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Blog | May 12, 2021

Moving the Middle: An Innovative Approach to Closing the Agent Performance Gap

Every organization suffers from a performance gap between its top employees and the rest. This issue is as prevalent as ever when it comes to the contact center, and the ramifications can completely bury a business if not properly addressed. Why? Because the contact center and the representatives within it are what sit directly between customers and business outcomes. 

In order to address this inherent problem, contact centers across every industry, size, and shape are taking a traditional approach to closing this gap which has its pros and cons.

Traditional Methods to Upleving Agents:

TrainingCorporations spend over 80 billion dollars a year on training because it is a great way to boost a feeling of value as an employee and it shows that the company is committed to providing resources to improve their team’s skills and knowledge. The downsides to training are that it’s time-consuming, pulls people away from doing their job, it’s expensive, and the worst part is that much of what is learned is forgotten. 

Scientific research states that people forget 70% of new information within 24 hours as we become victims of the Ebbinghaus “Forgetting Curve.” 

Coaching – A well-known and popular way to help elevate the performance of an employee is to provide personalized coaching. This is a great way to increase the level of engagement and build awareness around areas of personal improvement. It also helps retain employees and makes them feel important which lifts morale.

The downsides to coaching are similar to training in the fact that it takes a lot of time to do, pulls people away from their job, it’s expensive, and doesn’t guarantee the employee takes action. 

Also, most organizations don’t coach enough. In the contact center, a big reason why is that 50% of a manager’s time is spent reviewing transcripts (based on Cresta data).

SoftwareQuality assurance and speech analytics software can be very useful in helping identify and surface insights like “Who are my top performers?”, “How empathetic is my team?” or “How much faster are my top performers at answering pricing questions?”

The significant benefit here is that you have some very useful data that you can use to insert into your training material and highlight during coaching sessions. However, these insights are only meaningful if they are put into action once again. 

The Modern Way to Uplevel Agents:

While the traditional method to upleveling agents has its benefits and shouldn’t be ignored, it only solves half the challenge of putting valuable insights into repeatable and scalable action. 

Therefore, the modern approach to upleveling agents consists of actionable training, enforceable coaching, and sophisticated software. This is why the future is “real-time” and is only made possible with the proper use of artificial intelligence. 

Real-time Expertise AI

Enter Cresta. Real-time Expertise AI that learns what top performers do differently and provides real-time coaching and assistance that shares these best practices across entire teams at the speed of conversation

By observing and learning what top performers are doing and surfacing these insights in real-time – Real-time Expertise AI closes the Performance Gap and puts insights into action during every customer conversation.

Three Ways Cresta puts Insights into Action

  1. Suggestions – Real-time suggestions provide agents with intelligent prompts that explain how to resolve a customer request or problem. These suggestions are generated by analyzing past conversations that have been deemed successful or from managers who want agents to follow a specific workflow. This can be customized to the department, use case, or agent.
  2. Smart Compose [Chat] – Auto-complete phrases or sentences with the best thing to say in the moment. This reduces repetitive work and improves resolution times. 
  3. Hints – Hints analyze conversations in real-time and show which steps have been completed in the conversation. This keeps agents on track and ensures they complete critical compliance, up-sell, or experience management tasks. 

With Real-time Expertise AI, nothing is forgotten (bye-bye “Forgetting Curve”), coaching is on auto-pilot (hello free time), and intelligent software ensures the best possible action is taken during every conversation  (insert happy customers here). 

How to Accelerate Your Results

Now that you know an innovative way technology can help you close the Performance Gap once and for all, let’s take this thing into orbit with a best practice that will accelerate the process and outcomes.

The Output Differential

First, let’s set the stage by understanding why it’s so important to address the Performance Gap in the first place.

The Kelley School of Business at Indiana University did a study on the output differential produced by top performers compared to everyone else and the results are remarkable. The research included 633,263 participants across several industries and revealed that the top 5 percent of the workforce produced 26 percent of the total output. Taking it a step further, McKinsey & Company found that the top 1 percent for jobs of middling complexity are up to 12 times more effective than the bottom 1 percent. 

Think about that for a second. One person in the top 1 percent is as productive as 12 in the bottom 1 percent! 

Even crazier, for high-complexity jobs – the differential is so big it couldn’t even be quantified in the study.

Contact Center = Cost Center

For decades, CFO’s have looked at the contact center as a “cost center” and a necessary evil. And for a good reason. Looking at employee wages alone,  Salary.com claims the average salary of a contact center representative is $31,900. For a contact center with 500 sales reps, that equates to a $15,950,000 operating expense. No wonder CFO’s keep such a close eye on contact center operations. 

What makes CFOs even more uneasy is when they factor in the Performance Gap and its associated costs.

The breakdown of an organization’s Performance Gap typically looks something like this:

  • Top performers = 20% of the workforce (produce 3-4X than bottom performers)
  • Average performers = 60% of the workforce 
  • Bottom performers = 20% of the workforce (produce 3-4X less than top performers)

Looking at this and the fact that a bottom performer costs an organization 3-4X more than a top performer, and CFOs quickly start to wonder, “Why should I even keep the bottom 20% in the first place?” 

Unfortunately, the cost of low performers extends beyond just their salaries. 

Low Performers Drain More Than Wallet

According to The Economist and a study by Eagle Hill,  low performers also impact workplace culture and high performer retention:

  • Low performers hurt workplace morale
  • Low performers increase the work burden on high performers
  • Low performers contribute to a lack of initiative and motivation, resulting in a work culture where mediocrity is accepted

Moreover, according to a Robert Half survey, 17% of a manager’s time is spent (roughly one day a week) attempting to “uplift” poor performers. 

The Solution: “Move the Middle”  

The real payoff lies within the middle 60% — your core performers. For this group, the best-quality coaching can improve performance up to 19%. In fact, even moderate improvement in coaching quality — simply from below to above average — can mean a six to eight percent increase in performance across 50% of your team. 

These are great metric improvements that can truly move the needle for the business. However, this takes us back to the challenge of ensuring insights are put into action. Knowing this data and its promising impact on the business is only half the battle, and taking the traditional approach limits the full potential.

Taking a modern approach to upleveling agents with Real-time Expertise AI not only helps uplevel the middle – your core performers – within weeks, but also improves the performance of your bottom 20%, going far beyond the performance gains found within The Economist study. 

We hope this post highlights the value of taking a modern approach to upleveling your team, “moving the middle,” and how Real-time Expertise AI can help you start closing the Performance Gap once and for all. 

If you’d like to chat or learn more about Cresta, please reach out to us at pro@cresta.ai.