A Conversation with Melissa Kovacevic - Contact Center Consultant
by: Brooks Webb
Melissa Kovacevic has been a contact center consultant since 1983, and has been in the industry since the late 70s. She got her start with Dial America Marketing as an agent, and quickly moved into a supervisor role due to her past experience with customer service and real estate sales. She eventually managed that center and later was recruited by another company to open and run their first center. She’s seen a lot of changes over the years and has developed a true passion for what she does. She’s worked with inside sales, customer service, tech support, as well as all channels, including email, chat, phone, and social media. She has worked in both operational consulting as well as coaching, which she absolutely loves. We at Call Center Weekly were lucky enough to sit down with Melissa Kovacevic last week in order to pick her brain about her many years in the Contact Center industry.
CCW: What caused you to move into the Consulting side of the industry?
Melissa: After a couple of years with Dial America, a headhunter told me about an opportunity as a new manager to help start up a call center in Charlotte. I jumped at the chance to do that. I started a brand new call center, in charge of recruiting, training, coaching, etc. I have to give all of the credit to Dial America who trained and mentored me all those years ago. I met a consultant while in Charlotte, and decided that I would really like to do that in the future. So after a short while, I opened my own consulting practice.
CCW: Did you see yourself going into Call Center Consulting early in life?
Melissa: Great question. My father owned a small corner grocery store, attached to our home. It was on Main St in a small town in Pennsylvania. At 3 or 4 yrs old, I would go with my mother for the delivery runs to houses outside of town and got my first look at customer service. At age 10 or 11, I learned how to operate the cash register, make change, and handle money. I dealt with customers early in life, both nice and not so nice. I then went to college for Psychology and Art. I was going to do art therapy, but I immediately realized that it was pretty scary when people start throwing paint around the room. So that took me into real estate but when the market dropped, I found a Dial America ad in the paper and moved into it just to make a living. I have never felt bored with what I do with Call Centers. I think my enthusiasm comes through in blog articles that I write. I love what I do and I have to give thanks to Dial America for the initial opportunity in the industry.
CCW: To someone brand new to the call center environment, what would be your one piece of advice?
Melissa: Remind yourself who is paying your wage; The Customer! We think it’s the company, but the company doesn’t exist without the customers. Remember how we want to be treated when we’re the customer. What’s important to you when you’re the customer? If you are upset, how do you want to be treated? How does it make you feel if someone is just saying “Sorry”
You’ve got to have good energy, enthusiasm, be empathetic, and see how that comes back around to you. When a supervisor has given up on an agent, I try to get the agent to agree to try some new things and answer some of these questions. They’ll come back after a couple of weeks with responses from their customers like “Thank you, you’re a great agent” and “It’s really great working with you” because they’ve learned to make the customer feel important.
CCW: What are some important qualities/traits that you look for when hiring?
Melissa: I love the idea that you can do phone screens. It tells you a lot about how that person reacts to questions, comments, etc. Hearing them in actual scenarios, giving them that role play over the phone is great. When you can go outside their comfort level, that’s a good thing. We tend to hire people who are more process oriented. Most processes and procedures can be trained, but you can’t train someone to have a great personality over the phone. Look for soft skills, and then train the process/procedure/technical skills. Always make sure they can talk to the customer on their level without talking down to them.
CCW: What’s been your biggest challenge over the years?
Melissa: Remaining flexible and keeping up with all the changes in technology and customer expectations. I’m bombarded on a daily basis with hundreds of ideas through Twitter, blogs, and emails. I look where the trends are and look for changes in technology. Customer expectations are now a big part of social media and mobile interactions.
I had to be more flexible. When I first started, it was all about outbound telemarketing. My first clients were banks and insurance companies. One bank’s call center was in the basement of a branch. It’s since become SunTrust. At the time, telemarketing and outbound telemarketing was something that everyone wanted to do. Now there are more blended calls and relationship selling. There’s more tech support as well.
Learning different technologies, learning more about the latest contact center systems that are out there are things I have to keep up with. A lot of my knowledge I credit to people I’ve met on Linkedin and Twitter.
CCW: What do you see as the next big trend in Customer Service/Support?
Melissa: I love working with smaller call centers. Large call centers have all the bells and whistles but small centers are realizing that they need to start tracking social media support. Some companies’ marketing teams handle social but that’s not necessarily the right direction. We need to be tracking social tickets in our centers. There’s also Mobile support. Mobile apps, mobile wallets for banking, and apps that put you in queue via your mobile phone and ring when an agent is available are growing in popularity. The question for our centers is what methods are customers going to be using to interact with us?
