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Live @ Call Centre Canada: 4 Simple Ways to Re-Energize Call Centre Employees

Brian Cantor

If the first day of the 7th Annual Call Center Week Canada is any indication, the contact center culture challenge remains a significant point of concern for customer management professionals.

Culture emerged as a key talking point in all three pre-conference workshops, with the senior-level presenters and participants in attendance pondering strategies for turning their contact center environment into one built for delivering the optimal customer experience.

After earlier workshop presentations on reshaping the contact center around customer-centricity and relying on a "Blue Ocean" strategy for taking an organization’s internal and external customer management operations to the next level, MarketShare’s Pat Perdue put an exclamation point on the culture challenge.

In his presentation entitled "Internal Leadership Strategies for Creating a Motivated Staff," Perdue sparked deliberation over how best to lead amid radical change in the makeup of that call center. A key element of that change is the ongoing rise to adulthood for the Generation Y demographic, which is in the midst of dominating the employee and customer classes.

With attention to their unique needs as a generation, Perdue led the attending, seasoned contact center superstars in an investigation of ways to change how we approach call center management. If we do not shape our centers in a way that will yield optimal engagement and performance from our new class of agents, we will never be able to satisfy our customers, whom are increasingly of that same generation.

Below are four quick means of re-energizing the contact center environment, creating the kind of workforce that will drive meaningful success in this era of increased customer-centricity.

Hire Like a Call Center Leader

Hiring in most organizations inevitably runs through human resources, and that far too often produces an unwelcome "distinction" in the hiring process. Instead of thinking about recruiting decisions from a customer management standpoint, organizations defer to standard HR procedures and insufficiently screen for personality and cultural fitness. A "quick victory" can be had when the call center or customer service function "owns" the hiring process and aligns recruitment, onboarding and retention strategies with the values shared by customers.

Exposing Talent to the Entire Organization (aka Call Center as "Starting Point," Not "Sticking Point")

No matter how much we in customer management love our jobs, let’s face it, the space is not for everyone. And no matter how important we believe the field to be, it is not the only relevant cog in the corporate machine. Why, then, do so many call centers treat it as such?

Through a variety of mentorship and rotation programs, organizations should be exposing call center agents to every facet of the organization. In addition to providing inevitable context for those agents we ask to collaborate and properly service their internal customers, this will also give newly-minted agents a better perspective of where they fit into the company at large. Perhaps some will decide the business is not for them. Others will decide they would rather work in a different department. Others, still, will realize that they see immense value in carving a career through the call center ranks.

Regardless of the ultimate decision, the important thing is to view the outcome as a net-positive for the organization. If they leave the company or move onto another department, do not frown over losing a promising talent you were hoping to trap in the call center system. Instead, be confident that the talent will be contributing to the overall value of the organization and consequently helping to build a better experience for customers.

The call center and this accompanied organizational exposure should be viewed as a starting point for a promising career. Do not view your call center as a sticking point that hopes to keep someone locked to his desk until he either gets promoted or quits.

Define the Job Experience, Draw the Lines to Leadership

The evolution of a contact center agent should not be a nebulous, hit-or-miss, "lightning strikes" process. Though many of today’s employees are driven by instant gratification and focused on the "now," they are also very aspirational and crave empowerment and opportunity. In order to keep this class of worker engaged and driven, leadership must demonstrate the reward of the "journey" from point A to point B (or, at the very least, the fact that such a journey exists).

A key tenet of this strategy is creating meaningful interaction between the leadership and "associate" levels. Open door, two-way feedback policies are beyond essential, and organizations should also consider strategies like "lunch with an executive" or "executive town hall meetings" to keep the barriers between ranks of employ to a minimal. Job shadowing and even "own this job for a week" programs only assist in providing a true perspective of how one’s career in the organization can evolve.

Recognize Flexibility as an Engagement Tool, Not a Nuisance

Generation Y employees value the balance between their personal and professional lives, and that means any effective call center workplace must be built with that freedom in mind. Successful call centers recognize this need through a compassionate, flexible approach to scheduling and workforce management.

That certainly does not mean tardiness and absenteeism are excused—many Call Centre Week attendees identified attendance as a key ongoing problem. It does, however, mean that scheduling can be more pragmatic, developed with persons—not policies—in mind. Effective policies could involve excusing two or three unexpected late arrivals each month on the basis that the employee will make up the time, or even offering the occasional opportunity for "flex" scheduling to allow the employee to incorporate some personal commitments.

And flexibility is not just a productivity debate over the best way to schedule. It can even justify a loosening of the dress code to keep employees happy.

It should also drive a more practical, era-appropriate perspective on social media. Instead of instantly dismissing social access as a plague on productivity, organizations can consider opening the doors to internal/enterprise social media and even select instances of external social media to keep a communication-driven workforce dialed into colleagues and customers.

(Note: Call "Centre" spelling used as reference to Canadian event; article mostly features American usage due to CMIQ's primary audience)