Why the Boss is the Weakest Link in the Contact Centre

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…And 5 things you can do about it!

The age of the customer is upon us. But do we really think that the customer experience is getting better?

Well, we certainly appear to have reached an intellectual tipping point where 90% of executives consider customer experience to be their top strategic priority. And this is backed up by hard data – long-term studies have proven that leading customer experience companies earn greater returns.

Yet why are we are not feeling this as customers? In fact, customers are telling us that things are going in the opposite direction. According to the Global Contact Centre Benchmarking Report, customer satisfaction scores are down for the fourth year in succession, and the UK Customer Satisfaction Index has fallen for four half-years in succession. Our customers are not feeling the customer love that we profess.

What on earth is going on?

Often when I visit a contact centre that is struggling with their customer experience, the Director says something like, “I’ve told them what to do, why don’t they just do it?” Often they say it much more colourfully than that. In response, I normally paraphrase an expression I heard from Benjamin Zander, “Who are you being that their eyes aren’t shining?”. Let me explain…

You see, I am a firm believer that no one goes to work to be disruptive or to do a bad job. For every bad employee I see a reason that they are underperforming that doesn’t start with the employee – poor recruitment, lack of clarity, toxic culture, poor management, badly structured incentives – I could go on, but you probably get the point.

The common thread is that, for some reason, some aspect of leadership or culture has permanently turned that employee off.

And that makes the leader the weakest link in trying to improve the customer experience.

It’s not about analytical skills

A study by David Rock gives us some clues as to why leaders so often fail to lead well in contact centres. He noted that for years, in fact pretty much for ever, companies have valued, recruited and promoted leaders based on their analytical skills. So what, these are the best people to lead companies, especially data-rich contact centres, right? Wrong. Dead wrong.

The benefit of an analytical mindset is limited. Why? Because data doesn’t do stuff – people do. Charts don’t create trends – people do. Plans don’t actually deliver things – people do. The key thing about leaders is that they have to understand and be comfortable with the social side of leadership to inspire, to motivate and to deliver change. It is the social connection that differentiates the successful leader from all other leaders.

But can the analytical leader be a good people leader? Yes. Yes, they can. So, what are the traits that we would see in the most successful contact centre leaders?

1. They lead inclusively

The leader has to lead, and the buck stops with them, but they can’t be an island. They should harness the strength of their organisation to co-create the vision and the culture that the company aspires to.

If everyone, at every level, buys into the vision, and it is in their own words, then it is more likely to be cherished, protected and, ultimately, to be achieved.

2. They walk the talk

The leader has to be a role model – often they have no idea how long a shadow they cast.

Why should front-line agents follow the vision and buy in to the culture if they don’t see their leaders doing the same?

3. They treat their employees as well as they expect their customers to be treated (and maybe even better)

The great contact centre leaders realise that an engaged employee is their greatest asset.

They identify the right skills for the job, they recruit and reward faithfully for that skill set, they give them clear direction to do the job, they give them the right tools, treat them with respect, back them and thank them genuinely for doing a good job.

They don’t nickel and dime them, second guess their judgement, or take the huff when they hit bumps in the road.

4. They are scrupulously consistent

There is nothing more unsettling for an employee than a leader that flip-flops about.

You know the scenario: “the customer is at the centre of everything we do”. “Hey, why is average handling time up – this is costing us a fortune!” and so on.

It all comes back to the vision and the culture – the leader has to be the guardian of both to keep the organisation moving towards its goals.

5. They lead with the vision not a spreadsheet

If you have been a leader in contact centres long enough you will know that if you manage by metrics you will move those metrics. And like playing whack-a-mole, there will be some unintended consequence that will pop up elsewhere.

The front-line agent should only concern themselves with resolution and customer satisfaction – not a myriad of workforce management and operational statistics that are irrelevant to the customer.

Dougie Cameron

That is not to say that focusing on the employee and the customer means that you should be frivolous but, if you believe in your vision, values and culture, then these should be the north star that the company uses to navigate every decision.

This isn’t just fluff. The analytical leader who needs proof can study reports to see the benefit of adapting their behaviour – studies on employee engagement and customer experience both show that these strategies are already delivering superior results.

As Douglas Conant points out, “optimal outcomes are the entire reason we devote so much time and energy to mastering the process of exemplary leadership. The simple, but often forgotten truth about leadership is: at the end of the day, leadership is all about performance”.

There is a hard edge to good people-centred leadership and that edge is the one that will convert customer experience as a strategic priority to a profitable competitive advantage.

With thanks to Dougie Cameron at addzest

Author: Megan Jones

Published On: 1st Apr 2015 - Last modified: 28th Feb 2024
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1 Comment
  • Please fix Centre to center in the whole article.
    Also some other spelling mistakes like organisation, realise and finally behaviour.

    Khaled Ibrahim 3 Apr at 03:19