In contact centers, we’ve heard time and time again: the bedrock of customer experience is employee experience (EX). But what was once a truism is now truth. There are direct correlations between employee experience and customer satisfaction (CSAT) scores.
That said, it’s natural that many involved in performance management are wondering how they can get agents to love their jobs more. Problem being, psychologists define love as the combination of commitment, passion, and intimacy. And sure, it’s fair to want agents to commit to their work.
So, while well-intentioned, expecting true romantic passion (let alone intimacy?) between employees and their jobs can be problematic. Let’s be clear here then. When talking about employee engagement we’re actually talking about job satisfaction.
Fortunately, psychology also provides managers tools to foster positive employee experiences in workspaces. To do that we need to forgo all the talk of perks and more pulse surveys from HR. Instead, let’s focus on the three aspects outlined in the Self-determination Theory Framework – autonomy, relatedness, and competence.
1. Anchor the Employee Experience with Autonomy
At its core, autonomy means an employee feels they are the prime decision-maker in their role. When this is the case, agents are more likely to feel outcomes are the result of their own abilities. This means agents with autonomy will be intrinsically motivated to perform better. In fact, we may be hard-wired to respond to autonomy, since its absence contributes to stress and burnout.
The need to provide autonomy to agents is a challenge for business leaders. Empowering agents to “own” their roles can seem like a recipe for disaster. But providing agents with autonomy isn’t about leaving everything to chance. Instead, leaders should support agent agency by:
- Ensuring the level of autonomy provided matches a given agent’s skills and experience.
- Fostering psychological safety within the contact center itself.
Dialing in an appropriate level of autonomy for agents is crucial. Setting the bar too low can encourage mediocrity (in addition to the negative aspects mentioned above). But too much autonomy too soon can overwhelm an agent, leading to resentment.
But the agent also needs to feel safe to ask questions and make mistakes. And the psychological safety required to do so is essential for high performers. When agents feel safe, they grow more open-minded, motivated, and better at solving problems. And all this feeds right back into increased employee experience.
2. Increase Retention Through Relatedness
Greater autonomy shouldn’t come at the expense of connecting with others at work. Quite the opposite, as relatedness is another aspect of the Self-determination Theory Framework. And in hybrid and/or remote company cultures, it’s taken on new importance.
The social capital built through inter-office relating helps expertise and information flow. Co-workers help spur new ideas and thinking. And social capital leads to lower turnover and increased organizational performance. Because relatedness helps agents feel like they belong.
Thankfully, the fundamentals of relatedness haven’t changed despite the challenges of our post-pandemic workplaces. Validate agent’s emotions in addition to their reactions. Keep team sizes reasonable, so all work and contributions are acknowledged. Don’t jump into “solve mode” when problems come up without employee feedback from those involved. Finally, make sure it’s clear you care about how agents are doing, not just what they’re doing.
And while subtle, don’t underestimate the value of relatedness in modern contact centers. A recent study of almost 12,000 people found belonging to be the top driver of employee experience. The authors of the study also noted this desire to belong at work should only continue to grow.
3. Sustain Employee Experience via Competence
So, we put agents in the driver’s seat. And we ensure they feel they belong in their workspaces. But once agents are engaged in their work environment, how do we help them stay that way? In a word, competence.
Note here, learning is not the same as gaining competence. In this instance, competence refers to an agent’s skills and how those allow them to work at high levels. This is why, while important, learning initiatives like new employee onboarding are a means, not an end. And, over time, what a holistically productive means competence becomes.
On its own, psychological competence leads to greater psychological well-being and work-life balance. But when leadership champions competence in the contact center, everyone benefits. Meaning, agents are more likely to increase their motivation for continuous improvement. And, in turn, the team as a whole benefits from the agent’s knowledge and skill gains.
Additionally, thanks to the advent of artificial intelligence platforms like Cresta, agents increasingly get to apply and improve their competencies in real-time. This means every agent can feel that they’re improving, every day. But these efforts can also add to business outcomes. For instance, using Cresta’s Expertise.AI™, agents in a leading specialty retailer increased revenue-per-call by 24%. And they did it in less than 2 months.
Better Employee Experience Overall? Sounds Good.
So, yes, when business leaders leverage the Self-determination Theory Framework – employee experiences lead to better customer service (not to mention a sustainable competitive advantage).
But not only that, customers can actually hear employee satisfaction when your agents are loving what they do. No, we’re absolutely serious. To learn how this is possible (and the impact it can have on the customer service you provide) make sure to check out our article: Can You Hear a Smile?