Call Center Culture That Drives Performance (Not Merely Happiness)

CCW Digital

From Zappos to Apple to Disney, iconic culture is the common ingredient in the world’s most famously customer-centric brands. Businesses seeking to replicate that success, however, must appreciate the difference between culture that simply produces a fun contact center atmosphere and that which will keep an organization ahead of the curve as future challenges emerge.

In this exclusive feature, three keynote speakers from the 2015 Future Contact Center Summit unpack that distinction before revealing strategies for driving culture that drives performance.

They will then join a star-studded, highly accomplished faculty at the Future Contact Center Summit, which takes place in Orlando, FL from January 26 - 30, 2015.


Lead by Being: How to Thrive in Tomorrow's Marketplace
Ryan Jenkins, Next Generation Catalyst

Bombarded with hype about the rise of mobile and social, we know how the customer engagement marketplace is evolving. But how are those changes transforming customer expectations for brand interactions?

The emerging generations value personalization and customization, which is why they expect co-creation. They want to participate with brands to create their products or services. Keep in mind, Millennials are loyal to a brand's creativity, not the brand. So it’s important to keep things fresh and relevant.

The rise of web-based channels and mobile means brands must be extremely clear and concise with their communications. There is more competing for our attention than ever before. Brands who communicate with extreme clarity will cut through the clutter. The best brands don’t talk at the Millennials, but rather they listen, and talk with them.

Customer management thinkers frequently discuss how the rise of the millennial generation will continue to transform customer and agent expectations. What is required of leaders who wish to thrive in this next generation marketplace?

Leaders must embrace what we call A-game leadership traits to be effective next generation leaders. These include:

Agile. 89% of Millennials prefer to choose when and where they work rather than being placed in a 9-to-5 position. The emerging generations have a knack for adaptability because they grew up (and are still growing up) in a turbulent and every changing high-tech culture. They expect and thrive in change. One of the most essential next generation leadership skills will be agility. Leaders who achieve agility in their thinking, skill development, and communication styles will thrive tomorrow.

Authentic. Growing up bombarded by advertisements and breaking news of unethical leaders and athletes, Millennials have developed an acute sense for detecting unauthentic people and messages. In today’s digital age, Millennials value and practice transparency, and they demand that their leaders mirror that transparency.

Assemble. Google became a global powerhouse and a staple of society for doing one thing well...curating information. Since its creation, the World Wide Web has been bursting at the seam with information, inundating any user that ventured onto its webpages. Google became massively relevant and useful when it curated and distilled the best information the web had to offer on a particular topic. Just like Google, next generation leaders must become skilled curators. Curators of resources. Assembling resources such as relevant information, tools and talent will be key to lead tomorrow. With today’s inundation of information and options, Millennials will look to leaders who can assemble the right resources to execute the job most effectively.

The Best Contact Center Culture Drives Performance
Bruce Hodes, CMI

We often celebrate contact center culture that drives employee happiness. What differentiates the kind of culture that also fosters productivity?

Performance is important, and if people aren’t performing, there must be consequences. Make sure the agents know that how they play matters. If they keep dropping the ball, they’re not going to play.

To improve the way agents "play," organizations must also stress that "the game" matters. To feel compelled to perform, employees need to care about the big picture in addition to their own, individual duties.

Call center performance is not just about hard skills – it is not just about making the numbers. It’s also about embracing and espousing the corporate values.

Focusing on big picture values sounds great in theory, but how can a business account for that potentially qualitative element when measuring performance?

Do not simply measure individuals – you must measure contact center performance from a group perspective.

As an example, I once oversaw measurement for a banking contact center that dealt with problems at ATM locations. The agents handled the issues as a team, and they covered for each other. Issues could span across shifts, so hand-offs inevitably occurred.

There were metrics that assessed the success of those hand-offs, and everything was judged in the context of values like teamwork and integration.

How does an organization weave customer values into its contact center culture?

Leadership clearly has to have a real feel for the business and for its customers. Once they establish that, they must remain in a constant dialogue with customers about which behaviors are going to make a difference to them and thus allow the business to grow.

Does leadership routinely serve on the front line? Do leadership take calls? If so, it will be very clear about what it takes to have a great call center and the various things that affect the environment.

Romancing Your Customers, Employees
Tim Leberecht, NBBJ

What do employees truly want from a contact center environment? Do they want to be measured against particular performance elements? Do they want empowerment to provide more flexible solutions for customers?

