Monthly Archives: February 2014

TV documentary highlights need for call centre advisors to act as ambassadors

Reading Time: 3 Minutes

The Ch4 fly-on-the-wall documentary The Call Centre, on our screens last month provided great entertainment for viewers but also highlighted the high pressured sales environment that exists in call centres and the challenges managers face ensuring their agents not only can sell but also they have the right attitude towards customers.

Call centre advisors act as ambassadors for a company’s brand and uphold its reputation –  they are often the only interaction a company has with its customers, so it is critical they perform well.

Managers must have confidence they have the right people in place do this important role as the wrong people with bad attitudes is very risky and potentially damaging in terms of losing customers, impacting on reputation and brand and, of course, profits.

But in a highly pressurised call centre environment, how do managers ensure their advisors provide a consistently good level of customer service? More importantly, how do they develop ‘outstanding’ advisors that will provide a superior level of customer service that could differentiate a company from its competitors?


Making call centres – the hub of service excellence

One of the key challenges many managers face is engaging their teams who are under tremendous pressure. Inbound call-waiting targets are posted up on team ‘scoreboards’, diverse enquiries have to be answered promptly, the advisors need in-depth knowledge about a range of products and services and be able to handle difficult customers in a consistently professional and calm manner. Employee turnover in call centres can be high – it is not an easy job.

Agents need a high level of competency and knowledge and they need to be fully engaged and motivated and consistently give high quality customer service.  As depicted in The Call Centre, the boss ‘Nev’ invested a great deal in training as well as activities and incentives to engage and motivate his teams. But even with training, managers are really in the dark about how their agents handle customers – they can’t observe them on every call.


Competency-based employee assessments

Most manager want to have greater confidence in their advisors and one way of achieving this it through the introduction of employee assessments that test and measure the skills, knowledge and confidence of advisors in work-based scenarios. Such assessments will reveal how they perform and how they behave when handling customers and importantly identify areas of risk such as unacceptable behaviour.

The assessments test and measure advisors in realistic ‘on the job’ scenarios by taking them through a series of situational judgement questions and asking them what they would do in certain situations, such as handling a customer complaint. The answers reveal the likely decisions and actions of an employee, as well as how they apply their knowledge when performing their jobs. The results highlight knowledge gaps and any unacceptable behaviour or risky giving managers a clear picture of the strengths and weaknesses of every individual.

We have partnered with a training company specialising in call centre advisor training, to launch a new assessment to improve advisor performance and behaviour when handling customers. Based around 12 key behavioural competencies, the assessment focuses on key areas such as how customer services advisors present themselves to customers, how they listen and respond to customers, customer objections and complaints and how they listen and respond to customers and address their needs.

The assessment is designed to supplement and enhance existing training and assessment programs for advisors, as it will accurately identify skills gaps and specific training needs and give managers a true insight into the performance and behaviour of their advisors. It also ensures the right training and coaching interventions are in place for each advisor, help eradicate any unacceptable behaviour that could put the company’s reputation at risk.

Cultivating ‘outstanding’ call centre advisors is a challenge, however, it is not impossible. The key to winning and keeping customers is by delivering a consistently high performance of service to customers that will turn them into loyal fans and identifying and addressing risky and unacceptable behaviour before it becomes a problem.



Keeping your workforce safe in 2014

Reading Time: 3 Minutes

Workplace injuries and deaths are at their lowest since records began in 1995, however, what’s really behind the statistics? Last year’s rail accidents in both Paris and Spain point to the fact that health and safety in the workplace is still an issue. What can companies do to minimise their risks in 2014?

Provisional figures released by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) in October 2013 showed a significant drop in the number of employees killed or seriously injured at work in the past year. Yet companies continue to experience an unacceptable number of work-related deaths, injuries and illnesses which could have been prevented.

While the HSE found a 11 per cent drop in major injuries was reported compared with 2011/12 and the number of people killed at work fell to 148 in 2012/13 from 171 in the previous year, three million working days were lost in 2012/13 to falls, trips and slips which make up over half of all major injuries reported, and 148 deaths is still too many deaths in the workplace.


In 2011, the Institution of Safety and Health (IOSH) published a report that stated British businesses are losing their competitive edge as a result of their failure to tackle the risks of injury and illness in the workplace and that the overall cost of health and safety failures to the British economy is estimated at a staggering £22 billion.

In many instances human behaviour is a contributory factor to workplace injuries and deaths, resulting from employees’ misunderstanding their roles or making mistakes. Earlier this year there were two rail disasters in mainland Europe. In Paris six people died and more than a hundred were injured in a high speed crash outside Paris in July and in Spain, just two weeks later, 79 people were killed in a crash outside Santiago de Compostela.

