Balancing strategy to avoid cherry-picking

Cory DeWitt, Content Coordinator

Instant gratification dominates the digital engagement space, and customer support teams are on the front line. Many consumers judge your brand based on their first engagement with care agents, who, in that vital moment, are the ambassadors of the brand. Their judgments can be harsh, especially if you don’t meet their expectations for response time. If you’re a contact center manager, taking advantage of your agents’ strengths — and understanding their shortcomings — couldn’t be more critical.

But how do you use your contact center’s metrics and KPIs to pinpoint where adjustments are needed? The first step, of course, is to identify potential areas of concern. Here, we’re going to talk about just one of those areas: cherry-picking.

So, what is cherry-picking, why should you care about it, how can you identify when it’s occurring, and how can you mitigate it? Let’s investigate.

What is cherry-picking in customer care?

In most conversation management platforms, including Khoros Care, the default setting for agents is that they have to select conversations from a queue and “pick them up” in order to manage and resolve them. There are many ways to filter the queue to prioritize the most important conversations, but agents typically have to choose which ones to engage — and in what order. Cherry-picking occurs when agents claim conversations in a less-than-productive order.

They might do this for one of a couple reasons. First and most obviously, they might select the easiest conversations first to avoid having to deal with more difficult inquiries. For example, an agent choosing between the topics “what's my order status” and “will you help me process this return” is incentivized to choose the former, as it requires less of them.

Another reason that agents might cherry-pick is that certain conversation topics are more likely than others to boost their conversion rates or other KPIs. A customer asking for help placing an order is good for an agent’s conversion rate; a customer complaining about a product defect might not be.

Cherry-picking can be harmful both to the agent and to the brand itself

Off the bat, let’s clarify that, though they are rare, there are times when cherry-picking can be beneficial: During ramp-ups, on highly technical requests, or during rest intervals. This can help agents avoid burnout, get help where they need it, and thus improve their overall quality of service. In short, you shouldn’t expect your agents to always take the most difficult cases first, because that’s not good for them, you, or your customers.

Cherry-picking becomes dangerous when it’s used habitually — and this is exactly when you, the contact center manager, may need to step in. The practice can severely dampen an agent’s growth, and risks giving the customer a false sense of neglect from the brand itself. You can think of training agents as similar to training an architect: you can’t expect them to construct magnificent buildings if they stick to only birdhouses. The agent may become an expert at quick, simple tasks, but you want their skills to grow so when your customer asks for a skyscraper, they don’t present a birdhouse. Remember, in this moment, that agent is the brand ambassador. And it’s up to the managers to equip them with the right tools — including a conversation management platform to represent the brand as well as they can.

Brands can use metrics from their contact center management software to spot signs of chronic cherry-picking

Khoros Care comes equipped with a collection of different widgets to measure agent performance. They’re excellent ways to detect a number of potential issues in real-time, and cherry-picking is one. Here are some of the metrics that matter when you’re trying to avoid habitual cherry-picking.

1. App utilization

Whether agents are active within the agent dashboard can be an excellent indicator of whether they’re cherry-picking. If they’re logging a lot of out-of-focus or inactive time, they may be focusing on a different window or tab with the agent console in the background. Check how long agents go without claiming a conversation, even though the queue is active with open requests. High numbers here show that they might be passing up difficult requests to wait for easier ones.

Remember, though, not to take this statistic in a vacuum. An agent might not claim a new conversation simply because they are helping a customer with a difficult, time-consuming task. So make sure to measure not just how long they go without claiming a conversation, but also how long they go without any activity.

Learn more about how to use the app utilization widget in our Atlas post on the topic.

2. Handle time

With the right context, handle time can also be a warning sign for cherry-picking. An agent whose average handle time is far shorter than that of others may be intentionally selecting easier topics. Perhaps an even better indicator is when an agent often opens conversations and closes them without engagement.

Track how many conversations your agents handle versus how many conversations they engage. If these numbers are far apart, it can indicate that the agent is cherry-picking. Again, though, make sure to view this metric within the context of others as well, as it doesn’t always tell the whole story.

3. Selectively unassigning conversations

Tracking how many conversations agents assign — and even more importantly, unassign — themselves can be an excellent predictor of cherry-picking. If an agent has assigned and then unassigned themself from a high number of conversations, it’s likely that they are cherry-picking.

That’s because agents might be accepting conversations without any bias as they come through the queue, then “unassigning” the ones they don’t want to handle. Maybe they’re more difficult conversations, or more likely to end in negative feedback or sentiment. Like all the other indicators, this one shouldn’t be taken in isolation. There are many legitimate, non-cherry-picking reasons an agent might unassign a conversation — they might realize, for example, that they cannot effectively serve that customer. So always make sure to investigate other indicators of cherry-picking as well.

Learn more about how to use the agent performance widget in our Atlas post on the topic.

4. Analytics view

The analytics view in Khoros Care displays multiple widgets with graphs to provide real-time visibility into activity on your social media channels, as well as your team's performance. You can filter the data according to time range, priority, and work queue. One metric in this view that’s helpful for detecting cherry-picking is an agent’s responses per conversation. How many times an agent responds within a particular conversation can indicate the difficulty of the task: Easier tasks typically require fewer responses.

Stopping cherry-picking in your contact center

Okay, so we’ve gone over how to identify cherry-picking. But how can you stop it — or better yet, prevent it before it starts — in your own contact center? Brands most often employ one of two proven strategies.

First, they can implement Claim Next or Push Next — powerful options that are included as part of the team-level settings you can define for each of your response teams. This eliminates cherry-picking by simply hiding the conversation queue from agents. Instead of selecting a topic, the agent can claim (or be pushed) the next one in the queue. Since they no longer have the ability to choose topics, it is impossible for them to cherry-pick. Still, use these options with caution, as they can limit agent freedom in ways that harm the brand. Remember: Habitual cherry-picking is bad, but occasional cherry-picking can have certain benefits both for agents and organizations.

Another (less extreme) strategy is to incentivize agents to more often handle difficult or longer conversations by monitoring sentiment conversion. With a pulse on the agents giving white glove service to complicated problems, you can easily implement incentives for proactively picking up conversations with the most frustrated or dissatisfied customers.

This is an excellent option not just because it preserves agent freedom but also because it offers them an incentive for high quality customer service.

Every brand has its own unique cases when it comes to how to approach cherry-picking, and different brands will solve them in different ways. Still, regardless of which strategy (or strategies) you choose, it’s always a best practice to ensure incoming and current agents know the importance of engaging with customers.

    Would you like to learn more about Khoros?