Tag Archives: Career and Self-Improvement Articles

How to Control Call Center Stress

By Dale Collie

Every worker in America has heard of individual stress management techniques – relaxation, meditation, and visualization – good tools for getting through stressful periods. But if they’re so great, why do we still have all this stress?

With the concerns regarding the war, weather alerts, and the fluctuating economy, people are more stressed than ever. They’re also bringing that stress to work and adding to the stress of their everyday responsibilities. We’re going to need more than mood music, aromatherapy, and comfortable lighting to get beyond the stress of today’s workplace. We’re going to need management’s attention because stress control is a leadership responsibility.

The US Army has plenty of experience with stress control as front line leaders strive to keep GIs on the job. Traditionally, the US Army has lost as many soldiers to stress as to enemy gunfire – a ratio of 1:1. The most elite units trim this loss to a ratio of 1:10 — one stress loss for every 10 wounded soldiers.

Regardless of the ratio, every front line soldier is critical to winning the battle. Commanders know that controlling stress under fire is as critical as food, fuel, and ammunition. The same holds true for call centers. You can’t get high productivity with high absenteeism.

Combat leaders watch for stress symptoms and take action. They are taught to “Know your troops, and be alert for any sudden, persistent, or progressive change in their behavior that threatens the functioning and safety of your unit.” (FM 6-22.5, Combat Stress)  Specifically, front line leaders are taught to help overstressed soldiers in six ways:

Army Step 1. Reassurance: Call Center Solution: Some people need contact with the boss to assure them that things will turn out okay. Spend time to understand your employees’ concerns. Ask for their observations on recent events. Find out what they think about upcoming changes. Ask for their advice; they’ll admire you for demonstrating your trust. Simple remarks showing your confidence in workers can make a big difference.

Army Step 2. Rest and sleep: Call Center Solution: It’s worth your while to offer some additional time off if stress is interfering with performance. Consider offering additional breaks to relieve mental and physical fatigue. Often, improved productivity will more than pay for the unstructured breaks that over-stressed agents will take on their own. Find out what’s needed to help employees get more rest at home. Bring in experts to teach the importance of rest and relaxation. Look at your overtime schedule; the extra work might be taking its toll in absenteeism, illness, accidents, and attitudes.

Army Step 3. Food and fluids: Call Center Solutions: You can influence how people eat by getting experts to teach the importance of proper nutrition. Make sure nutritious snacks are available alongside the junk food in vending machines. Provide healthy snacks mid-morning and mid-afternoon when energy levels begin to fade. The investment can pay off in better performance.

Army Step 4. Hygiene (bathing, clean uniforms): Call Center Solution: A scheduled break to get cleaned up before lunch or after a hard day can pay off in a big way. As surprising as it might seem, some employees do not have running water at home. Not all of them have hot water. Not all of them have washing machines. If possible, make these things available at your workplace or find alternatives. One-time arrangements can go a long way in helping stressed workers get their emotions under control and get their productivity up where it belongs.

Army Step 5. Discussion – A chance to talk about what happened, to tell war stories: Call Center Solution: Everyone benefits from a chance to tell about what went on. Some people are more sensitive than others are. There is often great value in routine meetings to kick off the shift or explain the day’s activities. Scheduling time before or after meetings to talk about what happened can relieve stress for those in the spotlight. Team discussions after sales calls can help stressed workers understand the results and focus on what needs to be done. In times of high stress, some people need to talk about what happened to others around them. Managers can handle the day-to-day conversations while experts are available to address major stressors. Help your staff tell their “war stories.”

Army Step 6. Restoring identity and confidence with useful work: Call Center Solution: As soon as possible, over stressed workers need to return to their positions of responsibility. They need to see that (a) they can perform well, (b) that management recognizes their efforts, and (c) that life goes on. Emphasize small accomplishments. Find reasons to reward each person for their achievements.

GIs usually return to their jobs after a short rest, a hot shower, a chat with their supervisor, and a warm meal. Your people can do the same. Most of the time, they can continue in their jobs if you pay attention to their basic needs.

Watch for high stress periods in your business cycle and schedule time to work on these six steps. You’ll improve productivity and the workplace environment by taking care of your employees. Your investment of time and money will be rewarded in better performance and lower costs.

Work with your human resource experts to assist those who are beyond your own ability. Let the professionals take care of severe cases while you take care of your other employees and get the work done.

Can you identify employees who are suffering from stress? Do you know what to do about it? Evaluate employee problems with an eye toward stress control. Take these tips and apply them to your staff to see an improvement in stress management.

