Whenever I speak at conferences across the country, I often ask the audience, “What needs to be improved in your contact center?” “Better communication” is almost always within the top five responses. Whenever I ask employees about their manager’s communication with them, the answer usually reflects the sentiment “needs improvement.” Since communication seems to be a recurring primary issue within contact centers, let’s explore seven basic tips to improve communication for frontline managers.
- Be a better listener
Pay attention to your employees. It sounds simple, but research by Mindtools suggests that we only remember 25 to 50 percent of what we hear. Frontline managers have one of the toughest jobs in the center, managing fifteen to twenty staff members, projects, emails, reports and metrics — at the same time. Yet, the top priority for managers should be communication with their team members to facilitate an efficient, communicative environment. Whenever someone stops you to ask a question, do your best to focus on their words, look into their eyes — listen and respond proactively. Repeat the issue to confirm that you understand, and provide a solution in a timely manner if possible.
- Make time for employees
Regular one-on-one meetings with your team members are essential to communication. Depending on the size of your contact center, allocate weekly, bi-weekly or monthly check-ins with each employee. Set aside time to focus on their needs. Talk about their career paths and how you can help them achieve their goals, both personal and professional. In Ken Blanchard’s book “The One Minute Manager,” the best concept it outlines is Management By Walking Around (MBWA), scheduling specific time each day to just walk the floor and be available for conversation. As the frontline manager, simply schedule an hour onto your calendar to do just this: be available to engage with employees. In a recent conversation with a call center manager, she informed me that when she began her walk, she tapped people on the shoulder while they were on the phone, and made a “finger-walking” gesture to let them know that she was available. Furthermore, “More time with my manager” is the number one request we found in our research among agents.
- Communicate at the right time
Make sure that you communicate workplace changes, information and decisions from above. Sometimes, it is not what you say but when you say it that proves to be key; failure to tell someone information that affects their job or their communication with customers can breed discontent and fear throughout the center. Moreover, don’t expect all agents to make the appropriate change after one instance of communication. In Bluewolf’s recent State of Salesforce report, we found that multi-channel communication with employees was substantially more effective in increasing employee engagement. Create a communication cadence that introduces change in digestible chunks, while educating users on the benefits of the change.
- Share a consistent message about your values
Be clear on your priorities and business values (and those of the holistic company) and articulate this to help your employees make better decisions on their own. In a world where integrity of leaders is often called into question, it is important that you explain your values and your expectation for your team in a transparent and responsible manner. In addition to clearly articulating your values, it is also important to talk often about the most important asset of any company: employees. When was the last time you told your team how important they are to the success of the job? This may be a good practice to adopt as it builds trust in your organization.
- Give regular feedback; avoid surprises
Feedback should be provided as close to the occurrence of an event or interaction. Employees should never learn about significant performance issues for the first time in an annual evaluation. It is important to have what we call “candid conversations,” the sometimes uncomfortable discussions about expected behavioral change. Consistent and timely coaching is the essence of effective communication; the annual or semi-annual evaluation should a recap what the employee already knows. At Bluewolf, after any type of project or deadline we do something called WLC (Win, Learn, Change). We bring together all those involved in the project to run through immediate feedback on what went well and what could be improved next time. Making this an open group conversation enables brainstorming for better approaches or solutions from all those involved. Remember to reprimand in private, recognize success in public. There are exceptions, but positive feedback is almost always seen as more effective when delivered in a group setting.
- Be prepared when speaking to groups
It is very important that you have an agenda when you are speaking at a meeting or “huddle.” It is important that you take some time to prepare for every meeting. In our Bluewolf workshops, we reccomend that managers use the following categories for meetings:
Information – make sure you have a clear plan of what you want to say and include the WIIFM, or “What’s In It For Me,” for the participants.
Inclusion – when possible, seek feedback in every meeting.
Involvement – constantly seek opportunities to involve employees in the meeting; allow them to lead the meetings when possible.
Inspiration – find a reason to recognize the success of one person to the entire group in every meeting.
- Don’t hide behind your e-mails
According to McKinsey Global Institute as well as the International Data Corporation, we spend 28% of our workweeks reading, writing or responding to email. That’s thirteen hours a week! Though email is a prelavent channel of communication, it is essential to keep in mind that most delicate matters should be discussed in person, as should most conflicts. When emotions are involved, e-mail is the least appropriate way to communicate. In today’s tough economic times, never use email to convey bad news in-person meetings are always the best option.
Contact centers can be tough places to manage, but improving employee engagement can make a direct impact on the bottom line. The relationship between leaders and frontline employees is integral to success. Connections matter — and no one says it better than the legendary motivator Zig Zigler: “You never know when a moment and a few sincere words can have an impact on a life.” To learn more about empowering your employees to better engage your customers, download our free guide.