Team Empowerment in the Contact Center

Everyone can agree that it’s important to empower your workforce but developing best practices to boost retention and morale in the contact center space is critical. At InfoCision, we have decades of experience, which equates to a plethora of time-tested, valuable ideas.

With the holiday season in full swing, it’s a time like no other to evaluate how your management team offers appreciation and encouragement to everyone on your workforce, especially including your team on the phone. From gamification and e-cards built-in our screens each day, to holiday-themed grand prize giveaways, we motivate our agents to provide excellent customer service in every call. However, empowerment is more than just the stuff money can buy. It’s:

    • Building an environment where people genuinely want to come to work – a place that fosters self-esteem, builds confidence, and feels like family
    • Believing in the values of the organizations and brands we’re asking others to support
    • Having supervisors and managers who practice empathy and active-listening, remembering birthdays and asking about sick grandkids
    • Visiting the call center floor regularly with senior management who are invested in acquiring feedback from agents, in person, themselves
    • Focusing on finding solutions within an atmosphere of remarkable teamwork, not just debriefings venting about common challenges
    • Ensuring your team has the tools they need to offer an unmatched customer experience

     

  • Genuine job satisfaction comes from more than appreciative Christmas cards, offering team lunches, and coordinating cheesy holiday festivities. True empowerment is generated through a culture of operational excellence, in a commitment to the continual and sincere encouragement and inspiration of your workforce – not just during the holidays, but throughout the entire year.

Keep The Creativity Coming!

In business, especially in the contact center space, it’s easy for teams to keep doing business as usual once they learn what works.  A good contact center knows their customers, all the ins and outs of their proprietary technology, and has developed an array of standardized strategies for handling challenges. However, when the ultimate desire is for a business to grow, the flow of creative ideas in every realm of the business must not only continue, but flourish.

At InfoCision, our team of marketers constantly tests new ideas, in a way that can be measured and replicated. This includes considering all aspects of the customer experience, examining and testing at all levels within the myriad of multi-channel solutions available: scripts, letter packages, call routing strategies, training materials, reporting techniques, hiring and retention, quality measurements, even ancillary services. Creativity involves utilizing our Business Analytics department to provide demographic and transactional data modeling or run a variety of scenarios to generate alternate probabilities and outcomes.  All our insights and findings are used to develop best practices, which are constantly examined for relevancy and adjusted with fine-tuning.

Having a culture of operational excellence, combined with the ingenuity and aptitude for continual testing across departments, enables us to provide excellent customer service and unmatched ROI.

 

 

Sluggish Productivity as Winter Drags On? Try These Tips!

Is enthusiasm in your contact center waning as winter drags on? Has productivity dropped? If you’re not sure, here are some warning signs: irritability or frustration, unexplained work absences, coming in late/leaving early, decline in health and isolation. If you’re seeing any of this, rest assured that you can have a positive influence on the situation.

As the boss, you can reshape your staff’s work experience by communicating, motivating and leading. Let’s look at these three areas in-depth:

Communication: Meet with staff individually and as a group to give them a chance to express any concerns about their workload, goals, job difficulties and the workplace. Let them know you’re their advocate. Put the emphasis on the aspect of the job that excites your employee each time you speak to him or her, to keep a focus on the positive. As I’ve mentioned before, I hold quarterly forums with employees across all of our locations, which serves as the perfect opportunity to chat with Communicators.

Motivation: Hone in on what motivates your staff. Does praise in front of other staff work for some … pointing out challenges in private sessions for others? Conversely, give them some control: flex hours, casual attire and telecommuting, for example. This will let employees know that you care about their happiness and will help them address work-life balance.

Show appreciation. It doesn’t have to be a grand gesture. Just bring in bagels for the team one morning or let everyone bring their laptops outside on a sunny, warm day. If you want to go grander, plan a staff outing or meal together.

Of course, money always talks. Is it time for a raise, or a bonus? Do you simply need to encourage a listless or irritated worker to take his or her vacation days more regularly? Compensation and relaxation can’t cure burnout, but may begin to ease symptoms.

Leadership: Managers who continuously improve their own skills will enable better team harmony and efficiency. Grow your abilities by attending workshops or conducting your own self-learning through books and training materials. You must also get your employees the training they need to succeed. Training is a motivator due to the value it places on the worker’s contributions. Good training topics for contact center staff include time and stress management, improving customer service, and specific computer programs.

