Question: How does one deal with an agent whose personality has changed dramatically over the past two months?
One of my team has been suffering a great deal of stress recently at home, and it’s having a marked effect on her work – particularly on the way she deals with customers.
She’s gone from being one of our most customer-focused team members – someone who would always go the extra mile for them and someone who spent a lot of time building rapport – to one of the least considerate. Her customer satisfaction results have dropped heavily as a result.
I don’t want to add further pressure to her, but I do want her work situation to improve. How would you recommend I go about helping her through this difficult time from a work perspective?
Answer 1: Courtesy of Paul Weald, director at the consultancy RXPerience
For many managers, dealing with personal staff issues is one of the most challenging situations that they face. While the first inclination may be to hand the ‘problem’ over to the HR department, or to ignore it altogether and hope that the home-life situation resolves itself, this would be neglecting your duties as both a mentor and a role model for your team.
I will assume that you have spotted that this agent’s performance and behaviours have changed through your normal day-to-day management activities. The quality scores for call handling will have dropped; adherence to rotas will have slipped, for example being late back from breaks; their body language is poor; and their attitude negative when you have raised these concerns during coaching sessions and one-to-one
If you have noticed these things then so will other team members, which is why you need to act. However, you don’t need to become the next agony aunt yourself, as there are professional resources that you can turn to.
The first of these is an occupational health advisor (OHA), who is a workplace health professional and registered nurse. They will advise you that stress is a multi-factorial issue, meaning that changes in the workplace could be compounding the difficulties in coping with a home-life crisis. Have the hours of employment changed recently? Is the agent doing a different job? Is there uncertainty over the future of the centre?
On a more pragmatic level, an OHA can help you make sure that you are up to date with the latest health and safety requirements. They can conduct a workplace risk assessment covering display screen equipment, furniture and stress-related risks.
With the individual’s permission, they can even provide a confidential service where they correspond with their GP to understand the health implications on their role at work.
The second professional resource that may be appropriate is a counsellor. They can arrange a series of one-to-one sessions, typically carried out by telephone, to help the individual to rationalise the way that they are feeling and to take control of their emotional responses. Professional counsellors are not likely to be employees of your company, but your HR department should have a list of approved providers that the organisation can use.
Another useful resource to use is the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), which believes that stress in the workplace has to be properly managed if it is to be controlled. They provide a very informative stress worksheet that helps you to spot individuals who are suffering from stress: www.cipd.co.uk/subjects/health/stress/stress.htm
Having taken the advice of these professionals, do have a review meeting and discuss what changes could be made, on a temporary basis, to help the individual to resolve their problems. This could be: a reduction of time at work through approved unpaid absence; a change of role away from customer facing activities – for example, to admin duties; or changes to the layout of the workplace accommodation.
Lastly, sit down with the individual concerned and agree an action plan as part of your regular one-to-one sessions. Let them know what actions you are taking to support their situation but do identify some clear signposts that will be indicators that their performance is improving. They will only gain confidence once they know that they are back in control of their emotional responses. And, most importantly, other team members will also recognise that you have made a difference in supporting that individual.
Answer 2: Courtesy of Jill Dunn, senior call centre manager, Garlands Call Centres
Starting with a quiet word is generally preferable. Whatever the issue or issues, they are invariably better discussed, and a solution found on an informal basis – if at all possible.
Initially, that informal chat is best conducted by the person’s immediate line manager. If that chat is fruitless and performance continues to decline, then a second informal chat, this time by a more senior manager, should be tried. Only once this line of investigation is exhausted should the issue be escalated to a more formal ‘welfare meeting’.
A welfare meeting would normally involve a call centre manager, the individual’s immediate manger, an HR representative and the individual themselves. The first stage would be to explain to the individual why the meeting has been called, showing how their performance has dropped, and asking whether any exceptional circumstances had led to the situation arising.
Assistance can then be provided to the individual, as appropriate, dependent on their responses. If no explanation is offered, which in my experience is often the case, it is down to the manager to use their coaching and funnelling technique skills to get to the nub of the problem.
The meeting should end with a summary of the situation as it stands and a clear understanding (on the part of all parties) as to what will happen next. This should include a summary of what the call centre management is going to do to help the individual resolve particular issues – and/or actions that need to be taken to allow the individual to alter their workload, schedules, and so on, so as to minimise the impact that any issues have on future performance. Where appropriate, individuals may also need to be made aware of disciplinary procedures that would come in to effect should performance not improve to required standards.
The informal chat and the formal welfare meeting are two possible routes forward, but they are not the only options. When dealing recently with a team whose performance was slipping, for example, we used a much more creative method of teaching members of the team about owning problems and taking responsibility for solving them: we borrowed and hid their team manager.
Instructions were given to the team to locate a bus that would drive them to a secret location to find their manager before it was too late. Advisors were led down a series of dead ends and, in their rush, missed vital clues as they searched.
Our aim was to mirror the customer experience on a failed call; we wanted them to feel the frustration and helplessness that a customer can feel in this situation – and to get a real sense of urgency that the matter needed to be resolved quickly. Garlands’ managers and quality personnel followed the advisors around the course, observing behaviours and feeding that information back to them.
The exercise proved extremely successful at providing ‘light bulb moments’ where advisors realised the impact of their actions on customers as they are passed from pillar to post. Such a strong impact could not have been achieved in a normal training environment.
It was also very worthwhile, with advisors taking much greater ownership of problems. Following the exercise, the team’s first contact resolution performance improved by 17%, customer satisfaction scores were boosted, and quality scores leapt to a very high 95%.