Tag Archives: Leadership Articles

Does Your Corporate Culture Get All A’s?

Discover How to Shape the Team Culture You Want

By Jason V. Barger

It’s an instant gratification world where people, employees, and leaders want things to change immediately. They want progress to be at the flip of a switch. They want an “easy” button. Leaders, teams, and organizations want to snap their fingers and magically arrive at their desired outcomes. 

However, developing people and culture doesn’t happen like that. There is no quick fix or hack to developing leaders and the team culture you desire. It’s a process. It takes commitment, discipline, and focus. The most compelling team and organizational cultures invest time, energy, and resources into shaping the culture they want, not just the culture they’ve experienced in the past. They know that one of their greatest competitive advantages in today’s world is not just what they do as a company but the culture of how they do it. People want to be a part of a compelling culture and contribute their skills to something greater than themselves.

Every team and company want to be known for having an amazing culture, but only some understand how they are created and are disciplined enough to lead a culture-shaping process. If you’ve studied change theory in your spare time (you know, the process for how any person or group stimulates change), then you understand the reality that we grow as individuals and groups one step at a time.

All change follows the same pattern. The best leaders and teams on the planet know that growing the ecosystem they desire within their organization takes proactive leadership and support. The best team cultures don’t magically happen; they are intentionally designed and led along the process. And it’s not a top-down dictator style of leadership that is compelling to people, but rather a participatory style that invites cross-functional representation throughout the organization to share in the dreaming and creation of the culture they desire. 

The process to create your culture requires six As for participatory leadership:

1. Assess

Many cultures don’t even know where they are on the map. Where are you succeeding and where are you falling short? You must be honest about your current state as a culture. Momentum begins to build when you can establish urgency and identify opportunities to improve.

2. Align

People are the lifeblood of every team and organization, and in today’s world your people want to participate. They want their mind and heart to be engaged and connected to the “why,” the mission at the heart of your efforts. It takes time and space to establish alignment with your people and constant efforts to stay in alignment along the way.

3. Aspire

What do you want to be different in the future? You must dream together and paint the vision for the future culture you desire. Give your people the opportunity to see beyond your current reality and into possibilities for a newly created future. 

4. Articulate

If you can’t describe where you’re going and the values you want to guide you as a culture, then you can’t be surprised when it doesn’t exist. Your people need a common language and the ability to see and share the story of where you’re heading together. Language drives behavior, so the best cultures have compelling language linked to actions and behaviors for the future they’re creating.

5. Act

All change requires action. However, action without vision and alignment is a nightmare. Once the aspirational vision for the culture is established, the best leaders and teams empower a bias toward action and identify the next steps they will take to stimulate progress. All change happens when actions grow out of an intentional vision and spirit. 

6. Anchor

Culture-shaping is not a drive-through experience. It’s not a one-time company meeting or a poster on the wall. Every culture must create habits that ground the values within their organizational ecosystem. The organization intentionally anchors them with their structures for how they hire, onboard employees, identify emerging leaders, do performance evaluations, raise the bar on leadership at all levels, and develop and empower culture ambassadors.

Conclusion

So, does your team culture get all As?

Good grades don’t just magically happen. Great schools, great companies, great teams, great communities, and great collections of humans don’t magically happen. They are grown, developed, cultivated, and led with intentionality.

It’s far easier to ignore studying, practicing, engaging with your people, and putting your head down to do your job. And because that is easier, it’s the reason many cultures do not become compelling places to work.

The process for developing high-performing and engaged cultures never stops, and the best leaders, teams, and organizations are committed to the continuous journey of development, vision, communication, engagement, authenticity, and action.

Good luck on your next test. I hope you get all As.

Jason V. Barger is the author of Thermostat Cultures, ReMember, and Step Back from the Baggage Claim, as well as the host of The Thermostat podcast. As the founder of Step Back Leadership Consulting, he is a keynote speaker, leadership coach, and organizational consultant who is committed to engaging the minds and hearts of people and growing compelling cultures. Learn more at JasonVBarger.com.

Why Do I Have to Praise Someone for Doing Their Job?

By Liz Uram

Do you ever feel like there is way too much appreciation going on in your workplace? If you said no, you’re not alone. Your team would probably say the same thing. 

A Gallup survey revealed that 65 percent of employees haven’t received recognition in the last year. This directly correlates to the studies that consistently report that two-thirds of American workers are disengaged.

Employees who don’t receive recognition are 51 percent more likely to look for another job, are less motivated to produce more and better work, and less likely to respect you as a leader. 

It’s easy to see that one of the most important communication skills in a leader’s skill kit is the ability to give positive feedback. This is also one of the most underdeveloped skills for many leaders. The reason is that some leaders just don’t know where to start. 

Here are five questions leaders have about giving praise:

1. Why should I praise someone for doing their job? 

Two words—positive reinforcement. Do you want them to keep doing their job? Keep this phrase in mind: what gets rewarded gets repeated. If you want them to keep doing their job, let them know that their work is appreciated. 

Follow this simple rule for keeping your praise timely: when you see it, say it. Click To Tweet

One study concluded that 81 percent of employees would produce better work more often if they received personal recognition for their efforts. This seems like a good return on investment for a few sincere words of appreciation.

