Wednesday, October 22, 2014

How to Lead a Contact Center in 90 Days

By Sarah Reed

Last week I celebrated my 90th day in a new contact center. After 19 years in the industry, I am back to being at the bottom of the tenure ladder. I’m new. I’m green. I’m untested.

It’s bound to happen to any leader, in any industry, but I think being a new contact center leader is an especially daunting endeavor. You see, it’s not just about knowing the job, or the processes, or the best practices…it’s about learning the people. And there are a lot of people to learn!When you are invested in customer service, you are likewise invested in customers and agents and support staff, which when unhappy, can turn an entire business on its head.

So what should you do within your first 90 days as a contact center leader? How can you avoid a personnel mutiny or damage to the customer experience? Can you possibly learn how to lead a contact center in only 90 days?

Here’s what I suggest any new contact center leader do during days 0-90:

  1. Introduce Yourself. Before you even set foot onto the floor of the contact center, make sure everyone knows who you are and what you stand for. Before joining my new firm, I created a detailed presentation in which I conveyed my personality, my leadership style, my passion and my purpose. I had my new boss send it out to everyone in our department and to other people I should know. The presentation immediately opened the doors to commentary, introductions and comfort. Once you do get to your new job, make sure you meet people from all departments. A contact center leader needs lots of allies.
  2. Listen. Don’t start off with making changes and telling people how you do things. Instead, have them tell you about their history, their tenure, and their vision. Listen to everyone and every level that you can get access to. There is much to learn by listening. 
  3. Observe.Although I invited myself to many meetings with fellow leaders, I spent most of my first 90 days watching the exchanges rather than conveying my opinion. It’s important to understand team dynamics and politics. It’s also necessary to recognize barriers to decision-making that may exist.
  4. Question. Don’t forget to ask meaningful questions along the way! By being open, nonjudgmental, and interested in the ‘why, you gain valuable insight and trust. Some of my favorites include: What is one thing that you do that is awesome?What is something we do that you wish every contact center did? Which one metric do you think defines success?What’s an idea you have that would make the service we provide even better? 
  5. Be Visible. Sit out on the floor, walk the rows, go to lunch with people, and join in on conversations. Don’t ensconce yourself behind an office door or you’ll never appreciate how the contact center really operates. And mix up your hours. Be there early in the morning and then late into a shift. It’s important to see if the culture changes across the hours of operation.
  6. Communicate. Make sure that your new team continuously hears your voice and your intentions. Almost every week I send out an email to the department. Sometimes I share a fabulous customer service experience, or in others an idea that I’ve picked up and that may be applicable to our roles. And some weeks I just spin a lively tale about my life that provides a needed bit of levity to a sometimes stressful contact center.
  7. Lead Strong.Your actions and energy scream volumes about your leadership style, so ensure that you are leading by example. Volunteer for company activities, start a book club, or become involved in a department committee. Restart an initiative that may have gone stale (like a recognition program that was once popular.)Leadership is so much more than managing people and your teams need to see that you are invested in the company and in their future.
  8. Shadow. It’s not enough to spend copious amounts of time with your new peers. It’s perhaps even more important to spend it with the frontlines and the support staff. If people trust you (and they should by now), you’ll hear nuances about process, customers, and technology that would otherwise take you years to acquire. Focus groups are great, but one-on-one discussions will always build stronger relationships.
  9. Impart Your Wisdom. You were hired for a reason, so make sure you have opportunities to spread your contact center knowledge. Hold voluntary classes where you talk about your favorite metric or operational style. Offer up assistance to team members tackling large projects and provide research or best practices. Most importantly, be available to guide and to help.
  10. Repeat. Just because you made it to Day 91, doesn’t mean the hard work is over. Contact centers run best with consistency and constant fine-tuning. So go back up and do it all over again.

Sarah Stealey Reed has over 19 years of global expertise in operations, offshore outsourcing, customer experience, and contact center management. She’s an influential leader who has built contact centers from the ground-up, fiscally managed them for growth, and acted as a turn-around specialist for struggling metrics and employees. 

Sarah is currently a leader for the CallCenter at Deloitte Services LP, which operates internal support for its global employees from three facilities in Hermitage, TN, Los Angeles, CA and Hyderabad, India. Sarah was previously the Content Director and Senior Analyst for ICMI, responsible for the community’s editorial content, strategy, and research analysis. She’s a writer, analyst, blogger, and social poster, and speaks worldwide on emerging trends and best practices in customer support.

Sarah can be reached, followed, liked, or shared through:
Twitter: @stealeyreed

Friday, October 3, 2014

Happy Customer Service Week!

Customer Service Week is a few days away! Are you ready?

This is one of my favorite times of year to be at work. For me, it is a great opportunity to show my appreciation and gratitude for all the hard work each team member does.

While I am all about Customer Service Week, I try each day to acknowledge the good work of agents or spend time talking with them. The challenge of leadership is to praise and reward our staff all year, and not just during this time set aside to celebrate.

It is easy to get caught up in the challenges of the day and become distant from those on the front line. During the week of celebration, let's not forget that a part of our success as leaders is due to those women and men who diligently serve our customers. Celebrate them!

Happy Customer Service Week!

Sean is a Contact Center manager with over 13 years of experience. He has a terrific pulse on incorporating innovation into the contact center. He's implemented social, outsourcing partners, new technology, and new products, while maintaining an award-winning contact center.

His contact center is a past winner of the ICMI "Global Call Center of the Year" award for Small to Medium-Sized Centers.

Follow on Twitter @SeanBHawkins