In the Paris incident the driver was praised for his quick reactions that prevented more deaths and injuries, whilst in the Spanish crash the driver was on the phone at the time of the crash and therefore could be to blame. Whilst it’s impossible to eradicate human error entirely, if companies understand more about their employees ‘likely’ behaviour in any given work scenario, they can then equip them with training and support that will improve individual performance and reduce the risks of mistakes.


As Dr Guy Walker, a lecturer in transport and infrastructure at Heriot-Watt University pointed out in an interview with The Guardian following these crashes: “Often disasters arise because people act in apparently rational ways. Increasingly technology can intervene but drivers can often override these warnings – and the Ladbroke Grove rail crash in 1999 showed that the presence of frequent warnings led to drivers getting into the habit of cancelling or ignoring them. If anyone was put in that situation you could predict that behaviour.”

In industries where health and safety is a big concern, companies need to ensure their employees are competent and safe when performing their roles but the reality is that many managers lack the means to measure this accurately.

One solution is to introduce situational judgement assessments that measure employee understanding and confidence levels together. More companies are adopting this approach, including Railtrack and BP to minimise the health and safety risks arising from human error.


Customised situational judgement assessments that measure a combination of employees’ understanding, competence and confidence in areas important to their role highlight what employees truly know, where the knowledge gaps lie and the decisions people are likely to make on the job, including potentially risky ones.

This information can be crucial in preventing errors and misunderstandings that could lead to future workplace injuries or even deaths as highlights the specific training needs which can be targeted to close knowledge gaps, improve performance and reduce the risk of errors.

Without this kind of knowledge companies often have a ‘one-size fits-all’ approach to training, which is unlikely to improve performance or change behaviour. Understanding human behaviour is at the heart of improving health and safety practices, and any business failing to grasp this is putting both their employees and their business at risk.


Mary Clarke, CEO, Cognisco

Global Banking & Finance Review: It’s time we changed banking for good

Reading Time: 2 Minutes 30 Seconds


This week it was announced that Lloyds Banking Group has set out a further £1.8 billion to compensate those who were mis-sold payment protection insurance (PPI), after already setting aside £170 million in October 2013. The bank said this extra amount was needed to cover the expected level of complaints and associated administration costs.

This follows news that RBS may face full-year losses of up to £8bn, after the bank said it planned to set aside £3.1bn to settle claims relating to mortgage products, PPI claims and interest rate hedging. RBS boss Ross McEwan said last week, “The scale of the bad decisions during that period [the financial crisis] means that some problems are still just emerging.”


The bad decisions that led in part to the financial crisis have damaged the banking sector and people’s faith in banks. A recent report published by Edelman Global Trust Survey 2014 said that banks and financial institutions are the least trusted sectors in the whole global economy. Given that trust should be at the foundation of all financial services, banks have a long way to go to restore our confidence.

Barclays has recently announced plans to cut around 400 jobs and clamp down on expenses such as travel to meetings as Chief Executive Antony Jenkins pledged a fresh direction for the bank in an attempt to restore its reputation. Barclays has faced a series of scandals over the years, the most high profile being the attempt to fix the Libor rate which led to a fine of £290m in June 2012 and the resignation of both Barclays chief executive Bob Diamond and chairman Marcus Agius.


So what is the solution? How do banks rebuild their reputations after so much controversy?

There were several recommendations put forward last year in the UK’s Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards report into the culture and failure of the UK’s banking sector ‘Changing Banking for Good’. These included making it easier to send top bankers to jail for “reckless misconduct”; a wholesale shake-up of the current approval regime for bankers after finding just 156,000 individuals on the current register – which would allow regulators to take action against them; a radical overall of the way bank bonuses are calculated and that banks should have a full-time chairman to ensure tough scrutiny of executive managers.


However, I believe that more has to be done to address banking failures that are down to human error or rogue behaviour. Financial institutions can only do this when they have a better understanding of their employee’s skills, knowledge and experience, as well as how they actually behave on the job.  All employers need to understand how competent their employees are.   However, the sector seems to have forgotten this and allowed a culture of greed to dominate.

Change will only come when banks invest greater resources in ensuring that the people they employ are not only competent but demonstrate the right behaviours at work all of the time. They need to be able to weed out risky individuals and clamp down on risky behaviour and decision making and change the culture within.


Assessments that examine employees’ behaviour and likely decision making should be part and parcel of working life – allowing managers to spot and address risky behaviour and deal with it, before serious problems arise.  With such assessments managers have an accurate picture of how competent their employees are together with an indication of their likely behaviour in any given situation.

People can make or break a business as we have seen in the banking sector, so isn’t it time for the financial institutions to address their ‘People Risk’ issues and ‘change banking for good’