2. I don’t need praise, why do they?

Who knows? Everyone has different internal drives that influence what motivates them. Recognition is one of the top motivators along with challenging work, growth opportunities, job security, being part of a team, and compensation.

If you happen to be motivated by growth opportunities, you may not understand why someone needs a pat on the back. You might even think they are being needy. Beware. 

That kind of thinking is a barrier to your own growth and could hold you back from achieving your goals. The best leaders understand that everyone is different, and they meet people where they’re at without judgment. 

3. How do I give praise without sounding phony?

The secret to meaningful recognition is to make it sincere, specific, and timely.

Making praise sincere is easy. If you are specific and timely and genuine with your praise, you will automatically come across as sincere.

Next, be specific. Instead of a generic “Great job,” say “Thanks for taking the initiative to help John get that order out. I really appreciate your teamwork.” The person is more likely to repeat the behavior when they know what the praise is for.

Third, make your praise timely. Say it as close to the event as possible. If you wait, praise loses its impact. 

Follow this simple rule for keeping your praise timely: when you see it, say it.

4. Should I praise in public or in private?

You should give your praise where the employee is most comfortable. However, many leaders are hesitant to give recognition in public. They worry that it will create jealousy or resentment. Forget those fears.

One benefit of praising in public is that it shows the lower performers what’s possible. It can be the shot in the arm they need to step up. Looking for opportunities to give shout-outs for positive behaviors, both big and small, in public creates a culture of appreciation.

You might even notice team members praising each other, which will result in increased morale and trust. One study showed that 90 percent of direct reports agree that team spirit is increased when the leader provides appreciation and support. 

5. How often should I offer praise?

This is a good question. Praising too often can be as bad as not praising often enough. We know that once-a-year commendation is too infrequent, but many leaders don’t know how often they should acknowledge excellent work. Running around giving high-fives, thumbs ups, and generic “thanks” is exhausting for you and uninspiring to your team.

A good rule of thumb is to provide positive praise to each person on your team once a week. I know what you’re thinking—some people aren’t doing anything worth praising on a weekly basis. Look harder.

Did your chronically tardy employee show up to the meeting on time? Let them know you appreciate their effort.

What about the people who come in day after day and do their job? Nothing more, nothing less. They get the job done, and you need them. Let them know you appreciate being able to count on them.

Summary

The benefits of appreciation are clear: increased retention, motivated team members who work harder, and respect for you as a leader. Start catching people in the act of doing things right. Who knows, you may get the appreciation you deserve as well.

Liz Uram is a nationally-recognized speaker, trainer, consultant, and author. She equips leaders with the tools they need to communicate like a boss so they can make a bigger impact, get better results, and motivate others to do their best. With twenty years of experience, she’s developed systems that work. Uram has written four books that are packed full of strategies leaders can implement to get real results, real fast. For more information, visit www.lizuram.com.

Flexing Your Leadership Courage



By Steve Yacovelli

When you think about being courageous in the workplace, even if you’re being your bravest self, there are still many factors that can prevent you from being your most courageous (and effective) leadership self. Here are the top three courage-inhibitors that come up for leaders:

1. The Challenge of Fear

If you were to ask around, you’d find that a lack of courage and an abundance of complacency in the workplace come down to one simple thing: fear. When you think about this in the business context, it breaks into two subtypes: 1) fear of failure (perceived or actual) and 2) fear of feeling like an outsider. 

It takes courage to try something new and individual resilience to keep at it when it doesn’t work perfectly the first time. Click To Tweet

With the first fear, you tend to strive for perfectionism, resulting in the idea that submitting anything less than perfect could alter the opinion of a boss or trusted ally. Typically, like most folks, you want to put your best foot forward; you want to be a rock-star performer. You see anything less as failure (even if it’s on par with others’ best work).

But the second fear comes from a more personal place, where challenging the status quo may make you feel like an outsider within your own workplace. At some point in your career, you’ve likely had that feeling (or maybe you currently do). It’s not fun; it’s alienating, and for some, it’s a feeling they don’t want to ever feel again. 

So, in a work context, this desire to avoid the feeling of being an outsider leads you to be compliant, even if at your core you know the idea at hand really needs to be challenged for the good of the organization. Having courage here means being OK with failing; it’s being OK with others perceiving you as an outsider for the sake of doing better work, benefiting your team members, or moving your organization forward.

2. The Challenge of Assumptions

As humans, it’s common to fill in the gaps when presented with a situation where all the data isn’t available. It’s easy to connect the dots between one problem and the next, even when the two aren’t related, without taking the time to examine your own approach. It’s how we humans are wired. 

When you think of this in the context of courage, you’re either avoiding understanding the situation, or you’re scared (back to fear again) to dive more deeply into the truth of the situation. Having leadership courage means lifting those rocks and seeing what’s underneath. The lack of courage causes you to make assumptions about the situation without knowing all the information.

3. The Challenge of Being Locked into Current Behaviors  

Let’s talk about change for a minute. On a fundamental level, change is an impressive idea: it’s fresh and new, it expands horizons, and it allows for innovation and new experiences. In a workplace context, you initiate change so the organization can grow and prosper. 

But the hard truth? Most people hate change. Why? On one hand (at an unconscious level), we don’t like change because it hits a part of our brain that values safety and security. As our cave-ancestors survived and grew as a species, they (like us) were wired to be fearful of change. Engaging in something new could lead to a dangerous situation. 

