Service Reps: Know Their Passion, Improve Their Performance


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A young man I’ll call “John” was a “good” employee. He consistently met his sales goals in the call center. His supervisor was satisfied with his overall performance, and the dedicated coaching team consistently gave him better-than-average scores. Yet, there was something missing. Something involving his level of engagement with the team and with his manager. Something that would make him even more successful.

Companies often understand the value of good technology. They understand the value of promoting within, and they even understand the need to train new employees. But, many of them have not invested in their frontline managers.

John’s company—a large computer company in Oregon—made good investments in its people. The training department was effective. The three weeks of training for new hires set the foundation for success. The call center had a team of coaches that monitored calls and kept online reports on each employee. In fact, across the entire enterprise of more than 25 call centers nationwide, the company was spending more than a million dollars each year on quality initiatives.

He could clock in, answer some calls, make some sales and be on his way home to pursue his real passion.

The company also had one of the most sophisticated quality systems in the industry. Coaches spent at least an hour each month sitting side by side with agents. Individual quality scores were consistently over the 90-percent mark, and the coaches were meeting goals to conduct at least three monitoring sessions each month.

John had learned how to “meet expectations.” He knew that if he worked just above the line of expectations, his supervisor would pretty much leave him alone. He could clock in, answer some calls, make some sales and be on his way home to pursue his real passion: music.

Sara, John’s manager for the last five months, had been a great agent. Her sales figures were some of the best in the center. She had a good personality and got along with people, but she had never before managed a team. Company executives were proud of their programs to promote from within, and most of the frontline managers had come up through the agent ranks. They knew the applications and even knew how to sell, but many of them struggled to find ways to motivate their employees.

Sara was no different. She knew that John could probably do better, but there were others on the team who needed even more help. So she just let John “do his thing.” In fact, she had become content in letting John stay average. She just did not have the time or the knowledge of how to lead John to a new level of success.

Feeling valued

The Hay Group’s research in 2002, Engage Employees and Boost Productivity, suggested that people are motivated by intrinsic factors (such as personal growth, working to a common purpose, being part of a larger process), rather than simply focusing on extrinsic factors (pay and other rewards). Yet most frontline mangers struggle to understand how they affect this expectation. What does it take to engage employees?

The first step for success is to build a relationship based on what each employee identifies as valuable in his or her life. As a consultant, I have had the opportunity to work with some of the top companies in America. As we evaluate frontline teams, we find that the more engaged the managers are with their team members, the more engaged the employees are with their jobs. If Sara had just listened to John, she would have quickly understood that the thing that is most “valuable” in his life is his music.

Frontline managers have to make an effort to gather this type information by having conversations with their team members. Sara could easily have found this out from John if she had asked him just two simple questions: What do you love to do on the weekends? And if you could take a day off and do anything you wanted to do, what would it be?

The next step is to open conversations and coaching sessions by focusing on the employee’s passion. Just a simple, “So how did the fishing trip go last week?” Or, “Did you get a chance to play any music this week?” You will be surprised how the coaching session or evaluation discussion will change if conversations start by talking about the value of the person being coached! We are all drawn to other people who care about our passions.

I’m not suggesting that outside interest take a precedent over work expectations. You want to augment the work interest with the outside interest. That is the reason we come to work. When we train on this concept, there is always someone who asks about people who do not want to share their personal lives at work. That’s OK. But you need to at least know that. Once you know that the employee is a private person who really only wants to discuss work at work, you can relate expectations and personal goals to just work-related issues. We each relate to work and life in a different way. You just need to know what makes each team member tick!

It was after Sara attended one of my speeches that things clicked for John. Sara remembered that John had given her a CD of his band. It was still in a drawer in her desk. She listened to the CD and then stopped by John’s desk to tell him how much she liked the music.

Over the next several weeks, Sara asked John more about his music. And that’s when the magic started. John’s attitude about work seemed to change. He stopped by Sara’s cube from time to time to talk about his weekend. At the same time, Sara was able to have some frank and open conversations about how John could improve his sales. He soon became one of the top agents in the center.

What is driving your team? What do you know about your team? Have you engaged team members around their passion? With simple answers to these questions, you, too, can make a difference in the performance of your team.

Bob Furniss
Bob Furniss' career has focused on improving customer experiences. As the Director of Bluewolf's Service Cloud practice, Bob leads a team of consultants who works with clients in three key areas: Salesforce Service Cloud strategy/implementation; Social Media strategy and implementation in the contact center; and creating vision blueprints to help companies set a new course for their contact centers in the areas of people and technology. Follow him on Twitter


  1. Great!

    I am a newer in the market. Learn a lot from this acticle,Especially two steps by which to encourage the employees.

    Thank you!

  2. Hi Bob,

    Some great points made in your article which coincide with some comments in a workshop I was facilitating only yesterday. One of the delegates, only 5 weeks with his company had hardly spoken to his manager, in fact could not remember his name – how was he feeling as a new team member – pretty dejected! Another delegate described a manager he had known who took time to talk to every team member regularly, not just about work but also them as individuals – the result – improved team performance, reduced labour turnover and great motivation. Very often organisations promote good team members to management postions and then let them “get on with it” expecting the same results as they delivered as a team member. Unfortunately, this approach is likely to lead to both the manager and the team suffering.

    How many times have we heard the phrase that people leave managers not organisations? It is in a business’s best interests to invest in their managers on an ongoing basis, providing effective support and development.

    Geoff Langston

    [email protected]


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