So, you have identified your actively engaged employees, developed and shared your statement of values, understood the value of your call center to the company and linked it to your operational metrics, and you have developed and established a robust, open and honest communication function. Your next step is to develop an approach and process for gathering employee input. A key to improving engagement is for the employees to know that they have and voice and it is being heard. This directly connects management and leadership with the remainder of the organization. Employee input and feedback shines the light on oppressive programs, practices and initiatives, and on inefficient, poorly-designed processes. This input and feedback also connects employees to inclusion in opportunities and growth. What you really want to foster is the latter. Management and leadership need to know if what they are doing is wrong or where inefficiencies exist, but you really want the organization focused on positive input, from ‘this is what is wrong’ to ‘if only this one thing could be changed, we would be more …’. Or, shown leadership overtly asking ‘we are considering doing X, what do you think?’
Some point to the annual employee opinion survey as the mechanism used within the organization to gather employee feedback. From me you get an aghast look and ‘are you kidding?‘ If your attrition rate is anywhere near average, you are more than likely to include employees that have been on board less than 3 months and whose opinions are coming from who knows where, and are likely to miss those that attrit that could well have given meaningful input. Too many annual surveys also ask questions on topics that are non-negotiable either at the organizational level or even the company level. I recall every opinion survey I took while employed by Fortune 100 companies always included questions regarding benefits. As always, benefits scores came in lower than the target. Leadership’s response? Well, they just don’t understand the benefits they are getting, and if they did, would be more satisfied with them. Which led to the annual department meeting to tell employees all about their company benefits. And, of course, if you were absent, you got a 1-1 with your manager about benefits. This ‘you asked for it’ mentality was applied to all areas of the survey. Action plans were required whenever a topic fell below a certain level, often leading to dozens of action items with plans for all manner of busywork for the organization, plans that had a life of about 3 months that were then typically shelved until the next survey. At the company level, the annual employee opinion survey does have merit, and allows for focus on the big nuggets at the company level. However, as one proceeds down through the organization and lands in the call center, the annual survey has little utility.
You should strongly consider a quarterly employee survey in your call center, a survey very different from the 80-90 question waterfront company annual survey. Work with your Human Resources or Organizational Development department to choose 9 questions from the annual survey that focus in on engagement, such as recognition and rewards, working conditions, trust in leadership, right tools for the job, and opportunity for advancement. Add a 10th question on overall satisfaction. Why a quarterly survey with 10 questions? Simple; over 3 years you have 12 set of data points on topics that really matter to the organization rather than 3 data points that cover the waterfront. You also have a much smaller and more focused set of action items on problem areas that are directly, or nearly so, under your control, are refreshed every 3 months, and are therefore much more likely to really see progress. Of course, always ensure your action plans are SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and timely). Another byproduct of quarterly surveys is that people like it when you ask their opinion. Asking it more often, in a relevant and focused manner will by itself raise the satisfaction of the employees.
Even quarterly surveys don’t address the day-to-day annoyances of those on the front lines. Call center agents will take 30-100 calls per day, and therefore have 30-100 opportunities to encounter poorly designed call center applications or processes, or poorly designed or executed back-office processes, or perhaps even poorly communicated or understood company policies. Of course the problem is that the front-line employees are, as the saying goes, ‘too busy cutting down trees to sharpen the saw’. So what happens at ground level (typically invisible to supervisors and managers)? Agents on the front line develop process workarounds. And they share these workarounds and soon the practices and processes management believes are being followed, are not. Unless QA catches these workarounds, they could actually be damaging the company, and could even be causing legal problems for a call center operating in a regulated environment. The trick is, how to get this level of input from those busy taking the calls, or how to know when the saw blade is dull so that something can be done about it. The bigger trick is, how does management deal with the input? 500 call center agents taking 75 calls per day yields 37,500 opportunities a day. If even 1% of these opportunities yields a suggestion for improvement, that’s 1875 suggestions in a 5-day work week. There are two facets of the solution; make the process (and supporting tool) simple, quick and easy to use, and empower the front-line agents to bring only the most impactful suggestions forward.
Gathering and managing suggestions is one area where technology can be a major help. Get employee input on a process and tool that supports easy and quick entry of the problem and suggestion, allows the employees to comment on and improve the suggestion, and allows for the highest impact (most popular) suggestions to rise to the top to be dealt with by management. Forums and discussion lists are two approaches, and many more are available. Develop the process first, and then build the tool that supports the process. Always get front-line agent input and feedback as you develop the process and tool. The process should allow for discussion on the problem and suggestion, and at some point, a vote on the suggestion. Those suggestions that receive more than a clip-level of votes should be brought to management’s attention. This step of gathering employee input then has a huge side benefit of fostering employee empowerment, crucial for engagement improvement. Just be certain your process doesn’t end there. It needs to include management action on the suggestion items that come forward, otherwise the suggestions tool will quickly move to dust-gathering status.
The communication vehicles covered in Step 4 will also be a great source of employee input and feedback. Another huge benefit of a well-designed and executed suggestions process is that you can funnel all of the other input through that process. In other words, if a suggestion for improvement is brought up in an employee roundtable, ask if the idea has been entered into the suggestions process, and if not, recommend that it does. This will ensure employee input on all of the suggestions, and reduce or eliminate the ‘back-door’, because if the employees know about a back door, they’ll use it, and your roundtables will quickly become a dumping ground for everything that is deemed to need management attention.
So, get to work on your quarterly survey, and get to work on your suggestions process and supporting technology!