Monday, July 31, 2017

Elements of Inspiring a Culture of Compassion

By: Cheri Arafiles

In 2008, I was in a role where my one and only job was to address patient complaints. Every day I circulated the hospital talking to patients and their families, a task that allowed them to express their concerns in a safe space. One morning, I checked in on a patient whose first words to me were, “Cheri, do you like your job?” and this stunned me. I had never really thought about this, and now, in this moment, I was forced to answer. At the time I did, I liked my job, but as we wrapped up the conversation I was left with a thought that sat with me for the next few days.

I returned to her a few days later to ask her why she felt compelled to ask me this question. I was concerned that I had done something that might have made her feel uncomfortable. It turned out that I wasn’t the only one she asked - she asked everyone who went to her room. I felt compelled to ask her why she asked me this, her response was, “Well Cheri, sometimes the people who take care of me make me feel like they are here just to collect a paycheck. It’s like they are here to do time.”

I wasn’t surprised by what she said, but I was surprised by her courage to say something about it. Being the person addressing complaints on the daily I knew this was happening, but I didn’t necessarily know what I could do about it. It was this very interaction that inspired me to unpack what it really means to create a positive patient experience and to restore the feeling of fulfillment in the industry of helping people.

We should feel good when we help people - it’s a part of our biology. Through hundreds of interviews and focus groups, I learned about the reality of losing the sense of purpose and fulfillment in the face of demanding regulatory policies, patients and leaders. I also realized that it does not have to be this way. The patient experience is about taking care of patients and it’s also about taking care of the people who take care of them.

I believe that the environments in which we work in matter, and what is important to our leaders matter. Here is my perspective on what should be considered if you want to lead a culture of empathy, compassion and connection:
  • If you want the employees to treat customers, patients and each other with compassion, leaders have to do this too. Traditional customer service programs will tell people how to act, what to say and why they should do things. If you really take a moment to listen to their perspective on what service means, you’ll be amazed by their passion around helping people. If you want employees to listen carefully, treat patients and customers with courtesy and respect, explain things in a way that they can understand – you, as their leader, should do the same.

Most people’s first reaction to this comment is, “I already do that.” Although your reflection is important it doesn’t matter unless the receiver of your behavior feels that same way too. In healthcare, thousands of patients are telling healthcare organizations that they aren’t consistently listening carefully, communicating well, or treating patients with courtesy and respect. When hospitals and medical groups saw their scores for the first time, most organizations were in shock and almost always denied that the data was true or questioned that the survey questions were valid measures. If leaders want the employees to develop their skills for expressing compassion, or “good service”, imagine how impactful leaders could be if they took take those same skills and apply them to their interactions with their employees. With this said, this means that the following also applies to you and your development as well.
  • Empower employees with social skills and help them see how it applies in their everyday interactions with people. We can define empathy and compassion all day and we can explain what it is and the steps to take when applying empathy to patients or customers but, to be completely honest, this really isn’t all that inspiring. The patient experience is a social relationship. Social skills for interacting with all people like expressing compassion toward someone who is not compassionate toward you or empathy for others at work or in your personal life are important to these interactions. People learn the best when they can relate to the skills you want them to practice. If you can get them to think about how these skills play out to make them a better person in their personal and professional lives, your training will be so much more than a boring customer service class. Use stories and examples from the professional world and personal life. If these are skills that teach them expressions of kindness and they see how it applies to their personal lives, when they are faced with the service situation where it applies, they will be confident in their ability to use it because they’ve seen it play out in other aspects of their lives.
  • Teach employees how to manage their own emotions. Creating a positive experience for anyone – patients, customers, our spouse, our children, our friends, etc. really starts with our own internal experience. If you are stressed or in a depressed mood, and you are told to smile and be happy or friendly, think about the energy that it would require of you. Think about how authentic or genuine your interactions may or may not be. The reality is that people have other aspects of their lives that may sometimes interfere with their mood, their inspiration, and their ability to operate from a genuinely compassionate place. To give you a perspective on this reality, over the last decade the number of anti-anxiety and anti-depressant medications prescribed to Americans have skyrocketed by 400%! Empowering people with the knowledge around vulnerability, shame and happiness will not only help people understand themselves on a deeper emotional level, but they will also understand others on a deeper emotional level. In the age of demanding good service, a part of that plan has to be about deepening the understanding of ourselves so that we can easily recognize important emotions in others and express compassion in the most appropriate way.
  • Establish a common language to solidify the message of the culture. Every group, every family, every organization has values and beliefs that bring them together. The key is to document and highlight the language around it so that everyone can understand one another and moreover understand expectations for the experience they create for others. The advantage of doing this is that you now have a platform that brings people on the same human level. Imagine your highest level executives and your most frontline employees speaking the same language about how the patient/customer experience is approached – where they share stories acknowledging the ability to grow and learn, their experiences and challenges with practicing empathy and the effort required to extend compassion to others. If you can get the people within the organization on the same page – all levels, all departments, all roles, you’ve build a community of people who share the same understanding of what it means to help people.

When we feel helped, treated with courtesy and respect, listened to, and responded to in a way that is patient and understanding we consider this a positive experience. Technology, broken processes, and hostile work environments definitely challenge our ability to do this, but if we each take personal responsibility for the way in which we contribute to these environments, we can together see the potential in our ability to create a world where this is possible.

My point is that telling people what to do, how to do it and why they should it isn’t going to be enough to inspire meaning and purpose to create compassionate experiences. Leaders need to do exactly what is expected of employees like listen carefully, treat them with courtesy and respect, give a warm greeting and welcoming remark, etc. If they can experience for themselves what the experience should be, they will be more likely to extend that to their patients and customers.

The patient and customer experience is a social relationship, which means that we need to deepen our understanding of our social nature so that we can better empathize and connect with people. And if we want to better understand others and their emotions, we have to first understand our emotions within ourselves. Finally, people are more likely to deepen their learning and the application of their learning when they are amongst others who are making the same effort - having a common language, a common understanding and common approach brings people together for the same collective effort to make an impact on the organization and beyond.

The founder of, Cheri Arafiles is "intellectually obsessed about the concept of compassion." She designs training sessions and sustainment programs intended to improve patient and customer experience, while also engaging leaders and employees, by developing and deepening the understanding of emotions.

Connect with Cheri on LinkedIn and Facebook.

#CustServ #QOTD

Thursday, July 27, 2017

What are Your Thoughts on After Call Talk?

By Sean Hawkins

We should all be familiar with After Call Work, aka wrap up time. This is simply the post call tasks agents must perform to complete the interaction. Inevitably, during this time, agents are prone to offer commentary on their call. This is generally said to no one in particular, but it's usually heard by everyone within range. I call it After Call Talk. Comments may express delight, humor, or frustration. Most often, it is the latter. Many contact center managers try to discourage these conversation, while I have witnessed others ignore it.

From an operations standpoint, this increases ACW time. Professionally, you want to be certain what is said is respectful, and appropriate for the work environment. Also, if agents are consistently expressing anger and frustration, it may negatively impact the team and the culture.

As contact center leaders, it is important to allow agents to embrace their emotions. However, through training and coaching, we achieve the opposite. We spend much time teaching agents not to get upset, but little time is spent training them how to handle their feelings. It's only natural for them to blow off steam. If they don't so with the customer (let's hope not), their idea time is after the call.

What are your thought? How do you handle this in your center?

I have over 15 years of progressive call center leadership and experience in the public, private and government sectors.

I have led or consulted contact centers of various sizes across numerous industries. Additionally, I’ve implemented new technology and products, while maintaining award-winning contact centers.

Connect with me on LinkedIn and Twitter.

#CustServ #QOTD

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Apologizing to Customers is Not Difficult

By Sean Hawkins

After a recent escalation from a very angry customer, the agent handling the call expressed gratitude and was quite surprised the customer was able to calm down and allow me the opportunity to resolve their problem. Having done this for a while, perhaps I had taken for granted the ease in which customer service should apologize. As this was a teachable moment, I took time to coach the agent on the approach I take.

