We investigate the role of the customer service manager and identify how they can inspire great performance across the contact centre.
A Good Customer Service Manager Has These Three Skills
There are a number of skills which contact centres will look for when promoting a customer service manager and these will no doubt include:
- Energy – A manager’s energy sets the tone for the contact centre’s environment. If you’re having a bad day and that’s visibly clear, that negative energy will “infect” your team.
- Enthusiasm – Having a desire to help other people succeed is key. A manager needs to celebrate the achievements of others and be a major player in creating a positive atmosphere.
- Presence – A good customer service manager leads from the front. They cannot hide away in their office all day. They need to lead by example.
These are the three skills that Thomas Laird, CEO of Expivia, values when looking to promote managers and leaders in the contact centre, as he explains in the video below.
Yet, of course these three skills are not the be all and end all. Other great skills for a customer service manager to possess include having the ability to think ahead, be resourceful and develop the people around them.
For more key managerial skills, read our article: 10 Essential Skills for Every Contact Centre Manager
The Mission to Improve Customer Service
A customer service manager will look to prioritize the following tasks, in amongst their routine day-to-day responsibilities.
Inspiring Independent Thinking – Leaders who closely manage the progress of their team will know more about certain situations than you. This won’t stop many leaders from seeking your advice. But we shouldn’t always give it to them. Instead we should talk to them and use probing questions to help them develop their own ideas, to bolster their leadership and decision-making skills.
Opening Dialogue With the Team – Identifying how decisions and changes to the way you operate will impact everyone is key, and a good customer service manager will always open up a discussion with the wider team about these. By doing this, you can prevent future problems. This is also why we should create a feedback system to keep tabs on the mood on the contact centre floor.
Making Things Fun – A manager should ensure that leaders are giving advisors the space to have fun while at work. They should encourage leaders to come up with new ideas to improve engagement and gradually pass this task to the advisors themselves, so we are not prescribing to them how they must have fun.
Taking Ownership of Other People’s Mistakes – When something goes wrong, it’s easy to play the blame game. Yet a good manager will seriously consider how they could have prevented the mistake from happening in the first place, maybe through better communication, giving people too much responsibility too soon etc. This self-evaluation is the only way to improve as a manager.
Team Leader Catch-Ups – Having regular discussions with your leaders to talk about any day-to-day issues is key, as it allows you to give them support as and when it is necessary. You can also ask about what they are doing to recognize good performance and meet organizational goals.
4 Great Routines for Customer Service Managers
Creating routines is a key way to make a positive change in the contact centre. They are central to running an effective, efficient operation.
With this in mind, here are four great routines to set yourself as a customer service manager.
1. The Firefighting Routine
Contact centres often struggle to improve because customer service managers spend most of the day firefighting. This makes it very difficult to manage a schedule.
If we can isolate periods of time in the day, preferably around peak hours, we can build time especially designated for firefighting into our schedules.
Yet, if we can isolate periods of time in the day, preferably around peak hours, we can build time especially designated for firefighting into our schedules.
Manage your calendar so that you have no distractions during this time and head out onto the floor. Issues will reach you before the fire breaks out.
When on the contact centre floor, make sure that you:
- Give an immediate response to the issues that you uncover
- Talk to leaders about how their team is functioning and offer support
- Find out if your leadership team is meeting each of its tasks
By doing this you will reduce the number of problems that require lengthy treatment and you will signpost to the team that you would like to go the rest of the day without distraction.
2. The Follow-Up Routine
When we introduce a new process or procedure, it often falls off the priority list after a few days or even weeks, as our people fall back into their old routines.
If we want our changes to stick, we want to hold leaders – who may be looking for extra responsibilities – accountable for that change. So ask them to provide you with updates of the impact the change is having.
If we want our changes to stick, we want to hold leaders – who may be looking for extra responsibilities – accountable for that change.
Be sure to clearly define your desired results and look to build advisor support for the change by explaining the purpose of it before you introduce the new process/procedure.
Then, schedule time to follow up with leaders and advisors to talk through how the change is impacting them. Keep your finger on that pulse!
3. The Informal Conversation Routine
Schedule time for informal conversations with your team. Not just with your leaders, but advisors as well.
Why? Well, here are three key reasons:
- You’ll add context to the statistics that you’re collecting and obtain a sense of what’s important to your team.
- You’ll appear invested in everybody’s role and you can show that you care about what matters to them, by listening to and talking about their needs.
- You’ll be more likely to have these conversations if you schedule the time to do so. If it’s not scheduled, you’ll find freeing up this time much more difficult.
Not only are these three reasons compelling, but you can also have more specific conversations that will drive value for you. These include:
- Voice of the Customer Conversations – Talk to advisors about the most common problems they deal with and if they have any thoughts on possible long-term solutions.
- Recognition Conversations – Thank advisors who have really improved their performance, as per your quality scores and leader feedback, and motivate them to continue!
- Culture Conversations – Engage the team with the organization’s goals, reaffirm the importance of their job and talk to them about how you can improve the work environment.
For more great conversation ideas, read our article: 10 Great Conversations to Have With Your Contact Centre Team
4. The Feedback Routine
Whoever shouts the loudest gets all the attention. Does that sound familiar?
