1967 with the title “The Trouble with Tribbles.” Kirk and the Enterprise crew are ordered to Deep Space Station K7 to guard grain shipments that are destined for Sherman’s Planet, the ownership of which is disputed. The Federation claims it and so do the Klingons. Kirk assigns a couple of crewmen to guard the grain and limits the number of Klingons who can access K7 when a Klingon ship arrives at the station ostensibly looking for some R&R. While these events unfold, a trader named Cyrano Jones stops off at the station with some cute little fur balls called tribbles in tow and presents one to Lt. Uhura who takes it on board the Enterprise. Everyone loves the little fur balls and the fur balls love the Enterprise crew showing their affection by purring soothingly. (The presence of Klingons, on the other hand, sends them into shrieking fits.) Before long, the Enterprise crew discovers tribble trouble: the cuties reproduce at an alarming rate and begin eating everything in site. The grain could be in danger of getting devoured before it can reach its destination! A check of the hold reveals the crew has acted too late. The tribbles have gorged themselves on the grain – fortunately, as it turns out. The grain-munching tribbles are dying because the grain has been poisoned by a Klingon masquerading as a human. The tribbles have saved the humans from an evil Klingon plot!
Apologies to all of you who do not like sci-fi and who rolled your eyes through the preceding plot summary wondering what the heck I’m driving at. Well, in part it was just plain fun to recount, but I do have a purpose: tribbles were the proverbial “canaries in the coal mine.” Their demise exposed a deadly problem. In this sci-fi junkie’s mind, the episode reflects the ever-repeating plot elements of the modern contact center. In this “earthly” scenario, agents are the tribbles (or canaries, if you prefer). In many contact centers, there are a lot of them and the health of the operation is strongly reflected in the “health” of the agents who deliver customer service:
That last question is the ultimate judgement. If there is a “poisonous” work environment, figuratively speaking, of course, agents will “expire” much like the tribbles, though in the agents’ case, “expire” is, of course, a mere euphemism for “exiting the business.” What a contact center really wants and needs is a “Yes!” response to each of those questions.
Paul Stockford, Chief Analyst at Saddletree Research, and an industry expert mentioned in recent WorkFlex posts, asserts in an article from February of this year that “[i]n 2017, workforce issues will need to be considered equally with customer service issues. It’s time to focus on optimizing both the agent experience and the customer experience.” He points to better hiring practices and investment in “tools that will improve the agents’ chances for job satisfaction and accomplishment” and declares that “[i]f I were a betting man, I’d bet that 2017 is the year that gamification finally takes hold in the industry if for no other reason than it enhances the employee experience…”
Businesses can avoid the hard work required to realize Stockford’s prescriptions, but they will pay a high price. Turnover rates will remain a constant source of cost burden and frustration. (As a Frost & Sullivan blog post delineated so clearly in 2010, “the Total or True Cost of agent turnover can be as high as $15,000 – $20,000 per turnover.” Ouch.) Recruiting will only become more difficult, too. Customer Relationship Metrics notes this month that “In the past, it was easy for an employer to avoid the negative impact of having a contact center with an attrition problem. But now, 59% of job seekers use social media to research the company culture of organizations they are interested in.” How likely are good workers to apply to contact centers with poor reputations? Between high turnover and diminishing ability to hire a quality workforce, enterprises will struggle to deliver customer service at acceptably competent levels.
The WorkFlex Antidote
There was no available antidote to tribble poison, but the agent turnover problem can be countered with several, including WorkFlex. WorkFlex cannot solve all contact center problems, but we can help solve some of the most critical – i.e., the need to optimize the agent experience. With WorkFlex:
When agents are engaged, feel valued, and enjoy higher job satisfaction, they are less likely to “expire” as employees and head for the exits. The real trouble with turnover is the inability or unwillingness of many companies to take the necessary steps to reduce it. Those companies choosing to invest in their employees will reap the rewards of less turnover, happier employees, and happier customers (never forget the one-to-one ratio between employee and customer satisfaction). Those that decide change is too cumbersome are likely to suffer increasing turnover as agents look for more accommodating work environments. As always, we’ll be happy to talk with you about how our technology accomplishes good things for your employees, your operations, and your business bottom line.
*WorkFlex customer results
**WorkFlex customer results