Talking of extremes, there wouldn’t be a more apt example than call center work stress. Going by-the-book isn’t enough to be successful in your call center venture. It isn’t for the faint-hearted; only a few call center heads possess the determination, skills, and temperament to manage an increasing number of issues on a day-to-day basis all the while keeping their focus on growing as a company. Those who have these requisites can keep their workforce and customer base happy with truly remarkable experiences; doing it all within a budget is exceptional, at the very least. Let us look at the activities required to do all that and ways to execute it in a way that benefits all:
How does an exceptional call center head go about it?
A call center head does his/her duty without expecting any praises. Moreover, a multilingual call center has support representatives speaking different languages and come from different backgrounds; a manager must know how to keep the whole workforce motivated and satisfied. They must also take care that daily operations run smoothly and efficiently. The third important task is to constantly find new ways to improve the operations and focus on growth in the future.
Corporates are always looking for customer service outsourcing companies. If they have made a deal with the call center owner, they want the company to provide truly differentiable customer service. For that, the head must design the operational processes, implementing technological tools and mixing it seamlessly with the processes, achieving the financial targets of the company, sourcing, hiring, and training employees to be the best at what they do. Not only that, they must be in touch with call center industry news and newer technologies to have an edge over other companies. Piecing it all together is what makes a call center head the chosen one to achieve success.
Here are seven tasks a call center manager must undertake to go from good to legendary:
1. Gaining the insight of your customer support representatives
It is the representatives who customers talk to while raising an issue or putting through a query. They are the eyes and ears of your company and know the reality of the ground; being the first point of contact for customers, they know the issues of your product or service and can tell you exactly what the customer is hoping and paying for. They can tell you exactly what is working with the customers and which process is a bottleneck. If you look at it, they are best market research tool you have and can provide hundreds of ideas on how to better serve the customers. Listening to them will keep the whole workforce motivated for they will feel that they are an integral part of the company.
Connecting with representatives step-by-step
There exist a number of call center managers who ask their employees to
give feedback about their workings and customer interactions. There are
many who do not want to get into it because of the efforts required to fill out
data. Another problem might be that they are afraid of putting in negative comments about departments or processes for they might offend someone. The crème de la crème knows how to interact with the support representatives, gain their trust, and ask them to be an important building block in the massive growth you have hoped for the company.
2. Be a Leader, not A Manager
A call center supervisor is basically the head of all teams. In times of difficulties, they look up to the leader for advice and guidance. It simply means that you must be there for your team, always. Listen to their problems, try to solve them with a systematic approach, motivate them if the morale is low, and be a shining light for them. A pep talk at the start of the week might do wonders in keeping the morale high all week.
You exist to serve
If we are talking about customer service, the term ‘we exist to serve’ is commonly used to placate customers and pushed forward as a philosophy the company revolves around. Expecting your employees to care as much for the company as you do is simply foolish. Without any hope of rewards or motivation; your employees won’t give the same level of efforts as you do. The same philosophy of ‘we exist to serve’ should be applied on the manager towards his/her employees. Care for them, help them, guide them, and put them before yourself; that is the only way to extract the same level of efforts from your employees as you put in.
A legend in every way
If you are the head of a call center, you must be an authority on every matter of the business and its evolving branches. Head of the center must be aware of all the internal matters of the company such as technological tools, processes, customer feedback, legal resources, and hiring methodologies.
What differentiates great managers from good managers is that the great ones know exactly how the whole mechanism is taking the company towards targeted growth and making changes to achieve that all along the way.
If you wish to succeed in an increasingly competitive environment, you must be aware of trends in the market and competitor’s moves. Not only that, you must be in regular contact with team leaders and ensure that the company is moving as per the strategy.
Don’t sit back, lead by example
There is a tendency for owners of a company to sit back and make decisions based on the data employees put in or collected through analytical tools. While the founders of a company do like to churn out data and strategize according to that, it can be fatal in the long run. It will help you analyse where the process is lacking but won’t let you get an insight into it. The usual method is calling up underperforming agents in a meeting and then ask for an explanation. While you might think that a support representative’s lax attitude is the reason for a department’s downturn, you aren’t looking at it deeply enough to root out the problem. The approach might also seem like the usual micromanagement which managers tend to do when they don’t see any other option to increase the productivity.