Everybody needs to feel confident in coming forward to you with questions. Otherwise they might be suppressing issues that could evolve over time.
So, we need to be proactive in how we engage in two-way conversations with our team, in the hope that – over time – everybody will be confident in coming forward with their problems.
We need to be proactive in how we engage in two-way conversations with our team, in the hope that – over time – everybody will be confident in coming forward with their problems.
To be proactive we can create feedback routines like setting regular open-door days or encouraging team members to book times to talk to you.
Just make sure that you action feedback, though, and thank the team members that do come forward – so you can inspire a culture of open conversation.
For more on the importance of contact centre routines, read our article: 3 Essential Management Routines for a Contact Centre Manager
5 Quick Ideas to Being a Great Customer Service Manager
In addition to all of the advice above, here are five more quick pieces of advice for becoming an even better customer service manager.
- Create Leaders, Not Followers – Ask the team to do more than just follow instructions, by welcoming any constructive feedback that they offer. Really work on building a safe-to-say environment that will encourage leaders to think independently.
- Ask for Help in Creating Long-Term Goals – Instead of focusing on creating short-term boosts to metrics, get leaders to help you in creating long-term goals, so they are more focused on long-term aims and continuous call centre improvement.
- Find New Solutions to Old Problems – Don’t just fall back on your short-term fixes to familiar problems, challenge yourself to find longer-term solutions that will prevent the issue from popping up time and time again. Be daring, leave your comfort zone and learn.
- Spend an Equal Amount of Time With Team Members – As human beings, we will naturally gravitate more towards some people than to others. Be aware of this, and remember to split your time equally between your people and try to treat everybody with equal deference.
- Celebrate Your Success – As Thomas Laird tells us: “Celebrating achievements as a team helps to motivate people, as it highlights the meaning in their work.” This is important, as we want to ensure that everybody in the contact centre is motivated by a sense of purpose.
For more quick ideas like these, read our article: 10 Tips for Being a More Courageous Contact Centre Manager
Pass on These Key Messages to Team Leaders
A good customer service manager nurtures leadership skills across the contact centre and will ideally spend time coaching their leadership team.
In coaching team leaders, we want them to fully understand each of the following key messages:
“Get to Know Your Team Personally” – A leader needs to know how to motivate their team, in terms of what they like and what’s important to them. By understanding this and building rewards around these preferences, leaders can create better relationships with their people.
“Lead by Example” – While this sounds a little generic, it is key to lead with integrity and ethical awareness. Advisors will pick up on the energy of their leader, and that influences their performance. So be bubbly and act the way that you like advisors to act on the phones and with colleagues.
“Metrics Are Only the Measure” – Metrics give scores, but they show little in the way of how we can improve them. Our performance strategies should not be designed to improve these numbers, but to improve customer experience. The metric score is only a reference point.
“Prepare Yourself for Difficult Conversations” – Delaying difficult conversations with advisors will only serve to escalate the problem. So talk to them openly and listen to their feedback, questioning what more both you and they could have done and learn from the experience.
“Update the Standard Operating Procedures” – When something goes wrong, encourage leaders to write that up and build a guide (Standard Operating Procedures) for what they are to do in the future if the same problem arises. This will help them to provide a better response next time round.
Follow the link to find even more great messages to pass on to leaders and the wider team: 10 Messages That Every Contact Centre Manager Should Share With Their Team
But Guard Against Micromanagement
While we do want to inspire our team leaders by passing on some of the key messages above, we don’t want to fall into the trap of micromanaging them.
Micromanagement in the call centre is an easy trap to fall into, as traditionally the industry has been stuck in a culture of adherence – where everybody sticks rigidly to company policies and procedures.
This management style often results in us thwarting the development of our leaders, as we are taking the significance out of their work…
Yet this management style often results in us thwarting the development of our leaders, as we are taking the significance out of their work by not giving them the chance to think independently.
So when you want to change a contact centre process or implement a new procedure, ask your leaders: “How will you help to ensure this is a success?”
Having this discussion with your leadership team will get them to think independently and get to grips with the practicalities of management.
Also, if your team feel like they have a voice in a process change, they will have greater motivation in making that change a success.
3 Other Mistakes to Avoid as a Customer Service Manager
While micromanagement is a dangerous trap to avoid if you’re a customer service manager, there are lots more similar pitfalls that you should be aware of.
So, to bring this article to a close, let’s consider the following common mistakes and how you can avoid them.
1. Taking Sides
When you have a divisive issue in the contact centre, it can be very unhealthy for a manager or leader to take sides. It’s not a nice position to be in.
But a good manager will play the part of a mediator, listen to both sides and explain their stance.
2. Public Confrontation
“Reps see and hear everything, so you can’t gain respect if you are talking down to a peer, which infects the energy of the call centre and can have a long-term impact on culture,” says Thomas.
This comes back to the old principle of giving public praise and private criticism. The latter is important in order to be kind and clear.
3. Not Listening
Don’t collect advisor feedback and not do anything with it. That indicates to advisors that you perceive their opinions to have little value.
That is why schemes like “you said we did” and praising advisor improvement ideas are so important – it shows that you value the team, their suggestions and job that they do.
Find more helpful advice for customer service managers in our articles: