You Can't Always Teach Bad Call Center Agents Good Tricks

Sometimes, we just can’t change an employee’s behavior because they don’t want to change it. You can read 1,000 books and articles on all the wonderful coaching ideas out there, try them all and that "problem" employee still isn’t going to change.

Many companies continue to use their Call Center as a "problem employee" dumping ground. I imagine this is the dialog (with apologies to the great HR folks out there!) :

Department Head: "Well, Ed just isn’t coming to work on time and when he’s here, he’s always on his cell phone. I don’t want him in my department anymore!"

HR Manager:"Ed has been here for 15 years. What are you suggesting?"

Department Head:"I heard they need someone in Customer Service in the Call Center."

HR Manager:"Great idea. Ed loves to talk on the phone so I’m sure he’ll love talking to our Customers on the phone. I’ll talk with the VP and suggest we move Ed there instead of all the hiring expense for an outside candidate."

The poor Customer Service Manager is later told that due to budget constraints, hiring from the outside won’t be possible but there is a great internal employee who will be moving into their area. The Department Head never mentions the cell phone and tardy issues of course. Ed joins the Center and now consumes a huge amount of the Supervisor’s time due to his problems with attendance and bad work habits.


Another frequently seen scenario is the long time Call Center representative who clearly is burned out and no longer enjoys their job but stays because she "need a job". Despite continued lackluster performance, even when given coaching, the Call Center leaders give "Mary" a pass because "she’s been here so long…she’s our Senior Rep".

Other times I’ve seen employees who have been written up multiple times and yet still continue to be employed. It’s as if they are made of Teflon and all their bad performance problems just slide right off of them.

If these scenarios are happening at your own Center or company, I hope you’ll open dialog with Human Resources, Management and your Leadership Team using some of these questions or look to your own actions as a Manager:

  • Why have we become so afraid to take action if Employees are unable to or unwilling to improve ?
  • Why do we feel that Employee length of service trumps the need for superior service for our customers?
  • Why are "problem" Employees just moved from department to department? What are we gaining by this? Is it costing us (or losing us) money to keep them?
  • If I have coached and documented the coaching interactions with the "problem" employee and have had no success in turning them around, what is preventing me from terminating their employment?
  • How is continued employment of "problem" Employees affecting my staff?
  • Are "good" Employees being neglected while I worry about the "problem" ones?
  • If burned out in my area, do they have other fabulous skills that would be great in another department or would I be "dumping" like the Ed story above?

I’d love to hear your comments or stories related to my topic.

Melissa Kovacevic is the Founder and President of CommPlan Consulting. Melissa consults with Contact Center and Retail Customer Service clients on ways to improve and blend People, Process and Technology for a winning Customer Experience