There is no place in the world I’d rather work than in Customer Service. That being said...it’s very, well, hard. There are days when it seems like every problem across the business rolls directly downhill to us. On a good day, we are working to resolve customer inquiries as quickly and effectively as we can. On a bad day, we are just trying to survive! The pressure of this reality can accumulate very quickly. It’s no surprise that the average turnover rate in a contact center environment is 25 percent year over year. While many factors are outside of our control, there are plenty of essential aspects of the work experience that we do hold sway over. Chief among these is our power to create a supportive and edifying dynamic among our teams. TINYpulse data supports the notion that having “great colleagues and peers” is the number one reason people love their jobs. Gallup also proclaims the power of strong peer-to-peer relationships when it comes to employee loyalty. Many of us as leaders spend a great deal of time and energy cultivating relationships with our staff. This is wonderful and important. However, we cannot overlook the importance of developing meaningful relationships beyond ourselves and across peer groups. Just like in school, the teacher can have great influence over a learner, but not near as much as the cumulative impact of the other students.
I can personally testify to the power of having a team who sincerely cares for one another. Consider all the classic contact center problems--adherence to schedule, failure to share knowledge, snippy attitudes, and burnout. When agents consider it their own responsibility to mitigate these factors for themselves and their peers, magic happens. It’s superior to even perfect processes or perfect technologies! Your team has the capacity to adapt seamlessly and to meet any new challenge in real-time. So how does one develop a team culture such as this? Naturally, it begins with being very picky about your new hires. It’s your job to guard your team tenaciously from energy vampires that will suck the life of your group. When there are selfish people who are not interested in serving others, it’s impossible to generate trust in the group. Removing these barriers is the first essential step. Once complete, a leader can gently guide the team toward a new level of collaboration and caring. Here are four ideas to get you started!
Idea #1 - Get to Know via GoPro
It’s easy to forget your co-workers are just people. Especially in a high-stress or competitive environment, destructive tensions have a tendency to build up so quickly. It’s important to break up this dynamic on a regular basis and put the humanity back into everyday work. One really fun way to accomplish this is by allowing folks to “walk a mile” in one another’s shoes. Buy a GoPro for your team and loan it out to everyone for one week. Have them create a simple and short documentary-style video about their life at home that can be released in a Friday meeting. Just small things such as “here’s my wife, here’s my dog, here is my favorite bowling ball, this is where I sit when I work from home” is sure to make everyone smile and accelerate authentic relationships. This works especially well for teams with remote workers because everyone gets the same great experience regardless of geography. Encourage participation in two ways. First, do it yourself to get it rolling and take away the intimidation/vulnerability factor. Second, do a drawing of everyone that participated and have a team member actually win the GoPro to take home!
Idea #2 - Code Lavender
One fantastic way to develop an edifying atmosphere on your team comes from the medical field. Nurses in many hospitals have the ability to initiate a “ code lavender .” This simply means they have navigated a difficult situation and could benefit from emotional support. What better place to utilize this strategy than the contact center? We already use codes for everything, even going to the bathroom. Create a quick and quiet method for employees to express when they could use encouragement after a difficult interaction. Not only is the individual who initiates supported, but it will bring the entire team closer together.
Idea #3 - Serve Together
The best and strongest teams offer a meaningful sense of identity. Together, you are accomplishing something amazing that no one could do alone. By applying greater purpose, the day to day frustrations that typically plague contact centers fade into the background. When work feels meaningless, hopeless, tedious, or fruitless...people will often devolve toward a “do the absolute bare minimum and get out of here” mentality. The best companies connect their employees to each other and to their community in a unique way. Don’t just offer volunteer hours. Lead the charge on serving together as a team by doing something relevant to your companies mission. Bonus points if you can create a service event that brings you together with your local customers!
Idea #4 - "Life" Training
I work inside a software company. What to know the topic of our highest-attended and most successful training event of 2018? Photography. That’s right. We offered an hour and a half “Photography 101” lunch and learn. Employees loved it. They learned a valuable life skill, shared cute pictures of their kids, and got to take their minds off work for a bit while developing new friendships. Of course, not all your training sessions should look like this, but why not do a “special” training event once a quarter on a topic that is sure to get folks excited? It also allows everyone to see their co-workers in a different light while showcasing their unique skills and abilities.
These are but a few ways to develop a culture of caring. While it takes a great deal of time and intentionally to establish, it will become the trademark of your team and the number one reason great employees stay. Don’t hesitate to use me as a resource if I can help you brainstorm on new ideas that will be most effective for your group. Until then, may you bask in the light of perfect CSAT scores. 😁
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 the 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. Follow on Twitter - @CustomerIsFirst or LinkedIn.
Originally posted for ICMI on January 31, 2019