Friday, July 21, 2017

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.

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