The Challenge of Being a New Contact Centre Manager


Nathan Dring gives his advice to new contact centre managers, while focusing on the challenge of learning and development (L&D).

Hello Monday!

Fridays and Mondays are such different days of the week. Fridays…full of enthusiasm, the weekend is almost here. Mondays (traditionally)…a slight sense of dread about the week ahead, tiredness after a busy weekend or even just apprehension about a job.

Now imagine all of that and add to it a new job with no training or development. Friday, you’re a member of the team. Good peer support and friendships. Not too much responsibility and you are top of your game. You enjoy the weekend and then Monday comes…and you’re a manager!

The team you were part of, you now have to lead. You have gone from comfortably hitting and exceeding targets to having to set them and make sure they are hit…through others! The protection you enjoyed from your previous manager has gone and now your head is above the parapet.

In addition to all of this, you have had no leadership development, and none is planned. No time to consider the kind of leader you naturally are, the kind of leader your team needs you to be or the kind of leader who can deliver for the customer and the business. It’s Monday and last Friday suddenly seems a world away!

You’ve Got Three Choices!

The incredible thing about the scenario described is that it is all too common in contact centres up and down the land!

High-performing colleagues and team players are identified as leaders and promoted, but are not then invested in with leadership development that brings about sustainable change.

As a result, the new manager (at this time, in title alone) will try to lead their team in one of three ways:

1. They Tell Their Team to Do Exactly as They Used to Do

I once heard a team leader in a contact centre say, “I know I am doing a great job when everyone on the team sounds just like me.” WHAT? How on earth is that helpful?

At what point does it work to make team leaders into cookie-cutters and each member of team a duplicate. Where do all the personalities go when a manager does this? Where are the unique interactions with customers? Where is the personalisation? All gone! Every last drop of it.

The standard operating metrics may be hit – the scorecard may turn green, but this is short-term thinking. The team will quickly lose the will to come in and work. Let’s face it, very few people want to go to work and become a clone of their boss!

Very few people want to go to work and become a clone of their boss!

The manager approach that says, “It was good enough for me, so just do the same” is a quick way to break a team, and it is this sort of attitude that can hold a contact centre back.

2. They Do Nothing / Hope They Can Stay Friends

Surely everyone on the team knows what to do. If the manager used to work hard, come in, crack on, have a good work ethic, then everyone else will do the same…won’t they?

A classic sign of a manager that is out of their depth is the one who simply hopes that everyone will just do their bit. This type of manager will hope that they can stay ‘friends’ with everyone and avoid the tricky conversations. Rather than check the metrics and then coach based on the facts, they prefer the ‘We’re friends’ approach.

Once you have been stuck in the “friend-zone” for too long, it is very difficult to get out, and at that stage you have a manager who is floundering, with zero leadership and a team that has gone rogue!

3. They Go Back to the Comfort Zone

When we move out of our comfort zone we move into the “stretch” zone. Here we can learn new things, develop and grow.

When we move out of our comfort zone we move into the “stretch” zone. Here we can learn new things, develop and grow.

Over time, if well handled, what was our “stretch” zone becomes our comfort zone, and our world becomes a little bigger.

The problem is, if we are in the stretch zone for too long and we can’t see a way out, we can easily end up in the “stress” zone… and no one likes being there. As such, we do what we can to get back to comfort. Back to the place we know. Back to familiarity.

In the case of the under-developed (or non-developed leader), this means they start to act like a member of the team again. They go back to “Friday-thinking”. They take calls, respond to customers and ignore the new, broader-scope responsibilities of management and leadership. Perhaps hoping someone else will sort them or just delaying them a bit… they will get to them tomorrow!

The longer this procrastination and avoidance goes on, the worse the team will perform, the more stressed the leader will be and the overall performance will get worse, until someone else steps in.

Let’s face it… none of these options is ideal, so why are they so prevalent?

Excuses, Excuses!

There’s a great quote in the film A Few Good Men, when Tom Cruise’s character apologises for being late to a meeting. His superior’s response is:

“I’m sure you don’t have a good excuse, so I won’t force you to come up with a bad one.”