In addition, review task assignments. Evaluate whether they are appropriate given the unique abilities of each employee. Be sure workloads are distributed evenly and that no one is bearing the brunt of the work. Offer understimulated staff greater challenges, and rotate tedious work so everyone can try something new from time to time.

Too Much Sales Pressure Leads to Negative Results

“Rigid, relentless sales goals” are the reason, according to a Bloomberg report, that Wells Fargo & Co. employees opened more than 2 million unauthorized accounts since 2011, leading to a federal investigation into whether criminal charges should be filed. Already this year, the bank has agreed to pay $185 million in civil fines, and the company’s CEO John Stumpf has consented to forfeit compensation worth about $45 million—all in an effort to appease lawmakers and regain the trust of customers.

The fake accounts allegedly resulted in consumers paying fees of about $2.4 million between May 2011 and July 2015.

More than 5,000 Wells Fargo employees have been fired for participating in the ruse—but many more were fired earlier for NOT meeting the bank’s “outrageous sales goals.” In fact, a class action lawsuit has been filed in California on behalf of the workers who claim the bank fired or demoted them for not bending the rules to hit aggressive sales targets.

Obviously, employees were trapped between a rock and a hard place when it came to doing their jobs. This sort of catch-22 is not limited to Wells Fargo or even the banking industry. Bankers outside Wells Fargo have called the deceptive sales practices systemic across the industry, and history shows that Wells Fargo is just the latest in a long string of companies that have seen employee incentive programs go terribly wrong.

So, what can sales managers and business executives do to keep performance goals from corroding the culture in their organizations?

The first step is to acknowledge that an incentive to perform brings with it a temptation to cheat. Then enact the following practices to offset the potential for negative behavior:

  • Set strict controls: Combined with an ethics policy and training, strong internal controls will encourage good employees to stick to the straight and narrow. Management policy and practice should aim to ensure that all sales are recorded, made at correct prices, and fulfilled to customers’ satisfaction. Be sure to assign accountability to someone other than the affected parties.
  • Enact realistic quotas: Check metrics over time to determine whether your employees are hitting their marks. If not, determine what issues are preventing them from meeting goals. Share findings so workers can adjust their efforts to align with incentive payout and stay motivated. Monitor and tweak the incentive program as the company and economy changes so it continues to support business objectives.
  • Forge a strong company culture: Create a simple set of values and stick to them, specifying guidelines for inappropriate actions. Any idea that fails to live up to those values should be rejected out of hand. Failure to publicly and rapidly police any cheating will create a culture of willful ignorance, which will become systemic and cause many more people to join in the immoral and/or illicit activity.

Attaching a symbolic meaning, such as status, to incentives can also help reduce cheating and other adverse consequences, e.g., pay inequality (which can fuel turnover) and decreased intrinsic interest in the work being performed. To give incentives meaning beyond monetary import, consider having them delivered by a high-level executive and/or in public.

Keep in mind that the good results generated by financial incentives, including motivating higher levels of performance and productivity, need to be weighed against the bad.

Unfortunately for Wells Fargo, the scale tipped toward the latter. The bank has announced that starting Jan. 1, the sales goals for its consumer bankers will be eliminated.

Steve Brubaker began his career at InfoCision in 1985. In his current role as Chief of Staff and as a member of the Executive Team, he is responsible for HR, internal and external communications, and manages the company’s legal and compliance departments. Brubaker is a member of a number of professional organizations, including the DMA, SOCAP, and PACE. He also donates his time to serve on several university boards, including the Executive Advisory Board for The Taylor Institute for Direct Marketing at The University of Akron and The University of Akron Foundation Board. He is a frequent speaker for national events and has also been honored with a number of awards and recognitions for his contributions to the call center industry.

Green Companies Lead the Way in Savings, Image and Innovation

Why is “going green” going mainstream in corporate America? Being environmentally friendly has basically become de riguer for companies that hope to meet consumer expectations. What was once a  competitive differentiator is now simply good business.

