It’s time to start thinking outside the box. Put down your pencils and stop thinking tactically about how to better sweat your seats or reduce AHT or lower communications overheads. Let’s think strategically about how to make your call centre better from the ground up – and that starts with your agents.
1. Hire a Francine
When I was working in New Jersey for a company called American Management Systems, we had a staff of about 70 really bright, young, energetic consultants most of whom where on their first job out of college. This was the IT business and it was the early 90s so there were lots of job opportunities and lots of money, it was hard to hold on to good people. Our office had great luck at retaining staff and the reason was Francine. Francine was our admin supervisor and HR coordinator but more importantly she was a great listener. She listened to our young consultants’ problems, both business and personal and took a real interest in them and their wellbeing. And when the problem was organisational, she would take it up with our Managing Director and be an advocate for the staff (and badger him until he fixed the problems, often to his annoyance). Get one or two Francine’s into your organisation, they’ll help your agents be happier and healthier and they’ll help you fix things that you’re doing wrong in your employee care.
2. Consider yourself a Restaurateur
Think about how you feel after having a meal out with your friends at a nice restaurant. You’re relaxed, refreshed, in a positive state of mind, satisfied. Now, what is the state of mind you want your agents in when they take that next phone call from one of your customers? What I’m looking for with agents on my projects is what I call “Smiling happy people holding hands”, if you want great customer experiences it’s not just about training, state of mind is important and there are few things that have a more positive effect on state of mind than having a pleasant meal. The quality and diversity of the food are just the start, the surroundings should be comfortable, the atmosphere pleasant and the service excellent. There’s a beneficial side effect to this as well,
people are more likely to want to come to work and they’ll want to stay if they associate good times and enjoyment with their jobs.
3. Make work fun
I don’t know about you, but if I look back over my career the jobs that I’ve had that stand out in my mind as being the very best have one thing in common, I was working with great people and we had great times working and playing together. If you can create this esprit de corps in your centre, I predict you will cut your attrition by no less than 20% and your absenteeism by even more. A lot of this will come from the nature of your managers and team leaders, hopefully you are growing good leaders organicly that make your centre a great place (more on this below). But you can also facilitate a fun environment by providing a fun facility. Set asside some space in your centre for a chill room where staff can go to unwind and have some fun with their colleagues. When I was working 18 hour days building software systems in Malmoe Sweden many years ago we had a dart board and ping-pong table right in the middle of our office that became an essential part of our daily activities. I’m not sure such a low-tech approach would do the trick on its own any more, but it would be a start. You’ll also need music, videos and a few Xboxes. Sponsor tournaments, post results, make it part of your work environment. Create opportunities for your staff to interact and enjoy each other’s company and commraderie.
4. Create Leaders
I suppose some people are born great leaders, but I think you’d be pretty foolish to think that you’ve managed to hire many of them, for the most part great leaders are made. Leaders are important to your business because they compensate for all the misery that management causes. I don’t know a single person that likes to be managed but I believe humans universally like to be led. Managers set guidelines for people and structures within which your people must opperate, leaders open up possibilities bringing out your staff’s strengths, creativity and capabilities. Managers make and enforce rules, leaders encourage and guide success. People quit because of lousy managers, but in my experience having led and been led, leadership forms relationships that last a lifetime. You need leaders to sustain your business and you have to make them yourself. Perhaps I’ll devote an entry sometime to this topic, I’m sure there’s not enough space to suggest how you’ll do this here. You’re definitely going to have to go outside your organisation for materials and lectures. I can personally recommend 7 Habits training but there are many others as well. Also, take the training yourself or you’ll be wasting your money.
5. Walk Around
In a conversation with my CEO last week he was despairing over that fact that he used to know every agent that worked for him by name, but now with over 8000 staff he doesn’t even recognise everyone. Well, it would be an extraordinary fellow indeed who would know a staff of 8000 by name (especially in a business with such attrition) but getting down to the floor and meeting staff is still important. I’m going to make a wild assumption that if you are running a call centre or are part of the executive staff of one, you’ve got something on the ball. You’ve got some business savvy and experience, some leadership skills and some ideas about the way you think things should be done. Your people will only benefit by seeing that in action. Set aside some time in your week, even if it’s just an hour, to go meet the people who are the foundation of your business. You can do it informally, Management By Walking Around as it is called, a term coined by GE Chairman Jack Welch I believe and championed by Tom Peters. Or just think up some excuse to have a meeting with a couple mangers and their teams to discuss how things are going on their process. Farmers don’t hole-up in the barn during growing season, they get out and tend the crops, you should too