Strike the Right Balance in Your Contact Center

By Luke McNally

Customer relationships often hinge solely on the performance of contact center agents, but who are these people on the front lines? How can you be sure they’re handling callers with proper care? In any contact center environment, agents fall into three main categories: builders, cutters, and maintainers. Identifying who’s who and striking the right balance means the difference between success and disaster.

Behind the Categories: Builders are ambitious achievers who thrive on contributing. They champion management decisions and encourage others to do well. They’re enthusiastic about solving problems and making a difference. They need challenging work, freedom to innovate, and recognition for their accomplishments. Builders expect to rise through the ranks.

Cutters live at the other end of the spectrum. Pessimistic and cynical, they’re prone to gossip and criticizing management – lowering productivity and morale in the process. They’re quick to blame others and rarely accept accountability for their own actions.   Here’s the catch: They’re often among your highest performers. They’ve been around awhile, so their level of knowledge makes them hard to cut loose.

Maintainers are the constant. They arrive and leave on time. They do what’s required – no more, no less. What they lack in ambition they make up for in reliable, consistent work. However, they can be positively influenced by builder behavior or negatively swayed by cutters.

“Right” versus “Best”: So it’s a no-brainer. Just fill your center with builders and collect your profits, right? Wrong. Even if you could hire only builders, you wouldn’t have enough time to keep them perpetually challenged. Adding a few sales responsibilities wouldn’t do the trick. You couldn’t possibly nurture every single one for succession into leadership positions. In short order, a large proportion of your agents would become dissatisfied. Dissatisfied builders would be likely to either leave your company for a better job, adding to attrition woes – or worse, they can become infectious cutters.

Meanwhile, if you just hire maintainers, your bottom line would sorely miss the value that comes only from ambitious agents eager to show initiative, go the extra mile for callers, and improve team performance. Plus, you can’t underestimate the cost and time benefits of filling supervisory roles from within.

One thing is certain. There is never room for cutters, but it’s unrealistic to think you can stay cutter-free. Instead, from this point forward, you can strive toward building a successful contact center with the right agent mix: 20% builders, 75% maintainers, and no more than 5% cutters. Don’t be mistaken in thinking that hiring mostly maintainers is an exercise in submitting to mediocrity. Instead, you are laying the foundation for a contact center ready for profitable, productive growth.

You Need to Know: Achieving harmonic agent balance begins and ends with knowledge. First, you have to know your contact center’s growth capacity. When you determine how many supervisory positions you will have at any given point, you can calculate the number of builders you have room for.

Second, you have to know who’s who – how to tell builders and maintainers from cutters. Nothing gives you this foresight like assessment testing. With automated pre-employment assessment software, you can accurately predict how well people will perform in any given job in your contact center, from inbound service to outbound sales to collections. Your own holistic interviewing can then determine their willingness to do the job for you.

You have too much riding on your contact center to leave anything to chance, especially the people responsible for keeping your customers satisfied. Sustaining the right mix of the right agents will produce the right results for your organization.

Luke McNally is president of Select’s SACS is an agent assessment software proven to help contact centers cut attrition and boost productivity.

[From Connection Magazine October 2006]