The call center experience of today’s world can be hostile at best and abusive at its worst. Record number of leaders, like you, are frantically searching Google to find a way to protect the mental health and well-being of their agents. But frankly, it’s tough.
Yet, your agents are still sitting there, taking it all in.
As queue interactions continue to pile up, you know your team of frontline agents is on fire. You know they’re overwhelmed. And can you blame them? Their workday is filled to the brim with angry customers belittling them, often over problems that have nothing to do with them. They take dozens of interactions each hour, they’re escalating conversations and they rarely have enough time to inhale a sandwich for lunch.
Dealing with the constant demands of the role can be detrimental to mental and physical health. So, when questions surfaced about how to protect agents, and how to address all the stresses of the (sometimes-maddening) call center experience, I put my optimistic hat on and thought, “let’s talk about it!”
So today, we’re talking through three management techniques you can use in your operations (and two to ditch) to start dousing the flames and improve your call center experience.
1. Root yourself in a leadership style that fits your team
You serve as the North Star for your team. They look to you for guidance and direction. Step one in improving your call center experience is rooting your actions in a leadership style that benefits your team. Without a solid leader, your team will flounder.
Here are four commonly effective leadership styles to choose from and align to:
The Assertive Leader
These leaders build their teams up rather than tear them down. As an assertive leader, you’re firm but fair in your actions. You’re actively involved with your agents rather than operating hands-off. Your thoughts and opinions are clear, you always defend your point of view and you encourage healthy debate amongst your team.
The Experience Coach
The experience coach focuses on individualism. Every conversation and 1:1 is ultra-personalized and in-the-moment. You know that providing relevant feedback often will improve your agents’ well-being and your customer satisfaction. This is the gold standard for successful call center managers. Because, to be a stellar manager, you have to be a good coach, too.
The Democratic Leader
Democratic leaders seek input from every team member and give a voice to those on the front line. You give every agent a sense of ownership over their role. And, you include your agents in big-picture conversations. Even the tough ones.
The Strategic Leader
Strategic leaders balance employee wants and needs with the goals of the company. You look beyond your role and the role of your agents to see the larger impact of every decision. And, you’re always thinking ahead. Proactive is your middle name.
2. Clarify expectations
Your agents often suffer in silence waiting for leadership to clarify goals and expectations. Conversation after conversation reveals a consistent pain in the call center experience: agents don’t know what’s expected of them. Yet still, they get reprimanded and put on PIPs when they fail to meet business requirements. Talk about demoralizing.
“Less than half of all global workers have clarity on how their individual work adds value to the organization. When they do have clarity, their motivation doubles.”
Work with your team to set quarterly contact center goals. And, as you map out each goal, assign relevant metrics to help agents understand progress toward those goals. Without metrics in place to measure progress, your team won’t get a clear picture of how their hard work translates to better results and outcomes.
Performance improves when employees see how their daily actions impact company growth. Clarify goals and daily performance metrics to empower your agents with the knowledge they need to succeed in their roles.
3. Empower your employees with information and training
Your agents feel secure in their roles when they trust your leadership and have the knowledge they need to do their jobs well.
In a fast-paced environment that’s always changing, you have to go the extra mile to build trust and empowerment with your team. Take a page out of this HBR playbook, and use adaptive leadership techniques to fuel agent empowerment.
The 4 steps to master:
- Anticipate the future needs of your agents and your customers, so your team is never blindsided.
- Articulate the needs you identify so you can build understanding and support with your agents.
- Adapt as you go. Recalibrate coaching based on new customer intel and the performance data you surface.
- Be Accountable for your team and how the decisions you make influence your goals and company progress.
The two management faux pas you need to ditch
1. Handing out too much busywork
The average worker spends 60% of their day on work related to work. Our friends over at Asana logged this type of work as: searching for info, going to a boatload of meetings, and chasing down supervisors and managers for approval.
While some managers think outputs = outcomes, the reality is, your agents are inundated with menial tasks that don’t positively impact your customer experience. In fact, they’re stuck doing tons of side hustles on top of serving customers.
They surf through dozens of systems for information to solve customer problems. They get stuck in a web of strict policies when they need to escalate an interaction. And, they spend entirely too much time asking customers to repeat information (not to mention, solving the same problem 100 times over).
Turn to automation and simple workflows to eliminate busy work for your team. You need to arm them with information, sure, but surfacing the info they need shouldn’t add 17 more tasks to their plate.
Use the Pareto Principle, also known as the 80/20 rule, to justify investments in lightening your agents’ workload. The Pareto Principle says that 20% of a person’s tasks present 80% of their results. While it might feel like urging your agents to handle more interactions or surf through systems is a good use of their time, the rule proves otherwise.
It highlights the idea that automation is your friend. Taking menial tasks off your agents’ plates lets them approach harder conversations with careful intention. If agents spend 20% of their time handling complex customer conversations with poise rather than rushed frustration, you’ll earn loyalty (and better business results).
2. Excessive micromanaging
Micromanagers crush autonomy. And, a lack of autonomy drains morale (plus, performance).
Rather than hovering, give your team space to work and problem-solve on their own. With clear goals, expectations and a healthy level of empowerment, your agents don’t need a drill sergeant. They’ll perform because they have the intrinsic motivation to do well.
(Reminder: Most people have the motivation to succeed so long as they’re given the right amount of support and coaching along the way.)
Don’t just step back and let your agents fly solo, though. Find the right balance of support and autonomy. Try implementing fast morning check-ins to gauge your agents’ morale and energy for the day. Merete Wedell-Wedellsborg wrote an HBR article detailing the 1-10 scale psychologists use to understand their clients’ state of mind. And, she explained how good managers use the same scale with their employees, too.
Here’s how it works:
You send a quick note to your agent asking them to rate their energy and productivity levels on a scale of 1-10. A 10 means adrenaline is coursing through and your agents are on alert. Operating in this “always-on” zone can lead to burnout. Fast. Meanwhile, a one means your agent’s motivation is non-existent. They feel completely drained. Wedell-Wedellsborg says high-performing teams like to sit in the 6-8 range. This is the sweet spot where agents feel alert and awake but not too reactive or manic.
If you feel productivity waning or you see metrics start to slip, put longer check-ins on the books to see how your agent is really feeling. Ask questions in their 1:1 to gather info on their performance and state of mind, so you can lend a hand and offer extra coaching where they need it.
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