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5 Ws of Contact Center Agent Engagement

Brian Cantor

As everyone within the contact center profession knows, "happy agents = happy customers."

Knowing that and understanding that, unfortunately, prove to be two vastly different things.

The notion that "happy agents = happy customers" is echoed as routinely as efforts to actually drive that happiness go uninitiated. Treating agent happiness as an idealistic concept rather than a call to action, organizations make little effort to drive such happiness and even less effort to allow the few agents who are happy to properly transfer that satisfaction to the customers with whom they interact.

The result? Interactions between agents and customers are inefficient and ineffective. Instead of receiving happiness from agents, customers impose their own frustration on the agents. These agents feel even less enthusiastic about their professions, which results in an ongoing stream of dissatisfying calls, limited productivity and suboptimal contact center performance.

To render their businesses, practices and philosophies more attractive to customers, organizations must begin doing the same for agents.

The key to that effort begins with a simple investigation of the 5 Ws.


Who: The burden for driving agent happiness largely falls on the business, but the effort begins before agents are actually seated in the contact center. Predicated on the notion of hiring for the "smile," today’s contact centers must assure their recruiting identifies agents who are uniquely qualified for bridging the gap between the business’ culture and the culture of agents. If they do not fundamentally fit into the business’ culture, they will not fundamentally share in its approach to interacting with customers—and in its happiness when that approach proves fruitful.

Beyond mindset, adeptness at operating within the organization’s current structure is also important. An organization that focuses on certain types of issues, certain types of contact channels and certain types of customers must assure its agents fit seamlessly into that dynamic.

No concoction of training, coaching and compensation will ever be enough to compensate for the bitterness of incompatibility.

What: An agent cannot achieve happiness until he fundamentally knows his function within the business. What is the overarching objective when he communicates with customers? What role does the agent play within the overall business strategy?

Without that sense of definition and purpose, an agent cannot develop any sense of attachment to the business. He cannot forge an alignment with the performance metrics of greatest importance to the business. He cannot accept accountability for the

The business, meanwhile, must use this understanding to best map out its training, coaching and rewards strategies. Rather than turning to "industry standards" or "recommended best practices," it must look within its contact center, within its agent pool and within is customer base to determine the best framework for success.

When: Today’s agents are being asked to wear many hats. While variation and versatility are admirable job traits for the Millennial generation, they can be immensely confusing, troubling, vexing and debilitating for agents not properly conditioned to that environment. The when associated with the customer service representative role is immensely important.

When do certain business objectives outweigh others? When do certain issues require escalation? When is ending a call preferable to resolving a call? When is it appropriate to collaborate? When is sharing feedback more desirable?

Business leaders, meanwhile, need to identify the moments of truth at which they can best engage customers. Determining when isolated empowerment and when supervised collaboration are best implemented is a huge part of demonstrating confidence, trust and support for the agent. All three transform into happiness.

Where: An agent’s physical positioning within a business helps to notably define his connection to the business. The organization, therefore, has an imperative to tailor its operations, management style and community building based on the agent’s actual location.

One seated inside the contact center is fundamentally poised to interact with supervisors and agents differently from those positioned inside the marketing team or from those working remotely. Happiness is important in all cases, however, and the business’ appreciation for that locational element will assure it provides the appropriate and optimal gateway to culture.

The same is true of agent positioning when it comes to contact channels. Today’s omni-channel approach requires a degree of consistency and singularity, but it does not completely mute the nuances of each channel. An agent’s appreciation for where he is serving customers will allow him to rise above script and protocol and into more productive, engaging customer conversation.

A businesses appreciation for that dynamic, meanwhile, will allow it to optimally position agents within the contact center. Agents best suited for certain channels should, ideally, be positioned in those channels. Agents whose skillset is insufficient to handle inquiries in a certain channel should, ideally, receive focus coaching on that particular skillset. Agents want to be recognized as individuals – and they want to get better. Recognizing and acting on the "where" is a way for businesses to give them both.

Why: There are some things scripts cannot predict. There are some customer sentiments one cannot anticipate. There are some issues one cannot quickly resolve.

An agent simply trained on his tasks is unqualified to operate in those circumstances. He will face direct frustration due to his lack of preparation and then indirect frustration when the customer’s disappointment manifests as anger. He will feel unproductively disconnected from his role and from the business.

By instead conditioning agents on the why behind each best practice, policy and script component, agents will be flexible—and empowered—enough to perform in unique, unpredictable circumstances. That will produce happier, less abrasive customer interactions and yield additional happiness in response to the sign of trust and faith being offered by the business.

Candidly thinking about the why will also help businesses establish metrics and coaching syllabi that are of optimal value for their specific contact centers and agents.