While there are numerous ways to offer an apology, the best way to ruin one, is to make excuses, and take offense to the frustration directed at your brand. Therefore, the best way to start is to simply allow time for the customer to vent- without interruption. This approach has worked so well, at times the customer would stop mid-sentence and ask, "Are you there?" I respond by stating I wanted to give them all the time to vent and listen to their concerns. Usually, that is followed by a chuckle and, "I'm sorry, I just  want to get this solved?" At this point, it is up to you to make things right!

The Art of Apologizing

Being sympathetic is the starting point to apologizing. Sympathy allows you to understand the customer's experience. You place yourself in their shoes, and by doing so, you are sensitive to the frustrations and anxiety they are feeling. Because your feelings are now in harmony with that of the customer's, effective resolution becomes your primary focus. Likewise, you less likely to be offended and defensive.

Own it by letting the customer know you are aware of their concerns, and that you will work to resolve it. Now is not the time for excuses. Explain to the customer what you plan to do bring a swift, satisfactory resolution.

Explain the cause of the problem. Again, this is not an excuse, but the reason. A big part of defusing the situation is through transparency. When you allow your customers to get a glimpse of the internal, underlying issue, they become sympathetic to you, or at the least, less frustrated. After all, accidents happen. 

Follow up with the customer. Provide updates as need, notify them the problem has been resolved if it could not be resolved immediately or, check in to verify the issues has not reoccurred.

It's not that hard to do, and your customers will greatly appreciate your willingness to make things right. Oh, and don't forget to allow agents to offer discounts, or provide something of value for the customer's inconvenience.

I have over 15 years of progressive call center leadership and experience in the public, private and government sectors.

I have led or consulted contact centers of various sizes across numerous industries. Additionally, I’ve implemented new technology and products, while maintaining award-winning contact centers.

Connect with me on LinkedIn and Twitter.

#CustServ #QOTD

Monday, July 24, 2017

#CustServ #QOTD

Trust is Important in the Contact Center

By Celia Thomas

To aid and ensure contact center agents are successful, leadership must support and values them. One key area in this development, is trust.  There is an excellent quote by Steven Covey that speaks to the important of trust in leaders. “Without trust we don’t truly collaborate; we merely coordinate or, at best, cooperate. It is trust that transforms a group of people into a team.”  Trust will not only help create a team, it will help create exceptional individuals.

Relationship building will lead to agent trust. The leader is responsible for creating the strong professional bonds between them and their direct reports. Trust is a result of listening to staff, engagement, and inclusion. Agents need to be built up by the leadership team. As agents get developed, whether it be through coaching, training, or one-on-one conversations, leadership is offered the opportunity to strengthen the bonds of trust between them.

When the front line has confidence in the leadership team, they will be more open to coaching, modifying their behaviors, and they’ll adapt to change easier. As agents improve, they become proud of their achievements. They strive for more success, feel valued, and recognize the significance their performance has on the team. In short, they care!

With this attitude saturating the team, it is easy to cultivate a nurturing environment. The return on the investment we make on the agents positively effects many areas in the center. The return is so much greater than our efforts. Building trust with your agents will make a world of difference in morale, team performance and attendance.  The agents will feel good about where they work and more importantly who they work for. They become driven to succeed, while becoming more invested with the company.

Leadership sets the tone.
What destroys trust? Most always, agents will say leadership is lacking in three key areas: 
  1. Support
  2. Transparency
  3. Honesty
Not paying attention to the cares of the team, deflates morale and kills productivity. If we don't make time for agents, or listen to their concerns, our team will inevitably die. This results in the company spending more money on hiring and training, while managing high turnover due to a poor agent experience. The negative impact will ripple throughout the center and could be very hard to come back from. A leader's reputation speaks volumes. Below are a few things that can erode trust.
  • Unfair treatment/favoritism
  • No time for the agent/team
  • Failing to recognizing/reward agent performance
  • Unapproachable
  • Poor communication
Leadership sets the tone! When a leader shows interest in the team members, it has a positive impact. This is far reaching, and measurable in areas such as retention, production, achieving KPI's, better attendance, improved quality, and improved morale.