Now, flash-forward to today: you’re still wired like this in changing situations. When most people engage in change, it leads to an unsettling feeling of vulnerability. On the other hand, your conscious self doesn’t like change because it’s difficult. There’s a tendency to simply accept situations and adjust to them, even if the situations aren’t ideal. 

You might have heard the phrase “the devil you know versus the devil you don’t,” meaning that we tend to be OK with even bad situations, bosses, friends, and relationships because we know where we stand. Too many people dislike change so much that they’d sooner stay in an unpleasant situation because it’s familiar than make a move to something new but unfamiliar. 

So, whether unconscious or conscious, for most people change is hard. It takes courage to try something new and individual resilience to keep at it when it doesn’t work perfectly the first time.

As a leader, courage should be your foundation—the courage to challenge the status quo and to be your authentic and effective self in front of the world. It’s a superpower that every leader has within them; it’s just a matter of avoiding the three courage-inhibitors and then channeling your courage.

Dr. Steve Yacovelli is owner and principal of TopDog Learning Group, LLC, a learning and development, leadership, change management, and diversity and consulting firm based in Orlando, Florida, with affiliates across the globe. With over twenty-five years’ experience, Steve understands the power of using academic theory and applying it to the real world for better results. 

What Is a Great Customer Service Department?



By Tom Cunningham

If you took a random survey of companies across the globe and asked them if they had a great customer service department, what do you think they would say? Many would say they do. But if you took the customers of those same companies and asked them the same question, I bet you would get a different answer.

Most customers do not have what they would consider a great experience. Somehow, as leaders, we might tell ourselves comforting lies to protect ourselves from unpleasant truths. Instead you need to figure out how to close that gap between the goal of excellent customer service with how customers perceive your efforts—which is your company’s true customer experience.If you make your core values a living, breathing culture in your company, you are well on your way to creating a great customer service department that will set you apart from your competition. Click To Tweet

Make Core Values Real

The first thing is to put policies, procedures, and training into place to deliver on your company’s core values. Many times I walk into a customer service department and see strong, powerful words, developed by the company through extensive effort, with the expectation that the department will follow them.

When I ask employees to recite these core values, I usually get a deer-in-the-headlights look. When I dig deeper and ask how the company measures these core values, they either shrug or say, “I don’t know.” If I ask the leaders of the customer service departments the same questions, I get the same response ninety-nine times out of one hundred. The company has put so much time and energy into developing these ideals, only to have them end up being just words on a wall.

Do you want to be more? Do you want to create a great customer service department?

If so, it will take a lot of work, but you will create something that only a few brands have achieved. It hinges on bringing your core values to life within your customer service department. Unless you can support an action or decision by your core values, you do not do it, period. All brands with great customer service departments treat their core values as more than just words on paper. They invest time and resources to ensure each employee has a clear understanding of those values and how they directly interweave with their job.

Ask Key Questions

The second thing is to ask the following questions:

  • What are the typical measurements and response times in your industry?
  • What are your competitors doing about customer service?
  • What level of service are your customers accustomed to?
  • How can your brand continue to delight your customers?

If you can’t answer these questions, you have some work to do. Study your industry, become a secret shopper, and learn the habits and behaviors of your customers. When you approach customer service this way, you establish a differentiator from your peers that will create a great customer service department.

While working with a CEO, I did some secret-shopper tasks on their brand and their competitors. What I found was eye-opening for that executive team. The industry was set up as an omni-channel, which is simply a multichannel approach to sales that seeks to provide customers with a seamless shopping experience. I took each avenue and tested their brand against their competitors.

They returned social media messages anywhere from twenty-two hours to eleven days later. They answered email messages anywhere from two hours and forty-five minutes to eight hours and eleven minutes later. Both sets of results left me underwhelmed.

Not only was the time between my inquiry and their response subpar, but in most cases, it wasn’t helpful at all or they simply told me to call customer service. The question I asked them was simple: “Why would you offer this channel if you were merely going to tell me to call customer service or not provide me with the information I requested?”

If I were a real customer, I wouldn’t have followed up. When I called each brand, the hold times were either short or I was on hold for over five minutes. However, each call was bland at best and left me, the customer, to do the work after they made their suggestions. The goal is to make the customer effort seamless, and the company did not deliver.

Set Expectations

Finally, with this information, I invited the CEO to consider the following to wow the customer.

  • What channels did they want to use and commit to so they could be most effective: social media, email, chat, or phone?
  • How quickly will they respond to customers on each channel?
  • To close out a request, what turnaround time are they going to communicate to their employees and customers?
  • How will they behave when dealing with customers? Consider tone, language, attitude, empathy, and so forth.
  • Who in the company is responsible for customer service?

These queries are just the first in a series of questions and actions for a brand to consider when a company starts its journey to create a great customer service department. Too many brands settle for just good enough. Is that what you want for your brand, your employees, and your customers? I hope the answer is no.

Conclusion

If you’re looking to create something special—a lasting brand in a competitive market with the needed customer service experience and your success as a company—it all starts with you as the leader. You must be willing—through communication, training, and execution—to hold yourself, your leaders, and your employees up to your core values.

