Change Your Contact Center for the Better As the Season Changes

Change is all around us. The leaves are falling. The air is getting crisp. As we turn the corner into fall, feed off of the seasonal energy and update your contact center strategy.

Here are some practical steps you can take to inspire your team and boost attitude—and performance—in your contact center:

Update your call scripts: Customers pick up on the smallest details when speaking with your Communicators. So it’s vital to ensure your Communicators are inspired and excited during phone interactions. To boost enthusiasm, try updating your call scripts. You can even hold a meeting, and ask for direct feedback from your Communicators about specific areas they think should change. Get a sense of which lines are working, and which can be improved. Doing so will make your Communicators feel like they are part of the team. What’s more, it will make them think actively about the language they use when speaking with customers.

Bring in some fresh faces: The busy holiday rush will be here before you know it. And when this happens, your department may need to scale to handle larger call volumes. This year, be proactive and hire early. This will give you plenty of time to onboard and train your new hires, and to make sure they are well- prepared for the busy season. Plus, your new Communicators will bring a wave of energy and enthusiasm into your department.

Improve your KPIs: Take a hard look at your contact center metrics. Are there any trends that need to disappear along with the summer heat? Take active measures to reduce your abandon rates by tweaking your interactive voice response system or implementing a callback feature. You could also work with your Communicators to look for ways of improving first call resolution rates. KPIs may seem intimidating, but by making them a priority you could significantly boost your customer service ratings.

Innovate: When is the last time you integrated a new technology into your contact center? There are many new customer relationship management (CRM) solutions that you can use to streamline customer support, like issue tracking systems (which can capture and follow customer challenges), multichannel solutions (for communicating with customers over multiple platforms), and knowledge bases (which help Communicators share information among themselves). If your CRM solutions are up to date, it’s worth considering other small investments to make your Communicators happier and more productive. For example, you could consider implementing new headsets, phones or even chairs. It’s amazing how performance can improve when workers are comfortable at their seats.

Remember that you don’t need to have a massive departmentwide overhaul to enact meaningful change. Simply coming to work with a positive, can-do attitude will inspire others to feel the same. Let the winds of change blow through your contact center and drive improvements this season!

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.

Tips for Offering Feedback in the Contact Center

As a contact center leader, you spend a great deal of time observing Communicators during customer interactions. In this way, you have become quite familiar with the individual strengths and weaknesses of your team members. Your job is to convey these observations to your Communicators on a regular basis and help them perform their best.

Understand, though, that what you say to your Communicators, and the way you say it, will go a long way in shaping the culture of your contact center. Regardless of your intent, constructive criticism can actually be very destructive if poorly communicated. It can undermine the working relationship of those involved, making it less likely that they will be able to collaborate well in the future. Harsh, or inept, criticism has also been found to increase the likelihood of future conflicts, as well as directly impair the ability of people to do the work for which they have been criticized.

So, rather than attempting to give Communicators constructive criticism, try approaching them with positive feedback and coaching support. By doing so, there will be no hurt pride or animosity in your contact center. Act as a mentor and emphasize the Communicator’s strengths. Granted, sometimes you have to deliver criticism—in which case, break your feedback down into three segments, the Praise-Improve-Praise technique.

Begin by highlighting your employees’ skills, and express your appreciation for their work. Then, transition into the improvement stage. Be clear, but considerate, on the areas that they can improve upon. Reiterate both the praise and the improvement, and conclude with a final praise—this is crucial to ensure that the Communicator feels appreciated and welcomed.

Communicators who feel appreciated are more likely to lengthen their tenure with your company, reducing turnover, which is expensive and bad for team morale. Plus, when Communicators do move on, they will be more likely to post positive employee reviews on employment websites, helping you to attract qualified workers in the future.

Use these guiding principles when delivering your Praise-Improve-Praise conversation to employees:

Offer feedback privately: Generally speaking, direct feedback is best given in private, even when it is positive in nature, to avoid embarrassing the Communicator in front of others.

Avoid accusations: Even if you are certain that a Communicator is in the wrong about something, don’t hurl accusations at him or her. Ease into the topic at hand, and give the person a chance to explain his or her reasoning for taking a particular course of action. Ask questions, and try to figure out the root cause of an issue.

Be genuine: Reinforce the fact that you are trying to help the Communicator improve. Tell a story about a time when you made a similar mistake. Then, explain what you learned from it. The Communicator will appreciate your honesty and willingness to share your story.

Explain your goals: After you coach your Communicator about the issue, explain how the conversation fits into his or her long-term future with the company. At the end of the conversation, lay out some small steps the employee can take to move closer to his or her ultimate goal.

Have the right mindset: Before you pull an employee aside to provide coaching or support, make sure you have the right attitude. The conversation will be smoother and more productive if you are feeling positive and non-confrontational.

