Tag Archives: Career and Self-Improvement Articles

Asking Questions to Enhance Strategic Thinking



By Jill J. Johnson

The foundation of effective strategic thinking and strategy development is knowing how to ask the right questions. Learning to ask the right questions can be difficult because most people only know how to ask superficial questions that require easy answers. Asking challenging questions allows you to be more impactful in critical situations, have a greater influence on outcomes, and help your organization achieve greater results.

Ask Questions That Matter

The level of uncertainty in today’s business climate is driving major challenges for most leaders. To be an effective leader, you must fully understand the overall strategic goals of your enterprise and key leadership. Use these goals as the framework to align your thinking.

Understand the critical market forces impacting your business strategies so you can determine the questions to answer. What critical market forces are at play in your industry? Are there forces evolving around you that have the potential to impact your survival or growth opportunities? Consider what it will take to grow revenue, expand profitability, improve job satisfaction, enhance productivity, or increase customer retention. How does each of these areas impact the questions you should consider? Structure your questions to challenge the critical issues impacting your ability to achieve these goals.

Three Critical Categories of Questions

There are three categories of questions to evaluate when focusing on strategic thinking. These questions allow you to scan the various elements impacting your enterprise. They include reviewing what is going on internally in your organization, exploring external market forces creating new challenges or opportunities, and a review of your organizational relationships. 

Here are some examples of the types of questions to consider for each level:

Internal Scan: Ask detailed questions about your customers and their evolving needs. 

  • What is the impact of your ownership, culture, and stage of your business life cycle? 
  • Where are the sources of your profitability and capital resources? 
  • What are your leadership capabilities? 
  • How deep is the expertise of your team? 

Make sure you fully understand the key strategies of your organization and the opportunities you have to implement them.

External Scan: Consider the impact of various market forces on your target market and opportunities. 

  • What is happening demographically? 
  • How is your competition influencing your target market’s expectations on service, cost, and quality? 
  • What generational influences impact your ability to compete for your customers? 
  • What are the risks of remaining status quo?

Relationship Scan: Consider the status of the strategic relationships and partnerships you and your enterprise have developed. 

  • How do they impact your opportunities and create new challenges? 
  • Can you tap into other resources they offer or leverage them to achieve your goals? 
  • What are your internal relationships and how can you use them to impact success?

Constructing Your Strategic Questions

Focus your consideration of the questions on the key components impacting your enterprise growth or survival. Your questions should follow the format of who, what, where, when, why, and how. They should be action-oriented. As you answer them, they should provide clarity to your strategic direction and focus. This will guide you into areas needing more research.

Align your questions to address critical business issues. Your questions should help clarify the most critical priorities for your organization. Break these into levels of importance: top, short-term, and ongoing. Also consider the time-horizon for the impact: short-term, mid-term, or long-term. 

By understanding the time priorities, you can categorize your strategic questions to align them with the key external market forces impacting your ability to achieve your goals. Aligning your questions with the external market forces provides you with a deeper level of critical thinking. As you elevate your critical thinking, you can link questions to impact your overall enterprise strategies.

Make sure your questions require some research or reflection. Questions that elicit a “yes” or “no” response are not strategic. Ask provocative questions to encourage deeper thinking. This will bring a higher level of critical thinking to your planning. If your team cannot ask tough enough questions, find an outside advisor or consultant who can provide insight.

Getting Answers to Improve Your Strategic Insight

Often you will have to do some research before you can develop your questions. Think of this as your homework. The right preparation ensures that you will ask better questions. Look to industry associations as a good starting source for insight about emerging issues and challenges. Study how your competitors tackle challenging market forces.

Questions that elicit a “yes” or “no” response are not strategic. Ask provocative questions to encourage deeper thinking. Click To Tweet

Consider your options for obtaining the information that will allow you to confidently address your questions. Outside resources can be an objective source of obtaining information. If you keep this research role internal, work carefully to minimize any bias you might inject into it.