Agent trust is gained by leaders who are servant-leaders. These are the leaders who are not above conducting demo calls, role playing, or getting down in the trenches with the agent. It proves to the agents that leadership values them, and is willing to invest time and effort into developing them, or assisting them as needed.

The return on investment yields high dividends. When an agent is empowered and equipped by their leader, it builds trust, which in turn, is transferred to the team as a whole. Agent performance will reflect the leader who is behind them. The sense of comradery between the team and the leader is built on trust, which drives success in the center.  

Celia Thomas has 22 years of experience in the contact center, including 9 years in call center management. She has extensive knowledge in overseeing day to day operations, and is well versed in managing both Inbound and Outbound projects. During her career she has managed and grown many B2B and B2C client programs.

Follow Celia on Twitter & LinkedIn!

Friday, July 21, 2017

Friday Funny

Passion is The Key to a Great Contact Center

By: Sean Hawkins

As customer service professionals, we can all sympathize with the monotonous routine of call center agents. Log in to assist the customers, then log out and go to lunch and/or break. This is repeated a few more times before going home. In between this time, they answer the same calls, follow the same script, and receive the same complaints. Void of decision making opportunities, they soon work on auto-pilot. They'll go through the motions void of emotions and a sense of purpose. They soon forget the importance of the work they do.

Have you ever witnessed a newly hired agent full of zeal, only to witness that same agent become disinterested, and without the joy and enthusiasm they once had? The passion they had has evaporated. 

Often, leadership misapplies this behavior. They look outward (at staff) rather than inward (leadership) to address these behaviors. The same issues are addressed, and policies are created, only to be revised and addressed numerous times in the future. The wrong perspective leads to the wrong solution!

This constant change exacerbates the frustration and angst of the agent. Before long, you have pervasive issues that have become a part of the culture. You'll hear "That's just the way it is." as a common phrase being used by employees. Let's face it, no one wants to work in that environment! So, it is imperative that leadership employ the right strategy to combat this. 

Feed Their Passion

Passion is a high or strong desire for something. It motivates one to reach a goal, or helps shape your world view. This strong belief allows us to do what seems impossible. Not only that, but we do it with zeal and enthusiasm. Passion will take us farther than we thought we could go. It is the intangible that many leaders overlook, or fail to understand.

In The Fred Factor, Mark Sanborn says "Uninspired people rarely do inspired work. Passionate people in an organization are different. They do ordinary things extraordinarily well."  Passion is the fuel that keeps an organization afloat. It motivates staff to go above and beyond what is expected.

As customer support agents are the frontline for all customer interactions, it is of vital
importance to ensure they remain enthused, engaged, and inspired. This MUST be a leadership initiative! There is a great line in Remember the Titans that reinforces this: 

“Attitude reflects leadership, captain.”

How can leaders ensure staff remain passionate about their work?
  1. Tap into their expertise
  2. Inspire
  3. Engage their passions
It is just as important to keep your internal customers as happy as your external customers. Doing so will reward you in multiple ways far beyond achieving the day-to-day metrics that you track. This includes, but is not limited to:
Reduced Attrition - Numerous studies have shown employees leave a company because they aren't challenged in their work, or because they aren't being utilized effectively in ways that allow them to use their skills. Their productivity and quality will decrease as they struggle to do the work. Additionally, they lose focus and fail to grow. Over time, they become dissatisfied and ultimately move on.

However, when employees are valued, and enjoy the work, they tend to remain with the company. They help create a culture of excellence, and cause others to become just as excited and passionate. 

Improved Engagement - When staff are fully engaged, challenged and utilized properly, they produce quality work that directly impacts the company's bottom line. As Kevin Kruse suggests, "Employee engagement is the lever that can move that needle. I call it the engagement profit chain."

This "engagement profit chain" is the result of better service and an improved customer experience, in which customers are now ambassadors, who will champion your brand. Customer loyalty is directly impacted by exceptional service. People are willing to pay for quality. This includes quality customer service! The engaged employee becomes an ambassador and advocate for the team. They buy-in and take ownership of the mission.  