I wonder if this quote could be applied when asking senior contact centre leaders why they don’t have a leadership development plan in place!

In my experience, it comes down to four (let’s call them) reasons.

1. Time Poor

Our managers are too busy. We simply need them on the floor, but training takes them away from the day job for too long and they have too much other stuff to do.

They have a team to manage. They need to review the stats and targets. There might be one-to-ones to run. The problem with this is that it is causing harm. All the time a manager is trying to lead their team and doing it ineffectively, they are causing themselves more work.

Training is an investment of time. Time which, if used wisely, will create a much better team environment, more engaged staff and ultimately greater productivity, which will more than pay for the time invested.

Coaching is not something that is part of the rhythm and routine of the managers. Any training and investment is additional.

Part of the failure of L&D in contact centres, and I speak from experience here, is that they don’t provide a solution that actually works. Coaching is not something that is part of the rhythm and routine of the managers. Any training and investment is additional.

Inadvertently, L&D ask the managers to find extra time in their diary for this. They ask them to de-prioritise something that counts towards KPIs and targets, so that training can be done instead. And guess what happens – the manager declines the offer.

The little time they have needs to be used wisely to spin the multiple plates that they have – investing time in leadership development can wait.

For more on this topic, read our article: Being Super-Busy: The Modern Excuse for Not Coaching Staff

2. Understaffed

If I take my team managers away from the team, then who will lead them and manage them in the absence?

Perhaps a strong member of the team has been identified… a key colleague. The chances are they have earned this title as they are very good with customers – maybe even in the mould of the newly appointed manager.

Now you have a double-whammy. Not only is the manager not there, but the next-best person to help a customer is also removed from their position!

By taking the manager away, despite the best efforts of resource planning, the team has become understaffed… thanks again, L&D!

3. It Is not Needed

This is one of the saddest excuses, because it usually starts nearer the top of the tree.

A senior manager who took a similar promotion path to the top and got there through ‘the university of life!’ decides leadership development is an unnecessary luxury!

If this is the case in your contact centre, then it isn’t just the newly promoted manager who needs leadership development!

4. Learning and Development Capacity

Sometimes, it might be that despite the desire to do this training, the L&D team is too small. Often, they have their time tied up with onboarding and recruitment (trying to refill the leaky bucket of attrition caused by poor leadership?).

If this is the case, who can deliver the training? It might be that they just need the time to develop the content, but at the moment, that is not a priority.

For now, everyone will just have to make do. Besides, what’s the worst that can happen?…

So, What Is the Good News?

These four excuses can be quite common excuses, but it doesn’t have to be this way. If Leadership Development is a programme rather than a one-off hit, then the content can be spaced out to build and reinforce leadership development.

Managers can first be helped to understand how to be at their best, so that they can then get the best from their team, and subsequently deliver the best for the customer.

The issue with a 2-day course or a week of training once per year is that it is like taking all of 2018’s vitamins on the 1st January! It will not bring about sustainable change in the leader that impacts the team, the site and business for the better.

If your team leaders have a weekly meeting, why not use one of those per month to invest in their development?

If time is your challenge, then use effective training exercises that don’t take too long. I recently worked with a company who do 15-minute, Netflix-style videos combined with three face-to-face, half-day sessions. 15 minutes per month and only 10.5 hours in a whole year! Surely any leader can do that!

Nathan Dring

Nathan Dring

Also, use the time you have. If your team leaders have a weekly meeting, why not use one of those per month to invest in their development? The more they grow, the more productive they will be, and the more they will be able to enthuse and support their team.

Leaders are critical in creating the culture with which staff can engage, and research suggests a 1% uplift in engagement drives a 1% uplift in Net Promoter Score (NPS) and a 2% uplift in productivity.

Just think what a difference that could make to your site and then ask yourself the most important question of all: can you really afford NOT to invest in your leadership development?

Thanks to Nathan Dring, a Consultant at Nathan Dring and Associates 

For more on the benefits of L&D in the contact centre, read our article: 8 Benefits of Creating a Culture of Learning in Your Contact Centre

Published On: 6th Jun 2018
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