Modeling the Top Performer in your Call Center
Illustration By Eric Jackson

Everybody loves Susie. Customers rave about her, her adherence rate is off the charts, her quality percentage is among the highest in the organization… and she hasn’t missed a day of work in over three years! Wouldn’t it be great if every agent in the contact center was like Susie?

Actually, yes, it would be great if every agent in the contact center was like Susie. Your customers would appreciate the opportunity to consistently converse with someone who’s friendly, knowledgeable and efficient. Your HR Director would enjoy doing something—anything—other than fulfilling your staffing requests. And your CFO would actually crack a smile when seeing expenses finally decrease in the contact center.

We all have a “Susie” in our contact centers, and we’ve all wished we could replicate her. 3-D printing has not quite advanced to that stage yet, but there are plenty of things that we could do that would move that replication wish from an off-the-cuff comment to reality. These actions fall under the label of “top-performer modeling,” and the idea behind it is to identify the characteristics that make our top performers so successful and use these when selecting and onboarding new agents.

The end game is to bring on new team members that are more likely to comfortably fit our environment, produce more impressive results, and last far longer in the job than the average agent. In an industry like ours that struggles with staffing, it certainly seems worthy of investigation.

Start with the Value Calculation

When that “I wish everyone was like Susie…” comment is made, no one typically thinks of it in objective, hard numbers. But if you want to get energized about the concept, put a value on the potential. You should have some sort of calculation used to determine staffing requirements, and that calculation is loaded with averages from your full team of agents.

To get an idea of just how important Susie is, replace those averages with her numbers (click on the image below for an example). All of a sudden, you will learn how much fewer staff is needed to run your operation. And keep in mind that cost savings are only the tip of the iceberg. Her expertise with customers and high quality rates are likely worth even more than her productivity and reliability.

TopPerformerValueNormally, my advice would be to share your findings throughout the organization to generate some enthusiasm. In this case, though, it is best to keep the number quiet. Remember, the savings you calculated is a theoretical potential, not a realistic expectation. You may have a hard time finding staff with characteristics similar to Susie. Even if you can find them, we know that people are much more than the sum of their parts. Yes, it is reasonable to expect that people sharing certain common traits with your top-tier staff will be more successful than those without these traits. They just may not be as awesome as Susie, so you want to avoid the trap of setting expectations that are too high.

Building the Model

So far, we have been talking about Susie. To be accurate, though, we need to start by identifying all our Susies—the top 5% to 10% of our staff. Using a small group, rather than a single individual, is critical to ensure that we build a more realistic and reliable model.

Once the top performers are identified, you want to define the common traits that can be used when selecting new staff. The list of potential characteristics to look at is as endless as the experience and personal qualities that a group of people bring to the job. Here’s a small sampling of attributes that could be considered:

  • Months of prior phone experience
  • Length and/or type of customer service experience
  • Scores on the phone interview
  • Education level
  • Involvement in extra-curricular activities
  • Prior leadership experience
  • Answers to certain behavioral questions in the interview
  • Referrals from current staff

If you think in terms of a spreadsheet, these and other factors represent the columns on the spreadsheet, while your top performers occupy the rows. Once filled out, you are looking for commonalities. If your top performers all have two years of college, at least six months in a retail service position and have experience leading teams (on the job or in other endeavors), then you have the beginnings of your top-performer model. Start placing more value on these traits during hiring, and you will have a better chance of getting agents who learn more quickly, perform at a higher level, and stay with the organization longer.

Extending the Concept to Onboarding

The most common use of top-performer modeling is to help select the best candidates for the agent position. Yet it is also an excellent way to identify the best onboarding processes. Think again about that spreadsheet, and now expand the columns to items like the following:

  • The specific trainer running the classroom sessions
  • The mentor used for on-the-job training
  • The order and/or length of the training class
  • The scores of any tests taken during training
  • The scores of monitored calls handled during training
  • The amount of nesting done

Hopefully, you will discover some more similarities among your top performers. With those practices identified, you can revise your onboarding processes to favor those that produced the best results.

Be Flexible

Top-performer modeling is one of those activities that require flexibility. Yes, you want to find those candidates who fit the model, but you do not want to adhere so strictly to a formula that you miss out on “non-conforming” opportunities. People come in all shapes, and an organization rich in diversity of backgrounds is essential for long-term success. Let your top performers be a guidepost, but be willing to drift a bit from your criteria when there is enough spark to justify the risk.