Here are some of the main reasons that companies are embracing green practices:

Preferred by consumers: After all the hype some years back—with multiple companies jumping on the green bandwagon—consumers grew skeptical about corporate assertions of environmental friendliness. Now that consumers can simply go on line and get all the research they need to verify a company’s green status, all bets are off—except one: You should bet on the fact that the majority of consumers prefer to purchase goods and services from companies that strive to protect the earth. In fact, a recent report indicates that 90 percent of global consumers expect companies to operate responsibly to address social and environmental issues.

Saves money: Yes, upfront costs of replacing some traditional practices do exist. Long-term, however, your savings will outweigh those initial expenses. One example is energy-saving LED lights (up to 80 percent more efficient): They cost more but last 40 times longer. Consider that your investment in a LED bulb—at approximately $100 a pop—is good for about 30,000 hours! Compare that to the standard incandescent bulb life span of 750 hours.

Renewable energy is another potential source of savings over the long term as fossil fuels lose their cost advantage over solar and wind. An International Energy Agency study shows that coal plants will become as much as 70 percent more expensive over the next decade, while offshore wind and solar costs are expected to fall further. A commitment today can reduce expenses tomorrow.

Stimulates innovation: An initiative to go green will force your business to examine its processes. The search for environmentally friendly alternatives can lead to uncovering any number of more efficient means of production. You may uncover ways to reduce energy usage and emissions through such simple measures as optimizing delivery routes and reducing the bulk of packaging materials, for example. Due diligence in examining your environmental footprint can reveal a multitude of operational opportunities.

Of course, supporting the environment for its own sake—and ours—is a good idea too. The earth is hurting, and only by significant efforts can we make it better, or at least keep the damage from spreading.

Industrial-scale carbon-burning corporations, as the primary culprits in global climate change, have the primary responsibility—and means—to help remedy the situation. Yet, we must all do our part to sustain Mother Earth and life as we know it into perpetuity.

Here at InfoCision, our Communicators are encouraged to bring green initiatives to the table with a quarterly award for “working smarter.” We’ve implemented suggestions such as placing recycling bins around our campuses and unplugging equipment not in use. Companywide, we’ve reduced paper-based systems and support Work-at-Home options.

Now that we’ve given you plenty of inspirational reasons to develop greener workplaces, go to it!

Steve Brubaker began his career at InfoCision in 1985. In his current role as Chief of Staff and as a member of the Executive Team, he is responsible for HR, internal and external communications, and manages the company’s legal and compliance departments. Brubaker is a member of a number of professional organizations, including the DMA, SOCAP, and PACE. He also donates his time to serve on several university boards, including the Executive Advisory Board for The Taylor Institute for Direct Marketing at The University of Akron and The University of Akron Foundation Board. He is a frequent speaker for national events and has also been honored with a number of awards and recognitions for his contributions to the call center industry.

Use Employee Surveys to Drive Business Improvements

In a recent blog, I wrote about the employee forums I host with InfoCision workers to encourage open conversations about our business and their roles within the company. During these face-to-face meetings, I conduct surveys to help choose topics for discussion, but results are also shared with corporate executives to drive business improvements. I also extend a companywide Employee Experience survey annually—from Communicators to senior executives—to gain a complete picture of employees concerns and points of view.

The insights derived from analyzing survey results have been instrumental in driving improvements to our employee satisfaction, business processes and customer service.

These surveys support my conviction that a key way to competitively differentiate your business is to attract and retain talent by engaging employees’ hearts and minds. Surveys help me to determine how on point we are with keeping employees happy. They also provide clear direction for any initiatives targeted at improving employee satisfaction—and the organization as a whole.

Surveys can address a variety of business matters, from employee turnover to the onboarding process to management and staff performance. Not only do you gain valuable information, the very act of surveying employees promotes their engagement in the business! Think about it: When you make an effort to discover—and make changes based on—employee sentiments, you are showing that you value their opinions and respect their work, which they naturally appreciate.

The level of employee engagement is critical for success. According to a 2016 Gallup poll, employee engagement has consistently been found to affect key performance outcomes regardless of industry or vertical. In fact, 80 percent of senior leaders agree that good employee engagement is critical to achieving business objectives—and 92 percent of them conduct surveys on the metric.

