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.

 

 

10 Tips for Reducing Contact Center Attrition

Once you’ve hired, onboarded and trained a new Communicator, you’ve invested a lot of time, energy and money into their employment with your organization. Losing an associate is a near tragedy, certainly a disruption to the workflow, a decrease in productivity and an expense.

Unfortunately for the industry, average contact center turnover ranges between 30 and 45 percent—with some centers having almost no turnover, and others centers having turnover in the triple digits, according to QATC.

Many factors contribute to churn—from a sense of isolation to job stressors to lack of motivation. Research studies indicate that the rate of turnover varies by area of the country, employment factors in a specific region or city, and by industry. Turnover is much higher in routine, order-taking positions or in outbound telemarketing where burnout is high. It’s lower in more specialized, higher-level jobs and also lower in union environments.

Replacing a frontline employee costs about $10,000 to $15,000, QATC reports. Understanding the various costs involved, contact center supervisors make it a priority to retain employees.

Here are 10 strategies that will help you reduce attrition in your contact center:

  • Hire the right people: This is a demanding job. Make sure you hire people who can handle it. Look for strong people skills, and someone who can remain calm and polite even in high-stress situations.
  • Recognize top performers: Set high expectations—with attached rewards, and clear guidelines on how to merit them.
  • Invest in professional development: Don’t let employees stagnate or become bored. Give them the option to cross-train for several jobs and/or switch tasks from time to time.
  • Provide continual feedback: Make sure employees feel valued. Personalize praise to the worker—and do it consistently.
  • Establish an employee work balance program: Be flexible and give your employees options for creating their own schedules.
  • Integrate employee activities: Create a pleasant work environment by building comradery among employees. Encourage them to work together toward goals.
  • Align employee mission, vision and values: This starts at the top with company leaders. Identify your values and enforce them with your actions. Make sure employees understand the mission and vision for the organization, and keep everybody pointed in the right direction. Hold people accountable for breaches of policy and standards.
  • Encourage employees to voice their feelings and opinions: Get to know your employees. Learn what motivates them and about their lives (without prying). This will make the workplace feel like a supportive community, and help you craft personalized incentive programs.
  • Create a positive company culture: Many of the above strategies will contribute to a positive company culture, which is important for employee enjoyment of and engagement with their work.
  • Provide tools and training: Enable employees to maximize their potential and achieve goals by giving them the technology and training they need for success.

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.

Best Practices of Top-Performing Frontline Managers

To maximize a team’s abilities, managers must spend a significant amount of time helping team members understand company objectives and coaching them to improve performance. Successful contact center managers have figured out how to address key factors impacting contact center operations, engendering smooth transactions and enhancing the customer experience.

Frontline managers who continuously seek quality improvements are the linchpins in a brand’s ability to meet customer expectations, retain customers, and then turn those customers into brand loyalists and advocates.

Here are some of their best practices for meeting contact center key performance metrics:

Be positive, helpful and accountable: Whether by nature or through company training, the most-effective frontline managers know how to motivate and coach Communicators to excel. Business leaders need to ensure that their frontline managers have the tools they need to set up their teams for success.  Sure, technology—from data and analysis tools to dashboard reporting—can buoy a manager’s ability to develop a top-performing team, but a people-first mentality is essential. Exuding a positive, can-do attitude and a willingness to help, including taking ownership of every call, will go a long way toward meeting contact center objectives.

Focus on employee engagement, retention and productivity: Acknowledge that most Communicators don’t plan to spend their careers in their current roles. Take the time to showcase how accomplishing their existing duties to the best of their abilities will benefit them down the road. This will motivate purpose-driven engagement in day-to-day tasks. Sensing that they are working toward the greater good, Communicators will experience heightened job fulfillment and put greater effort into their customer interactions. Ultimately, customer service will improve, leading to a heftier bottom line for the business.

Keep employees up to date on information: When customers call in to your contact center, they want their issues resolved quickly and effectively. Your Communicators are the face of your business whether interacting with customers in chat, on a call, through email or any other channel you provide. The value they bring to the customer relationship is dependent upon how well-informed they are about your products and services. Near real-time information can be critical to resolving customer issues and ensuring their satisfaction with your brand.

Mentor staff to handle stress: Communicators who feel attacked or undervalued will leave or simply fail to reach their full potential. Both situations—a high turnover rate/constant rehiring and low-performing workers, respectively—are damaging to any business. Let your Communicators know that not every interaction will go smoothly or every issue be resolved perfectly. Set reasonable expectations so staffers are not demotivated by a few glitches. Your own positive viewpoint, open communication style and lending hand will establish an environment conducive to the retention of both employees and customers.

Frontline managers who willingly provide team mentorship and support, are imbued with a positive spirit and eagerness to help, and who hold themselves personally accountable for the actions of their staff are crucial to contact center performance—and deserve a pat on the back.

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.

The Psychology Behind Delivering Superior Customer Service

Appreciating the emotions involved in customer service is the first step toward creating a better customer experience. Sure, feelings are not something humans can always control—and they sometimes seem nebulous, random and unexplainable—but, fear not, there is a science to ridding your contact center of negative emotions that upend Communicator performance and dismay customers.

What you might never have thought about—but is known among certain academicians—is that Communicator treatment of customers is directly associated to how Communicators and other contact center staff treat each other.

Believe it or not, kindness toward each other in the workplace is a marker for the behaviors and performance of employees. In fact, research indicates that a negative relationship between colleagues has immediate and long-term detrimental effects on employee engagement, commitment and performance. According to the findings of a study published in the Harvard Business Review, 48 percent of workers who have been on the receiving end of incivility have intentionally decreased their work effort.

Twelve percent actually left their jobs due to their treatment. A full 78 percent said that their commitment to the organization declined. As many as 80 percent lost work time worrying about the incident, and 63 percent lost work time avoiding the offender.

One-quarter of the workers subject to workplace rudeness admitted to taking their frustrations out on customers!

Interestingly, the study found that people are made anxious when they see others treated poorly whether the treatment was delivered in private but overhead, deserved (e.g., due to incompetence) or the result of questionable or illegal actions.

As a contact center leader, what can you do to keep your own behavior in check and foster civility among workers? Here are a few tips:

Model good behavior: Managers set the tone, so be sure to lead by example. One way to create a culture of respect and bring out the best in employees is to show appreciation for their pleasant behavior. Keep an open line of communication and periodically ask for your Communicators’ feedback on your management style.

Hire civil people: Look for emotional intelligence when interviewing Communicator candidates. Less-formal group interviews often work to expose poor behaviors that might be suppressed in formal interviews. If possible, talk to previous employers to find out how the individual related to colleagues.

Teach appropriate behavior: Role-playing is a good technique for teaching civility in the workplace. Another tool is live listening, or even playback options, for various interactions to capture employees’ patterns of behavior, and then coach accordingly.

Offer rewards and penalties: Make respectful treatment of both employees and customers part of performance reviews. Further, consider implementing a system for measuring overall teamwork, not just individual outcomes.

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.