If those values are simply words on paper, your customer service department will never be anything more than a job where people do what they must to collect a paycheck and keep their job. However, if you make your core values a living, breathing culture in your company, you are well on your way to creating a great customer service department that will set you apart from your competition and put you on par with the best in the world.

Tom Cunningham is the North American director of SAAS operations at PerfectServe. Tom has twenty-two years of call center operations management experience. Contact Tom at 865-719-6960 or tcunningham@perfectserve.net.

Nine Tips for Top-Notch Customer Service Leadership

Finding the Right Contact Center Leader Is Key in Order to Realize Success

By Brian Costanzo

Customer-centric companies make the customer-care function a strategic asset, both in terms of how they interact with customers and how they use data, insights, and feedback. Customer-centricity, however, does not just happen. In fact, for some firms customer focus is more of an aspirational slogan than a practical reality. Transforming routine contact center service into true customer advocacy takes strong executive leadership.

Leadership is easy to say but sometimes difficult to find. Luckily there are good indicators for picking contact center executives with the necessary leadership skills. Here are nine characteristics to keep in mind when making this critical selection:

1) Buys into and shares a company’s vision for customer-care delivery: Vision starts with the business owner or CEO, but the contact center leader must understand and embrace it. A great executive will walk away from opportunities where there is no “meeting of the minds” for how customers should be treated and how this treatment will evolve in the future.

2) Operates on both the strategic and tactical levels: Siobhan Tautkus, a principal at Manchester, New Hampshire-based Abbott Executive Search, confirms that the contact center executive needs to have both strategic and tactical skills. “What good is a vision if you can’t implement it?” she asks.

To Lisa Oswald, senior vice president of customer service at Travelzoo Inc., “A successful contact center executive is one who can master both strategy and execution, someone who can visualize the future and then build and operate an efficient system to deliver it.”

3) Solves problems and produces quantifiable results: Whether the issue is high turnover, inadequate staff development, lagging quality, or other potential contact center challenges, top executives will have a data-driven story to tell. “Anyone who puts their time and energy into their profession is absolutely going to measure the results of what they’ve done,” says Tautkus. “No employer can afford to hire someone who flies by the seat of their pants.”

4) Exudes confidence and will stand up for customer care: When it comes to selecting effective contact center leadership, high-energy candidates definitely have the edge. Part of this is a matter of interpersonal style. Leaders naturally attract attention for their bearing, presentation, and ability to be direct, straightforward, and articulate. They also must be willing to stand their ground.

According to Richard Shapiro, president of the Center for Client Retention, “Customer care is one of the most important departments in the company, and it is critical to have an advocate who will fight for staffing, training, and technology to support the department.”

Lisa Oswald at Travelzoo adds that great leaders are set apart by their ability to inspire, motivate, and communicate.

5) Takes business ownership of IT systems affecting customer care: The contact center executive need not be a techie per se, but reasonable technical acumen should be part of the package. The leader’s knowledge and skill, according to management consultant and author Scott Klososky, extends to creating tech strategy, picking vendors, overseeing technical projects, and utilizing data analytics. The contact center must proactively lead when moving to a next-generation technology platform. According to Klososky, “This is [the contact center’s] set of tools, and it must not be dictated or chosen by IT people or operations people.”

6) Has cross-functional and multi-industry experience: If delivery of customer care is a strategic differentiator for companies, customer-care experience should be a career differentiator, too. Executives should not be pigeonholed in a customer-care department. Rather, an executive’s experience in marketing, operations, or other business areas can contribute to a stronger customer-care program. The same goes for multi-industry experience.

According to Richard Shapiro, “I believe there is tremendous value in having a background in various industries. Service is service, and loyalty is loyalty; building stronger customer relationships should always be the goal in any industry.”

7) Matches channels to circumstances: In going multichannel, the right customer-care leader will be focused and selective. “A company’s multichannel strategy has everything to do with the product – what are you selling or servicing? – and the demographics of the audience,” says Lisa Oswald. “Consumer preferences – where and when your customers want to be serviced – should dictate channel strategy. For instance, the go-to-market service strategy for a new online game is likely to be very different from a luxury goods retailer.”

8) Never settles for good enough: Few companies have reached customer-care nirvana. There’s always room for quality improvement, and a great leader will never be satisfied with the status quo. As Siobhan Tautkus says, “The good person is constantly looking at the KPIs and saying, ‘We need to move the goalpost.’”

9) Makes demonstrable contributions to the bottom line: Customer care is not a profit center, but there are ways to show return on investment in customer-care programs. According to Shapiro, these include measuring whether loyalty or purchase intent have been impacted, reducing negative social media postings, and enhancing business reputation.

Consider these nine characteristics as you consider your next customer-care leader.

Brian Costanzo, CAE, is president and CEO of SOCAP International, the nation’s association of Fortune 1000 customer-care executives.

Your Contact Center Is Not Just a Contact Center

By Gopal Devanahalli

Some years ago, American Express upended their thinking about contact centers. They removed their standard script and asked their agents not to rush through calls. The strategy paid off. In a year when financial service companies dominated the list of customer service offenders, American Express made it to the 2012 Customer Service Hall of Fame.

If I had to choose a theme for contact centers in 2013, it would be customerization. It’s ironic how customer service channels, contact centers included, have survived by functioning as tools of efficiency or problem resolution, rather than as a medium of service delivery that creates customer delight. But we are unlikely to have this luxury for much longer.