Effective Communication - A byproduct of engagement is communication. It is great to witness a team discussing relevant issue or sharing information, then transforming that into an action plan to enhance the service experience. However, this should work in unison with leadership being transparent and informative. Keep your team up to date with information, and do so in a timely manner.

Equally important is explaining why. Too often, those in leadership fail to provide details into how and why decisions are being made. Concealed information is just as bad as no information at all. When employees gain insight into the details, the can better understand and readily embrace the decisions that were made.

Now, let's be clear, effective communication also involves listening. It is important to extend the courtesy to agents. Allow them the time and the means to share their thoughts. Furthermore, incorporate their feedback where it makes sense.

Through communication, they can provide you with a better understanding of who they are, what motivates them, and what they are passionate about. Also, they can remove the blinders to things you may not have been aware of. Effective communication is a great course corrector and gauge for how things are going.

Innovation - Some of the best ideas I've incorporated in the contact center is due to agent feedback. Where there is passion, there is innovation! Great ideas are the result of team members being fully invested and interested in the work they do, coupled with trust. However, leadership must be committed to putting the same investment and interest into their staff.

Seek their input and be inclusive when making decisions that impact them. One of the things I constantly ask staff is to tell me what we SHOULD be doing rather than focusing on what we are doing. This allows them to view things from a different perspective. They begin to think about improvements and enhancements that may often go undiscovered. Since they are familiar with customers, products, services, and procedures, they'll have great ideas for improvement and innovations.

Lead With Purpose

“Leadership is lifting a person’s vision to high sights, the raising of a person’s performance to a higher standard, the building of a personality beyond its normal limitations” 
Peter Drucker

Leadership and management aren't the same thing! Leadership is selfless, patient, and kind. As a leader, your primary responsibility is the wellness of those you have been charged to lead. I am forever grateful for having leaders who taught me the value of putting people above metrics. I adhere to this lesson daily and I teach this to new leaders. Nothing should be more important than people!

In the contact center, agents feel the pressure to meet performance standards. This could be metrics and/or KPIs, or some other measurement. They are constantly made aware of how they are performing, and how they rank against their peers. Throw in the dashboards and reports, along with daily reminders and tips, and you can see how sensory overload can easily occur.

This leads to shortcuts to achieve the desired results, but it's not sustainable. Ultimately, their performance or their attitude will suffer. Sometimes, both are affected. Nothing saddens me more than watching great people struggle to keep up. They question their ability, competency and worth. Sadly, I have been there.

In those moments, leadership is critical to their improvement. Seek ways to boost their confidence while also offering a listening ear. Be empathetic to their struggles and display sympathy with reassuring, thoughtful words, and acts of kindness. 

Why Do You Lead
In my younger days, I knew I wanted to be a leader. However my reason for wanting to be a leader was not consistent with what it took to be a leader. Therefore, I failed.

In my mind, leaders made lots of money, they were highly valued, and respected. Having an office was an added bonus. A leadership role was a sign that you had arrived. Boy, was I a fool! That is another story, for another time.

Needless to say, my idea of leadership was lacking. Okay, it was far removed from what leadership is truly about. I spent time being busy, but I was not productive. I was focused on the results without respecting the team needed to achieve the results. It was during this time that I begin to change my approach. The only other option, was termination.

First and foremost, I had to reevaluate why I wanted to be a leader. Then, I had to learn the principles of effective leadership. This was a humbling experience. If your motive for being a leader is not directly grounded in nurturing and growing your staff professionally and personally, you will fail. You may achieve the goal, but you will have failed the people.

How To Lead
In my opinion, leadership is not a position. It is a way of being. It is a state of mind. This suggests that anyone can be a leader regardless of their role. I truly believe this, and constantly remind everyone in the workplace of this. However, anyone who has direct reports MUST be a leader.

Much has been written in the subject of how to lead, and the traits exceptional leaders possess. While I am not an authority on the matter, I simply need to look at those leaders who made the greatest impact on me, combined with those things I learned through trial and error.