Identify the key metrics you should be monitoring by analyzing industry data. Tie your questions to what improves or impacts each of these metrics. Your questions should consider what impacts your profit margin, return on capital employed, return on investment, and return on assets. If you don’t understand these terms, learn more about them.

You will never have all the available data to answer all your questions. The goal is to obtain enough data to make reasonable judgments or clarify the next layer of questions.

Final Thoughts

Asking questions that matter will build your confidence, and others will be more open to work with you. Learning to ask challenging questions allows you to be more impactful in critical situations, have an influence on outcomes, and help achieve greater results. Thinking strategically is a skill set you must actively work at trying to improve. Find resources to help you learn and practice your critical thinking skills. Building your strategic mindset takes time, discipline, and focus.

What critical questions do you need to ask to improve your business?

Jill J. Johnson is the president and founder of Johnson Consulting Services, an accomplished speaker, an award-winning management consultant, and the author of the bestselling book Compounding Your Confidence. Jill helps her clients make critical business decisions and develop market-based strategic plans for turnarounds or growth. For more information, please visit www.jcs-usa.com.

Common Verbal Communication Blunders



By Greg Alcorn

Have you ever said something at work you wish you hadn’t? Sometimes you just blurt out the wrong words to another employee or a client. The first step in fixing common communication blunders on the job is to know what those blunders are. Then you can say something the smart way versus the dumb way. 

Here are the biggest, most common verbal communication blunders:

Using Bad Bookends

The biggest blunder is starting and ending what you say with the wrong phrasing. Conversation bookends are the small comments or questions just before or right after a full statement or request for action. Learn to be better with your starting and ending bookends. Presentence bookends as a tool can be engaging, demeaning, or distracting. 

Names are great bookends. Starting a sentence with the name of the person you are talking to warms up that person. “Mary, may I put you on hold?” Saying your name last in your introduction makes it easy for the person you are talking with to remember your name. “This is the helpline. My name is Jack.” 

Starting with the Wrong First Words

Are you familiar with the term “getting off on the wrong foot”? Conversations have first impressions, and they begin with your first three words. Hint: one of the words should be the other person’s name. Using names is important when speaking on the phone, especially on conference calls. Conference call principle number one is that if you’re going to call on somebody, start with their name. Instead of saying, “What were the metrics on our operations yesterday, Frank?” ask the right way: “Frank, what were the metrics on our operation yesterday?” 

If you don’t start with the name, you might catch the person by surprise. It certainly catches people’s attention when you say their name first.

The first step toward reducing the number of dumb things you say is to know what the dumb things are. Click To Tweet

Not Choosing Your Words Well

The words you choose paints a picture for the listener. Your words express your attitude and your personality. Keep it positive. Don’t start a sentence with the word no

Even in introductions, you can’t go wrong with saying the person’s name first. A person’s name followed by “I need your help” is a winner. “Rachel, I need your help.” This is especially powerful in a situation in which you might be the boss and the other person might be a manager or you might be in a perceived superior position.

Poor Questions and Bad Listening

Meaningful questions always stay on subject, keep a conversation moving forward, and ensure that the other person feels heard and understood. Becoming a better listener is easier than you might think. It starts by committing to master the skill and making an active choice to listen. Ask good questions and then really listen. This is the “two ears and one mouth” principle.

Focus-on-Me Attitude

Making it all about you is a turnoff for others.  This is not a technique; this is an attitude. The best way to describe a benefit is to describe the feeling received. “I came by as soon as I heard you lost the sale; I’m sad.” Your fellow employee can recognize the extra effort and surely appreciates the sentiment. It’s a powerful sentence: a special visit, a sense of urgency, and a sincere feeling. Empathy shows feelings.

The Wrong Tone

People feel more comfortable with pleasant, variable tone quality. Voice tone consists of rate, pitch, and volume. Think tone and don’t drone. The tone of our voice helps others to hear our empathy. 

The rate, pitch, and volume of our statements of empathy help express feelings. Usually, but not always, we hear implied empathy when somebody slows down speech and lowers the pitch and volume. 

Say “I’m sad to hear that you lost the supermarket account,” and I’ll bet you will automatically say it slow and low. The same with excitement at the opposite end of the spectrum. Say “Team, we won the hotel account!” You can’t help but say it fast, high, and loud. Tone expresses empathy.

Not Diffusing Difficult Drama

Avoid stressful conversations, or drama, by mastering word selection, listening, and questioning skills. Drama can be inevitable, however. You can defuse most stressful situations when you apply the three Rs: recognize, restate, and reassure. 

Ask others: “What would you like to see happen?” Those are seven magic words that can defuse difficult drama. Speech is just a tool, like electricity, is a tool. And like any tool, words can help or harm. Electricity can cook a meal, or it can burn dinner. Words can turn people on or turn people off.

Summary

Nobody wants to say dumb things, but we all do. The first step toward reducing the number of dumb things you say is to know what the dumb things are. Then don’t say them—say something smarter.

Verbal communication expert Greg Alcorn, CEO of Global Contact Services of Salisbury, North Carolina, is the author of 7 Dumb Things We All Say. He speaks to thousands of people each year on improving verbal communication at work. His company has one thousand employees and averages thirty thousand customer service conversations every day. GCS, which Alcorn founded in 2001, serves retail, insurance, financial, and government clients.

Four Reasons Every Professional Should Have a Personal Development Strategic Plan



By Tra Williams

If you are serious about growing your business, everyone on your team needs a strategic plan for their own development that is separate from and exceeds the company’s current needs. Here’s why:

Every year millions of business leaders spend days, if not weeks, collaborating with their peers to develop a strategic plan for their company to execute. They set goals, outline tactics, and cascade information to all levels of the organization. If done properly, each department and each person will understand their role in the plan, and throughout the twelve months that follow, everyone will strive to do their part.

If you are serious about growing your business, it is important that each person on your team develop their own plan. It should not include additional expectations prescribed by the company. Click To Tweet

However, in doing so, they hitch their personal development wagon to the company star.

Without a separate strategic plan for themselves as individuals, they unwittingly limit their development to the skills required to achieve the goals of their employer. Most don’t realize the limitation because their employer usually acknowledges and rewards them for their efforts. Therefore, their development feels like an accomplishment, not a limitation. But here are four reasons why the company-prescribed linear path isn’t enough for either the individual or the company.

1. White Space

Great companies build growth strategies around the opportunities their existing infrastructure affords them. If every team member develops only in ways and at the pace their employer’s goals require, this limits the organization’s growth to the plans for that year. However, if team members develop with their own momentum, unplanned opportunities can be immediately seized. There are no crystal balls, so growth-focused organizations need untapped talent on their bench if they want the corporate agility that unplanned opportunities require.

2. Stronger Partnerships

When contemplating potential business partnerships or joint ventures, due diligence should (and usually does) include an asset assessment—and people are every company’s most valuable asset. The nature of new partnerships means growth and change. Both sides of the equation want to know that the other side has the existing talent the venture requires.

3. Marketability

Individuals are more marketable when their skill set advances with its own momentum. Fortunately, these individuals also add marketability to the company itself. Most business owners have an exit strategy that usually involves a merger, an acquisition, or going public. All three require an investment from outside the company.

Investors always expect growth in addition to a return on their investment. Potential shareholders may not examine employee development prior to buying Apple or Amazon stock, but venture capitalists look for companies that have growth opportunities and a talent pool to turn those opportunities into profits. Untapped talent means additional revenue opportunities, and that’s like ringing the dinner bell for hungry investors.

4. Succession

Succession planning is always a fickle challenge. As businesses mature, so does their leadership. Often, members of the existing executive leadership team are close in age. When they begin to hit the retirement horizon, a difficult choice arises: promote from within or hire from without.

Hiring externally is always a gamble, and studies show it is more cost-effective to develop your own leaders. A study by the Wharton School of Business showed that hiring externally costs 18 to 20 percent more than promoting from within and performs worse—at least in the first two years. A Harvard study showed that replacing a CEO with an external candidate results in an average performance drop of 6 percent. New faces come with unknown consequences, and culture is binary. Someone may look good on paper, but a C-Level exec who is culturally inconsistent with the company can have catastrophic consequences, especially in smaller organizations.

If you are serious about growing your business, it is important that each person on your team develop their own plan. It should not include additional expectations prescribed by the company.

However, the company should set parameters for what is in each person’s plan. For instance, every person’s plan should include both hard and soft skills. At least one of their personal development goals should be a hard skill that is unrelated to their current duties. The plan should also include short-term and long-term development goals. With enough practice, it may only take a few months to become a better public speaker, but it may take years to speak another language. And finally, every person’s plan should include at least one goal that builds upon his or her previous plan. While not too prescriptive, parameters like these assure development breadth and depth.

Conclusion

We spend a lot of time developing plans for our businesses. And to be fair, most of us work hard to facilitate people development as well. There is a difference, however, between working hard to facilitate something and having a strategic plan that includes tangible tactics and measurable outcomes. The former shows that you care about your people. The latter shows that you recognize personal development is the lynchpin for success.

Tra Williams is a celebrated speaker, business consultant, and author of the forthcoming book Feed Your Unicorn. He is a nationally recognized thought leader in small business, franchising, leadership, and entrepreneurship. Tra works tirelessly with people, professionals, and organizations to help them define success on their own terms and build the framework required to sustain it. For more information, please visit www.TraWilliams.com.

What Does an Optimal Customer Experience with a Call Center Look Like?



By Daymon Smith

As the healthcare landscape shifts toward a value-based care model, consumers and patients are taking more responsibility for their individual health. The combination of higher premiums, copays, and deductibles mean consumers hold the care they receive to a higher standard. They research competitive pricing, treatment quality, and customer service to make informed decisions.

This shift in focus within the healthcare sector has increased the importance of offering consumers and patients value that goes beyond quality care and treatment options. More specifically, healthcare marketers prioritize personalized engagement on an individual level. They match consumers with the resources, providers, and treatment options that offer the best overall health outcomes and highest customer experience.

In this effort, hospitals and organizations have started to optimize the role call centers play, adopting a variety of capabilities to merge disparate points of contact into one centralized, proactive call center. Also known as an engagement center, these modernized call centers, which work in conjunction with healthcare risk management (HCRM), enable healthcare providers to deliver the level of customer experience and personalization consumers expect.

The ideal customer experience a consumer should receive when engaging with a call center is key. Healthcare providers should strive to deliver this level of customer service through technology and training.

Customer Service Expectations in Healthcare

Today’s consumer expects quality customer service across their health journey, from first point of contact to post-care engagement. Often the first point of communication between a customer and the healthcare organization, call centers face the responsibility of living up to the expectations of modern healthcare consumers. In fact, they handle around 68 percent of all customer communications, further emphasizing why consumers hold the call center customer service they receive to a higher standard.

Consumers expect:  

Personalized Service:When patients and consumers interact with the healthcare call center, they expect insights, resources, and interactions personalized to their unique health journey. Therefore, call center agents must understand each patient’s issues and provide solutions proactively.

Single-Call Resolution:It’s crucial that call center agents tap caller data to provide actionable and individualized recommendations, connect them with doctors and physicians, provide useful and relevant resources, and proactively anticipate consumer needs.

Cross-Channel Capabilities:Traditionalcall center operations exist in operational silos, resulting in a fragmented customer experience. With an HCRM-enabled engagement center, health systems deliver the seamless and personalized experiences customers want across communication channels, including the call center, patient portal, and email.

Facility the Patient Journey: Successful agents move callers forward along the patient journey.Quality customer service within the healthcare sector extends far beyond one phone call. Patients expect guidance and assistance from healthcare organizations throughout their care experience. This includes communication, connecting the consumer with necessary resources and solutions, and ensuring the experience is as convenient as possible.

Here’s an example: At the start of the patient journey, a consumer submits a website form submission requesting information on shoulder pain. After receiving the requested information in an email, the customer is placed in an outbound calling queue for follow-up.

The call center agent provides additional information and offers to connect the customer with a specialist. The call center agent connects them with an orthopedic physician near their home and sends timely reminders before the appointments.

During the appointment, the physician recommends physical therapy. The patient receives a call the same day from the call center to match them with a physical therapist and schedule their first appointment. The patient receives an SMS reminder forty-eight hours before the appointment. Recording each interaction with the organization in the healthcare CRM ensures continuity and enables personalization throughout the patient journey.

A healthcare CRM program serves as the foundation for successful engagement. Click To Tweet

Technology for Optimized Healthcare Customer Service

The customer service consumers expect from healthcare organizations forces call centers to evolve into comprehensive engagement centers. With the goal of serving as a strategic tool for engagement, revenue growth, and greater visibility into return on investment, these call centers combine technology with call center agent training for optimized customer service.

For call centers looking to shift toward becoming an engagement center, a healthcare CRM program serves as the foundation for successful engagement. With an HCRM in place, call centers can provide consistent, unified communications with patients and consumers while connecting disparate points of contact throughout the health system. Additionally, an HCRM provides call center agents with a 360-degree view into the customer data needed to facilitate personalized, efficient consumer interactions.

More specifically, call center agents can take advantage of unique customer profiles—a collection of demographic data, prior interactions with the organization, contact preferences, and appointments and medical history—to ensure they’re using the best method of communication (phone, email, or chat) and delivering relevant health information.

An engagement center should also incorporate marketing automation to send reminders and resources throughout the patient journey. Marketing automation tools help call centers maintain long-term engagement to promote patient acquisition and strengthens patient retention.

Call Center Training for Optimized Customer Service

Like any job, the better the training, the greater the impact. For healthcare call center agents, training is a significant facilitator to outstanding patient and customer service. One of the most important aspects of call center training revolves around the proper use of call center scripts.

By developing scripts to guide agent conversations, healthcare organizations ensure that the call center customer experience aligns with marketing efforts. Additionally, scripts can help call center agents focus on guiding customers toward a pleasant and timely resolution of their queries.

As a good practice, call centers should equip agents with at least one script for each campaign, which they can tailor to the individual customer while reflecting their location within the patient journey.

Another important element to call center training is ensuring that agents can handle any nonclinical queries. Given the high volume of customer interactions call center agents handle each day, it’s crucial that they have a clear understanding of the healthcare organization ecosystem, as well as the capability to handle queries on the fly.

Final Thoughts

Consumers today expect more value from their care providers. Optimizing the traditional healthcare call center into a modern engagement center helps provide the efficiency, personalization, and capabilities that have become synonymous with superior customer service.

To best leverage the potential of call centers and optimize the customer experience within them, healthcare organizations need to incorporate modern marketing technology and comprehensive training into their strategies.

Daymon Smith is the vice president, engagement center practice leader at Evariant. He focuses on leading health systems in their move to a proactive call center model that improves the overall patient experience and generates revenue for the system.

Develop the Habit of Monitoring and Coaching—Part 1



By Kathy Sisk

I often write about agent training; however, once the initial training is completed, the next step is to ensure that the floor manager continues the process. Here are some tips for proper agent coaching. This will motivate agents and help them adhere to what they’ve learned, as well as integrating accountability into the process.Always treat your agents professionally. Click To Tweet

An Effective Coach Should Know How to:           

  • Provide on-the-spot personal attention on a regular basis
  • Recognize other people’s needs for coaching and counseling
  • Coach on a consistent basis
  • Schedule time each week to conduct hands-on assessments
  • Hold agents accountable for improved performance
  • Address performance or attitude issues in a timely manner
  • Be patient, offer encouraging words, and always bring out the best in agents prior to critiquing them
  • Know what to listen for, how to recognize when the correct skills are exhibited, and how to give constructive feedback
  • Use professional language
  • Learn how to resolve conflicts and develop the ability to negotiate

Motivational Techniques to Get Agents Producing:

  • Give a specific goal or target to reach each day. For example, for outbound calling you could say: “Today I would like you to preselect fifty potential contacts you will make tomorrow.”
  • Get your agents to meet at least one daily requirement each day.
  • Don’t force agents or make threats—such as job security—to get them motivated to do their best.
  • Always treat your agents professionally.

