How Call Centers Can Build A Culture Of Engagement

motivating call center employeesIt has been estimated that nearly three-quarters of American workers want to walk away from their jobs at any point in time.  If you manage an American call center, you don’t need to be reminded of the challenges of keeping your agents satisfied and committed. Call center agent attrition ranges from 20-30%-- frightening numbers in an industry where customer engagement is so closely linked to long-term profitability. 

THE CHALLENGE OF TOP-DOWN MANAGEMENT

Most industries and management models are based on a top-down paradigm which is largely a fear-based model; do what I say or else!  But senior management often feels compelled to justify its existence by defining how an organization goes to market. 

Although senior managers do have a responsibility to set the vision for the organization, it doesn’t seem as though the top-down approach is working.  A recent study by Bain & Company found that engagement was lowest in the lower tiers of the company where people have less control but more customer contact. 

This “failure to engage” can explain why many call centers experience high levels of attrition.  According to the UK’s Call Center Helper, three factors drive agent attrition:

  1. Rules that are based on control. Call center managers often exert extreme control over their agents under the assumption that the “floor won’t run smoothly” unless agents are working within defined parameters.  Of course, it is important to have standards by which everyone works, but some managers go beyond simple guidelines, creating strict regulations that cover minute details like attire and when breaks can be taken. 
  2. Managers who fail to acknowledge good work. Research tells us that being publically praised for good work goes further than money in creating employee satisfaction.  Managers often fail to recognize that consistently failing to recognize great works leads to apathy and cynicism.
  3. Orientation efforts that often fall short in inspiring agents. New workers are most receptive to the way the company runs.  The first weeks for a new agent are critical for defining the organization’s culture, but managers can often push through the on-boarding process, focusing much energy on rules and red-tape instead of team-integration.  As the saying goes, “you don’t get a second change to make a first impression.”

CREATING A GREAT, CUSTOMER-FOCUSED CULTURE

There is, perhaps, no other industry where creating a customer-focused culture is more important than the call center.  Customers know when they are engaged by a satisfied, committed and passionate agent.  Greater engagement leads to more loyal and long-standing customers.

Customer service expert Shep Hyken recently outlined a number of steps to create a customer-centric culture:

  • Define the culture.  Managers must start with the end in mind.  They must define the perfect customer experience.  How do they want customers to react after every engagement?
  • Communicate the culture.  You must share the customer experience vision with the team.  It must be clear and simple.  In fact, beyond simply communicating the vision, managers must inspire agents to embrace the vision in every aspect of their job.
  • Hire to meet the needs of the culture. Managers must recruit the best talent to deliver on the customer experience vision.  Do the agents have both the skills and attitude to service your customers?  Perhaps more importantly, does the employee have the personality to fit into the culture you’re trying to create?
  • Train to the culture. You may have the right employee, but unless there is an effective and inspiring training program in place, it ultimately won’t matter.  Training has to begin immediately with a focus on the “soft skills” of customer service expectations and core values.
  • Model the behavior. Everyone, regardless of title or role in the organization, must serve as a role model in delivering upon the vision.  Such modeling begins with respect.  Treat each other with the same respect and dignity as you would the customer.
  • Empower everyone to be a customer service leader. Agents must have the power to deliver the customer service experience on their own terms.  They should not be encumbered by many complicated rules and regulations.  Standards must be set, but agents must be empowered to translate those standards as they see fit.
  • Recognize performance:  Let people know they are doing a good job.  Share victories and case studies with the rest of the team.  Such acknowledgment can motivate them to continue doing great work or take it to the next level.  Celebrate success!

According to a survey by Portrait Software, 69% of large business-to-consumer companies view their call center as a “business critical revenue generator.”  This puts the onus on American call centers to create a customer-centric vision, then recruit, train and develop agents to deliver against this vision.

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