Dale Collie is an author, speaker, former US Army Ranger, CEO, and professor at West Point. His McGraw-Hill book, “Winning Under Fire: Turn Stress into Success the US Army Way,” takes strategies from the battlefield into the boardroom and beyond. A Purple Heart recipient, Dale has succeeded in both the Army and the corporate world through his management and leadership strategies. For more information go to www.couragebuilders.com.

[From Connection Magazine December 2004]

Simon Says: Don’t Stress!

By Elaine Senecal / Illustration by Chris Lewis

Simon Says - March 2004As employers and managers, we need to beware of the warning signs of our employees’ stress level, not just for their well-being but also for how it affects productivity. Stress can result in an indifferent attitude, which may result in agent apathy toward customer concerns.

To alleviate some of the agents’ stress, we can proactively provide support and knowledge about how to manage it. Offering problem solving techniques for situations they may encounter throughout the day will benefit the center’s overall productivity and lower agents’ stress. Other snippets to think about and apply to your particular environment are:

  • Continue to think logically about the situation.
  • Don’t focus on the customer’s behavior.
  • Focus on the cause.
  • Please remember to say “thank you” and “please.”
  • Slow your breathing when you feel stressed.
  • Always use positive words.
  • Don’t point the finger.
  • Keep your voice friendly.
  • Don’t get aggressive.
  • Take a break – away from the work area.
  • Wet your whistle – ice water is best.
  • Stand up – if appropriate.
  • Forget about it when it’s over.

Without a plan of action, a problem solving technique, or a plan for what to do next, stress levels can heighten and productivity can decrease. Having a plan to manage daily anxieties will improve employee performance and reduce stress at the same time.

[From Connection MagazineMarch 2004]

Websites That Can Help You and Your Business

Compiled by Kevin Bachelder

The Internet is a tremendous information source for both individuals and businesses. However, much like your local library it isn’t helpful unless you know where to start! With that in mind, here are 50 websites that can help you with your day-to-day tasks. This is just a small sample from my “favorites” list that currently contains over 2,000 links. [Though the original list contained 50 sites, some are no longer working sites, so the list grows shorter over time.]

Searching for Information
The best place to search for almost anything on the Internet: www.google.com
Another good general search engine: www.dogpile.com
Aid in looking for people or other businesses: www.whitepages.com
Dun & Bradstreet offers all kinds of credit and business info: www.dnb.com
Explanations on things technical and non-technical: www.howstuffworks.com
A dictionary, thesaurus and other guides all in one place: www.refdesk.com

Small Business Related
Inc Magazine: www.inc.com
Entrepreneur Magazine: www.entrepreneur.com
U.S. Small Business Administration: www.sba.gov
SCORE (Service Corps of Retired Executives): www.score.org

Sales / Motivational
Brian Tracy (a leading sales and motivational speaker and author): www.briantracy.com
Anthony Robbins (author and speaker): www.tonyrobbins.com

General Computing and Technology
Information from national speaker Kim Komando: www.komando.com
Excellent resource for articles and reviews of everything technical: www.cnet.com
Information about computers: www.zdnet.com
Articles and email newsletters for the more technically inclined: www.techrepublic.com

Help with Computing
Discussion boards and access to people who can help: www.computing.net
Fred Langa has been a columnist for many computing periodicals: fredlanga.blogspot.com
The latest computer viruses: www.securelist.com

Looking for some good software you can try before you buy
www.download.com
download.cnet.com
www.tucows.com

Computing Magazine with a Small Business Focus
Excellent articles and reviews for a small business perspective: www.pcworld.com

Best deals on travel/rental calls/hotels
A partnership of many of the airlines: www.orbitz.com
Travelocity: www.travelocity.com

Need directions on how to get somewhere
Maps and turn-by-turn driving directions: www.mapquest.com

Got some legal issues you could use some help with
www.nolo.com

Buying books
Books and so much more at excellent prices: www.amazon.com
Site to search over 40 sites for the best price on a specific book: www.addall.com

Need to check out how your favorite team is doing
www.espn.com
www.cbssports.com

Want to communicate with other people who share your interests or hobbies
groups.yahoo.com/neo

Want to make a difference in the world
www.volunteermatch.org
www.networkforgood.com

Bonus Site

Interact with other Call Center Techs https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/callcentertechs/info

Kevin Bachelder is the Director of Information Technology for Ansaphone in Quincy, MA. He began working in the industry in 1983. Kevin holds multiple computer certifications including the MCSE (Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer), the CCA (Citrix Certified Administrator) and the A+ (CompTIA A+ Certified Computer Repair Technician). Kevin reads over 250 email newsletters each week and participates in over 40 email and Web-based technical discussion groups. Contact Kevin at kbachelder@ansaphone.com or 800-782-7587.