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.

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.

Three Ways to Celebrate Summer All Year Long In the Contact Center

Summertime brings to mind the sound of waves gently crashing on the beach, the smell of burgers on the grill and the feeling of excitement from lighting firecrackers on the Fourth of July.

You can capture such positive summer sensations in your contact center all yearlong—delighting and satisfying employees and customers—by employing a few strategic best practices, as follows:

Provide continuous professional development: What keeps employees satisfied and engaged at their jobs is the feeling of constant growth and the opportunity to learn. Providing professional development resources to employees of all levels will enable them to continuously work toward new goals, improve their skills and discover new strengths throughout the course of their careers. Not only will this make your employees happier, it will improve the quality of customer care that they deliver thereby retaining more customers.

Offer team building exercises: The best part of summertime is spending quality time with friends and family soaking up the sun. Transfer this feeling of togetherness to your contact center family by holding more team building events so that team members can strengthen their relationships. This is also a great way for upper managers to interact socially with employees with whom they may not otherwise get the chance to engage. Like professional development courses, team building exercises and events will give team members something positive to look forward to throughout the year.

Utilize intuitive technology: The only thing that could improve your Communicators’ top-notch customer care skills is intuitive technology. It’s true; you can enhance Communicator performance by integrating data analytics tools such as predictive analytics, skills-based routing and marketing segmentation to optimize their abilities. Integrating best-in-class technology into your customer care strategy is the cherry on top of your banana split.

Let your customer care shine this summer—and all year long for that matter—by employing these three effective strategies.

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.

Ways to Make Morale a Priority

It’s hard to pin down a definition of high or low morale in the workplace, but you know it when you see it. A team with high morale is confident they can do the job, disciplined about performing it, and motivated to tackle whatever comes their way. On the other hand, low morale looks just the opposite—your agents may be working, but there’s no sense of enthusiasm or positivity.

It’s no secret that morale has a major impact on the workplace, particularly in the customer care arena. In a setting with low morale, Communicators aren’t likely to go the extra mile in their service efforts or present a pleasant demeanor during customer interactions. Customers can sense when the person on the other end of the line is unhappy, a feeling that will permeate the entire exchange. So even if the idea of raising morale seems like a nebulous concept, its benefits are clearly measurable in the strength of your bottom line.

If you’re noticing an increase in turnover, frequent employee absences, or an undercurrent of conflicts or complaints, try some of these morale-boosting strategies:

  • Reconnect with your Communicators. Practice “management by walking around,” so you can connect with employees spontaneously. Unplanned conversations could yield impromptu suggestions, ideas, and the sharing of thoughts in the moment. Make sure you’re listening.
  • Say “thank you” more often. Reward Communicators frequently for a job well done, which could mean anything from saying “great job” or “thanks” to things like giving gift certificates or awarding flextime hours.
  • Make staff development a priority. Hold regular one-on-one meetings to understand individual needs and skills, and provide training and development opportunities as often as possible. Create formal ways for staff members to learn from one another.
  • Show Communicators the results of their hard work. Share positive feedback with all agents, and consider sharing any good news related to the clients you work for. After all, their success wouldn’t be possible without the hard work of 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.

InfoCision Named a Notable Member of the OHBLN

 

At InfoCision, our core business revolves around connecting with people—that is, helping businesses to forge meaningful connections with their customers. Long ago we realized we can do our job better by making similar connections in our community, a wonderful source of valuable and diverse employees. We—and our clients—have been reaping the benefits ever since.

InfoCision is proud to be among the first 100 companies to join the Ohio Business Leadership Network, an organization that leads by example in the employment of individuals with disabilities. More than 800,000 strong, this group of working-age Ohioans with disabilities represents a talented and relatively untapped workforce in our state.

OHBLN members, including Procter & Gamble, Aramark, Miami University, and Pitney Bowes, to name just a few, know that talented and dedicated people of all backgrounds, including those with communications challenges and medical disabilities, are vital to the success of any business. Qualified candidates with abilities and talents relevant to the job are always welcome, and very often, applicants with disabilities bring an extraordinary work ethic, positive outlook and original way of thinking to the table. Truly, a diverse workforce makes us stronger and better able to serve our customers.

InfoCision has also been named a notable OHBLN business member for its dedication to recruiting, training, and retaining individuals with disabilities. We believe that our employees are the link to developing lasting relationships between our clients and their donors or customers, so we look for talented Communicators first and foremost, and offer them opportunities to grow.

If you haven’t already explored diversity initiatives in your own community, I encourage you to do so. An inclusive culture, we think, is key to building meaningful relationships, and key to business success.

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.

Three Ways to Remedy the Customer Care Blues

It’s been said that customer care agents have one of the hardest jobs in the world. Discouragement is common, and expectations are high, sometimes leading to low morale and even lower self-motivation levels among Communicators.

