John Driver, Consulting Director at Davies – with over 25 years of experience in the customer services industry – shares his advice on how to create a thriving contact centre culture.
“When I grow up, I want to work in a contact centre,” said nobody, ever.
For many, working in a contact centre begins as an accidental profession or temporary stepping stone. It can be extremely rewarding but it’s often a demanding job where culture deeply impacts experience. So what defines a positive contact centre culture?
For me, it’s about creating an atmosphere where colleagues feel motivated, engaged, and satisfied in their roles.
This means building an interconnected environment of communication, motivation, recognition and teamwork that defines the working experience of an agent. Here are nine quick strategies you can use to achieve just that:
1. Promote Shifts That Support a Work/Life Balance
CCMA research shows that nearly half of agents who say they are likely to leave their employer want more work-from-home flexibility.
To be honest, I’m still surprised how many operations out there employ colleagues on a fixed-hours contract.
Instead, providing options like flexible shifts, micro-shifts, and vacation policies based on hours rather than days can go a long way in improving work/life balance for employees.
Underpinned by a modern contact centre platform, these types of policies make employees feel valued and in control, even if uptake is lower than expected.
Flexibility has become even more relevant for hybrid workforces in recent years. Beyond just aiding planning, scheduling, and longer opening hours, implementing thoughtful flexible policies gives employees more control over their work, makes them feel valued and can also help reduce unplanned absences, improve engagement, and reduce attrition.
2. Actively Support Mental Health and Wellbeing
Diversity, equity, and inclusion are areas where I believe our industry leads others. I’ve also seen the rise of more structured support for frontline teams, like mental health first aiders and professional wellbeing services.
However, only 1 in 10 operations have adopted tools that promote and monitor wellbeing. I’ve seen first-hand their impact on frontline staff morale when included in engagement strategies, and it would certainly be a good thing if these tools were more widely adopted.
Allowing for a mental reset between voice calls is important.
Dealing with customers, especially voice calls, is draining. With multichannel and omnichannel options becoming more prevalent, consider blending queues or assigning agents to different channels for variety and fair work distribution.
Allowing for a mental reset between voice calls is important. Ironically, AI-based tools that reduce after-call work could lead to “AI burnout” from the relentless inflow of calls. AI implementation, therefore, must consider wellbeing as well as productivity.
Also, with more focus on vulnerable customers, there’s a lack of dialogue around the emotional toll of these interactions on colleagues. Agents need training for difficult conversations and time to recover. Supporting mental health ultimately supports customers.
For advice to better support your agents’ mental health and wellbeing, read our article: 10 Wellbeing Tips From an Award-Winning Contact Centre
3. Show You Are Listening to Employee Feedback
We spend a lot of time talking about customer satisfaction measures and the pros and cons of different approaches, but not nearly enough about the voice of the employee (VoE).
It’s surprising how many operations I’ve come across where frontline staff aren’t asked for any kind of feedback, perhaps because the organization is afraid of what it might hear.
Feedback from the frontline teams can be an incredibly rich source of actionable insight
Similarly, I see examples of surveys or focus groups being run with employees without any follow-up or feedback, leaving staff feeling disengaged and cynical.
Feedback from the frontline teams can be an incredibly rich source of actionable insight, both in terms of understanding how to improve employee experience (EX) and reducing attrition, and also to gain insights on challenges that are facing customers, providing opportunities to improve customer experience (CX).
What’s crucial is to play back what you heard and show that you’re acting on it.
If you are looking for expert suggestions on improving your staff surveys, read our article: 29 Ways to Transform Your Call Centre Staff Surveys
4. Establish a Coaching Culture
I worked with a client where annual attrition neared 80%. Months prior, unprecedented demand forced them to halt coaching and development.
What was intended as a temporary fix became the norm. Team leaders flagged burnout and eroding customer service due to “coaching debt”. While KPIs looked good, cynicism festered.
A constructive coaching culture is about encouraging the recipient to think for themselves and consider what they’re doing well, what they could do better and how to approach situations differently.
Not only does coaching help the agent improve performance and recognize the importance of their contribution, it has become more critical to employee engagement with the move to more hybrid and remote working models.
For advice on creating a coaching culture, read our article: How to Create a Coaching Culture in the Contact Centre
5. Invest in Learning and Development
What is it about L&D that supports a positive culture?
It’s about creating an environment where the individual feels “invested in” to give them additional work/life skills, the opportunity to take on more responsibility and a development path to move into different roles.
This could include moving to a leadership role, becoming a specialist in one of the support functions or moving to a role in the wider organization.
Far from fuelling attrition, individuals who feel they have development options are more likely to stay than move to a similar role with a competitor.
Providing experienced agents with the opportunity to mentor less experienced colleagues, such as a buddy system, is also a great way to share experience, encourage a sense of teamwork and ultimately improve CX.