Consumers are becoming increasingly demanding with respect to the products and services they consume, including after-sales service. With companies like American Express or UPS (which also made it onto the honors list) raising the bar – not only for service standards but also for the customer service experience itself – the same expectations will apply to other organizations. After all, how can a bank justify why customers cannot track the status of their loan application when they can monitor so many everyday services in real time, like a courier shipment in transit?

Enterprises must make three important revisions in their attitude towards the contact center.

1) Integrate Contact Centers with Other Channels: Today, multi-channel usage is normal, but the trend seems to have bypassed customer service at most organizations. Surveys show that having to narrate the same problem to multiple agents on the same or different channels is the biggest cause of customer frustration. Not surprisingly, agents are just as frustrated, spending a huge chunk of their workday attending to repeat calls and receiving customer ire when they aren’t to blame. At the average contact center, agents need to toggle between as many as a dozen applications to build a complete 360-degree picture of the customer, which is inefficient and time-consuming. That’s one of the reasons why problems aren’t resolved during the first call, with the prior ones being an inaccurate mapping of competency or wrongly directed escalation.

What enterprises need is a way to capture the history of every interaction on every channel – contact center, email, Web chat, and social media. Then, after integrating and sequencing the data, the information must be offered up to the contact center agent in a single view. This would eliminate the need to request the same information twice from customers. A dashboard unifying information from disparate sources (internal and external applications or channels) into a single view, with the capability to analyze it all to arrive at relevant, best-fit solutions, would bring down the average call handling time. Add to this a solution to route problem calls to the right expert based on skill, location, workload, and other business priorities, and then first call resolution will improve.

2) Enhance Self-Service Capability of Contact Centers: One way to improve the service experience for both customers and agents is to reduce workload and fast-track complaint resolution at the contact center by enabling self-service through online channels. While a majority of customers says that they are willing to take service issues to an online self-service channel (provided it works well), barely half of those same customers actually make the attempt, citing inaccuracy and incompleteness of such channels. Possibly they are waiting for the emergence of a reliable self-service channel that supports a single, online knowledge base.

This is a call-to-action for enterprises to enhance their contact centers, establishing a unified knowledge base, updated in real time, whenever an agent creates a new customer service scenario. The addition of social-media capabilities would enhance the quality of self-care even more by providing solutions recommended by peers and friends. But why restrict self-service to customers alone? Why not extend the features of this mechanism to create a diagnostics system that walks agents through a systematic process of issue resolution?

3) Use Contact Centers to Right-Sell: American Express says that rethinking customer service as investment rather than an expense is what triggered their eventual success. That kind of forward thinking has yet to percolate into most organizations, which still perceive the contact center as an expense item. These enterprises need to pause and consider industry data, which shows that every satisfied customer improves the cross-sales acceptance rate by 20 percent. It just takes some simple arithmetic to estimate the revenue potential. A customer service solution with a powerful analytics component can process the unified service, transaction history, and social preferences of customers into actionable product recommendations to improve cross-sell and up-sell rates. Moreover, these same recommendations can also be made available through the self-service window.

By transforming the contact center into a right-sell engine, enterprises can also shorten the payback period. With comprehensive customer data now at the disposal of the contact center agent, this no longer must remain only a pipedream. However, it’s important to determine the opportune moment to right-sell, because no one ever sold more to a dissatisfied customer seeking assistance.

Today, most enterprise contact centers suffer from delayed ROI realization and a prolonged implementation period. A business solution with the attributes of multi-channel information portability, true self-care capability, and revenue generation potential can significantly improve both metrics. Enterprises that have deployed emerging platforms in this space have significantly reduced the time to ROI and the duration to go live.

So where does that leave contact centers? With transforming customer contact centers into customer delight centers. Why not?

Gopal Devanahalli is VP – products, platforms, and solutions at Infosys.

[From Connection Magazine May 2013]

How to Develop a Customer-Focused Culture

By Matt Rocco

Companies succeed or fail based in large part on their customer’s perceptions, which manifest from their unique experiences. A strong and unwavering commitment to customer satisfaction is needed from all involved to ensure continued survival and growth. This requires having a customer focus – an attitude and practice that places customer and provider in a partnership to achieve positive results. Customer focus is not what is delivered but how it is delivered.

To develop a customer-focused culture, all that is needed is to get everyone on board with the concept that the customer’s needs come first and then to work together to make sure that you do what is needed every day, in every way. Sounds simple, right? So how do we get there?

Walk in Your Customer’s Shoes: Examine your products and services, call up your own company, visit your storefront, or simply go to your website and ask for help. What happens, how does it feel, and how can it be improved? This can often be an enlightening exercise. Listen regularly and closely to the “voice of the customer,” whether it comes to you via surveys, letters, comments, or direct interaction. If you really want to know, ask. Then listen closely to the answers. Many issues can be resolved before they ever come up simply by listening carefully to your customers and team. Have your frontline agents ask customers a simple question, “What can we do to improve your experience?” Ask your frontline agents the same question and pay attention to the responses. Ask yourself these questions: “How happy are our customers and clients? What percentage are unhappy and why? How do I know? What can I do to improve?” The answer to the last question is often found with your unhappy customers.

“Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.” Bill Gates

Streamline Policies, Procedures, and Processes: Some of your policies, procedures, and processes might not be actually documented, but you can still find them quoted word for word as being “the way things must be done.” Ask your frontline agents about this – they will tell you the things they “must do,” “cannot do,” or “are not allowed to do” for the customer. Root out everything that interferes with good customer service, remove unnecessary red tape, and reduce levels of approval. You want your customers and frontline representatives to be able to get what they need without feeling as if they are fighting the system to make it happen.

Every single process you have in place does one of two things: It either helps or hinders your efforts to meet your customers’ needs. Find out from your frontline staff what needs to be done to improve their ability to take care of customers, and then make it happen. Streamline your processes to focus them on the desired result: a customer that says, “Wow!”

“Make your product easier to buy than your competition, or you will find your customers buying from them, not you.” Mark Cuban

Hire Good People and Train Them to Be Even Better: Make sure you know what you need in an employee in order to meet your customers’ expectations; tailor your recruiting and hiring process to that end. The wrong person in the wrong place at the wrong time can create a disaster. Once hired, train your employees thoroughly in proper policy and procedure so they understand your expectations clearly. Then arm them with the product knowledge necessary to respond to your customers appropriately and with confidence.

Empower Your Highly Trained People: Get people thinking and talking about ways to improve the customer experience without having to work harder. Some solutions will always be better than others. Have your team weigh the pros and cons of each suggestion, so everyone involved understands why some are acted upon and others are not. Once you have a potential solution, implement it immediately, and perfect it later. Provide a small group of team members with the authority and resources needed, along with the accountability to track and report on results in a timely manner. Let them learn by failing as long as the risk-taking is small, fast, and cheap, with minimal and short-term impacts on the overall customer experience. Once it becomes a “best practice,” spread it throughout the organization.

Learn From the Champs and Share What You Learn: Seek out, recognize, and reward the people on your team that really make a positive impact on your customers. Watch and listen to what they do and how they do it, what they say and how they say it. Model and role-play it, then have them share their knowledge with others – and be sure you recognize their excellence publicly. Share the best practices they demonstrate with all aspects of your company.

“Listen to everyone in your company, especially the ones who actually talk to customers. They really know what’s going on out there.” Sam Walton

Get Your Coaches Coaching: Too many times, your managers and supervisors become so caught up in fighting fires that they feel there is no time for coaching. The reality is that coaching should be their main job. Coaches must be proactive, forward-thinking in order to prevent future problems through training, able to recognize best practices, and willing to share concepts with the group. Taking one simple idea at a time and applying it repeatedly will reinforce it for your team. Keep your focus on customer satisfaction and do not be distracted by the crisis of the day. The behavior of coaches should exemplify their commitment to your core values.

Be a Role Model: Remember, it’s not just what you do, it’s how you do it. Get out there and listen to your customers (both internal and external). Check for understanding and be responsive. If you must say, “I’ll have to get back to you on that,” be sure you do, and promptly. Walk in your customers’ shoes for a while. What you learn will be important – but more importantly, you will be seen learning. If your team members observe you modeling customer-focused behavior, they are much more likely to get on board with your approach. And if you have an “oops” moment, respond to it visibly, quickly, decisively, and in a positive way.

“There are no traffic jams along the extra mile.” – Roger Staubach

Conclusion: Make sure everyone involved understands your expectations for customer service. Have your leaders commit to exemplifying those expectations. Hire and train the right people for the job you need done. Give them the resources to be effective ambassadors to your customers. Empower team members to push the boundaries and find new solutions to recurring problems. Ensure that your service standards apply equally to internal and external customer satisfaction. Develop in-house continuous improvement as a principal component of all your processes. Listen to the “voice of the customer” and act on any feedback provided. Identify opportunities and respond to them quickly to better meet expectations. Plan ways to monitor and reward the agreed-upon behaviors of your frontline staff. Regularly recognize and reward team members for outstanding performance.

That is how to develop a customer-focused culture.

“You’ll never have a product or price advantage again. They can be easily duplicated, but a strong customer service culture can’t be copied.”Jerry Fritz

Matt Rocco is president and COO of Etech Global Services. Etech is a provider of intelligent sales and service solutions utilizing inbound and outbound voice and live chat. To learn more, contact info@etechgs.com.

[From Connection Magazine November 2012]

Corporate Social Responsibility in the Contact Center

By Marilyn Tyfting

Good pay, competitive benefits, and quality working environments are essential conditions for employment in today’s modern contact centers. However, these are not the only incentives managers can use to attract and keep employees engaged. A concept that has become increasingly popular among many top-tier customer service providers is the implementation of a comprehensive Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) program. Today, many business leaders are seeing the positive human resources influences from these types of programs.

It is with this in mind that Telus International launched its CSR efforts four years ago to give where we live, work, and serve. As a global contact center provider, Telus International’s CSR efforts in Central America focus on children and education, supporting organizations such as United Way. In the Philippines, the focus is on community building and constructing homes for the homeless through our partnership with Gawad Kalinga (GK), a local charity for poverty reduction.

Employee Retention and Improved Morale: From an employer’s perspective, one of the biggest benefits of a robust CSR program is how it improves employee retention and morale. For call center agents, speaking on the phone to frustrated customers, sometimes in their second language, while simultaneously viewing multiple calling screens, can be both challenging and stressful. At the same time, in many areas of the world, such as India and the Philippines, call center employers saturate the market, competing aggressively for skilled agents.

