By Scott Ray
“We wait all these years to find someone who understands us, I thought, someone who accepts us as we are, someone with a wizard’s power to melt stone to sunlight, who can bring us happiness in spite of trials, who can face our dragons in the night, who can transform us into the soul we choose to be. Just yesterday I found that magical someone is the face we see in the mirror: It’s us and our homemade masks.”
–Richard Bach, American novelist
In my fifteen years in the in the call center industry, I have encountered many agents who have expressed similar feelings to those expressed by Mr. Bach. Perhaps not as broadly or intellectually stated of course, but they do look to their supervisory and training staff for help, guidance, and assurance as they seek to improve their individual job performance. When dealing with those tangible issues related to a given process or product, they need help from those possessing the knowledge and know-how to meet the requirements of the tasks assigned. Process improvement and product awareness are usually easy to identify and correct when things go wrong, but how do you manage behavioral issues? Interestingly, the answer often lies with the agents themselves and can be realized and addressed easier than you might think.
For standard information-based development, we create training curriculum, analyze results, evaluate accuracy and performance – and we even coach occasionally. When dealing with behavioral issues, however, we often miss the one area that makes effecting change more easily attainable. Helping agents become self-aware is often the key. Creating tools and infrastructure that help agents gain self-realization skills should be incorporated not only into your daily quality management routine but should be interwoven with your company’s messaging and values as well.
What exactly is self-realization? As defined by Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, it refers to the desire for self-fulfillment and the tendency for a person to become aware of his or her potential. Self-realization is the manifestation of the desire to become more and more what one is, to become everything one is capable of becoming. Yet I have found that it is rarely used consistently in today’s call center workplace. We tend to lump behavioral patterns into our standard training practices instead of recognizing the value of addressing these issues individually with tools that do the work for us.
Let me explain: a few years ago, I was participating in a workgroup where we routinely recorded and evaluated our own call performance. Using call monitoring and recording software, I was able to experience my voice as my customer did, and it was an eye-opening experience. I couldn’t believe some of the bad communication habits I had formed over the years, but if I hadn’t experienced it privately, with time for reflection, it’s likely I would have resisted another person’s negative critique. After all, I have always had a wonderful “radio voice,” so how could anyone accuse me of having poor communication skills? My “homemade mask” was what I believed myself to be, not what I actually acted out. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t nearly as good as I had led myself to believe, and there was definitely room for improvement.
The key to my motivation was that these improvements were important to me personally, and I made it my business to work out a plan to address the negative nuances and behaviors that detracted from my message. No one had to coax or convince me; the evidence was indisputable and I expected better from myself.
I don’t think my personal experience was unique. Most of the people I’ve come to know in this industry have reasonably high expectations of themselves and expect to perform at a superior level. If we find that we are not meeting our own expectations, we will quickly address the problem; no one needs to do that for us.
Do you allow your agents to experience themselves and then come to your evaluation team with an improvement plan? If not, you are missing a great opportunity to form a unique bond between management and the folks taking care of your customers. You may already have the tools to put a self-awareness program in place, but the greater question is – will you make it a priority?
Here are some actionable tips to make self-realization a routine part of your agent-coaching practices:
Step 1: Evaluate Your Current Culture: On the road to helping your agents achieve self-realization, it is important to evaluate your current culture. Are you in an environment that is willing to accept change, do you have to force change, or are your agents actively seeking change?
Every environment is different, but in most instances this self-realization coaching format can be applied to your management and supervisory team, too. Take the time to do an internal evaluation of your call center and assess your environment.
Step 2: Give Your Agents a Chance: Self-realization is achieved by your agents when they are given the opportunity to hold themselves accountable in a non-hostile environment. Provide an environment where agents have the opportunity to self-assess and ask for open feedback.
Step 3: Define and Develop a Plan for Success: First, you need to determine your ultimate goal. My biggest piece of advice during this step is to let your agents be a part of the process. Take their feedback and suggestions and incorporate them into your plan. Remember to keep your agents’ goals aligned with the overall company objectives.
Step 4: Recognize Your Agents for Positive Growth: Positive energy feeds off a positive working environment. Publicize your agents’ achievements on a regular basis, and celebrate individual, team, and corporate successes.
Make self-realization and self-evaluation part of your contact agents’ goals for this year. I promise you, it will pay off. After all, remember that we are our own toughest critics.
Scott Ray is a customer advocate manager for Envision, a contact center workforce optimization solutions provider. Scott works to identify contact center needs and implement solutions to ensure ongoing performance improvement.
[From Connection Magazine – May 2012]