Team Leaders & Their Changing Role In Customer Service – session 1

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The Customer Service Operations they work in are now entering a third phase of existence.

Just for the sake of this made up timeline, imagine ‘Phase One’ as the time when call centres were brand spanking new. They were the Social Media of their day 30+ years ago, built on the following revolutionary concept.

‘Being Interactive Without Being Face To Face’

In those days, ‘Quality and Experimentation’ ruled. Here’s an example: selling a contraceptive to farmers for their cows at 5.30am in the morning in order to catch them before setting off for milking! That’s a campaign pushing at the boundaries.

Then came twenty years of quite the opposite. The mission to massively scale Customer Service operations was born within the disruption of a couple of economic downturns that visit every decade or so.

The problem that the leadership teams of the day faced was this. The cost of servicing a more expectant customer needed a new approach. Thus ‘Scale and Standardisation’ replaced ‘Quality and Experimentation’ as the defining preoccupations of Phase Two.

But the price on both customer and agent/professional communicator experience was high.

Phase Three is pretty much present day. Although another economic downturn has catalysed the next phase of change, we now appear more sophisticated in our response. Both from lessons learnt and a new generation of vocal, social customers who want something better. Much better in fact.

For them, ‘scale’ without ‘quality’ does not cut it. Neither does ‘standardisation’ without the ‘human touch’. In other words Phase Three is full circle. Only this time we need to deliver quality and experimentation on a grand scale.

And right in the centre of this transformation is the changing role of the team leader.

The Trials & Tribulations Of Team Leading

Team leaders have had a tough time during Phase Two. They have borne the operational brunt of meeting that ‘scale and standardisation’ agenda I just referred to. Regardless of what it said in their job descriptions, this has been their actual day to day experience for much of the last twenty years.

In a sentence being a team leader in a large call centre during the ’90’s & ’00’s was an open invitation to high blood pressure and low expectation.

A good day under those circumstances was to have the right number of ‘bums on seats’ (give or take…), no significant technology outages and an absence of senior calls on behalf of the chairman’s wife whose friend just suffered the experience of being a customer.

Asking for any innovation on top of all of that, forget it!

But today’s world has moved on. Now we want our battle hardened team leaders with black belt spreadsheet skills to become performance coaches with a symphony of humanistic skills. It’s a very different approach to team leading.

So it’s not surprising that many brands undergoing this transformation are quietly letting go or redeploying this generation. Their command and control instinct is at odds with the empowered model of engagement now doing the rounds. The Human Chemistry Of Customer Service is the new black.

The writing has been on the wall for some time of course. Ever since AHT(average handle time) became a management indicator rather than a behavioural straight jacket which agents could be forced into, traditional team leading has been under threat.

Instead FCR(first call resolution) and customer effort/NPS(net promoter score) have turned attention outward onto the customer. Effectiveness is prized above efficiency in the new regime. Although quality management is still reassuringly pedantic thanks to a universal belief that any messing with internal compliance policy will instantly result in unspeakable disaster and damnation!

Team Leaders As Performance Coaches

But overall it’s the end of the line for a type of behaviour. We don’t want 80% of shift time in front of the screen doing ‘admin’. We want tips and insights delivered ‘in the moment’ directly after a customer interaction. We want team leaders who can see potential and then tease it out through challenge and the kind of feedback people learn from.

We want to make work fun again and feel engaged. Zappos spoke of ‘happiness’ as their secret sauce. Thus ‘Happiness’ programmes are doing the rounds because Zappos ‘gets’ service.

So too is engagement. The UK Government wants to know why we have not got enough because someone told them that’s how tons more innovation and economic prosperity takes place.

C suite executives have been told that engaged customers are worth more but the only problem is everyone in the business needs to get engaged as a result. So ‘Let’s Learn How To Engage’ programmes are also doing the rounds.

And guess who is being invited to attend these? Team leaders of course!

Still the jam in the corporate sandwich, team leaders are the tipping point at which new culture is or is not operationalised. So getting them on board and reskilled is a ‘Do Not Pass Go’ type activity in the Engagement strategy plan.

In other words, their transformation is a fundamental enabler. It’s how new levels of engaged customer service are to be coaxed into being now that ‘ Human Touch On A Grand Scale’ is the new defining preoccupation in our imagined ‘Phase Three’.

Next time I’ll go more into the new skills, competencies and mindset that this new form of team leading is taking. Till then, thanks for reading.

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