In the next issue, we’ll talk about how to develop a departmental motivation plan.

Kathy Sisk Enterprises Inc. has forty years of experience providing call center setup, reengineering, assessments, training, script development, and project management services to centers globally.

Managing Call Center Stress and the Bully Boss

By Darnell Lattal

When you look around your call center, do you see engaged employees, or do you observe a stressed culture that watches the clock and avoids managers who may demand even more from them? With a group of employees whose performance is constantly measured, it’s easy to feel stress, depending on what happens because of those measures. But what can be done to reduce your stress in daily activity?

Very similar events cause conditions of physiological arousal and psychological distress: anger, dread, and active avoidance of the stressors in a person’s life (including one’s boss, colleagues, or clients). The effects of stress contribute to many seemingly unrelated physical and mental health conditions. While the evidence for a causal link between stress and certain diseases are discounted by most medical professionals (cancer, for example, is rarely described as “caused” by stress), physical factors potentially indicative of stress at work include fatigue, inability to concentrate, withdrawal and depression, nausea, sleeplessness leading to disrupted decision making, and limited problem-solving abilities.

We are all about connections in our work, as this magazine’s name implies. The answer to our workplace stress is designing meaningful human connections in the workplace and incorporating them into the form and manner in which the work is done. Finding good connections and disconnecting from negative ones immediately reduces personal stress. While there is much a person can do at a personal level, the larger solution does not lie with the stressed worker but with the design by which work occurs.

When changes occur over which an individual has little to no input, the effects can be extremely stressful. Remedial efforts tell individuals how to cope, handle it, be more assertive, practice relaxation, engage in thought stoppage or redefinition, find a good personal and workplace balance, laugh it off, believe in oneself, and so on. Clearly, the expectation is that stress at work can be solved by the stressed worker. Look at nearly all articles on stress. They are typically about how the employee can do things differently: tips on how to relax, tips for managing, and tips for saying “no.” Articles rarely (if ever) address a root-cause analysis of what makes the workplace stressful in the first place. Feeling stress is a signal to take action, and that signal is not a bad thing. Good strategies for your physical and behavioral reactions to stress are worthwhile, but stress is not simply personal.

Stressed employees often respond to the removal or absence of reinforcement, be it social or a recognition of their worth. More times than not, positive recognition is replaced by coercion, threats, and fear. Such a “bully culture” reinforces managers who act like bullies. These careless conditions wreak havoc both on the employee and on optimal productivity. Anger in the workplace correlates with how workers are treated by their bosses. Of all the sophisticated requirements of leadership in American business today, managers are all too rarely held directly and meaningfully accountable for the destructive effect they have on their employees.

The effects of anger at work include:

  • A failure to attend to quality, productivity, and service
  • An underreporting of problems in hopes of avoiding negative feedback
  • Over-reporting success for fear of what truthful reporting will do
  • Lackluster interactions with customers and vendors
  • Teams that spread growing resentment when they perceive that they or their colleagues have been wrongly treated
  • Managers and supervisors who are often celebrated for getting the work done rather than for how it is done

The actions that help to reduce or eliminate anger lie in the application of the science of human behavior. Call center leadership must learn to appreciate how removing threats and fear from their work practices reduces worker stress, and how teaching bully managers new methods can increase conditions in which employees want to versus have to work.

Most bully managers have never been taught how to coach employees in a manner that conveys confidence. They lack clarity about how to achieve success through strategies that help the worker build needed skills. They often do not believe that each person’s potential to achieve good work is unlimited (including their own). If the corporate suites of America’s workplace understood the simple and astonishing power imbedded in rightly designed systems, processes, and relationships at work, stress costs would plummet.

Blame and shame are two games played all too well at work by many who lead others. These managers are doing what they have been encouraged by their superiors, either passively or actively, to do. This “do it or else” unthinking management practice needs to change. Managers must learn to carve mistakes in sand and success in stone with those they supervise.

