Steve Pope, Head of Contact Centre at Harlands Group, shares three methods of improving leadership throughout the contact centre team.
One basic aim of leadership is getting the best out of other people, and this is crucial in contact centres because we’ve generally got so many people to lead.
With ever more demanding generations entering the workforce, it’s imperative we find new ways to engage, develop and empower them, so they do their very best work with us, every day.
In my experience, putting agents first results in high employee engagement and great customer service. Embodying a culture that develops leadership skills for everyone on the team always produces better performance results. There are better methods than old-school command-and-control management.
Over my 19 years of contact centre management, I’ve adapted three sure-fire engagement methods to develop leadership at every level, which are presented below.
1. Find Meaning in the Work – Tell the team why what they do is so important
In his well-known TED Talk “How great leaders inspire action”, Simon Sinek explores how leaders can inspire cooperation, trust and change with a simple leadership model. Applying this model in the contact centre creates an environment which helps your agents to do their best work for you.
Every company knows what they do. A product or service is provided to generate value. And contact centres exist as a support for customers who need help to get what they need.
Some organizations know how they do what they do to set them apart from the competition. Contact centre management should have standards which tell their team how they’re going to deliver service including quality assurance and call handling metrics.
Not every organization knows why they exist in the first place. What is the purpose of the business? What does it stand for and why does this matter? This same principle applies to the contact centre team – they need both a purpose and a set of values to help them create their identity and be clear on how their success is measured.
If I want to get the best out of my team, then I always need the business to agree a vision of the contact centre’s purpose.
If I want to get the best out of my team, then I always need the business to agree a vision of the contact centre’s purpose. In my current organization our purpose is summed up as: “Making every client’s life easier”.
My contact centre team has broken this down into a strapline which is: “Get it right first time and build a positive relationship with every member, on every contact.” This is supported by a set of behaviours and high standards which we’ve committed to living every day.
For example, in our daily team huddles, one of our priorities is to continuously improve customer processes. Each leader will ask their agents:
- What’s stopping us getting it right the first time?
- What’s the root cause?
- Is it a bad process?
- Do our systems make it hard for you or is our behaviour getting in your way?
- How could we do this better than we do today?
We take their ideas, do an impact analysis, then work with our clients to implement the change. We close the loop by sharing feedback and recognizing the people that made the changes happen.
Asking for feedback from the team helps them feel included as decision makers in day-to-day operations, which builds meaning and connection.
2. Building High Standards – Agree how you will behave to get the work done
I think we can all agree that Jeff Bezos has set the bar for high standards within a company. In a recent letter to Amazon shareholders, he explained that building a culture of high standards is well worth the effort as it enables the business to create better products and services for its customers and it can help attract and retain high-calibre employees.
The standards are teachable and domain specific, which means we need them to be crafted explicitly for the contact centre.
Here are three practical examples of high standards in my current team:
i. The Daily Team Huddle – In project management, scrum masters know the value of spending 15 minutes every morning with the team. This can be applied in any work environment.
Everyone gets a chance to speak about what they’ve been working on, how they’re managing their time, and what their work priority is for the day. It’s a team coaching session where agents can ask for help with a problem and get advice from their peers.
ii. Weekly Lunch and Learns – A common trait among good leaders is the willingness to learn and consider new ideas to drive efficiency. Every week, a new topic is discussed with a recent session being focused on “process automation”.
From their front-end experience, our agents came up with three ideas to improve the service they give to clients. These ideas led to systems being automated, which resulted in a cost saving of one FTE per day. This practice empowers agents to come up with improvement solutions where they’re really needed.
iii. Monthly Leader/Agent 1-2-1s – These crucial 1-2-1 meetings help us understand where an agent is in their career development. Agents share their achievements and struggles, and we focus on helping them find their true strengths – the parts of the job that light them up and help them do their very best work.
For more practical examples of how to set high standards for your team, read our article: 10 Messages That Every Contact Centre Manager Should Share With Their Team
3. Strength Spotting – How we help agents motivate themselves to do their best work
One good outcome of having these types of high standards is the relentless focus on personal development.
Over the years, I’ve noticed that many leaders focus their agents on overcoming weaknesses which are directly relevant to the job, such as having high average handle times or poor customer satisfaction scores.
Whilst these are important performance gaps; they shouldn’t dominate conversations between leader and agent, otherwise you might end up with a parent–child relationship.
Strengths spotting – a deliberate practice where leaders look for the behaviours that drive positive outcomes.
I help my teams improve their performance by actively helping each person understand where they are excellent and giving them the chance to exploit this as an opportunity to shine. This is strengths spotting – a deliberate practice where leaders look for the behaviours that drive positive outcomes.
Over the last 12 months, more than 20% of my contact centre team has been promoted to bigger roles across our organization. This has happened because their leaders helped them identify what motivates them to do their best work and then gave each of them the opportunity to showcase this strength.
Contact centre agents are invaluable not just because they directly interact with your customers but also because they can provide insights into how the company really works, what customers think and how processes can be improved. And it creates a real sense of pride in their work, which is a sure sign of engagement.
For more on how we can inspire advisors to improve their performance, read our article: How to Inspire Contact Centre Agents to Improve Their Performance
Over the years, I’ve found that employing three leadership tactics in the contact centre delivers a more motivated and more developed team.
Firstly, give meaning to your people so they can connect with their work. Secondly, agree and commit to high standards so everyone knows what’s expected of them. Thirdly, deliberately look for strengths in each person so they can excel in their work.
I wish you all the best with developing your people, at all levels.
Thanks to Steve Pope at Harlands Group for sharing this article with us.
For more on the topic of improving contact centre leadership, read our articles: