From Brian's Desk

Contact Center Excellence – Stand Out From The Crowd

Archive for the tag “contact center”

Employee Engagement Improvement Step 6

We’ve now been through the first 5 steps to improving employee engagement in your call center.  The foundation has been laid (steps 1-3), the walls are up (steps 4 and 5) and now it’s time for the roof (steps 6 and 7).  Unfortunately, I see many call center leaders start and pretty much end with step 6, recognize employees.  There is a difference between motivated employees and engaged employees. Motivated employees will continue to perform according to standards as long as they are rewarded. They are emotionally invested in the reward, not the organization.  They are roughly analogous to mercenaries who will charge up the hill, not for king and country, but for the money.  It is difficult to tell the difference between motivated and engaged employees as long as the rewards are a given, in other words it is easy to claim a reward.  You see it; call centers with so many rewards and recognition programs that it appears you have walked in on a Barnum and Bailey show rather then a call center.  Awards for the day, awards for the week, awards for the month, awards for the quarter, and on and on.  Workstations are plastered with ribbons, certificates and trinkets. Pictures of those recognized cover the walls.  As long as the circus atmosphere continues, the marginally engaged (those in the middle) will be content and motivated. They will place their value and their reason for being at work on the rewards.  What about the actively engaged?  They may view the circus atmosphere as amusing and fun, but over time will begin view all of the rewards as unnecessary and actually being a drag on productivity.  What about the actively disengaged?  They are receiving the fewest rewards, but when they receive them they will be motivated for a time.  The size of the reward will determine the length of time they are motivated.

How does a call center become a circus?  The leadership may look around and wonder, ‘how did we get to this point?’  It’s all about process.  The call center needs a process, that includes employee input (remember step 5), to develop and create new rewards programs, and also a process to prune or eliminate rewards programs.  Without a process that the employees have helped develop, there is resistance to eliminating programs; it looks like a takeaway.  Without a process, and not wanting to lower motivation, managers just keep piling on the programs.

As for motivation versus engagement, engaged employees are invested in the organization’s success through its values, through understanding the value of the organization to the company and their value to the organization by linking operational metrics to value. You see where this is going; employees are motivated by rewards but engaged through executing all 7 steps in this series.  Rewards and recognition is just one step in the improvement of engagement.  Note that it is step 6 rather than step 1.  Rewards and recognition cannot be the driver (foundation) of an engagement improvement program.

When your process does call for another rewards program, make sure it is SMART – Specific to a behavior, based on Measurable results, Actionable (or reinforcing a desirable behavior), the reward is Relevant to the employee, and the reward is Timely.

As a leader, I want you to be watchful for programs that reward with time off of the phone (or chat queue or email queue).  This sends the message that time on the phone is somehow punitive.  That is clearly the wrong message to be sending.  This practice also takes your best and actively engaged off of the phone and away from the workspace, therefore unable to be a mentor and model of good behavior.  Beware also of the reward to be able to work from home.  Again, you will be removing your best models, your best examples from the workplace, thereby reducing the number and percentage of actively engaged employees in the workplace.  If you do want to reward employees with time off the queue, have them leave the call center area.  Make it a ‘special project’.  Have the employee shadow a support team in the call center, or a back-office team.  Give them a deliverable and recognize the deliverable.  That way the special project becomes the reward rather than ‘time off the queue’.  If you do send employees to work at home as a reward, you need to have a program in place that has them coming back into the center either after a time limit or periodically.  When they are away, ensure mentorship programs are still being followed, so they continue to be a mentor.

Work towards engaging rather than just motivating employees.  Ensure programs are SMART and that you have a process-based approach to develop and to expire reward and recognition programs.  Always remember that step 6 should be approached with the other 5 steps firmly in place, so that rewards and recognition programs support the values of the organization, the value of the organization, are based on open and honest communication, and take advantage of employee input.

Employee Engagement Improvement Step 4

You’ve made it to step 4 of the series on improving engagement in your call center!  A vital component of any improvement initiative or program, especially one focused on improving engagement, is communication.  Not just any communication, but open and honest communication, and delivered in a way it will be received.

If you are a call center senior leader, and you do not have a Leader Blog, start one this week!  Allocate (that means block off on your calendar) 30 minutes a week to write about what is on your mind.  Challenges, opportunities, status on key initiatives, ‘shout outs’ for great customer service stories, the future, virtually anything that is important to your employees.  Be careful about allowing comments to your Blog posts; you may get more input than you can deal with, and there are likely better avenues for feedback.  No reason to wait!

Do you have a Newsletter?  Have one, either paper or electronic or both.  Share awards, rewards and recognition.  Share positive letters or emails from customers.  Choose an agent or supervisor and do an in-depth personal story or profile.  If online, include photos of everyone in the organization, especially if your employees are in multiple locations, or if some are home-based.  Have someone skilled in media or communications craft the newsletter; the degree of quality will be proportional to readership.

I have found that senior leader roundtables are an effective way to connect with all levels of the organization.  Schedule weekly roundtables, choosing 5-8 front line agents.  Be sure you have a scribe at the roundtable to take notes, todos and follow-ups.  Do not include supervisors or managers!  Use the time to talk candidly about the ‘state of the state’ in the call center, what might be going on within the company or industry.  Ask for questions, comments, points of frustration.  After the roundtable, have your scribe summarize the meeting and communicate with the attendees, thanking them for their time and input.  When choosing the agents for the roundtable, go back to the list you made in step 1.  Ensure you have some of your actively engaged employees present.  This will help ensure you have an audience that is not wholly hostile.  You may also want to have periodic roundtables with your supervisors, especially if you are at least one level removed from them.  Otherwise, the meeting is called a staff meeting.  Again, only include supervisors, not higher level managers.  Be open and honest during the roundtable meetings.  If they are viewed as simply a checkmark in an improvement initiative, you’re better off not holding them at all.

Lastly, ensure you have regular town hall meetings.  This can be a challenge in a call center as you cannot simply take everyone off of the phones for 30 minutes.  You may have to repeat the meeting several times, and at several locations.  So, I wouldn’t propose doing this every month.  However, don’t make the town hall meeting an annual event either.  The town hall meeting is an excellent place to improve the level of engagement, even though it may only do so in the short term.  It is a great way to keep momentum for your overall improvement initiative or program.  These meetings should be fun, maybe even have brief departmental competitions mid way through the meeting.  They are meant to ‘rally the troops’, and as you plan the meetings with your direct reports, make sure to keep this as a primary objective.  You have the opportunity to move some of the tacitly engaged to the actively engaged camp, and some of the actively disengaged into the tacitly engaged camp.  This is not the time or place to drone on about KPIs, this is the time to talk up the value you are driving to the company (Improvement Step 3).  Better yet, have a CxO or very senior executive talk about this.

To net, communication is absolutely a key linchpin in your engagement improvement arsenal.  Without a great effort here, the other 6 steps will not have much effect on engagement.

Employee Engagement Improvement Step 3

Now that you have identified your actively engaged employees, and have developed and started communicating your organizational values, it’s time to understand and communicate your Value.  Wasn’t that step 2 you say?  No, that was about values – emotional statements that excite and energize the organization.  Here I mean what is your value to the company.  If your operation is your company, i.e. you are a call center outsourcer, or BPO, your value is pretty clear.  The company’s ROA, or Return On Assets, is your ROA, the company’s margin is your margin, and the company’s customer satisfaction is your satisfaction.  If you are not a BPO, your value to the company is less straightforward, more indirect.

Notice the measures I called out above.  I did not call out AHT, FCR, Schedule Adherence, ASA, Abandonment Rate, or any of the other 25 or so operational measures.  Why?  Your COO or CFO doesn’t care about them.  Consider the use of Strategy Maps, first proposed by Kaplan and Norton 25 years ago.  They proposed 4 perspectives on organizational strategy; Financial, Customer, Operational and Organizational.  The first two perspectives they labeled external and the other two internal.  Simply put, measurements that support the internal perspectives are just that; internal.  While important for the operation of the call center, and certainly supportive of the external view measurements, the COO or CFO really doesn’t care.  They care about the external measurements, again, ROA, Margin and Customer Satisfaction.

Too many call center leaders spend their communications resources telling the organization why the operational measurements and subsequent targets are important, which is not bad in itself, but don’t link these operational measurements to the financial and customer measurements, and communicate performance against these external view measurements.  To improve employee engagement, call center leadership must link those measurements the agent is scored against to the measurements (and results) that show how the call center contributes to the company.  As an aside, when you get senior company leadership to come into the call center and give a ‘state of the union’, if you have not provided this linkage to everyone throughout the organization, your employees are not going to have clue what the senior leader is talking about.

I add one call center measurement to the list, because I believe it is so vitally important to the company; employee engagement.  I have a rather simplistic model, supported by a spreadsheet “calculator” you can get at the downloads page of flaggandassociates.com, that shows the financial impact of engagement in the call center, and shows an up to 8 fold impact on the company.  So, if you are loosing $1mil of efficiency in the call center due to low engagement, the company is losing up to $8mil, with potential long-term brand damage.  Senior leaders within the company should be very concerned with employee engagement in the call center.

Once again, communication is key to improving engagement.  Ensure your actively engaged have a very good understanding of the numbers and linkages so that they are your advocates.

Your at step 3 of 7.  Hang in there!

Employee Engagement Improvement Step 1

The first step (I’ll be reviewing the other 6 steps in upcoming posts) to improving employee engagement in your call center, is to identify your actively engaged employees.  You know them; their handle times are lower than average, their customer feedback is better than average, they are the ones that have few absences from work, the ones that adhere to their schedule, the ones that you want to hold up as models.  Identify who they are, make sure they know that they are identified as role models, tell them you want to recruit them to be engagement evangelists.  This is called ‘gathering the troops’.  You’ll need to have them not only fully engaged in their work, but fully engaged in your improvement program.

Post Navigation