While decent wages and benefits are common these days, CSR programs can be an important differentiator and can significantly help boost overall job contentment. In a call center in Central America, Telus International found that the implementation of a comprehensive CSR program helped lead to an 18 percent decline in attrition from 2008 to 2009 and an additional 12 percent from 2009 to 2010.

Build Brand: Another benefit of a robust CSR program is the reinforcement and development of a positive brand among employees and the community. Call centers are constantly looking to position themselves and their work environments as top-tier. Repeatedly, job candidates reveal that they were drawn to the organization because of the positive brand the company enjoys in the community. An employer brand can be based on many things: compensation, learning, development, and career progression, but it can also be significantly enhanced if the company gives back to the local community.

Discover Talent: A further benefit, and one perhaps not always considered initially, is a CSR program’s ability to challenge, energize, and help employees grow beyond the boundaries of their current position. Employees often come to their supervisors looking to move up the ladder. They desire experience in leading a team, organizing a project, and coming up with creative solutions to problems. However, based on their current position, it’s often difficult for them to demonstrate what they can do. CSR programs offer a nontraditional forum where employees can gain valuable skills. Agents can show that they have what it takes to lead by creating new, community-based projects outside of day-to-day operations.

Considerations When Implementing CSR: While the value of a comprehensive CSR program can’t be understated, there are a number of considerations that must be made before committing full force. To start, be sure to embark on CSR for the right reasons. Authenticity is essential, with all levels of management committed. While the bottom line can definitely benefit from CSR initiatives, the end goal needs to be the betterment of the community, not just the company. If the company benefits from CSR efforts, all the better, but return on investment can’t be the priority.

CSR programs also require commitment. Positive buzz generally takes years to cultivate. Since 2007, our partnership with Gawad Kalinga in the Philippines has seen almost 4,000 Telus volunteers commit 24,000 hours of service, building hundreds of homes in what is now known as the Telus GK village. Over successive years of service, we found that our employees became increasingly engaged in the project to the extent that many now volunteer in small teams on weekends. This type of commitment and dedication takes time.

It is also critical to be conscious of the costs involved. Organizations must realize that CSR, while volunteer-based, is not free. For a large call center, there will always be logistical issues in transporting employees, providing them with food and water, and supplying the materials needed to take part in the CSR activity. Furthermore, if you support a popular cause, you may get a greater turnout than expected – not just employees, but their families as well. Supporting the cause includes supporting the employees who take part in the activity. This requires resources in time, planning, and money.

A good way to facilitate a CSR program is to collaborate with a local organization or charity that shares your company’s values. Telus International has always been focused on nation building, community development, children, and education, so our CSR programs tend to reflect this. Other companies may target specific health issues or other issues of social change. Be sure to choose wisely and think about what resonates best with your employees and the overall company culture.

By developing a solid CSR plan with these considerations in mind, you’ll be well-positioned to realize the positive benefits that CSR can bring to both your business and your employees. Happy, engaged, and recognized employees are more likely to stay with a company they are proud of. The longer they stay, the better service they’ll be able to provide. Ultimately, a good CSR program isn’t just good for the community, it’s good for business as well.

Marilyn Tyfting is vice-president of human resources for Telus International, a provider of BPO and contact center solutions to global clients. Telus International is the global arm of Telus, a national telecommunications company in Canada, with $9.8 billion of annual revenue and 12.3 million customer connections. In 2010, Telus was named one of the most outstanding philanthropic corporations globally by the Association of Fundraising Professionals, becoming the first Canadian company to receive this prestigious international recognition. For more information, visit www.telusinternational.com.

[From Connection Magazine April 2011]

How to Retain Institutional Knowledge Despite Cutbacks

By Roland Murphy

Understanding and overcoming call center agent turnover has always been a challenge for supervisors and managers. You need to find good employees, train them well, and then, most importantly, keep them working for you.

The ongoing economic downturn has placed additional pressure on the already tenuous state of employee retention. Many call centers have been forced to cut staff when faced with decreases in sales or budget cuts. Organizations not only face the challenge of trying to do more with fewer employees; in many cases, they have also lost the valuable expertise those employees had developed over their tenure. Companies may have initially thought they were merely losing valued employees, a difficult enough proposition, but they no doubt also relinquished important institutional knowledge.

In today’s business environment, companies rely heavily on internal experts and specialists; this holds especially true when it comes to regulatory compliance. “Mike” may be your go-to authority for questions surrounding Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI-DSS) compliance. “Helen” may be the resident expert when it comes to healthcare information management (HIM) and Health Insurance Portability Accountability Act (HIPAA) compliance.

Institutional Knowledge Is Built Organically: Often, employees don’t join an organization with a high level of expertise on a given topic unless that was what they were specifically hired for. A more common scenario involves the employee being tasked with researching a topic to address a particular need at a particular moment. As more and more questions about that subject are generated over time, they are routed to that employee because they’ve dealt with it in the past. Their expertise develops organically.

This phenomenon can prove quite valuable – provided the employee stays with the company. In the face of voluntary and involuntary workforce upheaval, an organization can suddenly find itself operationally ignorant in an area of expertise on which it has built part of its reputation. In short, it has experienced a critical institutional knowledge loss.