To collect the knowledge and tools to improve employee retention and productivity, try incorporating some of the following questions into your employee surveys:

  1. Do you feel encouraged to come up with new and better ways of doing your job?
  2. Do you have the tools and resources you need to do your job?
  3. Do senior managers visibly demonstrate a commitment to quality?
  4. Does your job make good use of your skills and abilities?
  5. How satisfied are you with your involvement in decisions that affect your work?

Open-ended questions can also provide powerful insights on the state of the business. Consider asking:

  • What suggestions do you have for improvements to the business?
  • What would help you be more productive and provide higher-quality service?
  • What other issues not included by this survey need to be addressed in this company?

Surveys are great tools for gaining insights into how well your employees understand your corporate strategy. They will also shine a light on employee engagement and where improvement is necessary to best execute your business goals.

Steve Brubaker began his career at InfoCision in 1985. In his current role as Chief of Staff and as a member of the Executive Team, he is responsible for HR, internal and external communications, and manages the company’s legal and compliance departments. Brubaker is a member of a number of professional organizations, including the DMA, SOCAP, and PACE. He also donates his time to serve on several university boards, including the Executive Advisory Board for The Taylor Institute for Direct Marketing at The University of Akron and The University of Akron Foundation Board. He is a frequent speaker for national events and has also been honored with a number of awards and recognitions for his contributions to the call center industry.

Best Practices for Engaging With Your Employees to Boost Business Outcomes

I find that meeting with workers on a regular basis builds rapport and opens lines of communication, so I host quarterly InfoCision employee forums. I invite workers to participate voluntarily, and they’ve become an eager and receptive audience. After all, we share information pertinent to the business that supports our livelihoods. I gain valuable insights from them and have seen that my efforts inspire their enthusiastic ongoing contributions toward company goals.

I’m not alone in determining that employee engagement works wonders for businesses—including boosting morale and retention. Case in point, Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric, has been quoted as saying, “No company, small or large, can win over the long run without energized employees who believe in the mission and understand how to achieve it.”

Many companies now abide by the premise that successful leadership requires conversing with employees—vs. commanding and controlling them from high up on the corporate ladder. A primary benefit of this approach is how it enables large or growing organizations to function like much smaller ones. That is, they regain performance advantages such as tight strategic alignment, operational flexibility and high employee engagement.

Even if the distance between you and your employees makes personal appearances impossible, making a virtual connection should still be a priority to ensure that you foster a conversational culture. Staying close mentally and emotionally will lead all parties to trust each other, and engender more honest exchanges of ideas.

People matter—perhaps more than ever—in today’s companies. Their contributions are directly linked to company success. The effort they are willing to contribute toward that success has a lot to do with their level of engagement. Organizations that show they care, including making things happen based on employee input and encouraging good feelings about the work being done, often have more-productive workers. Employees who feel appreciated will make their customers feel appreciated as well.

Here are some ways that opening a dialogue between leaders and workers benefits organizations:

  • Develops trust—leads to substantive and rewarding exchanges of views
  • Signals respect—opens the door to issues that might not otherwise be raised or resolved
  • Improves leadership performance—provides personal input (if solicited anonymously) for growth
  • Closes gaps—promotes open and fluid dialog between leaders and employees, leading to social thinking and spontaneous give and take for more efficient communication
  • Enhances inclusion—primes engaged employees to become brand content producers and ambassadors
  • Confers order and meaning—directs conversations to converge on a particular company intent or aim

I like to start my forums with a fun icebreaker to make everyone feel at ease and encourage open communication. And I make sure that conversations aren’t restricted to work so that I can get to know my Communicators beyond what they do for the business. I welcome their honest insights and concerns and answer any questions they have for me. I’ve gotten to know many Communicators by name and have been privileged to share in their personal stories.

Typically, I meet with groups based on their length of service—under six months, six to 12 months, and over one year—because they present with such different interests and needs. To gather initial thoughts, I survey participants on their topics of interest; these surveys are also brought back to headquarters for our executives to review.

Within InfoCision, we also use companywide surveys to expand upon the insights we gain from the small group forums. Surveys are a highly valuable tool for helping to identify and resolve issues. Look for an upcoming blog from me on objectives and best practices for conducting internal surveys.

