How to have fun in your call centre
Matt Phil Carver shares some ideas on how to have fun in your contact centre.
Some jobs are just inherently fun. Skydiving instructors and wine critics don’t usually need a fancy-dress day or a cake buffet to inject a bit of joviality into their working week. A call centre, on the other hand, is a demanding and restrictive environment, one which does not get endorphins flowing of its own accord. Worse still, when most of your team are on the phone all day, arranging even the simplest of fun activities can be fraught with logistical problems.
If you’re a manager or supervisor who has gone to great lengths to do something fun for your team, only to have your efforts go unappreciated or ignored, you shouldn’t give up altogether. It’s difficult, but a fun and cheerful atmosphere at work is the holy grail of productivity, and it will always transmit to the customer. Here’s how to make sure you get it right next time:
Know your team and seek their input
There are countless activities that could bring a sense of fun to your office, from cliché bingo to ‘bring your pet to work’ days, but none are universally suitable for every office. Some may even cause problems or make people uncomfortable. For example, some of your team may think that a cross-dressing day would be hilarious fun, but others may have genuine terror in their eyes as they pencil it into their diaries.
As simple as it sounds, you just have to ask your team “what would make your day more fun?” Once you have plenty of suggestions, it’s a good idea to use the voting buttons function on Microsoft Outlook to arrive at a final decision. This is a perfect way to gauge collective opinions because it’s quick and easy, it’s democratic and it ensures that the louder voices don’t exert too much influence.
Know the drawbacks of your environment
It shouldn’t take long to decide that bringing pets to work is a bad idea, but there will be many more options crossed off the list when you really think about the practical limitations of a call centre environment. For starters, it can’t be too loud. Any activity that creates laughter, cheering, music or anything else of significant volume must be kept away from anyone on a live call. Headsets are usually more sensitive than you realise, and if your customers can hear all kinds of shenanigans kicking off in the background, it can appear woefully unprofessional.
Also, as obvious as it sounds, the calls have to be answered. It’s not like running an office of accountants who can just drop their calculators for an hour and have a quick Blu-Tack sculpture contest. You’ll never get everyone off the phones at the same time during the working day, which rules out a lot of ideas straight away.
Timing is crucial
Even the most enjoyable and perfectly planned activities can fall completely flat if you get the timing wrong. If it’s the Queen’s birthday and you’ve emailed everyone your very own ‘pets of the British monarchy’ quiz, then this might be an excellent way for your team to amuse themselves between calls when it’s quiet. If, however, you’ve got a shortage of staff, huge call volumes and IT problems sprouting up every ten minutes, then your quiz is just going to become another low-priority chore on everyone’s to-do list.
Sometimes you just have to accept that when you’re overworked and understaffed, no one is able to have any fun – even if it is Tacky Tie Friday.
In competitions, teamwork works best
One added bonus of the call centre environment is that you always have a huge amount of performance statistics at your fingertips, which makes it easy to create some fun little intra-team competitions. You might want to offer prizes for up-selling, for most calls taken or for whichever stats are most relevant to the goals of your team. Likewise, the prizes you can offer will depend entirely on what you have at your disposal. If you can offer cash bonuses or extra paid leave, then it will probably be like dropping a leg of lamb into a piranha tank, and productivity will skyrocket as a result.
Sometimes competitive spirit can be enough on its own and the bragging rights themselves can offer more motivation than any tangible, token prize. One thing to remember, though, is that these little contests always seem to work better when team members compete as small groups rather than as individuals. This is probably because the more naturally competitive members of the group will rally the less enthusiastic ones. Sometimes, peer pressure can achieve what managerial pressure cannot.
There are so many reasons to do charity events
When Children in Need comes around every year, offices suddenly become fun. People do amazing, silly and downright courageous things in the name of charity sponsorship and everyone has a good time. So why does it only happen once every year? There are plenty of smaller, local charities that are in need of support all year round, and if you look at the list of suggested fundraising activities on the BBC Children in Need website, there are actually not that many that would disrupt the daily workings of a call centre.
Charity fundraising brings a host of other benefits, too. The natural satisfaction of helping people in need gives a little kick of happiness to everyone in the office and it helps to give a sense of perspective too – a gentle reminder that even when an angry customer is trying to climb through the phone line and rip your head off, there’s still plenty to be thankful for.
Also, it can be good PR for your business to be actively supporting local charities. And there’s nothing better for eliciting a timid colleague’s inner silliness than the words “it’s for charity”.
(Why not let us know at Call Centre Helper – we can publish your charity stories and share your funny photographs)
Beware of non-essential expenditure
Although every organisation is different and every individual is different, one thing has been pretty much universal to all workplaces over the last few years – cutbacks. Since the financial downturn, the words ‘non-essential expenditure’ have become very much frowned-upon and if your organisation has made redundancies in recent months then you can expect the issue to be even more sensitive.
For this reason, you should be extremely careful if you plan to fund anything ‘team building’ or ‘morale boosting’ with company funds. If everyone’s favourite receptionist was recently laid off in the name of financial austerity, then you can expect to be asked some very probing questions if Bounding Bob’s Bouncy Castles and Rent-a-Magician start appearing on the balance sheets with your name next to them.
The best forms of office fun are usually cheap anyway.
Remember that some people just don’t want to play
Every office has an individual or a small group of people that just aren’t interested in any kind of fun activity. Maybe they take huge pride in their work and just don’t welcome distractions, or maybe it’s symptomatic of a generally negative attitude. Either way, they won’t show any genuine enthusiasm no matter what you do.
Whether you choose to take a hard line with them or to just leave them to it will depend entirely on your management style. It generally has to be one or the other, though, as polite cajoling won’t have any effect. There’s no need to let it get you down, though – you can never please everyone.
And finally…don’t be shy
If you’ve done all these things right and everything is in place for a hilarious day of call centre Olympics in superhero fancy-dress, then don’t think that being in charge makes you exempt. Squeeze into those Spandex leggings and get involved.
Matt Phil Carver is a contact centre advisor at Arun District Council and a recent graduate of the MA Creative Writing programme at Portsmouth University.
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