6. Recognize Great Service and Performance
According to the CCMA, when asked what would make agents feel more engaged with their work and appreciated by their employer, the top answer was “better rewards for great service to customers” and “visible recognition/appreciation for what they do”.
It sounds obvious, but people who enjoy contact centre work get satisfaction out of helping customers achieve the right outcomes. It’s human nature – helping people feels good.
So wouldn’t we want to encourage and reward those behaviours? Sharing in celebrating the success of the team and other colleagues creates a feeling of collaboration and belonging.
Recognition doesn’t have to be financial – for example, creating team competitions based around targets, handing out small prizes, giving peers a way of recognizing their colleagues’ achievements and calling out colleagues informally for ‘wow’ moments should be part of the routine to help boost morale, motivation, and a feeling of positivity.
Setting clear expectations and linking KPIs to the brand goals and values is hugely important for colleagues to understand how they contribute to the success of the business.
Articulating this clearly will not only drive the right behaviours but provide the cornerstone of a positive culture.
7. Feed the Buzz
Contact centres have a buzz, an indescribable electric atmosphere that still gives me a shot of adrenaline whenever I walk into a physical operation.
People who love working in operations are attracted by and help to create buzz, feeding on the energy of their colleagues and the excitement and dynamic nature of frontline services.
The move to homeworking has made it more challenging to create and maintain the buzz. The good news is that modern contact centre technology platforms include tools to help colleagues actively collaborate with each other, creating a sense of camaraderie and encouraging them to work together to share knowledge, exchange ideas and discuss any concerns in a way that gives a sense of collective purpose and direction.
Social interaction is also highly valued by people attracted to our profession, and with so many flexible options, it’s crucial that we encourage these informal interactions that do so much to ease stress and encourage teambuilding.
8. Enable Your Team Leaders
I’ll be slightly provocative here – how the team leader interacts with, manages and supports their team is the single biggest influencer of “how it feels” to work in a contact centre.
Team leaders should spend 80% of their time with their teams, coaching, developing and supporting them, and 20% on other necessary activities.
All too often, I see team leaders being used as a convenient resource for administrative tasks or project work. If you need administrators or project resources, don’t fool yourself that you’re solving a problem by giving these tasks to team leaders.
Team leaders should spend 80% of their time with their teams, coaching, developing and supporting them, and 20% on other necessary activities. In my experience, the figure is frequently reversed.
I often find that team leaders themselves are not equipped or supported to coach their teams – having been selected from the “best agents” rather than recognizing the different skills needed for the role.
Leaders need to be given the skills, time and space to communicate, motivate, support and coach their team and should be measured and incentivized accordingly. A good team leader recognizes this and will feel much more satisfied in their work – and the outcome is a more engaged and effective team.
9. Get the Basic Technology Right
Having run many focus groups with agents over the years, technology often rears its head as a source of frustration and a barrier to achieving the right outcomes for customers.
The reaction to this from senior managers can be a certain amount of eye-rolling, but experience has shown that failure to get the basics right can be a huge source of frustration for agents and customers.
Many times I’ve seen the fallout first-hand when call listening, and when I ask the agent why they haven’t raised a concern, they feel that nobody listens or takes action, so they just put up with it.
How many times have you phoned a contact centre and the agent apologized for the slow system or that it “doesn’t seem to be working today”?
On the flip side, technology is moving at pace, and generative AI coupled with automation promises huge benefits in productivity and using knowledge resources more effectively to resolve queries.
Agent-assist tools will become the norm, removing some of the more mundane administrative tasks and supporting the agent in helping customers more quickly and effectively.
A change is coming that will have a big impact on frontline operations. It’s up to us what that change means for agents and customers.
Want to know what technology contact centres are using? Read our article: The Most Popular Contact Centre Technologies
Final Word – Visiting the Dentist vs Brushing Your Teeth
Building a positive culture requires investment and time, but pays off in retention, productivity, and customer service. In my view, good EX underpins good CX.
I was discussing this with a customer service operations manager, who used the analogy of going to the dentist. Having a check-up every 6 months is an “act of intensity”, but if this is all you do to maintain oral health, it won’t be enough.
You need to couple it with “acts of consistency”, e.g. cleaning your teeth twice a day for a few minutes. In other words, check-ups alone don’t cut it – you need daily tooth-brushing.
Likewise, simply holding a monthly award ceremony and handing out prizes, or asking a senior manager to talk about company values, won’t in itself be enough.
Positive practices need to be built into daily routines. Doing this regularly and consistently across all aspects of an agent’s experience, including communication, motivation, recognition and teamwork, is what creates and sustains a positive culture. Think about that next time you brush your teeth.
Written By: John Driver, Consulting Director at Davies
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