ASQ - Team and Workplace Excellence Forum

Online Edition - March 2002


Issue Highlight — Restoration
Peter Block's musing about a home restoration project serves as an excellent metaphor for issues in the cellar of our mind: “In our larger communities, we treat the inner city as a cellar that we do not want to enter....To enter this world, we would have the conversations that we have been avoiding.”

Contact Center Employee Satisfaction and the Bottom Line

Since contact center representatives provide significant value to the company in terms of branding and customer satisfaction, it is surprising that employee satisfaction is not an inherent factor in contact center operations. Yet, to this day, they are still among some of the lowest paid people in our organizations, and they enjoy little or no career-path or developmental planning. Their job is still seen as entry level, unskilled, and repetitive, requiring no college degree as evidenced by the low pay, nonexempt grade levels, and lack of developmental investment and succession planning.

By providing a work environment that fosters professional development, high standards of behavioral performance, strong leadership and direction, and ongoing growth opportunities, senior executives will actually see an increase in customer satisfaction and loyalty, which translates to increased market and wallet share.

Employee Satisfaction

The data suggest that, like Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, contact center representatives have several organized, sequential levels of needs that contribute to their overall feeling of satisfaction with their jobs. The degree of fulfillment of these needs determines representatives’ levels of job satisfaction. Representatives have basic needs such as:

  • Being able to get along with co-workers
  • Trusting the people with whom they work, and having a general feeling of belongingness or being part of a company of which they can be proud
  • Feeling that they have the necessary tools to be successful. At a higher level, they need to be recognized for their performance and given feedback from their managers.
  • Feeling challenged and learning new skills regularly so that they can feel fulfilled and feel a sense of achieving their greatest potential.

When these needs are unmet, representatives look for other ways to satisfy themselves and to feel compensated for the work they do. Some symptoms include: focusing on equity issues such as compensation, vacation time, and scheduling.

Co-Worker Satisfaction

In order to create an organization that cultivates trust and harmony, managers need to implement common standards and expectations to which everyone is held accountable equally, along with ongoing training and performance development programs on which representatives can focus.

Satisfaction With Contact Center Management

In total, only about 43% of representatives are satisfied with the way their contact center is managed.

Most representatives feel that they know what is expected of them in their jobs (86%); however, only 54% think they get the coaching they need to improve the quality of their work and only half agree that they are informed about the things they need to know to do their jobs. Also, only 46% of representatives are kept up-to-date with how satisfied customers are with their products and services.

Without this critical feedback, representatives are left to draw their own conclusions about the quality of their work in the eyes of their managers and customers.

Communication between representatives and senior management is even more disheartening. Interestingly, about 68% of representatives know what their corporate values are and only 45% believe that senior management lives up to the corporate values. Fifty-one percent of representatives think that senior management does not keep them informed about the overall plan and progress that the company is making. Furthermore, representatives believe that the work they do is undervalued by other parts of the organization, including senior management (62%).

In companies with high levels of employee satisfaction, representatives feel that their managers understand the demands of their job and manage the department with the representatives’ needs in mind. Representatives who are evaluated on both the quality and quantity of their interactions were more likely to be satisfied both with the management of their contact center and with their jobs.

Sixty-two percent of representatives think that their work is undervalued by other parts of the organization.

In those contact centers that have low employee satisfaction scores, the ratio of supervisor to representative makes it impossible for skills development to be a priority. Many supervisors spend hours handling escalated calls and preparing reports to address senior management queries that are borne out of curiosity. The time would be better spent coaching to reduce escalated calls and developing team leader and supervisor skills—all of which will result in more satisfied employees, more satisfied customers, and more sales.

In those organizations that have high employee satisfaction, representatives are highly challenged through ongoing learning opportunities, high performance standards, and career development opportunities. The leadership provides immediate developmental feedback and ongoing, consistent performance planning based on tangible skills that can be articulated clearly and modeled by the management team.
The strongest predictor of intent to turnover is representatives’ perception that the work they do is stimulating.

In the company with the highest employee satisfaction score, 54% find the work stimulating, 61% feel there are opportunities to learn new skills, and 24% feel there are adequate promotional opportunities.

Customer Satisfaction

Speed of issue resolution is the factor with the greatest impact on overall customer satisfaction. It is clear that customers expect to be treated as a priority, as those who think that they did not receive priority service had a low opinion of the overall service they received.

In addition to speed of issue resolution, several factors were identified as predictors of customers’ perception of world-class service (in order of importance):

  • Received personalized attention
  • Received all materials that the representative said he or she would send
  • Issue was treated as a priority
  • Representative was courteous
  • Representative understood their issue
  • Representative was receptive to their concerns

Disappointment with any aspect of service, especially speed of issue resolution, has a direct, negative impact on customer satisfaction. The data speak clearly to the necessary ongoing investment in representative performance development, leading to increased sales over the customers’ lifetimes.

In order to increase customer satisfaction, and therefore, customer purchases over their lifetime, company investment in the performance development of representatives is essential so that every customer interaction results in ongoing customer loyalty.

The Relationship Between Employee Satisfaction and Customer Satisfaction

There is a strong positive correlation between employee satisfaction and customer satisfaction. In fact, the relationship between the two variables is practically linear. In the contact centers where employee satisfaction is high, there is a corresponding high level of customer satisfaction. Additionally, management’s focus on improving customer and employee satisfaction has a positive effect on customer satisfaction.

