10 Skills All Great Contact Center Leaders Need

By: CCWAU Team

An organization can embrace a vision of customer centricity.  It can hire talented customer service representatives.  It can invest in a plethora of innovative tools and technologies.

These positive qualities are for naught, however, if the organization does not have great leadership.

Leaders hold the key to contact center excellence.  They actualize the pro-customer vision.  They empower agents to simultaneously satisfy customers and improve business results.  They help the organization optimally leverage its technological systems.

Above all, they help the organization navigate the sea of change to which contact center environments are constantly subjected.  No matter how many curveballs and challenges the contact center encounters, leaders ensure their teams are capable of efficiently and effectively delivering unforgettable experiences for customers

Not all employees are capable of rising to this significant occasion.  It takes a particular skillset – and a particular mindset – to lead a contact center to success in the present and future.

CCW Digital has identified the 10 skills all great contact center leaders need.  Highlighted below, these qualities help distinguish true contact center leaders from mere managers.

Through its special “Future Leaders Lab” track, the 2018 Contact Center Week Australia will help rising leaders cultivate these qualities.  Our faculty of seasoned, accomplished contact center leaders will impart their unique wisdom and best practices – get details here.

1)      Prowess for Coaching

CCW Digital research confirms coaching as the #1 strategy for improving contact center performance.  It is also the most popular 2018 strategy for improving the agent experience.

Coaching is clearly the gateway to a successful contact center operation and a pivotal responsibility for future leaders.  In order to stand a chance of succeeding in a leadership role, aspiring contact center managers must master the art of coaching.

Coaching, it is important to note, goes beyond training.  The best leaders are not simply skilled at sharing generic scripts and product knowledge with their teams.  They know how to meaningfully empower each individual agent.

They can identify each agent’s unique strengths, weaknesses, learning preferences and motivations.  More importantly, they can swiftly tailor coaching to these unique traits.


2)      Frontline Exposure

Contact center management may involve best practices, technical knowledge and business training.  It is not, however, a purely academic artform.  It also involves real-life experience.

Indeed, the road to successful contact center leadership begins on the frontline.

Successful leaders have spent an extensive amount of time actually interacting with customers.  They have direct experience dealing with the complex human emotions, quirks and demands that cannot be wholly predicted in training sessions.  They have familiarity pairing the information they provide with the empathy and generosity needed to make customers feel special.

The best leaders, more importantly, remain committed to the frontline even after transitioning into management.  Aware of the importance of frontline interactions, they seize every available opportunity to interact with actual customers.  They join agents on calls and even field interactions of their own.

In addition to giving them necessary insight for improving strategy and training agents, this frontline exposure helps managers gain credibility.  Agents respect managers whom they know have a legitimate appreciation for the nuances and challenges associated with actual customer interactions.


3)      Versatility

Change is the only constant in the contact center environment.

Unexpected product issues can drastically increase inbound contact volume, while transforming the way agents need to respond.  Customer demands and expectation can change on a moment’s notice, instantly rendering existing best practices and metrics obsolete.  New systems and contact channels will constantly emerge, requiring managers to develop and impart new skillsets.

With change so inevitable, versatility represents a crucial quality for future contact center leaders.  They must feel comfortable with – and, ideally, thrive on – the notion of change.

They should possess a hunger to track marketplace changes and acquire new insights.  More importantly, they must possess the ability to swiftly transform that knowledge into new skills for themselves – and usable training material for their teams.

The best leaders are not simply those managers equipped to lead today’s contact center operations.  They are ready to help the organization achieve its customer contact missions and objectives regardless of how the specific environment evolves.


4)      Cool Demeanor

Successful managers must possess the ability to swiftly recalibrate – or even complete transform – operations in the face of shifting circumstances.

A leader’s excellence is not, however, strictly defined by the ability to make adjustments.  It also hinges on how calmly and confidently the leader handles such changes.

Leaders, after all, are not merely responsible for communicating information and assigning tasks.  They are also responsible for setting the tone of the operation.

In the face of change, particularly that of the “crisis” variety, they become responsible for maintaining a sense of comfort.  Through their behavior and language, they must instill confidence that the organization is equipped to handle the unexpected issue with flying colors.  They must inspire the team to rise to even the most intimidating of occasions.

When leaders mobilize their teams in that manner, they transform daunting contact center challenges into significant victories for customers, agents, and the overall business.

5)      Immense Business Savvy

It goes without saying that contact center leaders must understand the importance of customer centricity.  If they do not grasp the value of a customer-first, outside-in approach, they will never be able to empower agents to deliver unforgettable customer experiences.

The best leaders, however, pair their passion for customer centricity with a rich sense of business savvy.  They respect – and, in fact, appreciate – the fact that the contact center is responsible for driving business results.