It’s time to replace arcane management styles with the workplace of the future. The new role of management will take on many more properties of the mentor/coach role, which is earned through trust gained in their ability to bring out the success of others. Companies will measure the success of managers by how well the individuals they manage succeed. Relationships will become reciprocal. “I coach you; you coach me on how we, working together, set up success and how we all connect.” Managers will indeed reduce anger, depression, avoidance, and passivity at work if they build positively reinforcing systems and processes to guide the human connections they establish.

Darnell Lattal, PhD, is the president and CEO of Aubrey Daniels International.

[From Connection Magazine September 2013]

Self-Realization: A Key Ingredient to Effective Call Center Management

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]

Mind Your Business: Planning for Retirement

By Steve Michaels

Q. I am a baby boomer, and the retirement years are looming large. I have one to two years before I want to retire. Do you have any suggestions for an exit strategy?

A. Begin by finding out what your business is worth from a reliable source. Next, look at what you can do to improve the bottom line. This is not the time to purchase expensive equipment, but rather a time to cut any dead wood, do a rate increase, and trim your sails. You want your business to show proven profitable EBITDA figures for the past year. Call your attorney to set up any legal structures that might maximize profit and protect your assets. Also, give your attorney the name and number of a reliable broker who has your information and can proceed with the sale in case of your death. Finally, call any of your other trusted business and financial advisors for their guidance.

If your family is involved in the business, talk to your accountant to determine the best way to pass on the business. If you are going to sell it, mentally go through the sales process to see how the sale could affect you and your family’s tax position in order to maximize the sale proceeds. For example, if you are a C Corp, you will be double taxed, so this consideration should be taken into account when pricing your business. You will probably want to take a note back for consulting, as this will put more money in your pocket. Items like this will often increase the value of your business and should be considered before it goes on the market.

It is best to plan from a place of balance in your life where your business and personal matters are doing well. Emergencies such as poor health, financial issues, or family problems are not the time to make important decisions. Poor choices come from reactive decisions caused by stress, seriously undermining one’s retirement. Have a plan in place; then, if you do have an emergency you won’t be making desperate or questionable judgments.

Steve Michaels is a business broker with TAS Marketing and can be contacted at 800-369-6126 or tas@tasmarketing.com for questions.

[From Connection Magazine Jul/Aug 2008]

Mind Your Business: The Power of Thank You!

By Steve Michaels

I have not received any questions for this issue so I will inject an old idea that has lots of significance and value. I was chatting with a good friend over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, and the subject of gift giving for their grandchildren came up. I asked what their ritual was, and she said that she and her husband used to spoil the grandkids rotten with gifts every Christmas but after a few years of giving without ever receiving a thank you note, the ritual stopped. They even asked their children why the grandkids never sent them a thank you note, as they were taught better than that. The response was that the grandkids were too busy – too busy to send Grandma and Grandpa a simple thank you note after all the time it took to shop, purchase, wrap, and send them gifts.

We sold a rental home this year and the salesman who sold the house for us received a nice commission, but we did not receive a thank you note. Nothing. In the future if we sell any more property, guess who will not get the listing? On the other hand, we treated ourselves to a new car this year, and we not only received a handwritten thank you note but also additional notes throughout the year asking how we liked the car and if there was anything else they could do for us to be of service. Guess who will be greatly considered when we are in the market for another car?

Sometimes the smallest and simplest thing one can do to improve one’s bottom line is to thank someone for their business. At TAS Marketing we try to remember our clients, both the buyer and seller, with a gift or thank you note because when similar situations come up again, whom are they going to think of? Plus, sending thank you notes is just a common courtesy.

When you figure out the costs of adding a new client to your service and how easy it is to lose one, a simple thank you note does wonders.

I would like to sincerely thank all those we have represented over this past year. I would also like to thank those who called me with questions and allowed me to be of service – even if I did not make a commission – because I firmly believe in the old adage, “What goes around comes around.”

May the New Year be full of blessings, business, and a great bottom line.

