I had the opportunity to speak at a CCNG Improving the Customer Experience event in Columbus this week. It brought together contact center operations people from all over the Midwest. Among the topics of conversations was getting the right people in the right places given the changes in how people contact companies and how they respond to these requests.

Clearly, how people interact with companies has changed. The term “call center” is becoming a misnomer because while many people still call to get support, they also look for it on the web, via chat, e-mail, mobile applications, social media, or some combination (c’mon, how often have you been on hold trying to get support while you are simultaneously searching a website for an answer to your question?). The different ways to reach the company are referred to as channels.

Likewise, the technology in contact centers has allowed companies to manage calls differently. It’s more than routing them to Asia. It also includes sending calls to agents who work out of their homes, asking you if you’d rather be called back when they are ready to answer your call, and use of automated systems to solve a problem before you even get to a representative.

While the above is new and still evolving, companies still need people to respond to most of these contacts (automated chat and IVRs only go so far). So, how do they know if they have the right people in these places?

Let’s start with this basic premise: Don’t make assumptions about how the work changes (or doesn’t) in the different channels, even if the type of contacts received are the same. This is because the needs of the customers and their expectations may differ based on how they are trying to reach you. For example, people looking for tech support via chat may be more interested in getting their problem solved than venting about it compared to those who use the phone channel. Data shows that it takes a different set of skills to handle the two. It’s critical that you do your homework on each channel, including the call and customer characteristics before developing a profile of which agents are likely to succeed in which.

Several of the stories I heard about home agents fell into two camps. One was that it was used as a “perk” for the best agents. Second was the challenge of keeping these agents engaged so that turnover is managed. Regarding the selection of agents, companies regretted not looking more closely at the work environment before sending their best agents to work at home. This is because not everyone thrives in multiple environments. While working at home sounds like a good deal, not everyone can stay focused with the additional distractions, lack of social interaction, etc. So, in some cases the centers lost some productivity of their highest performing agents and they weren’t around to help mentor other agents. A better solution would have been to analyze the work of a randomly selected group of agents who were willing to work from home and compare the performance factors to those in the center.   Then, agents who meet those criteria could be selected to make the move.

The placement of agents in an at home situation or in another channel should not be a reward. Rather, it should reflect the best fit between agents’ skills, abilities and personal characteristics (SAP) and the job. This is best done through a validated selection process that demonstrates a relationship between the SAPs and the job. This leads to selecting people who are most likely to be successful, which is a win for you and for them.

What processes are you using to determine who works where?

For more information on pre-employment testing and skill assessment systems, please contact Warren at 310 670-4175 or  warren@allaboutperformance.biz.