Leading with Agent Happiness - A Next Caller Interview with Patrick Russell

Patrick has been a leader in the contact center industry for nearly fourteen years working as a vendor, a BPO leader and managing an in-house operation. His experience has been focused on leading teams in Client Services, Operations and acting in a consultative manner. His deep understanding of all of the WFO components paired with real world leadership experience in contact centers adds tremendous value to his organization. Patrick holds his bachelor’s degree in Accounting and spends the majority of his free time traveling or taking part in various adventure sports.

NC: Why are call centers still relevant in today's age of social media?

Patrick: I think part of it is that people still want to talk to businesses because that's what they're accustomed to. I personally think that the majority of people calling in are on the older side of millenials or older, basically people born after '85. There is still a desire to have someone on the phone to get a quicker resolution. I think that there is and is going to be a pretty massive shift away from phone and towards everything else: email, chat, and social. If businesses do it correctly consumers can still get immediate resolution through any other channel. More of the masses need to start shifting that way, which I'm sure will happen as the younger generation takes up a greater share of the market. 

NC: How do you ensure a frictionless customer experience?

Patrick: Frictionless is tough because there are outside factors. To reduce the friction the person needs to sound pleasant and happy. The person needs to be knowledgeable, respect the caller's time, and I guess get to a resolution, whatever the situation is, quickly. 

NC: What are your largest challenges in providing excellent call center service?

Patrick: Before the call even gets to a person, that consumer has already engaged with the brand at least a couple of times - billboards, online ad, went into a store, etc. There are already areas that can create friction or excitement or just general interest. And then the person has to call in and go through an IVR, which hopefully is simple, but has additional areas to create friction. If you call a large company, the IVR can be a maze, and by the time they get to an agent there can be outside factors that have caused the individual to escalate. The agent's job is to come across right out of the gate as if they know what they're doing. The most difficult thing for an agent is to take 30-50 calls a day, sound pleasant on every call, and get all of the issues resolved. It's a difficult job, and in a lot of cases the training is minimal. The "how tos" and "what tos"...most trainings don't arm the agent with the soft skills that are necessary to be really good at the job. That's one of the reasons why you see such high burnout and turnover rate in the call center space. 

NC: How does knowing more about your caller improve the customer and agent experience?

The more information you have about the last time of interaction with a customer and what the interaction was about, the faster you can reach a resolution - it allows the agent to say something in the opening period to make them feel that their time is respected and that you're fully informed and knowledgeable. It inspires confidence. Think about situations where you're transferred to someone else. That second person has no idea what's going on. To me, that's super frustrating. The technology is there for all of the information to be passed in a transfer scenario, the majority of that information should be at the fingertips of that first agent - happier customer and happier agent. 

Some call centers lead with agent happiness, and everything falls into place after that - Zappos and Southwest Airlines, for example. 

NC: In one word, what is your guiding value for your call center?

(Ed. note - enormous pause, Patrick is clearly a very thoughtful guy!) I think, ah man, (longer pause) I guess the guiding value would have to be customer-centric. And to expand on that essentially all things have a purpose- we have contests for cubicles and all sorts of incentives- all of those things have a thought towards how is COULD impact your customer, not how it does. Nowadays it's called gamification, but it's been around for awhile- these activities should have benefits for the agents who then pass their experience or happiness on to the customers. There should be some sort of feature within that activity which helps the agents get better at serving the customer that day. All the things you do can impact the mood of your individual agent, which impacts how your customers perceive your business.