The best of the best talk to their employees and know their strengths; they know their passions and ambitions, their method of working, and how best to make their skills work for the team. Getting to know your employees personally will help you understand their strengths and weaknesses. If an employee is lagging behind even after putting in great efforts, you can talk to him/her regarding it and come up with a plan to improve the performance, using feedback on each pain point , and communicating how the plan will help push up their performance.
3. Making call centers great again
Employee happiness is as vital as a great strategy to achieve the projected targets. As a leader, you must make sure that your employees are satisfied with the job. A customer support representative who is happy will put in more efforts towards the work and take better care of the customers. Not only that, their buzz will keep other employees engaged as well leading to all-round productivity and a better workplace environment. ‘Happiness is contentious’; the fact that happy employees tend to put in more efforts and not want to leave the job is reason alone that it should be a manager’s priority. Be wary of any demotivating factors and value your employee’s inputs at all cost. A happy environment translates to success in the long run.
Right rewards for honest work
Time and again we have seen that money is a great motivator, used exclusively to push up productivity and extract the maximum efforts from your workforce. Companies use different tactics such as providing shopping gift cards, variable incentive, and promotions to make the workforce happy and extract the best work from them. Stats show that employees tend to put in more efforts if their inputs are seen as valuable to the company. An example of this would be; an employee is buzzing with happiness and talks to a customer who has called up, the happiness will reflect in his/her voice and the customer would feel delighted to talk to such a person. That is how simple it is.
Growth plans and opportunities
One area where most companies lag behind is focussing on the career development of its employees. The workforce in customer support mostly constitutes of young people who want to grow as a professional and earn a higher package in the future. Lack of opportunities is a major reason employee leave companies in hope of better ones. The head of call centers can change all this with a properly planned system. While hiring the employees, they can go into details about the opportunities available, career plans, and the milestones which need to be achieved to fulfil the plan. If the support representative feels his/her professional life is going exactly as planned, they aren’t likely to leave the company.
3. Call center technology: Be in the know
Technology is ever evolving; one after another, technological tools come into the foray and make a deep impact over how businesses and institutions function. In these times, every company needs to be tech-savvy if they want to have an edge over other companies. Call center heads need to be aware of technological developments and understand how their competitors are using technology in their processes.
Don’t fixate, adapt
Go to any call center and you will find the almost the same kind of technology being used everywhere. Owners know which technology is being used in the market and go for the fail-safe way. While this is easy, it can also become a burden for the company. The company might not know its processes is built with rusted wheels. To truly stand apart, the heads must invest in technology and processes of their own to have a unique point of differentiation and set an example of innovation.
Established companies find it difficult to bring a massive change in the workings of their organization, for the costs and training required to do so; while on the other hand, startups are much better at adapting new technology and using that to unsettle the older competitors. While you are at the earlier stages of establishing your company processes and way of working, it is easier to improvise on the way and eliminate any technological tool or process which seems to be a bottleneck.
Do not hold back with trying out new methods and tools. Even if you fail on a front, you will gain a valuable lesson into how to do it better and improve the functions of your company. It is equally important to figure out bad-for-the-business plans as finding out the processes would work well in the long run.
An active voice in the industry
One sure-shot way to keep yourself aware of the developments in customer service industry is to be an active participant in conferences and events. Interacting with leaders across the industry will give you an insight no market research or news can provide. It will give you a chance to engage with talent across the industry, connect with them, and network to have a deeper reach into the industry.
You might have heard the term, ‘It is lonely at the top’. That pertains to all the CEOs and founders of a company who feel like they are running out of people to talk to regarding their problems. What’s better than a platform where they can do exactly that?
The best of the best goes a step further, they become a voice of reason in the community.
4. Talk logic, talk data
If we talk about market research and collecting data; call centers will be one of the best institutions to collect data on customers. That is the reason they have become integral to customer service functions; they know exactly what the customer wants actually and the issues which come up frequently. They are also able to collect different types of data such as number of incoming calls, frequent issues, time required for resolution, pain points, feedbacks, and gaps in the processes. An intelligent manager collects all this data and uses it to improve or develop processes.
