One Tough Job

Sometime during your career at your company, you put three simple letters together to form one tiny word that has gotten you into this predicament. At the time, you didn’t really understand the impact. You had said that word many times before. Little did you know the fire hose of responsibility that came with your utterance. The letters were “y-e-s.” Maybe you managed people in another department and you thought this would make a nice change. Perhaps you were a talented customer service representative who toiled for a time in the fray.

You were on the front lines, probably a Rose, a superstar, and the best of the best! Maybe you decided that being “in charge” was the place to be, or perhaps it was simply the money that tempted you. Whatever the reason, you are now a supervisor and you have one of the toughest jobs in the call center. Thirty-plus percent turnover, volatile customers, a never-ending supply of new employees, and an ever-growing list of new challenges greet you each day. You are the supervisor of some of the lowest paid and hardest working people at your company.

You are the supervisor of some of the lowest paid and hardest working people at your company.

Welcome to the world of call centers.

Now that we have painted such a rosy picture of your task, let’s look at what you can do each day to make a difference in your company and be a real superstar.

It is a privilege to be a leader and a manager. There is nothing more satisfying than taking a team of people and making them better both individually and as a team. Being on the front lines is especially rewarding, but now you get to be a part of the action and, at the same time, be part of the strategy. A frontline leader in a call center is as challenging a supervisor job as there is in business today. Hundreds of thousands of transactions, 240 seconds or less on average to make it successful, unknown problems, and entry-level employees … you get the message! Wow! What a chance to really make a difference!

Four Strategies

Let’s get right to what we can do to help you improve in your job. We will look at four strategies you can use. These are:
1.     Keep a running list of your Roses, Daisies, and Weeds.
2.     Establish business partnerships with your agents.
3.     Remember that your job is to coach, not play.
4.     Be a great collector of talent.

Keep a Running List of Your Team Members

It is very important for you to know exactly whom you have on your team and what their strengths and weaknesses are. I have even seen call centers shift people around to make sure they didn’t have too many Weeds or Roses. They actually said, “I will trade you two Daisies and one Weed for a Rose and two Weeds!” You are measured by the performance of your team. Make sure that you always know whom you have and where they fit. It will make achieving your goals much easier.

It is very important for you to know exactly whom you have on your team and what their strengths and weaknesses are.
Having too many of one type of person can make it more difficult to manage your department. As we mentioned earlier, call centers have a mix of Roses, Daisies and Weeds. If you have all Weeds, for example, it is virtually impossible to spend time with each agent and help them improve. Conversely, having all Roses sounds nice, but I have yet to see any team in the history of sports that didn’t have balance. You need this balance to run a successful call center group. Don’t be overly troubled however. The typical 30 percent turnover rate will usually keep your team in a state of flux.
One way to help balance your team is to have your staffing group run your performance based on the quality scores of your team on the phone. This way you can see not only what your productivity level for staffing will be but also your projected quality score.

Establish Business Partnerships

You have the potential to have a conflict-oriented relationship with your agents. They are probably measured more than anyone else in your company. So your reviews and analyses of their abilities and performance can cause conflict. To avoid these conflicts, build an environment that focuses on the positive. You do this by consistently evaluating agents fairly and with detail that they can grab hold of and use to improve their skills. We find many call centers that give away plenty of gifts and prizes, yet have many adversarial relationships. Everyone wants a leader who has his or her best interest in mind. Be one of those leaders.

To avoid conflicts, build an environment that focuses on the positive. Make sure that you have clearly communicated what you are looking for in the agents’ work. If you communicate your intentions correctly, the agents will perform better. Call centers are unique. The work product of the agent is performed thousands of times, and every interaction is different because of the status and attitude of the caller. It would be easy to expect nothing of the agent because there is very little that he or she can control. An upset customer might be disturbed because of company procedure. This situation has nothing to do with the agent’s performance. It would be simple to blame the company and move on. It is equally easy not to treat the agents as business professionals because they are low-paid or entry-level employees. This is wrong. The key is that every interaction has the potential to be great or really poor.

We are in the business of producing a team that can get the very best result no matter what the issue or circumstances. This is truly the definition of the management profession. We must get the very best possible outcome of good and bad situations from our team of people. Treating people with respect and professionalism isn’t unique. In a call center, it is essential.

Finally, a professional business relationship means that you understand what your employees’ goals and dreams are. One of the many lessons we can learn from both the Gen X and Gen Y call center representatives is that they are extremely interested in their future. You need to understand and have a vested interest in helping them achieve their goals. It doesn’t mean that you overlook their problems or pump them up to be more than they are. It does mean that you understand the dreams and goals of your team and you work with them out in the open to achieve them.

Coach, Don’t Play

One of the biggest problems supervisors face is doing the job for their agents. Many supervisors have been great agents at one time, and they could easily sit down and do the job for the people they supervise. However, neither you nor the agents benefit from you doing the work. Let them do it, but show them how to do it well. Great coaches also recognize how to coach all levels—Roses, Daisies and Weeds—to get them to work together and make the group a success. You can’t afford to drag along one group or give preferential treatment to another. They must all work toward the same goal.

One of the biggest problems supervisors face is doing the job for their agents.
We know that one of your jobs will to be “play” in busy times and tight situations. I know that the success of saving a customer may rest in your hands. Still you must coach, not play, if you expect to be a successful supervisor for any length of time and live to tell about it! It is so important to be in sync with the executives of your company for both your individual career as well as the success of your team. Great leaders keep a list of challenges that keep them awake at night on their desks. Get the list, and make it your goal to help solve the problems! Your challenge will be to make sure that your leader has a list to begin with for you to keep in your strategy. Keep track of your success by seeing how many of the executive’s items you can knock off the list. Make it a game and win!

Collect Talent

Another thing you can do is to be a great collector of talent. You can do this by being great at reviews, quality evaluations, and interviewing. There is no better way to be a “jet” or become one than to be a great evaluator and collector of talent.  Make it a point to surround yourself with people who have the potential to grow and become Daisies or even Roses. View it like collecting fine art. Each piece should add value to the collection. This will ensure the success of your team and make your job as supervisor much easier. 

Every company needs people who inspire others to perform better. That is what made Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, and Magic Johnson so special as basketball players. They made everyone around them better.

Be tough and detailed on your first reviews with your employees. Start them out understanding two very important facts. Number one, you want them to succeed. You are on their team. Second, you are going to be honest and forthright with them about how they can improve.
Having a reputation as someone who hires and develops talent is a great asset. There is no better reputation to have in a company.  It is a special talent to hire and collect great people. Anyone and everyone will try to hire you.

The True Nature of Call Centers

The call center industry is like no other. This market is built on a premise that a company usually has less than 240 seconds to solve a problem or gain an opportunity, either over the phone, on the Web, or with e-mail, using for the most part entry-level people in a situation with a 30 percent turnover rate. We have to create, delight, and retain customers in less time that it takes to boil an egg. We have to do it millions of times a year and with quality. In this industry, one extra second with a customer or client could be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. 

The Contact Center Garden

No matter how much we automate, transfer to self-support, or re-engineer, we are always going to have the privilege of working with customer service representatives. If you are a manager or agent today in a call center, then I am sure you are relieved to hear this. Every time some new form of automation is added, the benefits are usually substantial. In every instance where we automate or eliminate calls we are always left with a group of more complicated calls. This consistently makes the job of supporting, motivating, and training our call center staff more challenging.