With tech advances, we’re seeing more remote agents, and technology that allow us to monitor people while working from home, including supervisors and QA teams as well. For example here in Charleston, being able to go mobile and move call center activities if hurricanes come through is key. It gives us that opportunity to set up somewhere else if we need to.
For social support, if a customer says I communicated with someone on FB, the rep needs to know what the customer is talking about. We need to track that, and if Marketing is handling social, we need to see if we can get it moved over to the support teams.
CCW: What’s the one thing that everyone seems to get wrong?
Melissa: I’ll give you two; metrics and coaching. The first one is either too many or the wrong metrics. A lot of people just started realizing what matters to their customers. I do webinars and work with companies that do webinars, and after these sessions, some people say “Zappos does that, so we’re going to do it”. They try to duplicate it but it’s not always successful. Sometimes you end up dealing with metrics that YOUR customers don’t care about and miss the metrics that they do care about.
Sometimes companies have so many metrics that the poor manager doesn’t know where to start. One example was at a bank, where a top agent was moved to a management position in the call center. He was told to be sure to pull and print all of these reports but no one showed him what to do with them. He ended up with 3 months of reports under his desk that he had no idea what to do with. I told him we’re shredding these and pulling the reports from the database where everything was saved and find out what is really important.
The other side of this relates to coaching. We find supervisors who are not given the opportunity or the time to do the job. So much emphasis is placed on meeting time, pulling reports, doing all kinds of busy work and very little time is given for them to be out there on the floor.
The great folks at Dial America gave only one chair to two supervisors so one could monitor calls at the desk but the other one had to “walk the floor”. Their idea was that at least one supervisor would visit, coach and encourage the reps and not just sit behind a desk.
It’s important to spend a little time with each person, not to necessarily distract them, but to have that interaction and that coaching time. It’s great just to sit side by side with them to help them with something when you can. Some supervisors spend most of their time in their offices and have yet to take that first phone call in order to help the agents.
The coaching, the way the supervisor sees their job role in terms of that, and then the metrics are probably the two biggest areas that I see people failing in, and areas that I love to work with them in. It’s all about the customer experience and all of their interactions. What your agents and supervisors need to understand is that end result. How do we make the end result the best possible, and how do we remain successful and stay in business in order to pay everybody? Setting the right metrics and coaching/motivating our agents are both a big part of this success.
CCW: What do you think are the essential metrics for a call center to track?
Melissa: Any metrics related to customer experience blended with your operational needs. Customer satisfaction, Individual agent quality skills, metrics related to service levels, agent availability (time in idle and on calls vs. not available) and wait times in queue. Things that your customers are complaining about to agents or on your surveys and other customer feedback tools.
CCW: What metrics do you think can hurt more than help?
Melissa: Focusing too much on talk time can be a problem. If not balanced with quality/results of the call, the agent may rush and have incomplete calls (customer not completely helped resulting in call backs), soft skills are dropped in favor of quick processes done and the agent has reduced upselling and cross-selling efforts made. Too many short calls may mean the agent isn’t taking the time to empathize and show interest and appreciation. Calls that are too long may mean the agent is unsure of the product information or processes or needs training on how to personalize their call without talking too much about personal things.
CCW: Final question, what’s more important to you, Agent Satisfaction or Customer Satisfaction? Regarding Agent Satisfaction, what do you feel motivates them most?
Melissa: The chicken or the egg! If you have good happy agents, you’ll have good happy customers for the most part. You have to know what motivates agents.
Studies on motivation will tell you that money and gift cards are popular, so I don’t take away from that, but I say there’s a lot more to it. I do want my agents to be happy, but I don’t want to just make it about the “pizza party.” For example, “every week we’re going to have a pizza party and that’s going to motivate everybody.”
It’s not necessarily just money or gift cards, but recognition by their supervisor, and time spent with their supervisor. Great feedback from customers too that shows that their efforts are being recognized and that goes a long way as well. We need to make our agents feel valued if we want them to do the same with our customers.
When you keep agents happy and motivated, and reward them for the great things they’re doing with customers, then your customers are going to be happy. Your customers aren’t going to be happy if they’re talking to agents who either need to go or need better coaching. It’s either one or the other.
And I’m happy with “happy turn over”, the kind that occurs when someone leaves because they are a problem. Other agents around that person will be happy that they’re gone and so will your customers.
How motivating can it be if I’m an agent and I’m doing what I need to do, but I’m sitting next to someone who is treating the customer poorly and hates their job? You’re going to lose good agents that way.