Emotional Intelligence in the Call Center

By Jim Iyoob

I am an avid believer of excellent leadership skills in the call center. As a leader, people not only judge you by your training and expertise but also by how well you handle others and yourself. This means you have to work on your leadership style diligently. One way to ensure that you stay top of the game is to develop emotional intelligence.

Daniel Goleman introduced the term “emotional intelligence” in 1995 in his book, Emotional Intelligence. He wrote that although qualities like determination, vision, toughness, and intelligence are important, they are not sufficient to ensure the success of an organization. To be truly effective as a leader requires incorporating emotional intelligence through motivation, social skill, empathy, self-regulation, and self-awareness.

For example, have you observed a high-performing employee promoted to a leadership position only to fail miserably? Or an average-performing employee promoted to a leadership position who does very well? These are common occurrences in business; the distinguishing factor is not in the employee’s technical abilities but in his or her soft qualities of dealing with people – such as using emotional intelligence,

Emotional intelligence is the ability to recognize and manage your own emotions and the emotions of those around you. To bring it closer to home, as a call center leader, you need to be aware of your emotions, how they affect your agents, and thus influence their output. Let’s look at how to use the five components of emotional intelligence for effective leadership.

1) Self-Awareness: Self-awareness is connecting with your true self. It is the ability to understand what drives you, your emotions, and your needs. It is also being aware of your strengths and weakness and how your actions affect those around you.

For example, if some of your agents do not show up for work on a regular basis, which causes additional stress, you should create a backup plan to resolve the issue. Remind yourself of the minimum level of service and functionality you are required to provide and set your contingency plans around it. This way you have a guarantee that everything will run smoothly, and you won’t have to deal with last-minute emergencies.

If you are someone who is quick to anger, you should work alongside agents who do not test your limits. When you have a high self-awareness, you are confident in what you want from your people and how best to get it.

2) Motivation: Motivation is that extra push, the passion you have toward your work. Your energy and enthusiasm directly affects the energy your staff gives back. When you are self-motivated, nothing can stop you from achieving what you set out to do.

As a leader, your key responsibilities include setting annual targets and formulating strategies and tactics to achieve those goals. What one thing keeps you on course? It is your self-motivation – your drive.

What does is it mean to your organization when you are highly self-motivated? It means you set high-performance bars for yourself and your staff. When you keep hitting the bar, you pass on that energy and challenge to your staff to do the same.

For example, have you ever worked with someone who is not motivated? Is it easy? No, it’s much harder because you have to keep motivating the person to see the big picture and modify his or her behavior. Unfortunately over time you will become exhausted and tired. As a result everyone loses; your work suffers and others will follow. The solution is to create a personal inner system in order to keep yourself motivated. Be your first and greatest cheerleader.

3) Self-Regulation: Self-regulation is synonymous to self-control. When you have self-control, you will not make emotional decisions, verbally attack people, or compromise your values. Instead you will hold yourself accountable for your own thoughts and actions. You are in charge of your feelings – not the other way around. If you lead by your feelings, the workplace mood will follow: people will be happy when you are happy and upset when you are upset. This is not the way to create trust in your staff.

When you have self-regulation, you are reasonable. For example, if your team delivers a sloppy presentation, you can respond in two ways. You can shout at them, telling them how useless they are, or you can have a discussion with them to determine the cause of their poor performance. Which one makes you a self-regulated leader? In the two situations, how do you think your response will affect your staff?

Self-regulation enhances your integrity, an important value both personally and corporately. Integrity determines what you will do when no one is looking.

4) Empathy: Friends and family members generally show empathy to each other, but when it comes to work, the word empathy does not sound businesslike, and others might perceive you as being “all mushy” with your employees.

However, the meaning of empathy in business terms is thoughtfully considering your employees’ feelings as well as other important factors when making decisions. The way you communicate to them shows empathy.

The main reasons why you should be empathetic to your employees are:

  • You need to work with a motivated team. You know how crazy it can get trying to bring every team member into agreement. Everyone has his or her own opinion and wants to justify why his or her idea is better; emotions can easily flare. It takes empathy to recognize and understand different viewpoints and bring them together.
  • You need to retain the best employees – a talented employee is an asset. Imagine all the work it takes to train employees – what happens when they leave? They take company knowledge with them, and you have to start all over again. Empathy helps you continually mentor your employees, and they feel appreciated, which increases their chances of staying with you.

5) Social Skill: Social skill is about building networks and relationship management. How well can you handle conflicts and diplomatically manage change? This is where social skill comes in: to be friendly yet remain focused on the goal.

When you are highly self-aware, self-regulated, motivated, and empathetic with others, social skill comes naturally. It ties the other components together. It enables you to be a great communicator, which makes your work easy. Great communicators are inspirational leaders who develop others, influence them positively, and build lasting bonds, leading to great teamwork and collaboration.

For example, when you sense tension your ability to manage conflict will determine whether the tension will escalate or you will create a calm environment. With social skill, you will handle the conflict and turn around staff performance.

To develop emotional intelligence in the workplace, you need to develop as a person. I equate leadership development with personal development. It is not always easy, but the results are great and impact the entire organization positively. When you possess emotional intelligence, you will be an effective leader who people follow willingly.

Jim Iyoob is EVP of customer experience for Etech Global Services. Jim has twenty-plus years of contact center outsourcing experience in inbound, outbound, chat, and social media operations, and is a respected speaker, author, and subject-matter expert for call center solutions.

[From Connection Magazine – January/February 2016]

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