Updated: January 2020
Goal setting and self-improvement often go hand-in-hand, and nowhere is this truer than in the call center world.
Executives and managers understand that by setting goals both as an organization — particularly as departments and teams — a company is able to move in a measurable way, and even pivot in the direction they want to grow.
Developing clear and structured goals with your customer service reps is essential for you to be able to do this in your contact center. Using the S.M.A.R.T strategy in the goal-setting process will provide direction, focus, and help prioritize your call center team’s time and energy.
In a busy and bustling customer service department, having an agreed-upon set of milestones to guide productivity will help guide decisions, keep morale up, and even reduce agent turnover.
Here are some keys ways to work together as a team to create practical customer service team goals that will take your call center to the next level.
Why do my call center agents need goals?
There’s no question that call and contact center agents are some of the hardest working people in the world. Many work long, undesirable hours with little reward.
At times, the stream of incoming tickets looks longer than it ever has; no matter how many you resolve, there are always two more behind it.
Setting goals for call center employees is important because it helps to bring a sense of achievement to a role that often lacks it.
Whether they’re personal goals to improve their performance on the phone and around the office, but also wider, inclusive team goals that everyone in your call center feels like they’re contributing to.
When everyone is working towards the same objectives, it brings an air of excitement to the workplace that lifts morale and improves outcomes at every level; and that’s the kind of company atmosphere that filters down into a positive customer experience too.
Setting Goals With Your Call Center Team
In order to set realistic goals for your call center team, it’s critical to stress the benefits that reaching that goal will have for everyone involved. When everyone agrees on the benefits and the importance of reaching them, everyone will work together to reach them.
Establishing clear, structured goals before starting a challenge helps provide clarity and vision while letting people take appropriate and efficient action.
This makes tasks easier in the long run because you’ve mapped out your course ahead of time and can anticipate any obstacles that might arise.
In that sense, goals act somewhat like the “lighthouse” over a project, quarter, or year. They help us see the direction that we’re trying to go in, and effectively light the path to help us get there.
Involve All the Stakeholders in Your Contact Center
When it comes to customer service goal setting, you’re at the mercy of various stakeholders, often including the great general public.
Although you can’t ask your customers when setting personal and team performance goals, it’s important to get as many stakeholders in your call center involved.
This part is important because it gives them some ownership of the goals and makes them accountable for meeting them.
Also, because the goals are put together by the whole team, everyone has a milestone they’re trying to reach that contributes to the overall team goals, which unifies team members and encourages collaboration in a supportive environment.
When it comes to laying out the goals themselves, your best course of action is to follow the S.M.A.R.T. goals strategy, adapted for your contact center agents.
S.M.A.R.T. Goal-Setting for Call Center Agents
The S.M.A.R.T goal-setting framework is an incredible outline to help you develop practical and meaningful goals with your customer service agents. They work because a specific goal is far more likely to be accomplished than a vague or abstract general goal.
To be effective, they must be well-defined and clear to everyone involved.
Here’s how to create S.M.A.R.T goals with your call center agents:
S – Specific
This is where you ask yourself and your contact center team the who, what, where, when, and why questions. In order for a goal to really make sense, you have to be as specific as possible. Start by asking yourself some of the following questions:
- Who is this goal for? What is their role? Who will be evaluating progress towards that goal?
- What does this goal accomplish? What does it look like? What will happen when the goal is reached?
- How will you accomplish the goal? How will you measure progress towards your goal? How will you capture those metrics?
- Why are you trying to achieve this goal? Why is it a good thing to accomplish this?
- Where will work towards this goal take place?
- When will this goal be achieved by? When is work towards it expected to take place?
- Which metrics will you use to reach your goal?
The answers to these questions will allow you to get really specific with your goals, which is what makes them ‘SMART’. Get everyone who will be affected by it involved in answering these questions, where appropriate.
This is where you refine abstract goals like, ‘improve customer satisfaction rate’ into meaningful areas in your call center processes to improve, like, ‘reduce customer call return times’.
M – Measurable
Once you’ve settled on a specific goal for your contact center agents, you need to be able to measure it, so you know the progress they’re making towards it.
It also makes it much more tangible, and therefore more likely to be achieved. Measurement is the key to any good goal-setting strategy.
I like to think of it this way:
“Reducing our average hold times.” <- This is a dream.
“Reducing our average hold times by 10 percent.” <- This is a goal.
If you asked yourself the questions above, making your goal measurable shouldn’t be a problem.
Talk to your agents about the evaluation criteria and how you plan to evaluate their progress. If possible in your contact center software, give them a way to check on their day-to-day progress in their agent dashboard. If you provide your customer support agents with the tools to measure their own progress, they’re much more likely to achieve it.
The most important thing at this stage is for all parties to agree on how success will be measured, and where that data can be accessed.
A – Attainable
This might seem like a funny step at this stage, but if anything it’s underrated. One of the major reasons people fail to hit goals is that they were over-ambitious with their goal-setting in the first place.
Once you’ve figured out what you’d like to change, take a step back and ask yourself: Is this goal achievable? Really achievable?
What is that answer based on? Has it been achieved before? Does your contact center have the resources available to reach that goal?
It’s important to ask individuals and team members this question too, to gauge how they fell about reaching the goal, and perhaps what apprehensions they have about it. What tools, resources, or skills do the team need to acquire or increase in order to make the goal a reality?
It’s almost always better to have a smaller, more achievable goal than a lofty one.
Say you want to reduce average hold times by 10 percent, but you’ve never done it before and aren’t sure you have enough resources.
You’re usually better off aiming to reduce AHT by five percent, hitting that target, and then reassessing your goals to reduce it further.
The feeling of accomplishment — as well as the experience you gain doing it — will all contribute to meeting your original, loftier goal of 10 percent later down the line.
R – Relevant
Getting specific with your goals should help make them relevant to your call center and your support agents. However, it’s always important to ask yourself again: Is this goal relevant?
There’s a famous misquote that consultants and analysts love to throw around; “What gets measured, gets managed.”
The irony of this misquote is that the author, Peter Drucker, was actually trying to prevent over-measurement.
The full quote is, “What gets measured, gets managed. even when it’s pointless to measure and manage it, and even if it harms the purpose of the organisation to do so.”
Please remember this forever, or at least the next time someone brings it up in a meeting. And when setting call center performance goals with your agents.
Ask your team how the goal pertains to the mission of their department and the company at large? How will this benefit its customers? How will this improve employees’ workflows and corporate culture?
Make sure the outcomes of your goal fits with your company values and wider objectives, as well as your vision as a contact center manager.
Don’t be afraid to make adjustments. Ultimately, the whole call center should benefit from achieving this goal, even if only in a small way.
Any goals that don’t contribute to the business are not relevant.
T – Time-bound
The final step when setting S.M.A.R.T. goals with your call center team, is that you must be specific about the timeline for the goal.
When do you aim to reach the milestone you’ve set, and are there ways to speed up or even slow down the process? Is it a realistic time-frame?
Being specific about the window or time required helps to work backwards and create schedules and baby steps to reach the big goal.
If we go back to my ‘dream’ and ‘goal’ example earlier, you’ll see why this final step makes the S.M.A.R.T. strategy so powerful.
If this is a dream -> “Reducing our average hold times.”
And this is a goal -> “Reducing our average hold times by 10 percent.”
Then this is a PLAN-> “Reducing our average hold times by 10 percent in Q1”
Making S.M.A.R.T. goals gives your call center agents a plan of action for the next cycle.
In addition to having very specific timelines for each goal, it’s also important to consider having both long-term and short-term goals.
There’s something motivating about reaching smaller, more imminent goals. In fact, breaking longer-term goals into smaller, more bite-sized pieces will help your team make and track progress easier, and they will motivate them as they see the impact they’re having on the bigger goal.
When setting your timeframes, ensure that the agent is comfortable with achieving that goal in the given time-frame — but not too comfortable!
Allowing either too much or too little time can negatively impact the outcome, so take your time with this one.
It’s essential for aligning expectations and creating a sense of urgency, which makes it more likely that your support agent will hit their target.
Example S.M.A.R.T. Goals for Call Center Agents
Now you’re up to speed on using S.M.A.R.T. goals, here are some example call center SMART goals for your contact center team. These should give you some inspiration on how to use the S.M.A.R.T strategy for setting your contact center team goals.
- The night-shift team will reduce customer call return times by 25% over the 12 months from January to December.
- Increase first response time for all social media requests 25% by end of Q2 2020.
- 100% of new support agents to score 75% or more in post-training evaluation in Q1.
- First contact resolution rate to increase by 10% before July 31, 2020.
- Reducing average handling time from 5 minutes to 4 minutes by end of Q3 2020.
- 99% of call center agents to have completed security training module by January 31, 2020.
- The minimum number of customer interactions per day to increase from 20 to 25 within the next 6 months.
Remember, these are just examples of goals, and you will need to follow the S.M.A.R.T. steps to create ones that are relevant for your customer support team and the goals and objectives of your contact center, or company as a whole.
Share Goals to Foster Collaboration and Accountability
Once you’ve established your collective goals, displaying them in a common area of your building or floor reminds team members of the goals they established, the benchmarks they’re aiming for, and the steps they need to take to get there.
Also, walking by the displayed goals regularly can help people stayed motivated, accountable, and maybe even foster some healthy competition.
This is a great way to engage the team to post their goals in creative ways. Whether that’s through individual sticky notes, a large bar chart, or even an illustration, not only can this be a colorful addition to the office space, but also a way for team members to see what others put as their goals.
Now the team can celebrate achievements and wins, which will help to foster collaboration.
Constantly Measure Results and Get Feedback from Agents
Making sure your call center goals are measurable is what makes them SMART, but it’s important to make sure this actually gets done.
Assign one or two people to be responsible for reporting on the progress of the team’s goals. You don’t want to make them into a whip-master but it’s important to bring some accountability to your team.
Whether that’s a monthly report, a spot in the weekly stand-up, or something that comes up in a 1:1 meeting, you need to be constantly measuring your progress in the way you defined with your team earlier.
Part of that measurement involves getting qualitative and subjective feedback from your customer support agents and managers.
How do they feel about the goal? Are they happy with the progress they’re making? Are they seeing it produce the outcomes that were expected?
The answers you get from this general, human-level feedback can sometimes tell you far more than the numbers ever will, and will show you how to adjust your goal to produce the best results.
S.M.A.R.T. Call Center Goals Are Flexible
If there’s one thing that it’s important to remember when implementing customer service SMART goals—and any goals—is to be flexible.
In the words of Sun Tzu, “According as circumstances are favorable, one should modify one’s plans.”
On the (sometimes) muddy battlefield of the contact center floor, it’s important to know when to pivot for the best results. Don’t cling to a goal just because it was working. Change it so that it works, now.
Goal setting is a great exercise for improving the culture and processes of any company, and particularly the contact center.
Creating a set of SMART goals for your call center in a strategic, intentional, and effective manner is great for individuals, customer service teams, and even managers and executives to drive business and customer satisfaction forward in a meaningful way.