4 Hiring Mistakes Contact Centers Make in Selecting Supervisors

Supervisors need to be leaders, not just rockstar CS agents

Kindra Cooper

Contact center jobs

It’s easy to assume a contact center leader’s role is scoring calls on a checklist and ensuring seats are filled according to anticipated call volume.

In reality, supervisors set the direction for the contact center, touching everything from customer support to sales, retention and loyalty, agent performance and training and more.

Like any department head, they must lead and motivate teams, set strategy and keep an eye on the big picture - that is, how their division’s performance boosts or burdens the company’s bottom line. 

Too often, organizations make the mistake of promoting their superstar agents into supervisory roles, assuming said superstar will cascade their technical acumen to the masses by osmosis. CEB found that 60 percent of new managers fail within their first two years. Doers aren’t necessarily leaders. 

During the Contact Center Virtual Summit on Thursday, Peggy Reynolds, co-founder of Call Center School, discussed the five mistakes organizations make when it comes to hiring contact center supervisors. 

1. We promote star contact center agents, not leaders

Employees that aspire towards leadership positions are often deemed more motivated and high-potential than their less power-hungry counterparts. Organizations mistakenly assume that the top contributors want higher positions with greater pay and responsibility, but the truth is management isn’t everyone’s forte. 

Before upleveling a rockstar staffer’s title and pay grade, make sure it’s a mutual fit. You can assess this through behavior-based interviews, role plays and psychometric tests. Some people don’t realize they aren’t fit to be leaders or don’t enjoy being one until they actually get what they wished for. 

Most people assume good leaders should be top communicators in possession of unfaltering “people skills” - garden variety traits espoused by garden variety self-help books - but from her two decades of experience in the contact center industry, Reynolds knows better when it comes to promoting within the contact center. 

Read more: Contact Center Jobs - Have They Evolved As Businesses Adopt Omnichannel CS? 

“When you test for it, the two most important things are the desire to manage and being someone who enjoys seeing others succeed,” she said.  

It’s more important to judge the candidate’s personality fit for the job than their typing speed or understanding of QA scorecards. When Reynolds co-founded Call Center School in 2001 with business partner Maggie Klenke, she headed up curriculum development - playing to her strengths as an industry thought leader and coach - while Klenke managed people.

2. We don’t train supervisors after we promote them

After existing agents are promoted to supervisors, their organization doesn’t always provide a framework or pathway for their role. Or, HR provides a generic leadership training program for grooming would-be managers in any department, without answering to the nuances of the call center role. 

Anticipating call volume during the holiday season, deciding whether to prioritize handle time or NPS, avoiding staffing shortages from turnover - these concerns are unique to the call center environment, and an undifferentiated training program won’t cut it. 

“HR has no idea what these nuances are, what makes a call center run,” warned Reynolds. 

A contact center leader’s role involves performance management, quality assurance, agent training and coaching and workforce management. But most importantly, they’re responsible for staff development. 

“It involves defining what we want performance to look like, reviewing performance, seeing where the gaps are, diagnosing the root cause and figuring out the coaching process,” she added.

3. We underestimate the role of the supervisor

Although the contact center hierarchy tends to be quite flat compared to other departments, a supervisor still has to motivate their staff and create career paths for them. Even if there’s only one supervisory position up for grabs, it’s still important to maintain staff morale and performance not only through recognition and reward but equipping agents with the right tools like a user-friendly desktop interface or CRM system. 

The key is to nurture an environment where agents are willing to exhibit discretionary effort - that is, an employee’s full potential contribution beyond their basic call of duty. 

Read more: Customer Lifetime Value - Should You Discriminate Between Your Customers? 

Supervisors must also understand the contact center’s operating budget and how agent turnover affects the company’s bottom line. More importantly, results-oriented leaders must buy into the organization’s larger mission and understand what role the contact center plays in achieving that mission. 

For an online retailer like Zappos that’s renowned for its customer service, the contact center is instrumental in exemplifying the company culture, where one agent spent a record-breaking 10 hours and 43 minutes on the phone chatting idly with a customer. Meanwhile, American Airlines is known for its near-instantaneous, personalized Twitter responses to customer complaints and questions. 

“When it comes to results orientation, one of the coaching problems I see is that supervisors coach to a number like schedule adherence percentage, average handle time or quality score,” said Reynolds. 

It’s better for them to coach the behaviors that give rise to those metrics because habits can be ingrained, whereas metrics change as business needs evolve. 

“Supervisors really need to understand the ins and outs of the business and contact center operations,” said Reynolds. “Understanding the top 20 KPIs - handle time, occupancy, shrinkage.”

4. We forget that people leave a bad boss, not a bad job

Abnormally high attrition rates at contact centers are often attributed to low pay or boredom, but studies show that in truth, poor management and leadership tends to be at fault. The Saratoga Institute surveyed 20,000 people who had recently left their jobs, many of them in contact centers or administrative positions. 

“That study revealed that the supervisor’s behavior was the number one reason people left,” said Reynolds. “Another study found that 50 percent of work satisfaction is determined by the supervisor-employee relationship.” 

She cited statistics from a poll of 1000 people in the contact center industry on why they’d left their previous roles. 

11% feeling undertrained

18% feel bored or underchallenged

20% hard work going unrecognized

27% lack of promotional opportunities

24% feeling of being unfairly paid

“Most of those things are directly attributable to the supervisor and how they manage their team members,” said Reynods. “So if you look at why people are leaving, yes, compensation is part of it but people are not getting the rewards and recognition, they’re not being challenged.”

Conversely, motivation and job fit were cited as the number one reason why people choose to stay in their job.