Friday, June 28, 2013

Transitioning from Call Center Agent to Team Lead

by Jeremiah Methven

Many organizations utilize the role of team lead in order to provide a management career path for their internal agents. These agents already know the ins and outs of their company’s call center and can be a great resource for their peers. However, the transition from being an agent to leading a team can sometimes be a stressful and challenging one as the team lead has to find a way to balance their management responsibilities with their responsibilities as an agent. Having made this transition myself, here are some tips for new call center team leads or those interested in the role:

   Look out for your team

Sometimes it can be difficult to get buy-in from your team as a new team lead, especially if you were promoted from within and they are still used to seeing you as a fellow agent. With your new responsibilities, you probably won’t be able to spend as much time on the phone, putting a greater weight on your team. It’s important to acknowledge that and use your new role to help relieve them whenever possible. If you can jump in and take some calls, great, but maybe you won’t always be able to. In that case, get creative. Find them projects or training time that will get them some relief from the phone while still contributing to the department. If you can get them an extra break on a slow Friday afternoon or let them go home early, go for it. Just make sure you keep your manager in the loop with whatever you choose to do, leading into tip #2…

   Stay on the same page with your manager

The team lead role is often a hybrid position between manager and agent. Thus, it is important to make sure you discuss with your manager what their expectations are for balancing your role. Sometimes a team lead might be 80% manager, 20% agent and sometimes they might be 80% agent, 20% manager, and it’s important to know where you are on the spectrum. I’m fortunate to be in a position where my manager takes a fairly hands-off approach due to the very technical nature of my team’s job duties. I am empowered to make management-level decisions as long as I keep my manager posted on any actions I take and can explain the rationale behind my decisions. If I make the wrong decision, it is OK as long as I learn from it and can grow. And as any manager could tell you, there usually aren’t clear ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ decisions. But even in my role, the amount of responsibility I have has increased substantially from when I started as team lead, so it’s important to have ongoing dialogue to make sure you and your manager are in sync.

   The customer is still your top stakeholder

The ultimate purpose of the call center is outstanding customer service. It’s easy to focus on winning approval from above and below (your direct reports and your direct manager), but don’t lose sight of the bigger picture. Make sure your actions and decisions start with the customer first. As team lead, you may be the escalation point for dissatisfied customers or difficult to resolve issues. This is a great opportunity to set the customer service standard for the rest of the business. If there’s a policy or problem that’s resulting in customer dissatisfaction, try to correct it! This will lead to both internal and external recognition of your efforts and inspire those around you to focus on their customer service as well.

Jeremiah Methven is the Team Lead for iContact's Support Engineering team, who handles support for the iContact API, the iContact for Salesforce integration and social media channels, all while documenting product bugs and issues and assisting internal agents. Follow Jeremiah on Twitter at @methvenj

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Opposing Viewpoints: The Helpdesk and Service Team Take On Training

Call Center Weekly's very own Brooks Webb and Jeremiah Methven were interviewed by to provide two different perspectives on the call center training process, one from the support/service team (Brooks), and one from the helpdesk (Jeremiah):

(This blog post originally appeared on ICMI)
ICMI: What tools and technologies do you use to monitor your teams for QA?
Jeremiah: We record all calls and log all chat transcripts and email conversations so that we can perform QA. It is fairly easy to download an mp3 of a call for review or pull up an archived chat or email. Due to the highly specialized nature of my team’s work, I actually perform QA myself whereas we have a QA department who evaluates other Support interactions. We even set up an internal ‘hotline’ that second-level agents can call for assistance. Since a large part of my team’s job is to act as a point of assistance for other agents, I find it very useful to be able to listen to and QA these calls as well. 
Brooks: Premier Support’s QA is handled by our QA staff.  I’m only heavily involved if coaching is needed as a result of the QA score.  However, our QA team utilizes call recording technology, chat transcripts, and email history to review interactions.  Within our CRM, they’ve created a checklist associated with a series of points.  Based on the key points that are missed, points will be deducted from total score.

ICMI: Tell me a little about your training process for new employees/team members. 
Jeremiah: Our training process is very hands-on and team-based. The typical new hire is someone who has already worked in the Support department for a year or more so we assume a strong level of familiarity with our application and the operations of the department. Thus, although getting the new hire up to speed on the new skills they will need is important, it’s even more critical to get them used to operating in a less structured, more collaborative small team environment. I find the best way to do this is by having them nest with the team and letting the team be responsible for getting the new person up to speed. 
Brooks: Each new hire in Premier Support goes through 2 weeks of classroom training with our Learning and Development team.  Training days typically consist of 6 hrs of training and 2 hrs of shadowing agents on the floor.  This gives the agent time to see the material put into practice. Following the two weeks of training, the agent goes through a nesting period in which they do a little bit of everything (phone, chat, and email).  During that time, they have a tenured agent close by to assist them with any questions they might have.
ICMI: Do you offer continuing learning opportunities?  What type of programs do you have in place?
Jeremiah: We  are more informal in this regard, and to a large extent, I expect my team to take initiative in determining their own training needs. We do have a large online, interactive curriculum covering different technologies and skills so if a team member expresses interest in a particular area, I will often point them towards a particular course. These are generally 3-4 hours in length and can be completed in multiple sessions.
Brooks: I like to provide additional training opportunities to those who are interested.  If someone wants to take their career in a certain direction, I’ll recommend or assign additional training to help them get there.  The training typically includes online tutorials, recommended readings, and/or interactive courses via our L&D Portal.
ICMI: What advice would you offer for training tenured agents on new technology and techniques?
Jeremiah: Joining my team comes with the expectation that the agent will become the expert on any new attributes of our application or new techniques we are emphasizing. If working with a tenured agent who may be more reticent to embrace new technology, I would ensure that that person gets consistent exposure to that technology. In that sense, working in a call center has its benefits since an agent will rarely have the option to try and avoid change. If they are on a call with a customer asking about a new issue, they are expected to be able to answer that call.
Brooks: It needs to be hands on and interactive.  Tenured agents know as much as they know because they’ve been doing it for so long.  Watching a webinar or a presentation isn’t going to cut it. 
ICMI: How has new technology changed the training process for contact center professionals?  What do you see as the challenges and benefits?
Jeremiah: We increasingly rely on recorded video and online interactive courses for training purposes. The benefits are that it allows you to work at your own pace. Especially with recorded video, it can also be used for customers when appropriate. I feel as long new technology isn’t being implemented only for the sake of using new technology, then benefits will accrue. Challenges could occur if an agent is required to go out of their comfort zone for the purposes of training, but if that is the case, the problem might be with the training rather than the technology.
Brooks: Interactive online courses that are available 24/7 have had a huge impact.  Agents can review the training material one at a time during different intervals throughout the day/week.  This means taking fewer agents off of the phones at any given time, which results in better service levels and a better customer experience.  While this is a benefit for the customer’s sake, there is something to be said about classroom training.  In the classroom, agents are more engaged with one another and they get to hear the thoughts and questions of their peers.
ICMI: It’s becoming increasingly popular to use gamifying methods for training—especially to motivate millennial—what, if any, gamifying techniques have you used?