They know how to manage (and work within the confines of) a budget.  They know how to spot – and address – cost inefficiencies.  They also know how to identify and educate their team on connections between customer experience metrics and business results.


6)      Digital Fluency

In a recent CCW survey, Australian contact center leaders identified digital fluency as a requirement for the agent of the future.

It is also a requirement for the contact center leader of the future.

Today’s customers do not simply appreciate the idea of interacting in digital channels.  They expect businesses to offer robust experiences in these channels.

For that to happen, leaders must understand the nuances of these channels.  They must know what customers expect in digital media – and how best to coach agents to deliveron those expectations.

They must be able to map the impact digital engagement has on contact center workflow.  Leaders play a pivotal role in forecasting (and preparing) for the impact digital channels will have on inbound volume, routing, escalations and opportunities for outbound interaction.


7)      Passion for Technology

In theory, technology is designed to improve contact center efficiency.  By automating and simplifying key tasks, it can enable the operation to more seamlessly and quickly engage with customers.  By mitigating workflow challenges, contact center technology can also yield a more favorable agent experience.

In practice, technology often adversely impacts performance.  The systems do not perform as desired, leading to a more cumbersome, more problematic contact center infrastructure.  Agents cannot efficiently accomplish what they need to accomplish, and the customer experience suffers.

What causes this gap between concept and reality?  A rift between strategic and IT leadership.  These individuals are unable to reconcile their different perspectives and values, yielding a scenario in which technology is being sourced and/or implemented incorrectly.

While some contact center leaders simply pass the blame to IT (“they don’t understand the customer experience”), successful ones assume the burden of guiding the partnership.  Possessing their own passion and flair for technology, these individuals can achieve beneficial collaborations with IT.  They can “speak IT’s language,” and thus more effectively make the case for their preferred solutions.  Leveraging their combination of contact center skill and technological competency, they can ensure all systems are being properly implemented, monitored and tuned.  They, perhaps most importantly, can coach agents on how to properly use all systems.

This technological comfort is particularly valuable in today’s era of cloud-based, outsourced solutions.  It ensures leaders can effectively collaborate with all technology vendors, optimizing the ROI of third-party investments.

8)      Strong Presentation Skills

The contact center community generally views “walk” as more important than “talk.”

Talk is still quite important.

Presentations are a key responsibility for contact center leaders.  They will routinely need to communicate needs, ideas, business cases, directives, good news and bad news to various stakeholders within the business.

Good leaders, accordingly, must possess good presentation skills.  They cannot simply be well-versed in operational competencies.  They must know how to communicate this knowledge in a way that resonates with their audience.

Their audience, it is important to note, includes colleagues of various seniorities from various departments.  They are not simply speaking to members of their team.  They are not simply communicating with the heads of the contact center or customer experience division.  They are not simply presenting to members of the C-suite.

They will need to communicate with everyone.

To thrive, contact center leaders must be able to tailor presentations to the individuals with whom they are speaking. They will need to understand each stakeholder’s priorities, read the tone of the room, and shape their communication accordingly.

9)      Core Management Competencies

The contact center is an unquestionably unique environment that requires unique competencies from its managers.

It is still, however, a business function.  Managers still, therefore, need to possess fundamental business leadership skills.

Specifically, they need to possess incredible time management ability.  Every moment counts for contact centers, which engage in high-stakes operations under the auspices of very tight budgets.  Wasted time leads to inefficient performance, unhappy customers, discontent agents and unsupportive C-suite executives.  It compromises the organization’s ability to engage customers, which in turn limits the organization’s ability to grow.

They must also possess inquisitive minds.  They can approach every moment – successful or unsuccessful, challenging or simple – as a learning opportunity.  By constantly asking questions and carefully interpreting all available data, they acquire the knowledge needed to improve themselves, their teams and their overall businesses.

Great contact center leaders are additionally capable of instilling culture and inspiring performance.  Confident, cordial and visibly driven, these leaders do not simply assign tasks.  They build performance-centric environments.

10)   Eye for Talent

While the best leaders can thrive in suboptimal environments, they should still do everything in their power to stack the deck.

To create this ideal environment, successful contact center leaders build the best possible teams.

Leveraging a keen eye for talent, a strong collaboration with human resources and adeptness in recruiting, interviewing and onboarding, great leaders bring the right people in the door.  They create a team with the potential to deliver magical experiences for customers.

This eye for talent is not strictly limited to entry-level, frontline employees.  Great leaders are also capable of identifying – and cultivating – the managers of the future.

Their greatest concern may be the challenges of today, but great contact center leaders are not blind to tomorrow.  They know their contact center environment will grow and transform.  They also know that they will not be in their current roles forever.

To heighten the chance of success amid this evolution, elite contact center leaders build strong succession plans.  They put the right people on the right path.