A call center can collect all sorts of data when it comes to customers. They only choose which one to gather based on their plans and if they want to improve a process or bring in a new one.
Here are a few key performance indicators which call centers usually focus on:
· Time required for the customer to connect with a support representative
· Time taken to talk with the customer and provide a timeline for resolution
· First call resolution i.e. the number of times a customer could get his/her issue resolved after dialling in the one time
· Customer satisfaction rate and how likely are they to recommend your product
· Number of cases resolved per day based on the average issues that are raised every day
There are several other KPIs a call center could target based on need of the hour. Analysing KPIs will help the call center heads make all the right decisions in terms of planning or strategizing.
Setting the scales right
Ensuring that the employee strength is enough to take care of incoming demand is an essential part of the job. That means balancing both the ends to make sure there is no wastage of money or frustration for customers.
For this, you need to make sure that you have an eye on daily demand-and-supply of the company. It is a tough task for one doesn’t know the when the demand might rise. With experience and analysis of data, it is easy to figure out when to hire people and when to hold the ship with the people you have.
6. Working on the ground
Get on the floor
A question I need to ask call center heads is this: when was the last time you sat along with support representatives and took a call from the customer?
If you haven’t done that, I can say for sure that you have been out of the game for too long. Picking up the phone and calling along with your employees will make them feel motivated. They look up to you and will listen in how you approach the customer and resolve his/her issues. It can make for a training session if not anything else.
Stay in the game
A manager who acts like a king rather than an administrator will likely take the whole department down with him/her. I understand that it is easy to let others work hard and bask in the glory that comes after; but in the long run, it will spell doom for the productivity of the company. It is important to be an active participant in regular activities like sourcing and recruiting of employees, analysing data to align projected growth with actual one, taking care of legal aspects, and motivating the whole workforce. While these are ‘boring’ tasks, they are necessary to focus on for stability and consistency is required before leaping towards growth.
7. Getting the best and holding on to them
Employee retention in the call center industry is among the lowest worldwide; it can be attributed to the stressful work environment and working hours which result in the retention rate being so low.
A recent survey by Gallup proved that almost three-fourth of call center workers are disengaged from the work environment and this leads to frustration and eventually them leaving the company.
Picking out gems: Hiring the best
In a world where employees are always on the lookout for better opportunities and companies with a fast-revolving door, it can be quite difficult to get brilliant employees much less retain them. A company looks for great communication skills, problem-solving, technical skills, and proactivity while dealing with customers. This combination of skillsets is hard to find and can be compared with finding a needle in hay. Support representatives of such calibre are hard to find, but it should be the first mandate of any recruitment process.
Orientation and training
Call center outsourcing companies, which usually conduct interviews every day and hire people frequently aren’t that big on orientation and induction. What if it was your first day in a company? What would you say if nobody even looked at you the whole day?
‘All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy’; you might have heard this term, it doesn’t apply anywhere else that well than on call center employees. This kind of approach from the company will frustrate the employees and disengage them from processes. Eventually, they would want to work somewhere else.
Constant motivation and happy work environment are necessary to make the employee feel connected to it all rather than being stern and turning them away.
Bringing in the emotional reward
There can be plenty of reasons a support representative would leave the company. The most prominent of them being lack of growth and unhealthy work environment.
To tackle this, the supervisors must reward their employees for any effort that has bore fruit. It doesn’t mean that you provide them with a gift voucher or a monetary incentive each time. It can mean showering praises on them whenever a customer is satisfied with the company and promising a return business; it can mean talking about the best customer feedback every day simply to make the employee feel that he/she is putting in efforts which are very valuable to the company.
An employer must provide training sessions and career development plans to its employee. It isn’t easy for call center employees to maintain the same level of energy the whole day; if they are down and out of energy by the end of the day, the customer would feel that while talking on the phone and it might make them think the employee isn’t all that interested in listening to them.
To make the employees feel motivated, delegate authority and provide them tools to deliver what you expect them to. If you were there for them, they will be there for you.