Selecting and Mentoring Call Center Supervisors

By Matt Harless

For call center executives, managing a scalable operation can be daunting. What types of technology should be purchased? Which leaders are best to guide the organization on a daily basis? Is there a support staff in place to ensure callers and clients are satisfied? The checklist seems endless as the timeframes seem to become shorter and shorter every day. Yet, one piece tends to be forgotten in the development of call center performance. This is the element that ensures results, keeps the agents happy, and orchestrates performance: the call center supervisor.

The call center supervisor is the middle of the sandwich, squeezed between telephone agents who want more attention and call center executives who desire more results. The supervisor is the communication tool which motivates the team and enforces disciplines. Without supervisors, every call center would fall apart. It would be chaos.

So, what makes a good supervisor? How can call center executives select and mentor supervisors so they will excel? Most importantly, how can senior management learn how to embrace, and not forget, its call center supervisors? Here are some tips.

Hire Supervisors Who Believe in Being Proactive: There are two types of supervisors in the call center. First, there are those who wait to be told what to do. They may be very talented, great coaches, and disciplined trainers, but they don’t have initiative to change the culture and get things done. Second, there are those call center supervisors that want, even need, to execute. If your call center is comprised of supervisors that want to execute and don’t wish to wait for the order, your team is in phenomenal shape. If however, your group needs constant direction to get things done, that is another story.

Find supervisors who want to be proactive. It means they care about their job. It also means they have a desire to move your call center to that next step. Imagine your team of call center supervisors as your assistant coaches. Every head coach needs assistant coaches that think ahead of the curve. That is what you should want, too.

Create a System That Supervisors Can Thrive In: So often, senior management expects the supervisor to take initiative and build systems. In many cases, this is fair, and some proactive supervisors can do that. However, the development of a system expands beyond the supervisor purview. The complete system in the call center includes divisions such as operations, training, human resources, quality assurance, and technology. The supervisor should work with these areas daily, but the supervisor is not responsible for developing these areas.

Remember, the system always wins. The best supervisor in a weak system will lose to the system no matter how qualified the supervisor may be. In turn, great systems can carry weak supervisors for certain periods of time. The bottom line is to create a system that compels supervisors to become successful. Give supervisors tools. Remember, if your call center turns over supervisors at an alarming rate, it may not be due to their lack of skill. It may be due to poor system quality. How much time has senior management dedicated to creating the package?

Custom Design a Management Training Program Based on Your Business: Don’t hire a supervisor and say, “Good luck.” Instead, put together a strategic management  plan after the supervisor is hired so that the supervisor can continually strive for goals that will help your organization. Here are three samples:

  • Put your supervisors through quality assurance, training, human resources, technology and peer departments in your company. Let them experience what those departments do and why and how they do it.
  • Ask your supervisors to complete monthly assignments to better their skills sets. Have them attend outside workshops. Have them do competitor research. Have them “hit the telephone” and take calls.
  • Find supervisors who know something about other industries and worlds. The call center supervisor should be inquisitive about how other organizations operate. Use their knowledge to build a terrific call center culture.

Search for Creativity: The call center supervisor is the marketing genius and the cheerleader as well as the disciplinarian. That is why call center supervision involves so much more than following the numbers. Call center supervision is a creative job. It involves instinct. If an advertising agency team promotes a story, a vision, a brand, and a message to their audience, shouldn’t the call center supervisor also promote a story, a vision, a brand, and a message to their audience? These messages are critical to driving performance and supervising well in the call center. The marketing element and the recognition of marketing and promotions is a prerequisite to great call center management.

The supervisor can create and advertise a marketing program to his or her audience of call center agents via channels such as posters, flip charts, reader boards, the Internet, and emails. Why just manage your agents when you can create a whole marketing program around managing, communicating, and teaching them? Being creative and thinking outside the proverbial box is a prerequisite.

Call center supervisors are your bread and butter. They may not get the limelight all of the time, but they deserve behind-the-scenes credit. They lead your agents and improve performance. They also are the communication medium that agents rely on. So, structure your call center supervisors, their skills, and their day. Teach them to motivate and lead; provide the requisite systems.

Matt Harless is Vice President of Sales for PhoneWare, located in San Diego, CA. PhoneWare is a service agency with expertise in outbound and inbound sales and customer care campaigns. Contact Matt at 800-243-8329 or mharless@phonewareinc.com.

[From Connection Magazine September 2005]

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