When we are honest with ourselves, we all know culture is the linchpin for everything we do in the Contact Center. We have the very best and newest technology, hire the perfect “on-paper” resumes, and have the budget of King Tut, but without a healthy, positive working culture…these things are essentially meaningless. Naturally, an exceptional culture is the hardest thing to build, and equally as difficult to maintain.
Beth Gauthier-Jenkin, The Vice President of Customer Care at Gopher Sport recently generated a wonderful culture dialog via email. The insights provided were so good, it felt like a crime keeping it to ourselves…especially knowing this is one of the greatest hurdles we face as a community. The specific challenge was as follows:
How can we as leaders develop a healthy blend of compassion, flexibility, and empathy, while fostering the right amount of individual accountability inside of our teams?
What a fantastic question! Yes, it is an extremely difficult thing to achieve…but putting the effort to develop this type of culture is the greatest thing we can do to enhance both the Employee Experience and the Customer Experience. Below are practical recommendations from several of the best minds in Customer Service (myself excluded) to help you develop your best culture in 2019!
Books To Read:
Ken Blanchard's Whale Done. Old school, cheesy, but totally on-point.
Coach your leaders to use the leadership behaviors you'd like to see, taking care to model how you want them to coach their direct reports.
Ask your leaders to emulate the service vision when working with employees. Let them tell you what that looks like.
Understand where it's coming from. "Hey, get back to work!" is probably an instinctive statement. Work with your leaders to understand why they feel that way.
I worked with a client of mine a few years ago on a very intriguing project. You might take some ideas from what they did:
All leaders attended Situational Leadership II training. (This is provided by Ken Blanchard or authorized providers.) I've attended it as well, and found it to be one of the most practical and useful training programs for developing people.
All individual contributors attended Situational Self-Leadership training. This gave them skills to better communicate their developmental needs to their boss.
Each team held a meeting to establish norms for development. (You can do this without doing steps one and two.) This is where I fit into the project—I facilitated each meeting as a neutral party. During the meetings, the leader explained the objective and importance, and then individuals could way in on norms for things like communicating. So if keeping a schedule is relevant and a common challenge, the team members might explain what they see is the most helpful way for their boss to hold them accountable and help them succeed.
The output from the meeting was a "team charter" that outlined how they would communicate with each other. This became a powerful tool for those leaders who followed the charter going forward.
How do your leaders calibrate on what they “coach” on and how/when they approach it? What are the goals/KPI’s that everyone is accountable for? Are there too many, are they too “strict”, and in what way is it measured/are they held accountable? At a leader level, do they feel like there are unclear/changing priorities? (one day, you need to talk to someone about schedule adherence b/c service levels are rough but the next day they are being told to take it easy…) For some leaders, finding an appropriate balance is really hard. They feel the pressure of meeting metrics but don’t know how and when to strike a balance.
I’d suggest a couple things:
Limit the number of measures each role is accountable for and be clear on expectations and importance of these measures
When setting the measures/goals be clear on how the leader will measure/track/report these and what expectations do they have as leaders in managing to these measures
As part of this, make sure you understand possible unintended consequences when setting goals
Calibrate at the leader level on these topics and set Guiding Principles on how you will work together, work with your team, etc. etc.
This can be a place where you explore, discuss and agree upon how you approach what some view as “gray area”
You could even create a handful of “case studied” where you explain a situation (Mary was coming back from break and decided to chat with Rita quick about….XYZ. Mary generally has good schedule adherence, time management, and can be trusted to stay on task and get stuff done. You happen to observe that she is 2 minutes late coming back from break and while the phone queue is clear, she is scheduled to be back from break…what would you do, why, how do you think Mary would feel about it, what principles of Supervision are you applying in your answer of what you would do, etc.)
Doing this, again, helps to calibrate, explore and make sure you are all kinda sorta on the same page with that sort of thing
What messages are you, or other leaders in the Org, sending to the Supervisor level leaders that is creating the environment you described?