Steve Michaels is a business broker with TAS Marketing and can be contacted at 800-369-6126 or tas@tasmarketing.com for questions. His website is www.tasmarketing.com.

[From Connection Magazine January 2008]

Happiness Starts with a Fulfilling Career

By Steve Michaels

“At least half of our waking hours are spent on the job and going to and from work,” says John A. Challenger, CEO of outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas. “It only stands to reason that improving this major component of one’s life can lead to greater overall happiness.”

If your goals involve career change or advancement, you’re not alone. A poll by MyGoals.com found that starting a business ranked second only to losing weight as the most popular goal for 2007. Other goal accomplishments on the list were being financially independent or starting the search for a new job or business.

If you want to be happier and more successful in your current business or in climbing the corporate ladder than you were last year, you need some focus. With that in mind, here is a list of goals worth considering for prospective entrepreneurs:

  • Take risks: “You have to be brave and courageous,” says Beth Schoenfeldt, co-owner of Ladies Who Launch, an Internet-based consulting business for women entrepreneurs. “Do something that scares you every day and then push yourself to do more. You can’t play it safe or you’ll get run over by everyone else.”
  • Assess the market: A comment made at the recent ATSI Owners Forum was, “My product is like everyone else’s.” Discover the bottom line for your customers. What do they really want and need from a call center? Once you discover the real reason they need you, provide them with that service. Ask yourself, “What can I offer my customer that is different from my competitors?”
  • Look at your market: With the use of 800 numbers, T1s, and VoIP, the world is now your marketplace. Create an environment for happier, better-trained agents while reducing your costs by taking advantage of the home-based, virtual office in order to match or beat your competition. Hire competent, experienced staff that enjoys working from home. Besides the cost savings, you will be able to staff your operation when there is a workload, not when they are available.
  • Focus: Find a niche and serve it. Whatever segment of the industry you want to serve, such as funeral homes, apartment complexes, medical accounts, and so forth, know it and do it well. Become the expert in what you do.
  • Serve: Service is thinking about others and working on their behalf to deliver something they want, need, or value. Service isn’t about me, me, me.
  • Perform a career checkup. Lynn Brown of the outplacement firm Right Management in Parsippany, NJ says the start of a new year is “an ideal time to take a realistic look at where you are, where you expect to be going, and how satisfied you are with both.” Investigate the options available and ask yourself where you want to be in five years. “Start recognizing yourself as a financial entity that has to survive in the workforce for at least half a century,” says Brown.
  • Create a folder on your desktop at home called “Career Management” and take stock of your abilities, including any sales, operations, and business management. Realize that you don’t have to do it all yourself. You can hire the talent in areas where you are weak.
  • Update skills. Ask yourself,”Do I need to learn a new computer skill or management skill this year? Am I always learning and performing my job as a visionary for my company?”
  • Create Value through Innovation. “Helping your customers achieve their goals creates value,” stated Professor Gregory Carpenter at the ATSI Owners Forum. “Innovation begins with abandonment. If the way you operate just isn’t working, then abandon it. Innovation creates solutions.”
  • Balance work and personal life. If you neglect your children this year, you’ll lose that time and never get it back. New opportunities have emerged in the telemessaging industry where you “can have your cake and eat it too.” With VoIP, the virtual office, and the latest technological advancements now available and affordable in today’s marketplace, you can afford to stay at home and be there for your children when they arrive from school. Every individual has to ask themselves, “Am I doing what I need to do for my work and my family this day?  This week?” This month? This year?

The telemessaging industry is alive with opportunity. It is a business with recurring cash flow and can be run from an office or out of your home utilizing an affordable hosted system. Remember that you can have a fulfilling career while enjoying your life at the same time.

Steve Michaels of TAS Marketing can be reached at 800-369-6126 or tas@tasmarketing.com. His website is located at www.tasmarketing.com. Parts of this article were taken from, “Workers Can Keep Resolutions to Reach Top of Career Ladder” by Theresa M. McAlevy from The Record. Other comments and information came from this year’s ATSI Owners Forum.

[From Connection Magazine April 2007]