Keep ’Em On Their Toes
Some call-center employees stay with their companies for many years because their employers are generally fair, locations are convenient for them, the pay is good, the work isn’t too hard, and their coworkers are likable and supportive.
Despite a good work environment, doing the same job day in, day out can get a little, well, boring. This not only results in a feeling of staleness, but it can also manifest in that rote, pro-forma voice that undercuts interactions with customers. So how can managers enrich or enliven the work environment to keep reps feeling and giving their best?
Here are 10 ways to foster personal development in the call center:
1. Pay attention to performance. In the spirit of the adage “what gets measured gets done,” what you don’t notice fades away. This is true for people, and it’s true for the behaviors you want them to use. If you’re spending all your management time putting out fires, working with new people or riding hard on your “problem children” — as so many supervisors do — you’re probably neglecting the good people you count on to be reliable and consistent.
So check frequently to be sure their numbers are in the appropriate range. Periodically monitor their calls to make sure they’re not in a quality slump. Don’t assume good performance lasts if no one’s watching. Watch for small changes so you can address them before anything goes too far awry.
2. Involve your more tenured reps in the choices and decisions that affect their work directly. Show them respeect and keep them engaged by giving them new things to think about. Show respect for their ability to self-determine. If you’re considering a new break schedule, ask them how they’ll be affected by it and what timing makes the most sense for them. If you revise your vacation policy, explain the underlying goals early in the development of the new policy. Try to give them some choice about how the new requirements will be applied.
Giving steady performers a say in matters that affect their work and their days shows respect. It also keeps them engaged in the life of the department so the reps can adapt to new developments instead of being shocked by them.
3. Change up their activities. Offer your reps enough variety to stay alert. Most experienced reps can participate in such activities as record keeping, training, analysis and call monitoring to some extent. Consider setting aside a few day partseach week for alternative activities. Not only will the change of pace revive long-timers when they’re flagging, it may also give them added context about how all the call-center functions work in concert.
4. Know their history. Don’t treat them as an undifferentiated labor group. Keep track of which aspects of the job they have and haven’t learned, the areas in which they’re confident, and those in which they’re uncomfortable.
Team experienced reps with each other or with newbies in ways that draw out their best characteristics. This way, you can get their best so you can acknowledge and praise them for their contributions to the company.
5. Welcome them as individuals. Respectfully greet them at the beginning of their shifts, and say good-bye at day’s end. Remember enough about their family lives (without getting too personally involved) to inquire about ailing pets, visiting relatives, academic and extracurricular activities, among others.
Keep track of their preferences for snacks, seating and even TV shows. Demonstrate that you think of them as humans with real and valuable lives, not just as workers.
6. Acknowledge their contributions. Thank reps for their good work, effort, reliability, ideas and participation in the life of the department. Use a mix of public and private praise according to their preferences and the way you want others to recognize their accomplishments.
There’s nothing like a handwritten note, opened in front of colleagues or family, to know that your boss cares about you and appreciates your work.
7. Retrain and refresh. Both knowledge and skills get rusty over time. Whether it’s an in-depth review of product knowledge, more sophisticated techniques for understanding customer needs, or stress-reduction exercises, the act of learning, itself, is reinvigorating. And when the new content helps your reps build competence and/or confidence, they understand and appreciate that the business is investing in their long-term success.
8. Mentor them and let them mentor others. Mentoring is a support mechanism, not a supervisory one. Sometimes it’s support for navigating the waters of the workplace more effectively, and sometimes it’s support for life. Either way, it’s special attention from someone who cares about your well-being.
Let your experienced reps help you train, coach and encourage newer employees; they’ll provide additional value in the operation, and you’ll get back some of the benefit of your investment in them.
9. Teach long-term reps the business. It’s easier and more effective to make decisions based on context and strategy if you understand them both. Most reps aren’t familiar with their marketplaces, the competitive situations their organizations face, the cost structure, or even where their own jobs fit into the flow of information upstream and down.
Give them a modicum of knowledge of these concepts, even in the abstract. Eventually they’ll begin to understand and accept even tough situations that they don’t particularly like because they know it’s reality and not some kind of management manipulation.
10. Help them chart a course for the future. Some people stay in jobs a long time because they’re happy, satisfied and content. Others stay because of inertia or because no better offer has come along. By directing discussions toward planning for a secure and satisfying future, whether that future includes college course work, retirement planning or community service, you demonstrate care for the individuals involved, not just their capacities for work.
When you pick warmth, you’re adding knowledge, responsibility and personal development. With all those things going on in an atmosphere of caring attention, why would anyone ever want to leave?
Liz Kislik is president of Liz Kislik Associates LLC, a consultancy that focuses on customer satisfaction and employee success as the building blocks of a resilient, effective enterprise. You can reach her at (516) 568-2932 or email@example.com.