[From Connection MagazineDecember 2002]

Call Center Burnout: A Personal Story of Truth and Admission

“Dress like a lady, act like a man, and work like a dog.” That’s been my unconscious philosophy for years. I spent years being a toxic handler and a healing manager. That caused me to pay the price both professionally and personally. At times, I exhausted myself physically and carried psychological baggage. That caused me to burnout.

I was a manager who spent years closing and consolidating telephone answering services and call centers. I was forced to become a manager that voluntarily shouldered sadness, frustration, and anger in addition to carrying a full load of regular work. Often times, I was criticized for making everyone feel warm and fuzzy. The reality is that without the people there is no bottom line. The tougher the work you have to do, the more compassionate you have to be. I played a role that prevented companies’ self-destruction. I was disobedient to the social order to get the job done. Strong emotions are obviously a part of life. They are also a part of business whether or not we want to admit it.

Recently, I found myself on the receiving line of a lay off. It’s not 1960 anymore. I do not have a beehive hairdo and careers do not last thirty years. It used to be that you had a career, but now you have projects. Colleagues turned into networking. Promotions gave way to burnout. After years of participating in employee termination decisions, I found myself on the way to outplacement. So the tables turn. For years, I carried the confidence of others. I kept the secrets well and allowed everyone else to be less troubled. I took the “ouch” out of the bad but necessary situations. Now it was my turn. My own lay off caused me to reevaluate my personal and professional life. It took being laid off to realize that I was a call center burnout. Being laid off and realizing you’re burned out would be tough for anyone. But for me, someone who sacrificed her family, friends, and social life for her career, to feel pushed out was almost too much. It’s tough for the ego, like cutting out a big piece of you. Especially when my job was who I am and who I am is someone who has been in the call center industry for 20 years.

To understand burnout you have to take into account that highly motivated individuals are most susceptible to job burnout. The hardest hit is service providers like us. Burned out employees are most likely your best employees, the ones that care. These employees overindulge and overindulgence is a sort of narcotic. These individuals can be counted on to know what needs to be done and do it. They put in long hours even if the time is “face time.” The burned out employee will work himself or herself to death and if they can, they will hide the burnout or least they will try to hide it. Being highly motivated is like an internal prison or a sickness at best. Always trying to top the last project, thinking, “If I could only make just one more sale or break some type of industry average or standard.” Sometimes we create problems just to relieve the boredom.

The process of reinventing my life included defining the meaning of burnout. For me, this consists of the three Ds: Diet, Divorce, and Displacement. I am a person who accepts trouble as a part of life. When it comes, I take it on and remember, “this too shall pass.” Everyone has seen loss or deep disappointment of some kind. So, I decided to quit having a pity party for myself. Fortunately, pulling myself up by my bootstraps required me to ask myself some basic questions:

  • For what am I most grateful?
  • Do I want to stay in this industry?
  • What are the most important aspects of a job?
  • What attracts and interests me professionally?
  • Do I give too much?
  • Am I too burned out?

I had to look at my professional training and analyze my education and skills. Through that process, I learned that I love to help people, to see the look on their faces when the light bulb goes off. I am interested in and love the challenge of technology. I love to be creative and innovative. I love to see people react to my high energy, even if the energy is dealing with change. I recognize that I once was a diamond in the rough. I am grateful for the mentors I had along the way. I want to be a mentor for others. I want to find a diamond in the rough and develop a jewel.

No one is immune from burnout. Any person, in any industry, at any level can be a candidate. Which of these words describe you?

  • Determined
  • Independent
  • Unrelenting
  • Tenacious
  • Persistent
  • Tireless
  • Enthusiastic
  • Passionate

If you are at least four of the eight adjectives above, you are a possible candidate for burnout. To prevent employee burnout, please take this advice from someone who knows.