As managers, it’s up to us to foster the right combination of morale and motivation to keep our employees happy, as well as our customers. A few ideas for doing this include:

  • Encourage employees to create a “vision board” that shows their goals and aspirations. Visualizing your goals is a more powerful motivator than simply having them in your head, and by looking at the board daily, Communicators are preparing themselves mentally to reach those goals, bit by bit. Seasoned athletes use this tactic regularly, “rehearsing” an upcoming game in their mind before playing. For your Communicators, the most effective goals will be the ones they choose themselves. What do they feel will make them better at their job? How will they achieve that? Images that represent or symbolize those goals—and how they’ll feel after achieving them—will serve to inspire and affirm.
  • Create a culture of collaboration among Communicators. No one wants to feel like they’re in it alone. To cultivate a supportive environment, create a formal system for employees to talk with one another about successful interactions as well as challenging ones. Pair new employees with well-seasoned ones, as mentor teams. Also, make time available for all employees to ask questions and get help when needed. The free transfer and flow of knowledge has a real impact on retaining employees.
  • Model a positive attitude. You set the tone for your team, so your upbeat attitude will go a long way toward reducing stress and energizing your Communicators. In fact, optimism has been shown to reduce people’s perceptions of stress and increase their ability to perform well in stressful situations. Beyond that, remind your Communicators that a positive attitude has the power to change the direction of negative conversations—a not insignificant tool in this very challenging career.

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 ‘Carpe Diem’ Should Be Your Communicators’ Motto

Amazon:  Warmest greetings…, my name is Thor.

Customer:  Greeting, Thor. Can I be Odin?

Amazon:  Odin, Father, How art thy doing on this here fine day?

Customer:  Thor, my son. Agony raises upon my life.

These are the beginning lines of an (unauthenticated and unscripted) exchange between an Amazon customer care agent and a customer. The transcript was widely published on the Internet, with readers everywhere delighted by a customer service experience that was genuine, amusing, and, most of all, successful—the customer got his lost book, and with one-day delivery to boot.

Why were people so taken by this conversation? Because it’s rare for business exchanges to reveal such personality, yet it’s an absolute pleasure when they do.

Many customer care exchanges involve the use of scripts, which are designed to provide consistency. But there’s much to be said for occasionally and strategically leaving the script behind—the key word being “strategically.” Sometimes it’s better to go outside the lines. It’s also up to you to help your Communicators recognize when and why this strategy works.

Customer personalities vary, and Communicators may need to adapt accordingly. While two callers may have the same problem, they may not be handling it the same way, with one person more relaxed and the other much more anxious. In that case, the same script won’t work equally well for both parties. One may require more empathy and assurances for a positive outcome, which means having a more genuine conversation.

Also, service across multiple channels requires a more natural flow. While scripting was intended to promote consistency, it falls short when customers start communication via a website, for example, and continue it by phone or texts. Whether it’s a few minutes or a few days between exchanges, Communicators need to keep the flow going, preventing the customer from having to start over again every time.

There are plenty of other reasons to “seize the day” and go off-script, and the more you talk about these openly with your Communicators the better off you’ll be. The more flexible you are, the more successful your Communicators will be at building relationships. For that, reading people is more important than reading scripts.

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 Positive Reinforcement is Essential to Communicators’ Success

Customer care representatives have a mentally grueling and incredibly tough job.  While other employees can hide in their cubicles when they’re having a tough day, Communicators must constantly display a sunny and positive demeanor when speaking to customers.

Unfortunately, Communicators don’t always get the credit they deserve. In fact, it’s rare for customers to shell out many “thank yous” to customer care professionals. After all, customers expect high-quality customer care experiences.

Not receiving positive reinforcement for a job well done, however, can be hard on Communicators at times. It’s common for Communicators to feel like they are running a marathon without anyone on the sidelines cheering them on, which can negatively impact their daily work performance and overall well-being.

In fact, a study of over 1,700 employees conducted by the American Psychological Association (APA) indicated that more than half of all employees intended to search for new jobs because they felt underappreciated and undervalued.

Rather than sit back and wait for customers to show appreciation toward your Communicators, take it upon yourself to do so. Providing positive reinforcement can be achieved through small or big gestures.

For example, simply taking the time each month to thank your team or individual team members for a job well done can go a long way. Or perhaps you want to show more appreciation by taking your employees on a fun outing each quarter to reward them for their success.

Whether you choose to go small or big doesn’t matter. What matters is showing your Communicators that you appreciate their hard work and value them an as an employee. In doing so, you will create a more positive work environment, which leads to more productive and successful employees.

So how will you give a big “thank you” to your team of hard working Communicators this month?

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.