I’ve found getting to know my workers, both from forums and surveys, and attending to their concerns has added to my personal growth and business acumen. As a leader for your organization, consider engaging more personally with your employees; it’s a sure way to bring your business to the next level.

Steve Brubaker began his career at InfoCision in 1985. In his current role as Chief of Staff and as a member of the Executive Team, he is responsible for HR, internal and external communications, and manages the company’s legal and compliance departments. Brubaker is a member of a number of professional organizations, including the DMA, SOCAP, and PACE. He also donates his time to serve on several university boards, including the Executive Advisory Board for The Taylor Institute for Direct Marketing at The University of Akron and The University of Akron Foundation Board. He is a frequent speaker for national events and has also been honored with a number of awards and recognitions for his contributions to the call center industry.

Walk a Mile in Your Agents’ Shoes

Here’s a management technique that’s been heard around the world: Unobtrusively, a manager wanders around the workplace, keeping his or her eyes and ears open for an employee who’s doing something right. After observing one such activity, the manager reinforces that behavior with a one-minute praising, which essentially consists of telling people specifically what they did right, how it made the manager feel when he or she witnessed the behavior, and how that behavior benefits the company.

That’s an idea from the best-selling business fable by Ken Blanchard and Spencer Johnson, “The One Minute Manager,” a book that’s sold more than 50 million copies worldwide.

This idea was expanded upon in the popular television show, Undercover Boss. The premise of the show is that executives take on their employees’ jobs for a time, and while the activity sometimes leads to reprimands—but more often praise—the underlying theory is the same: Observing your employees in their natural setting gives you a truer sense of how your employees perform on a daily basis, and provides managers with a simple way of encouraging people to do better more often.

As the leader of a contact center, it’s easy to get lost in our own point of view. We often see our employees from our own vantage point, from the perspective of someone who’s just reviewed call analytics, or overheard a harsher-than-necessary tone, or implemented new technology and training processes. We forget that our Communicators are seeing things from the other side: as someone who’s having a rough day, struggling to incorporate a complicated tool into a challenging customer interaction, or multi-tasking to get more done.

Crossing Over as a Management Tool

It’s important to take time occasionally to see things from the other side. When was the last time you handled customer calls for an entire workday? Spending a day in your Communicators’ shoes will give you valuable firsthand experience of what they deal with every day on the job. You might find that they’re lacking a useful tool that would help them do their job better. Or, you might see opportunities for additional training, working conditions that could be improved, or processes that should be modified.

For example, one executive on Undercover Boss experienced firsthand the negative impact of his cost-cutting measures when he had to spend a long, hot day in the warehouse without water. “Company picnics are nice,” an employee told him, “but take care of us on the job instead.”

One caveat here: Your focus should be on fixing problems, not people.

Another benefit of spending time on the other side is that your employees will be more likely to buy into your mission if they see that you “get it.” You understand the opportunities and challenges they are facing, and you understand their reality. Effective leaders inspire trust, which is more easily done if you feel a genuine connection to those you are leading. You’ll also see an elevated sense of collaboration, where Communicators are open to an exchange of ideas when it comes to the workplace.

If it’s simply not feasible to take to the phones for a day, consider inviting employees to share feedback about their jobs and provide solutions. You may get complaints, but you’ll also get some valuable thoughts about how to fix things—and what to fix. If you do choose to ask for feedback, make sure employees feel safe in sharing their thoughts or the entire exercise will be fruitless.

You may be surprised at what you discover from a trip to the other side. Among the many revelations you’re likely to have, one will surely be a renewed sense of appreciation for your Communicators.

Steve Brubaker began his career at InfoCision in 1985. In his current role as Chief of Staff and as a member of the Executive Team, he is responsible for HR, internal and external communications, and manages the company’s legal and compliance departments. Brubaker is a member of a number of professional organizations, including the DMA, SOCAP, and PACE. He also donates his time to serve on several university boards, including the Executive Advisory Board for The Taylor Institute for Direct Marketing at The University of Akron and The University of Akron Foundation Board. He is a frequent speaker for national events and has also been honored with a number of awards and recognitions for his contributions to the call center industry.