  • Don’t allow employees to work long hours
  • Make goals achievable
  • Be candid about burnout during employee orientation
  • Provide ways for employees to express anger
  • Show that you appreciate their sacrifice
  • Don’t rely on the same people over and over
  • Give employees compliments often
  • Offer flexible work hours
  • Create a reward system that includes comp time
  • Keep in touch with the front line
  • Have fun and laughter in the workplace

I’ve now given myself permission to take care of myself. It doesn’t have to be half an hour. It can be five minutes a day to put myself first and get centered. Now I exercise, eat right, and try to get a good night’s sleep. I lost twenty-two pounds! I’ll listen to my favorite CD in the middle of the business day. Now I am setting realistic goals for myself. I am specific in my goals, but flexible. I still struggle with reasonable time limits. I come into the office every morning at about 8 a.m. I get my coffee and I read my Wall Street Journal. Next year, I might even expense it to my company! What’s important to me is having enough time, space, community, health, and freedom to enjoy life. It’s okay to give 120 percent, but not every day.

Remember, when we’re all dead and gone, nothing will matter except the people we have touched in a positive way. It’s the people you touch, ultimately that are all that matter. So, live your life as if it were the beginning. Dance as if no one were watching, sing out loud, and do the hardest thing on earth for you. Write the word “thank you” on a little piece of paper and put it in your wallet where it will remind you to be grateful for the difficulties you have survived.

I thought I was too burned out. I thought I was tired of the call center business. I thought I was tired of the self-sacrifice. Guess what? There is a place in this industry for trustworthy, fair, kind, non-judgmental managers, a place for managers who are relentless in their drive to achieve their goals and not lose sight of business objectives. Managing emotional pain of others is one way of doing this. It is a personal calling. I love this business and will keep doing what I do till I can’t do it any more.

The author is a twenty-year industry veteran and currently General Manager for an outsourcing call center.

[From Connection MagazineMay/June 2002]

Eight Ways to Great Days

By Joe Marino

If you need a little help on the way to success, try these eight steps. Although there is no such thing as instant success, research in peak performance has uncovered working techniques common to any high-achiever. Success is predictable. I’m committed to the belief that you can have more than what you have, because you can be more than what you are. You can be a better you.

The time-honored principles here may seem over simplified because they’ve been put together in a rhyming and memorable form. But don’t misjudge their power. If you choose to use them, you’ll reap a harvest of achievement far outweighing your efforts.

1) In a hole? Set a goal: All you’ve heard about setting goals is true. Goals equal success. Success equals goals. If you are not satisfied with where you are, don’t run off in just any direction hoping things will work out for you. Decide what you want. (The Principle of “clear and simple intention” will work for you) Be specific and write it down. It’s easier to get where you are going when you have a map.

2) Who you see is who you’ll be: Losers live life from the outside in, while winners live life from the inside out. Everything ever achieved was first seen in someone’s mind. Get a clear vision of what you will be like when you have achieved your goal. See the colors and the surroundings in your mind’s eye. It has to become vivid on the inside before it becomes reality on the outside.

3) At the start, play the part: An old adage says, “Play the part and you shall become.” Once you see yourself as having already achieved what you want, it should be easy to act as though you already have it. This is not being phony or lying. We’re not talking about acting as if you are someone you aren’t, rather it is performing at maximum levels. Be what you can be – and you will be.

4) Take choice over the inner voice: Something in all of us wants to do what’s convenient rather than what’s necessary, to be negative rather than positive. The voice inside you will tell you why you can’t achieve your goal and why you don’t deserve it. You must choose to believe what you really want. Have the courage to embrace the greatness for which you were born.

5) Don’t debate, find what’s great: Don’t bother arguing or trying to defend yourself when things don’t go right. Look for the silver lining in every cloud. Every adversity contains the seed of at least an equal blessing. This can be tough to remember in the middle of the storm. But if you waste energy trying to stop the rain, you’ll completely miss the rainbow, and maybe not even be around to enjoy the flowers.

6) After falling down, go one more round: Resilience – the ability to bounce back – is a good quality to cultivate. Successful people don’t talk about failure, but use the words, “setback” or “challenge.” If you are not falling down from time to time, you’d better take another look at your goals. You might be living too far within your comfort zone. You might need to reach higher. One definition for success is, “Fall seven times, get up eight!”

7) For super style, live in the now: You are working toward your future. But true success is the progressive realization of a worthwhile goal or dream. Don’t overlook the joys of today. And remember, guilt is the gift that keeps on giving. The past is past. Never allow your future to become a prisoner to the tyranny of the past. Wherever you are, be there!

8) Going all out will give you clout: Enthusiasm is a powerful force. Be sure you are moving toward something you really want, love and can be excited about. Whatever you do, do it with all your might. Let your goal put a fire in your belly and a lion in your heart. Live your life with passion.

Joe Marino is a corporate educator and Personal Success Coach to high-achievers who want to achieve more without being consumed in the process. Joe can be reached at 904- 247-4065.

[From Connection Magazine – September 2001]