One of the great secrets to managing call center agents is how to motivate them. The turn-over rate in many call centers is much higher than most other “industries.” The cause remains an enigma, although the naivety of nearly all management, is wage. It seems like a simple solution, pay more and you will attract competent talent that will stick around for a long time. I can tell you I have worked with call centers of “fortune-500” companies that paid way above the national average for a call center agent. The result, people stuck around for the pay, but in my personal interviews with each agent the response was overwhelmingly a dissatisfaction of the job itself. Most agents hated their job and felt very unfulfilled with their position and employment. One company in particular, whose Director I interviewed with, stated that the strategy to pay a very high wage was so that people “could-not” leave them and so they (management) would not have to deal the “drama” of the call center. I hand it to them for solving one problem, turnover. But in their efforts to manage the call center, they created many more and deeper problems. The culture was disastrous and productivity was struggling, which is what caused them to call me. Just to be fair, I have worked with call centers that have compensated their employees poorly along with call center that have compensated favorably. Both still will struggle with motivating and inspiring their people to perform at a high level. Often times the frustration of what it takes to stimulate their people is such a mystery to management, they will in many cases either ignore the problem or approach it with aggression, fear or threats. I have managed thousands of front-line agents and I have had much success with motivation. My secret to motivating front-line agents first begins with appreciating that I am ultimately managing EMOTION. Serving in a call center agent capacity is an emotionally trying occupation. Management must first respect and acknowledge that the agents are bouncing and striving to manage their emotions as they speak with random people who are “on the offense” and affecting their personal emotional state. I invest a great deal of time and resources to help my agents better understand how to manage the conversation so that they are not aimlessly drifting through the calls with no defense. When I am successful at managing the emotions, everything else is “icing on the cake” so to speak. In addition, what you pay in salary, incentives and benefits; are secondary to recognition, environment and culture. Wage is important, but as management you must be able to convey business strategies to your people. For instance, wage is in proportion to what the company’s offerings are and the company’s annual revenues. If a company is being lead by competent management, then budgets and revenue allocation is distributed appropriately and whatever the compensation is to the call center agent should only be a reflection on how well the company is operating and not so much a reflection of the individual call center agent. In other words, the call center agent is compensated according to the position within the company and not the actual value of the agent. I share this thought with you, because this seems to be the biggest misconception in a call center. Agents believe they should be paid more for what they do and management and the agent seem to always be at odds with what they should be paid. This debate creates ill will and thus becomes the beginning of the end. Management should first recognize that the call center agent is valuable, appreciated and understood. The conversation with an agent about base pay must be addressed on a business level and not a personal level. I can share much more about this topic if you wish to contact me in person. I will conclude this article by stating that motivating call center agents doesn’t have to e an impossible challenge. It becomes much easier when management accepts that they are the “servants” called to support the front line. Manage emotion, teach conversation strategies and empathize with the agent. You will be the hero to your team.
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