If you want to be a leader, these are characteristics that will help you be successful:
  • Exemplary
  • Insightful
  • Disciplined
  • Respectable
  • Kind
  • Inspiring

This is not an exhaustive list however, I feel those mentioned are not self-serving. That is what separates leaders from bosses. Leaders serve others. Through servant-leadership, they create a team that will eagerly follow. 

Tie It Together

The servant-leader sets the conditions for growth and excellence. It is her passion to do so. Their greatest joy comes from creating new leaders, influencers, and subject matter experts.

And thus, we come full circle. Leadership is about tapping into the passions and interests of your team, and utilizing it in ways to keep them excited, engaged, and fully invested in their work and mission. Thus, their passion never dies.

I have over 15 years of progressive call center leadership and experience in the public, private and government sectors.

I have led or consulted contact centers of various sizes across numerous industries. Additionally, I’ve implemented new technology and products, while maintaining award-winning contact centers.

Connect with me on LinkedIn and Twitter.

#CustServ #QOTD

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

6 Extremes That Are Killing the Productivity of your Telecommuting Employees

By Julie Fredrickson

Whether you have a few employees occasionally working at home, or an entire staff working remotely, there are some extreme management techniques that can kill your employees’ productivity.

Managing Out of Fear
If you have a good employee who is performing well, and meeting their requirements, you are doing well. Constantly checking up, interrogating, or otherwise showing you do not trust them to do their job will decrease their productivity, morale, and performance. There may be a tendency of not trusting remote employees to do their job because of a lack of visibility. This should be avoided unless warranted. Don't allow this to be your default perspective.  

Giving Too Much Rope

While checking in with your employee every five minutes is an obvious productivity killer, throwing caution to the wind isn’t the right choice either.  You can show your employees you trust them, and still hold them accountable for their production.  Assign projects with deadlines, track metrics, and/or assign tasks as required. Setting goals, assigning projects, and checking progress keeps your employees accountable. 

Coming to the Office too Frequently

If possible, a monthly, in-office workday is a an ideal way to keep employees engaged and connected to the rest of the workforce.This may include training, and/or one-on-one coaching. 

Any more than once per month often requires the need for two workspaces, which eliminates the company's benefit to telecommuting, due to additional equipment costs paying floor space.  What is an alternative?  Taking advantage of the mobility that technology offers! 

Inadequate communication

An at-home work environment can isolate staff from the corporate experience.  If you are a leader of a remote workforce, you must connect with staff in meaningful ways.  This goes further than a phone call.  Embrace the technology that connects us. Team  conference calls and  video conferencing are great options. Find ways to promote team unity and bridge the divide between the remote and office teams.

Assuming the Worst

Do you want your team to trust you?  If you are assuming the worst (they aren’t working, or are squandering away their day on social media), then you aren’t ready for this responsibility or you have failed to recruit and train a quality staff.  Either way, if you don’t trust them, it is unlikely they trust you, and that is a culture killer.  Make the decision to trust this process before you begin, or risk sabotaging your team, their morale, and yourself.

Failing to Monitor Change, Compare Performance, or Follow Up on Assignments

If your at-home work program begins with a probationary period on-site, or your employees started on-site, be sure to hang on to their performance measurements.  You may be surprised to see your remote worker performs much better in the comfort of their own home. If the opposite is true, you will be able to make decisions about their future based on comparison of performance metrics.

If your at-home workforce performs similar duties as an on-site team, compare performance.  There is no reason why expectations should vary based on where an employee’s workspace is located.  They should be held to the same standard, and they should perform at the same standard.

The key to a high performing, at-home workforce, is balance.  Build trust and relationship, set goals and expectations, and let go of fear.  Recruit the right people and train them well. Trust them to do their job, and embrace the technology available to you.  Have a plan and don’t be afraid to alter the plan if the need arises.  Most of all, be weary of the extremes that could kill productivity.

Julie Fredrickson is a Remote Workforce and Employee Engagement Specialist with a diverse background in Customer Service working at such companies as Walgreens, Mayo Clinic Health System, and All-Calls Call Center Outsourcing. 

A Minnesota Native and Rasmussen College graduate, she can be found on LinkedIn and Twitter 

#CustServ #QOTD