One true leader emerged as the contact center with the highest level of both employee and customer satisfaction. This contact center is successful in striking a balance between quality vs. quantity to maximize employee and customer satisfaction.

This contact center provides world-class service, despite its low cost per call ($4) and average cost per employee ($38,900 including salary, benefits, and incentives) at roughly the industry average level. Although not lacking opportunities, this leading contact center proves that providing world-class service on every interaction requires skill, commitment, pride, and effective communication behind the scenes, not simply technology and high salaries.

The results of this study put to rest the argument of whether employee satisfaction impacts customer satisfaction and, in turn, company profitability. Based on these results as well as research conducted by other sources, customers decide whether to recommend products to others and make future purchasing decisions as a direct result of their experiences with the representative.

Ninety percent of those who do not feel stimulated by the work they do plan to leave their jobs within a year. According to research conducted by Benchmark Portal and Purdue University in 2001, many contact centers experience between 20% and 30% turnover annually. In a contact center that employs 100 representatives, this translates to a cost of nearly a half million dollars per year.

Build the Foundation of Success by Promoting Satisfaction With Co-Workers

  • Create task forces that bring groups of representatives together for a common reason. For example, assign a group be the point of contact and idea generators for system enhancements. Make sure that groups consist of representatives from different experience levels, teams, and tenure. This will ensure representatives get to know each other, see each other’s strengths, and work together as a team.
  • Implement a peer-partnering program where representatives can listen to and provide feedback on each other’s customer interactions.
  • Share individual, team, and organizational customer satisfaction data on a regular basis. This can be done via e-mail, team meetings, copies of standard reports, or face-to-face interaction.
  • Ensure management is able to model the behaviors they are asking representatives to perform without hesitation.
  • Clearly define standards for customer interactions. Outlining the minimum level of acceptable performance for calls, written correspondence, and/or face-to-face interactions with customers will give representatives guidelines for their jobs, increase consistency, and ensure fairness in interaction assessment.
  • Promote an environment where upper management is accessible and able to listen to both concerns and compliments. This can be accomplished by organizing quarterly round table meetings, brown-bag lunches, or mini-breakfast meetings with a few representatives at a time.

Achieve New Heights of Satisfaction by Continually Challenging Representatives

  • Determine a clear career path for representatives to show advancement within the contact center.
  • Implement a university-style training curriculum that enables representatives to continually raise the bar on performance and to receive training on a regular basis.
  • Provide opportunities for representatives to work on projects and assignments that will add value to the department and the organization as a whole.
  • Maintain an open dialogue with representatives about their development and future interests. Don’t be afraid to ask questions like, “How can we continue to keep you challenged?” “What specific skills are you looking to develop?” and “What can you do to make that happen?”

For more information, visit or call 973-276-0522.

Extracts from a Contact Center Industry Study by The Radclyffe Group, L.L.C., All Rights Reserved.

Contact Center Employee Satisfaction and the Bottom Line in Brief:

Based on the study results, the following trends were identified:

There is a strong, positive relationship between contact center employee satisfaction and customer satisfaction, implying that the two variables are closely linked.

A hierarchy of needs emerged as the key drivers of contact center representative job satisfaction. Included in this hierarchy (in increasing order of complexity) are satisfaction with co-workers, satisfaction with management, and challenge or ongoing development opportunities.

Customers are most likely to report high satisfaction with the service they received based on the amount of time it takes to resolve their issue. Specifically, faster issue resolution leads to more satisfied customers.

Other factors that contribute to high customer satisfaction are:

  • Receiving personalized attention
  • Receiving all materials promised by the representative
  • Having their issue treated as a priority
  • Interacting with courteous, knowledgeable, and empathic representatives

High contact center operations costs (including salaries) do not lead to high employee satisfaction or high customer satisfaction. The contact center with the most satisfied employees and customers is successful because of the focus on speed of issue resolution and effective communication.

Promoting satisfaction among contact center representatives can help companies save money and improve service quality as a result of reduced turnover and increased customer loyalty.

About the study

The Radclyffe Group conducted this study to find out whether satisfied contact center representatives lead to satisfied, loyal customers and to pinpoint the specific qualities of service interactions that determine that satisfaction and loyalty. In addition, they set out to identify which specific and tangible attributes of contact center culture can be addressed to improve employee satisfaction leading to reduced turnover and ultimately affecting the customer experience and the bottom line.

Two groups were surveyed: contact center employees and their customers—11 contact centers serving 16 companies throughout the United States comprise the first group. The contact centers represent six industries,
including consumer products, food and beverage, insurance, manufacturing, health care, and transportation.

Contact center employees were asked to complete 68 five-point scaled items ranging from “Strongly Disagree” to “Strongly Agree” and three open-ended questions. A total of 395 contact center employees completed the survey.

Customers were chosen from a random sampling of all the customers who had been serviced by the contact centers within the previous three months. Customers were asked to complete 16 five-point scaled items ranging from “Strongly Disagree” to “Strongly Agree” and were given space to write in comments. A total of 1,170 customers completed the survey.

March 2002 News for a Change Homepage

  In This Issue...
Making Change Stick
AQP “Quest for Quality” Chapter Keeps on Going and Going and …
Denta +: A Case Study in Exceptional Customer Experience Your Employees Know More Than You–So Listen!
Contact Center Employee Satisfaction and the Bottom Line
Funky Business and Taming Talent
Upcoming AQP Courses at a Glance...
What’s Up?

Peter Block Column


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