8 Steps to Transform and Evolve Your Contact Center Culture

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Culture is the thread that holds your call center together. Over the years we have come up with 8 tips to enhance your call center and customer experience culture.

“You can’t expect your employees to exceed the expectations of your customers if you don’t exceed the employee’s expectations of management.” -Howard Shultz CEO Starbucks

1. Your Contact Center Environment Should be AWESOME and FUN:

Customer Service/sales positions can be very difficult jobs. Your associates feed off the energy in the room. In Jon Gordon’s book “The Positive Dog” he talks on how each of us has two dogs inside of us constantly fighting. One is positive, motivated and always in a great mood. The other dog is negative, tired and does the least amount of work possible. The dog that wins is the dog WE FEED!!! Call center management must provide the proper “nutrition” for the positive dog.

I don’t care what type of call center you have there should be energy, it needs to be be loud (relative to culture), there should be high fives and games going on. Contact centers are unique departments and can be a “fun” place to work when done properly. What kind of message are associates receiving when they walk onto your floor?

2. Hire Based on Culture NOT Experience Only:

Does your organization truly know what type of person it wants? What are you really looking for when hiring customer service associates? Anyone can look at a resume, see experience in the same job and hire. Just basing your hiring on that is a HUGE mistake especially in a call center environment where there are close quarters and the job takes a specific skill set. It is more important to have the RIGHT person that fits your company than the purported BEST person. I know that sounds crazy but we have found it to absolutely be true

Can you describe the culture of your organization and the types of employees that meet that standard in a couple of words? Most cannot and until a couple years ago neither could we. If you cannot plainly explain your culture in hiring you are spinning your wheels and I would bet have higher turnover and a work environment that can be improved.

We decided our culture would be based on the two pillars of “Attitude & Effort”. We hire, incent and promote all levels of the company based on those to tenets. Take some time and think about what is important in your call center and what should be stressed through all levels.

3. Control the First 30 Minutes:

Management needs to control the first thirty minutes of the shift and then slowly back down as the hour goes on. Positive management is key here. EVERY ASSOCIATE NEED TO BE GREETED as they come in. Your associates are your most important asset. The email your supervisors think they need to send while associates are coming onto the floor can wait.

During this time you are taking the temperature of the team, who needs extra motivation, who is in a great mood. Learn the personalities and what makes your team tick.

The first thirty minutes should be a time to recap yesterday, give team goals and then give each team member their individual goals for the day for each specific associate. Setting the table for the day is HUGE from a culture standpoint. If you work hard to get things started off properly, your centers day will fall into place.

4. Invest in Your Associates:

How we correct associates goes a long way to how problems get solved. Many centers are “write-up” happy. They use negative reinforcement as the means to correct problems. When negativity is used you are feeding into the negative dog! Our advice to you is to go “OVER THE TOP” when someone does something good. Great sale, awesome quality scores, good monitoring session or the best, having a customer say what a great job they did (we do really special things for this) all get balloons, shout outs high fives…

When someone makes a mistake and does something wrong, then you need to invest in them. Take anything negative off the floor. Help them, train them, and let them listen to their calls. Don’t be write-up happy (time and place for this) and don’t embarrass them on the floor. Associates will be able to see you are helping them and a bond will develop.

It’s easy to fire people. Anyone can do that. True leaders make stars.

5. Allow for Progression:

People like to succeed. While not everyone can become management there are many ways to progress associates. They can move to higher paying programs, become team leaders or simply sit in the “better” chair or workstation.

Every week each supervisor should take 15 minutes and pull each associate for “weekly agent analysis” meetings. Talk to the associate in a positive tone about how they are doing, goal setting and set up a progression plan for them. Some associates are happy in the job they are in but most want more, its human nature. Set up a detailed plan to help them reach these goals.

I love the quote from Richard Branson, “Train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough so they don’t.”

6. Educate Your Management:

In our contact center, we hire on attitude and effort first and job experience and history as a far second. Don’t fall into the trap that great associates make great supervisor or a great manager from off the street will be great in your call center. Educate your management team to your culture. We have a management equation that we manage by TRUST= CHARACTER + COMPETENCE. Management training focuses on the competence part.

Have a management program where they are educated on not just how to do the job (stats, policies, and procedures) but how you treat people, leadership skills, how to act on the floor, how to interact with peers and associates. Management cannot fake these things, your associates will see directly through it and then the trust factor is gone.

Once they pass this program, have a graduation ceremony, have an oath that they take and they get to sign the graduation book that all supervisors have signed along with getting a “framed diploma”.

7. Measure the Metrics that Really Matter:

So many companies confuse KPI’s and call center metrics in a constant struggle to quantify a world-class customer experience. They seen to be changing what is important…this month is AHT, next month it’s SLA = VOC…all trying to justify a great customer experience.

The companies that measure this way are ignoring the two main groups that decide a great experience, the customer and the associate (includes processes, CRM….), and put all the time and money into the measurements that are in between them. This makes little sense.

Look at not only NPS and CSAT as stronger metrics but the industry is finally measuring agent and customer sentiment using speech analytics. These are the metrics that truly world-class centers will be using are the key metrics.

SLA, AHT, ASA are important as they are a tool to diagnose issues in your center but should not be used as what a world-class call center culture should be.

8. Referral Program:

When you have your center trending in the right direction from a culture standpoint and you like the type of person that is in our center, that is the ONLY time you should start your employee referral program. There is a saying that you are the sum of the 5 people that you are closest too. If you like your call center associates then only makes sense for you to try to bring in people they know and like. It gives you the best opportunity to keep the culture that you are creating.

If you have culture issues and you do not like the vibe in your center when why would you being more of those type of people into your organizations. Referral programs can be a HUGE culture tool for both positive and negative change depending how and when they are implemented.

I hope these points help you think through and start to change and evolve the culture in your call center. Make your center fun, make the associates want to be there. If you can do that you will not only have a productive call center but a happy customer as well!

Thomas Laird
Founder and CEO of award-winning Expivia Interaction Marketing Group. Expivia is a USA BPO omnichannel contact center located in Pennsylvania. I have 25 years of experience in all facets of contact center operations. I have the honor of being a member of the NICE inContact ICVC Board. The iCVC is a select group of inContact customers selected to join as trusted advisors to help InContact validate ideas for new products and features and plans for future innovations. I am also the author of "Advice from a Call Center Geek" and host of the podcast of the same name. podcast.callcentergeek.com

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