Maximizing Potential: Effective Performance Appraisals for Call Center Agents
Performance Appraisal Trends
If you've ever received a formal performance appraisal, you can appreciate the stress and anxiety that comes with it. That's one reason many companies are moving away from traditional, annual performance appraisals in favor of more continuous and agile performance management approaches. This shift was driven by various factors, including the need for real-time feedback, a desire for more frequent communication, and a recognition of the limitations of annual reviews. Within the contact center, it has long been understood that timely feedback is vital to a great customer experience.
Some examples of companies that have moved away from formal performance appraisals or adopted alternative approaches include:
Adobe Systems: Adobe transitioned from annual performance reviews to a "Check-in Conversations" system. These are more frequent, informal discussions between managers and employees to provide feedback and set expectations.
Microsoft: Microsoft moved away from traditional annual reviews and introduced a "Performance Development" system. This includes quarterly meetings focused on feedback, coaching, and development.
Deloitte: Deloitte redesigned its performance management process and introduced "Performance Snapshot". It involves frequent check-ins between managers and employees, emphasizing ongoing feedback and coaching.
General Electric (GE): GE replaced its traditional annual review system with a performance development model called "PD@GE". This approach emphasizes more frequent check-ins and continuous feedback.
IBM: IBM introduced a new approach called "Check-in", which encourages regular discussions between managers and employees about goals, feedback, and development.
The common approach among these companies is more frequent discussions about performance. A call center agent should NEVER be surprised by what they hear in a formal performance appraisal discussion. That being said, most call center agents appreciate having a formal, one-on-one performance appraisal -- when it is delivered well.
The Case for a Formal Performance Appraisal
The call center environment is ideal for just-in-time performance coaching, whether it be side-by-side monitoring or a quick, reinforcing fly-by. However, there is still a place for a more formal performance appraisal that is guided by a structured evaluation framework to gauge agent effectiveness and provide constructive feedback.
In this post, we will look into the intricacies of conducting performance appraisals for call center agents, with a focus on well-researched, best practices.
The Significance of Performance Appraisals
Performance appraisals serve as a vital tool for call centers to:
Recognize Achievements: Identifying and acknowledging outstanding performance helps boost morale and motivation among agents.
Identify Areas for Improvement: Pinpointing areas that require development empowers agents to enhance their skills and knowledge.
Set Clear Goals: Establishing specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART) objectives provides agents with a clear roadmap for improvement.
Enhance Communication: Appraisals (when done well) foster open and honest communication between agents and supervisors, paving the way for a collaborative work environment.
Call Center Agent Key Performance Criteria
When designing KPIs for call center agents, it is vital that (a) the agent be able to control the outcome, (b) they be specific and measurable, and (c) they contribute to the overall customer's experience and/or corporate mandate.
Common Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for individual call center agents include a variety of metrics that assess efficiency, effectiveness, and customer satisfaction. The exact KPIs chosen can depend on the specific goals and needs of a business, but they often include some combination of the following:
Average Handle Time (AHT): This measures the average duration of each customer interaction, including the length of the call (Average Talk Time – ATT) and any after-call work (ACW). Companies that are focused on delivering a great customer experience are much more lenient on this measure.
Quality Scores: Typically determined through call monitoring and scoring by supervisors or quality assurance teams, this metric evaluates agent behaviors. The criteria used should collectively reflect the kind of customer experience that best represents the company's brand.
For assistance developing a robust Quality Assurance Scorecard, get in touch with VereQuest today!
First Call Resolution (FCR): This measures the percentage of calls resolved on the first contact without the need for a follow-up.
Customer Satisfaction Score (CSAT): Usually determined through post-call surveys, this measures customers' satisfaction with their interaction. NOTE: Net Promoter Score (NPS) -- how likely a customer is to recommend the company to someone else -- is not a great gauge of agent performance as it typically involves components of the customer's experience that are beyond the control of the agent e.g., product quality, delivery, billing errors, etc.
Occupancy Rate: This looks at the percentage of time an agent is actively engaged in handling customer interactions versus waiting for a call.
Schedule Adherence: This measure captures whether agents are sticking to their scheduled work and break times, arriving and returning on time.
Conversion Rate: For sales-focused call centers, this measures the percentage of calls that result in a successful sale or other desired action.
10 Best Practice Strategies for Delivering Effective Performance Appraisals
Delivering performance appraisals is a critical aspect of performance management. The following highlight best practices supported by research and expert recommendations:
Prepare in Advance: According to a study published in the International Journal of Innovation, Management, and Technology, adequate preparation by supervisors enhances the quality and effectiveness of performance appraisal discussions (Yasin, et al). Importantly, solid preparation lets the agent know that you have put some thought into the appraisal
Choose an Appropriate Setting: Although many call centers are open concept, The Journal of Business and Psychology suggests that conducting appraisals in a private, neutral setting encourages open communication and reduces distractions (LeBreton et al.).
Use a Balanced Approach: A study in the Journal of Applied Psychology emphasizes the importance of balancing positive and negative feedback for a well-rounded assessment (Kluger & DeNisi).
Maintain a Constructive Tone: Research published in the Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology indicates that maintaining a positive and constructive tone during appraisals fosters a supportive work environment (Pulakos & O'Leary).
Focus on Behavior, Not Personality: The Harvard Business Review advocates evaluating specific behaviors and outcomes rather than judging an employee's personality or character (Buckingham & Goodall).
Be Specific and Provide Examples: According to a study in the Journal of Management, using specific examples helps employees understand their performance better and facilitates actionable feedback (Waldman, et al). For instance: Exceeded monthly target call resolution rate by 15%. Maintained an average customer satisfaction score of 4.8 out of 5. Demonstrated exceptional empathy and problem-solving skills during high-stress situations (Call ID 1234133 and 101384).
Encourage Employee Participation: A report by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) states that involving employees in self-assessment and goal-setting promotes a sense of ownership and commitment (SHRM).
Set Clear and Achievable Goals: A study in the Journal of Organizational Behavior Management highlights the importance of setting specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART) goals for performance improvement (Austin & Vancouver). SMART goals are objectives that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-specific. For example: Improve First Call Resolution (FCR) rate to 95% within the next three months by adhering to the script, asking clarifying questions, and utilizing internal resources more efficiently during calls.
Address Development Opportunities: The Journal of Applied Psychology recommends identifying areas for improvement and providing resources or training to support employee growth (Ilgen, et al). For example: Enroll in advanced product knowledge training by 3Q. Participate in specialized de-escalation workshops by 4Q.
Create a Follow-Up Plan: The Handbook of Organizational Performance suggests establishing a clear plan for ongoing feedback and monitoring progress after the appraisal (Grote).
By adhering to these best practices, call center managers can ensure that performance appraisals are conducted fairly, transparently, and conducive to employee growth and development.
Delivering Performance Appraisals to High and Low Performers
Delivering performance appraisals for high performers differs from low performers, given that the two groups have distinct needs, motivations, and potential for growth. Here are some reasons why tailoring your approach is beneficial for both types of performers:
FOR HIGHER PERFORMERS
Acknowledgment and Recognition: High performers are often self-motivated but still benefit significantly from recognition and validation of their work. This encourages them to continue to excel and can positively impact job satisfaction and retention.
Future Opportunities: Performance appraisals for high performers should include discussing future opportunities within the organization, including potential career paths and upcoming projects that may be a good fit for their skills and interests.
Constructive Challenge: While praise is important, high performers benefit from constructive feedback that helps them stretch their abilities further. Appraisals can be used as a tool to introduce "stretch goals."
Tailored Rewards: High performers might be more motivated by rewards that are tailored to their interests and career goals, whether it's financial bonuses, career development opportunities, or other benefits.
FOR LOWER PERFORMERS:
Skill and Gap Analysis: Low performers need a clear and straightforward assessment of where they are falling short. This sets the stage for a constructive plan for improvement.
Action Plans: Low performers often need more structured and specific guidance than high performers. Performance appraisals should focus on creating a clear, actionable plan for improvement.
Accountability Measures: Establish clear metrics and timelines for evaluating improvement. Low performers should know exactly what is expected of them moving forward.
Psychological Support: The process should be designed to avoid making low performers feel attacked or excessively criticized, which can be counterproductive. Instead, the focus should be on how the organization can support them in achieving better results.
Organizational Impact: A fair and effective appraisal process can impact overall organizational culture. High performers can serve as motivators and role models, while effectively addressing low performance can raise overall productivity and morale.
Retention: Tailoring your appraisal process can significantly affect employee retention. High performers are often at greater risk of leaving if they feel unacknowledged or unchallenged, while low performers might leave or be let go if they feel unsupported or overly criticized.
Leadership Development: High performers are generally considered the future leaders within an organization. Effective appraisals can identify those with the potential and aspiration for leadership roles, preparing them for the responsibilities ahead.
In summary, how you conduct performance appraisals can profoundly impact both individual careers and the organization. Tailoring your approach to meet the needs and expectations of high and low performers is essential for maximizing the potential of your workforce.
In an environment that is loaded with both quantitative and qualitative measures of success, performance appraisals on an individual, one-on-one basis can often be overlooked. When conducted thoughtfully and transparently, they contribute to a culture of continuous improvement and heightened job satisfaction. By recognizing achievements, addressing areas for development, and providing actionable feedback, call center managers can empower their agents to excel in their roles. Remember, a well-executed performance appraisal not only benefits the individual agent but also has a positive ripple effect on the entire team and, ultimately, the organization as a whole.
Sharon Oatway is a 20+ year veteran in the areas of Customer Service, Sales, and Relationship Marketing. As the President & Chief Experience Officer of VereQuest, she has been instrumental in helping companies of all sizes elevate their overall customer experience and optimize multi-channel contact center performance. The knowledge gleaned from analyzing literally millions of customer interactions for renowned brands across North America is the foundation of this work. Since its inception in 2002, VereQuest has provided organizations with a comprehensive range of tools specifically designed for the contact center, including well-regarded contact center quality monitoring solutions and resources, robust soft skills and coaching e-learning library, and customer journey mapping facilitation. With a unique perspective on the ever-evolving customer landscape, VereQuest assists businesses throughout North America in navigating the complexities of customer engagement.
For more information, contact Sharon directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.