Have the boss of the Supervisors do skip level 1 on 1’s with the Reps to understand how they feel and provide feedback loop to the Supervisors. Here are some sample questions that work well in this scenario:
Best part about working here?
How do you think you’re doing?
Anything you want more feedback on?
What does <Supervisor name> do that’s most helpful?
What additional support do you need?
Any questions I didn’t ask that you wish I would have / questions I can answer for you?
Find a way to measure employee engagement and hold the Supervisors accountable to this
It sounds like they take measures and their accountabilities seriously…make them focus on this!
Nate recently turned me onto OfficeVibe which can help you measure employee engagement. They have a free or paid version. I haven’t started using it yet but it’s a Pulse Survey tool which collects and reports out on employee engagement info regularly (every 1-2 weeks).
Do you train your Reps on customer experience (soft skills, specific expectations about dealing with difficult customers/situations, etc.)?
Do something similar for leaders
There is a book that really sticks out to me based on your objective. It’s called “Winning Well” by Karin Hurt and David Dye. Our support leadership team went through the book together, and it was extremely helpful for us to create the type of leadership culture you are describing.
The sad reality is you have the carrot and the stick. You can’t babysit people with the stick and tell them where to be and how to do their jobs. This will quickly lead to a destructive environment, and your top performers will find a way out. Alternatively, you can’t use the carrot…because people should not be given a gift card or vacation hours every time they do their job. The rewards loose value and employees become entitled with inflated expectations.
The only way I know to really transcend this dynamic is to lead people through relationship and meaningful motivators. When teammates really value each other and respect each other, they are not going to be late…otherwise their peer gets stuck doing more work during that time. When people do have to be late for legitimate reasons, people are happy to serve that person and help to cover because of the mutual respect and the fact that no one abuses it. If people do abuse it and it’s failing out of balance, they need to be coached up or coached out.
From Erica Marois:
I hear this question all the time! One of the resources I continually turn to--and recommend-- is a book called Winning Well: A Manager's Guide to Getting Results - Without Losing Your Soul. What's great about this book, is that it's not just theoretical. In addition to sharing real-world examples (many of which are directly relevant to a contact center environment), Karin Hurt and David Dye offer up exercises you can complete with your leadership team! I'd suggest adding this to your Q1 reading list. You could even make reading it part of your 2019 professional development plan for managers.
Also, don't overlook the power of social media for crowdsourcing solutions and seeking out accountability partners! Sheri Kendall-duPont is one of my favorite people to follow on Twitter. She's a wealth of knowledge on contact center training as well as teaching and leading with empathy. If you don't already, be sure to follow her: @sherikendall. She shares her expertise so generously, and I pick up tons of new reading material based on her suggestions!
From Justin Robbins:
I'll echo each of the suggestions that this group provided and will add one more to the mix:
"Human Sigma: Managing the Employee-Customer Encounter" by John Fleming and Jim Asplund
This book had a significant impact on my personal philosophy for how my teams and I work with our employees and our customers. I recommend it to any of my clients and weave its principals into much of my approach.
Per Jeff's mention, the Blanchard SLII training is very good and available in an online learning format. I used it in previous contact centers and know a few others who swear by it as a mandatory part of leadership on-boarding.
Lastly, if you've not read "The Five Dysfunctions of a Team" by Patrick Lencioni, I'd encourage it as a team reading assignment that's woven in with facilitated group discussion around the key learnings. It usually results in a few a-ha's and moments of self-realization on how to be the best leaders of a team.
A huge thanks to Beth for getting the chain started, and to Jeff, Jeremy, Justin and Erica for jumping in. May 2019 be the year of authentic culture for all of us!
Nate Brown is the Co-founder of CX Accelerator. While Customer Service is his primary expertise, Nate is able to leverage experience in professional services, marketing, and sales to connect dots and solve the big problems. From authoring and leading a Customer Experience program, to journey mapping, to managing a complex contact center, Nate is always learning new things and sharing with the CX community.