People often say to me when they first learn how long I have been working in the call center field, “you must have a very good therapist!” From their perspective, looking at a call center from the out-side-in, it would seem to be an impossible occupation. I would say to those people, you should check it out from the inside if you dare. Yes, I admit nearly every one of the thousands of call centers I have worked with and toured, all have the residue of high strung emotions filling the room like a fog machine in a closet. From front-line agents, to supervisors, to managers, to support staff, to executive management; everyone seems to be in an overwhelmed state with their call center where something has to give and usually it is to ignore the problems that seem like they cannot be fixed, or create illusions just to be able to cope with the dysfunction. I do understand that “not all call centers are dysfunctional” (say’s those not having to work the front-line). If you are a current customer calling into a call center, studies report that 88% of your callers are dissatisfied with their experience calling into your call center. Another study proved that 83% of employees handling the calls, either lack confidence with what to say or feel unprepared when speaking with customers. What is most alarming to me is that Executive Management overseeing the call center, in many cases, either has no clue of this fact, or they ignore what they are afraid to know about their call center operation. I have said repeatedly during my many seminars and workshops all over the world, “intolerable service is tolerated when we tolerate intolerable service.” The great illusion to many working in a call center is that everything is running just fine – when the reality is that customers are, for the moment, tolerating intolerable service. Believe it or not, but I have seen a poorly run call center destroy a small to medium sized company, literally wiping it from the face of the earth. I have seen poorly run call centers cost large companies millions of dollars in liability. Operating a call center is no small matter and should not be taken lightly. I have been an advocate for years that call center operation management should be offered in colleges and universities. Call Centers should require their leadership to hold a specific call center management degree before turning over such a powerful business operation to individuals that seem to be experienced call center leaders. My point is that the “call center grind” is a real thing and has consequential impact on a business if not handled correctly. Whenever you take on a project that has many moving parts and there is little to no specific intelligence to how to manage the activity, that is the recipe for stress and anxiety and that negative emotion will thrive if not smashed. High turnover is a common challenge with the mass majority of call center operations. So much so, that rather than learning how to correct it, a submission to high turn over as a fact of life in a call center, is the more common approach. High turnover is a result of the extreme stress, immense demand of the job. To get relief, one must quit or be promoted to another position that doesn’t require such volatile attitudes. So how then does a person working in a call center today deal with the grind? First, I must state that although there is very little physical activity involved with speaking with a variety of people day-after-day, it is exhausting and drains a lot of energy out of the people handling that type of work. So to all those who associate with a front-line call center agent particularly, GIVE THEM A BREAK – CUT THEM A LITTLE SLACK – THERE JOB IS A LOT TOUGHER THAN YOU REALIZE! There, that should help a little to get some understanding from your support group. Next, it is very important to understand that a call center is about 85% emotion, 10% technology, and 5% process. Management tends to spend 50% of their time on processes and technology 45% on reporting and 5% or less on emotion. This is a key reason why there is so much issue with a call center in the first place. Although, I can go on for day’s with techniques that will lead you to a successful call center operation, I will conclude with this very, very important management component to how to best manage emotion. I will go into greater detail with each technique at a later time, but I encourage you to learn these 6 emotional human needs and incorporate them into your management style and your return will be a thousand fold:
1) Certainty – what your call center employees desire most is knowing that the job they do is steady and stable. Nothing kills a call center effort quicker than rumor / threat things are bad or to be changing things all the time to experiment, but be warned too much standard routine can get boring.
2) Variety – Calculated “mixing it up” lends variation and change to occur and keeps things alive and the mind from getting lazy.
3) Significance – All human beings seek to be important and in a call center, the agents needs to know they are more than a replaceable number. Call Centers are exceptional because of call volume and the typical design of the workplace. It is easy for an agent to get the sense they are just one of many and that they do not matter.
4) Connection – Agents also seek to feel a part of the company and not the “out-casts” doing the dirty job. There must be connectivity not only among the call center colleges, but with the company as a whole.
5) Growth – There seems, in most call centers I have associated with, an abstract career path. When a person feels that they are in a dead-end job and that opportunities are few and far between, it stands to reason that little effort will be given to their current duties.
6) Contribution – Shame on any call center that does not clearly make known to their call center staff the contribution they make to the company. A call center is among the most influential functions of a company and the conversations between call center agent and customer may have the greater impact to the company as a whole. Sadly, this point is hardly communicated effectively to the call center staff.
Work on these 6 emotional management techniques and see the immediate difference in your call center. I learned an important lesson in my early years managing a call center from one of my front-line agents that I will never forget. He said, “A HAPPY AGENT IS A PRODUCTIVE AGENT.” I have managed many successful call centers in my career and that statement remains central to my approach and I attribute it to the dedicated work and commitment I have to contribute proven principles that effect call centers. I wish you all the best in your call center career.