Why Customer Care Success Starts With the C-Suite

As the leader of a call center, your job encompasses a wide variety of tasks, not the least of which is motivating and inspiring your Communicators. Effective managers seem to do the job effortlessly, when in reality they are purposefully employing a host of skills and techniques to support their staff, which in turn increases the quality of service.

 
Good leadership is really about people—communicating with them, giving them opportunities to grow, and inspiring them to do their very best. Doing it well is challenging, but also extremely rewarding. Here are a few tips for ensuring that your own performance brings out the best in your Communicators:

 
Lead by example. Define your own standard of excellence and abide by it. Modeling the expected behavior is the number-one way to influence your Communicators to do the same. You’re also giving people a reason to believe in you, and in your ability to do the job.

Show your employees that you care about them. Telling your employees that you care about them is a good start, but your words will be more meaningful if you put them into action. Look for ways to interact with team members and start building relationships (our annual summer barbeque gives me a chance to grill my newest employees!). Putting the team first makes you a more credible leader.

Take every opportunity to coach—and to recognize excellence. These behaviors go hand-in-hand. Outside of regular training sessions, there are times when guidance or advice offered on a more personal basis is appropriate. If you notice a Communicator struggling on a call, don’t let the opportunity to offer words of advice, explain a process, or give encouragement pass. Similarly, seize the moment when you see a Communicator going above and beyond, or observe him or her capably handling a customer interaction.

Steve Brubaker began his career at InfoCision in 1985. In his current role as Chief of Staff and as a member of the Executive Team, he is responsible for HR, internal and external communications, and manages the company’s legal and compliance departments. Brubaker is a member of a number of professional organizations, including the DMA, SOCAP, and PACE. He also donates his time to serve on several university boards, including the Executive Advisory Board for The Taylor Institute for Direct Marketing at The University of Akron and The University of Akron Foundation Board. He is a frequent speaker for national events and has also been honored with a number of awards and recognitions for his contributions to the call center industry.

Improve the Customer Experience Through Positive Company Culture

Do your Communicators like coming to work? If the answer is yes, then congratulations! If not, it might be time to evaluate your company culture.

As a contact center manager who is tasked with improving the customer experience, you know that positivity in the workplace spills over into customer interactions. But culture is about more than good feelings; it’s about a company’s overarching vision and values. You can tell a lot about the state of your culture by taking time to observe your employees and by assessing their attitudes and feelings about the job. If your culture isn’t readily apparent, here are some things to consider going forward:

  1. Define your culture. This might seem obvious, but unless you’ve thought it through and written it down, it probably isn’t giving you what you need. Consider what you want people to say about your company after they leave. Then, how can you create that environment? A few words should suffice.
  2. Educate your management team about your culture. Your management program shouldn’t just focus on policies and procedures; it should also talk about how to treat people, how to interact with Communicators, and what it means to be a leader. Celebrate new managers’ “graduation” from the program and give them something to remember it by.
  3. Make hiring decisions based on attitude and personality. Known for its excellent customer service, Netflix is looking for brand ambassadors, not simply experienced agents. Its leaders believe that people who are smart, friendly, enthusiastic, helpful, and reliable will excel at connecting with customers, troubleshooting, and solving problems, and will be a good match with their vision for the company.
  4. Progress your Communicators. Not everyone wants to be a manager, but most people do appreciate the chance to get ahead. In a contact center, that might mean moving to higher-paying programs or leading a small team of associates. Progression is based on goal achievement, so discuss goals your Communicators have and help set them up for success.
  5. Focus on making your workplace one of simple procedures and simple work philosophies. Simplicity helps Communicators focus on the right things, like using good judgment, focusing on the tasks at hand, and spending time with customers.

There are many good models to follow for exceptional company cultures. Take time to think, keep it simple, and be genuine. Your Communicators will thank you for it.

 Steve Brubaker began his career at InfoCision in 1985. In his current role as Chief of Staff and as a member of the Executive Team, he is responsible for HR, internal and external communications, and manages the company’s legal and compliance departments. Brubaker is a member of a number of professional organizations, including the DMA, SOCAP, and PACE. He also donates his time to serve on several university boards, including the Executive Advisory Board for The Taylor Institute for Direct Marketing at The University of Akron and The University of Akron Foundation Board. He is a frequent speaker for national events and has also been honored with a number of awards and recognitions for his contributions to the call center industry.