Employees in a contact center environment want the same things from their work that employees everywhere want. First, they want to believe in the mission of their firm so they experience a sense of purpose and feel that their work makes a real difference toward something greater than themselves. Second, they want to have enough autonomy to create and truly own something – even if it is at a micro-level – rather than just executing mechanical tasks like a machine.

And, I would argue, there is a third quality they’re looking for: romance. This may sound strange at first glance, but I’m proposing that having a romantic relationship to work is key for productivity. Romance is not the same as happiness or purpose, it’s slightly different terrain: the ability to be "all in," maintain a sense of wonder, mystery, and even magic at the workplace. Romance is the experience of intensity and thrill, and is the opposite of boredom. It’s the feeling that anything can happen every day, that things are exciting, full of possibility, rather than automated and standardized. One of the main reasons we get up every morning and go to work is the insatiable curiosity for what might happen. We just never really know. The moment we do know is the end of romance.

Instead of simply offering more perks or social events, contact centers should think about how they can create little "hacks" that disrupt employees’ day-to-day work routine before it begins to feel deadening. Neuroscientists back this up by highlighting that exposure to things that pique our curiosity, that deviate from the norm, make us more engaged. And we perform better – we are more communicative, creative, and productive – if we’re fully engaged.

Here are three concrete suggestions for how contact centers could do this:

1) Encourage employees to be mini-entrepreneurs by giving them permission to be creative in writing or tweaking their call scripts.

2) "Interrupt" their routine and work flow once in a while for an unexpected altruistic task that exhibits the random kindness of strangers (e.g. calling elderly people in senior homes on their birthday without any sales intention or on Giving Tuesday, the Tuesday after Thanksgiving; donate a day of calls to help a nonprofit raise funds for a good cause; or simply thank donors who have already contributed). Interestingly, employees who are interrupted for altruistic tasks report higher productivity.

3) Dramatize the work day, e.g. by having employees give talks about their calls, create a "secret society" in which employees can anonymously share some of the more obscure customer interactions they had; swap roles, switch desks, create playlists of best calls, use social media sites such as Pinterest, Somewhere, or Tumblr to keep a collective diary with impressions from customer interactions and things they’ve learned that are worth sharing.

Let’s apply that same logic to the customer. We often talk about concepts like abandoning average handle time to focus on deeper, strategic calls. We talk about having personalized, specific, lengthy conversations. But are those concepts consistent with what matters to the customer?

One of the beautiful things [about the call center environment is] the direct connection with strangers. On the one hand, contact centers are pretty unambiguously about numbers and have very explicit goals. Efficiency is the name of the game. How many calls can you complete in the shortest amount of time? On the other hand, contact centers offer people on either end a powerful conduit for a meaningful human exchange, no matter how commercial the intentions.

Research shows that micro-interactions with strangers are surprisingly powerful in shaping our feelings of happiness and wellbeing. For example, a random chat with a stranger on the commuter train, a casual exchange with the barista at the coffee shop, a heated exchange with a cranky cab driver – or a call with a customer rep – can make or break your day. This means that contact center agents have a tremendous power and responsibility.

From the Burning Man festival to dinner series with strangers to real-world social clubs—all against the backdrop of datafication and hyper-connectivity online--we’re witnessing the renaissance of the authentic, raw experience. We’re witnessing the almost nostalgic need for real human connection--for full presence, surprise, empathy and adventure. In short: for romance.

Contact centers are right at the frontline and can use this trend to their advantage. Personalization helps, and a "smart" understanding of individual customer needs does too, but the ultimate value lies in an experience that represents a small, fleeting moment of romance.

What do you see as the greatest bottleneck on achieving the harmonious balance between business, customer and employee interests?

The biggest obstacles are a lack of courage – many business leaders tend to fall back on what feels safe and what is widely accepted by business mainstream – and short-termism: a blindness to the long-term implications of today’s actions. You might close a sale today but lose the customer or employee tomorrow because of the way you treated him or her in the process. As Maya Angelou wrote: "People may not remember exactly what you did, or what you said, but they will always remember how you made them feel."

Employees or customers, we are all craving a more romantic relationship to work or to a product or service. If businesses can realize this, they will build strong connections and delight both their employees and customers in the short-term – and run a more successful business in the long-term.