Jeremiah: I haven’t really used any gamifying methods in my training, although I am certainly intrigued by the idea. We generally use quizzes and tests as our means of monitoring training progress, along with general monitoring and QA. 
Brooks: We have interactive course work via our L&D portal, but I wouldn’t say the courses are using gamifying techniques.  Most interactive course work that I’ve experienced has been fairly outdated.  I would love to see the new trends in this field, and I’m sure it would have a huge impact on the new generation that’s coming into the call center industry.

Brooks Webb is the Manager of the Premier Support team at iContact, where his team handles all second level support inquiries, including Billing Support, Level 2 Technical Support, and Support for all Top Level Managed Accounts. Follow Brooks on Twitter @WBrooksWebb

Jeremiah Methven is the Team Lead for iContact's Support Engineering team, who handles support for the iContact API, the iContact for Salesforce integration and social media channels, all while documenting product bugs and issues and assisting internal agents. Follow Jeremiah on Twitter at @methvenj

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Review of

By: Jeremiah Methven
I recently signed up for the alpha release of former iContact CEO Ryan Allis's new venture, Connect (Disclaimer: I am a current employee of iContact and worked for the company for almost 2 years during Ryan's tenure as CEO). Although is still in its early stages (as witnessed by the fact that it is an alpha release), I thought it would be interesting to see where the product is at so far and where it is headed in the future.

So, what is Connect? Currently, the main point of the tool is to allow you to visualize the locations of all of your Facebook friends, the idea being to quickly and easily see where your friends are located (see below screenshot for an example):

In this regard, Connect delivers, as it immediately prompts you to connect your Facebook account, and once you do so, you see a map of the world with bubbles highlighting the locations of all of your friends. From there, you can intuitively drill down by different categories or zoom in onto the map to see more easily defined geographic regions.

I am most impressed by the fact that feedback is prominently incorporated. In the lower-right corner, there is a box prompting you to enter feedback. When I first signed up for the alpha last week, I entered feedback that the Workplace and School searches weren't functioning correctly. At the time, I tried searching for iContact under Workplace, but got no results. I suggested that besides the search not working, the search would be more powerful if when I typed my query, a list of possible search matches would auto-populate. Well, just 48 hours later, not only did a list of possible search matches auto-populate when I typed in results, there was also a pre-populated list which I assume is based on the frequency of certain workplaces among my Friends list. Even better, the Groups section now included automatically created groups based on the schools and workplaces in my own profile. Perhaps it was coincidence, but I certainly would prefer to take the view that Ryan and the makers of Connect are reacting to and consistently implementing user feedback.

Overall, I feel Connect is a promising new social media application. Perhaps unsurprisingly since it is an alpha release, it still has the feel of being a work in progress, but the basic concept is a strong one. One fairly obvious improvement (and one which I strongly suspect the creators are already working to implement) would be to extend to social networks besides just Facebook. I also would like to see more new and innovative ways that the generated map of friends could be used to create social connections. Ideas that come to mind are more active participation, such as if the site had the ability to proactively make recommendations on who to visit based on your travel plans, or perhaps allow you to publish travel plans so that your friends would be aware when you're in the area. Certainly there are a lot of potential ideas to be explored and I will be eager to see how the application continues to develop.

Jeremiah Methven is the Team Lead for iContact's Support Engineering team, who handles support for the iContact API, the iContact for Salesforce integration and social media channels, all while documenting product bugs and issues and assisting internal agents. Follow Jeremiah on Twitter at @methvenj

Friday, June 7, 2013

How to Provide a Positive Experience to Your Customer

Designed by: Kyra Young

As agents, it's our job to provide our customers with positive customer experiences. How is that done? I believe it is a five step process. Below is an infographic that illustrates my formula for customer satisfaction.

About Kyra Young:
Kyra is a Product Expert at iContact Corporation. Kyra manages her day by providing customer service to small business and enterprise clients. She strives to build relationships with customers while assisting them with using the iContact application. Kyra has a background in supporting macros, developing graphics, and producing maps. In her spare time she enjoys photography, fashion, and art.