Companies Retain Knowledge “Poorly or Not at All” When Workers Leave: According to a Knowledge Retention Survey conducted in 2008 by the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp) in conjunction with the Center for Effective Organizations and the Human Resource Planning Society, 30 percent of responding companies said they retain knowledge poorly or not at all when workers leave, while half (49 percent) think they’re doing only “okay” at preserving institutional know-how. Just two in ten think they are doing well or very well in knowledge retention.

Effective knowledge transfer and retention strategies can help to ensure that a single employee does not become the sole source of expertise in a particular area. Call recording technology is a viable component for supporting both these efforts.

Call Recordings Can Preserve Institutional Knowledge: Contact centers regularly use call recordings to review agent performance and as a highly effective training tool. When a team member experiences a particularly good sales or service call, it is often shared with other agents as an example of how to properly interact with a caller. This is a commonly used and well-known benefit of call recording technology in the contact center environment. However, call recordings are typically underutilized when it comes to supporting the creation of a critical-knowledge database.

Cross-Training via Call Recordings: In combat, Special Forces units adhere to an operational doctrine that every person on the team can perform someone else’s job should the need arise. In that way, should the unit lose its communications expert, for example, another soldier can carry out those duties. While each member of the team is a highly skilled specialist, cross-training increases the utility of each soldier under extraordinary conditions. Your contact center operations, when faced with workforce disruptions, should operate the same way.

As an example, let’s say “Mary” is a sales engineer providing sales support in your call center. Last year, she was tasked with developing a report detailing the basic rules and requirements of the PCI-DSS. She did the research, wrote the report, and you distributed it to your team.

Fast-forward a year later – there have been some changes to the regulations. One of your sales reps calls in with a PCI-related question, and Mary informs her of the change in the requirements. The rep thanks Mary and hangs up.

In most organizations, that would be the end of the exchange. However, in an organization that wants to promote knowledge sharing and enhance the longevity and scope of its institutional memory, the supervisor will share a recording of that call with the rest of the team. Mary is still your first line of expertise on PCI questions, but now she’s not the sole source of knowledge.

That cross-training opportunity depends on you knowing what Mary’s call was regarding. Searching for and retrieving a specific call recording on a particular topic can be challenging enough. It can be nearly impossible if you don’t even know it took place.

That’s where effective call recording archiving and organization helps support knowledge retention. Call recording solutions that offer additional input capabilities, allowing agents to capture supplemental information provided by callers, prove most valuable in this regard. If your recording solution enables the inclusion of this additional interaction metadata, you can begin to build an easily referenced library of calls relating to a designated topic.

Organize Recordings to Increase Knowledge Base: If your solution lets you organize recordings into named search folders or directories, your knowledge library will grow organically along with your agents’ expertise just by moving tagged calls into their corresponding folders.

Using this library approach, should Mary leave, take a different position, or if you wish to train another expert in PCI compliance, the history of real-world examples and interactions is at your fingertips.

This means of knowledge archiving also allows you to identify areas of change in your operations. If you notice an increase in calls relating to a specific area you have been tracking, you can proactively allocate additional resources to it. For example, if your call center is divided into a general medical and a Medicare-specific set of operations, and you notice an increase in calls marked “Appointment Rule,” you can potentially see that your Medicare Part B efforts are experiencing an uptick. You can then allocate more resources or enhance the training regimen for your staff in that area to better ensure compliance with Medicare’s regulations.

Used Effectively, Call Recordings Save Millions in Institutional Knowledge: Call recording technology has saved companies money by improving training, enhancing performance, providing a record of orders, and gathering facts to resolve disputes. Used effectively, it can also make daily interactions an integral part of your company’s knowledge base, minimizing the risk of productivity and institutional knowledge losses even in the face of workforce attrition.

Roland Murphy is marketing and communications manager for Oaisys, a provider of interaction management and voice documentation solutions. He has more than fifteen years’ experience in the communications technology sector and has served in varying capacities for telephone systems manufacturers, interactive voice response providers, and engineering document collaboration firms. He can be reached at roland_murphy@oaisys.com.

[From Connection Magazine Jan/Feb 2011]

Call Center Performance and Motivational Fit

By Dr. Ben Palmer and Dr. Gilles Gignac

Keeping staff motivated and engaged with their work is no easy task, particularly in call centers where the nature of the work can be repetitive and emotionally draining. Studies show the average tenure of a call center customer service representative (CSR) is six months, and the average annual turnover rate of call centers is 40 percent. Studies have also shown that the number one reason people leave call center work is other people – especially unfriendly coworkers and poor managers, such as those who tend to lead with an authoritarian style and use criticism more often than encouragement to get things done. These issues don’t just underlie turnover; new research reveals that they also affect the performance, engagement, and absenteeism of CSRs.

We recently correlated CSR performance, engagement, and absenteeism with the level of motivational alignment CSRs have with their job. A motivational alignment assessment tool examines the level of fit people have between: 1) their ideal role and the role they actually perform (role fit); 2) their ideal manager and the style of the manager they work for (manager fit); 3) their ideal team and the type of team they work in (team fit); and 4) their ideal organization and the type of organization they actually work for (organization fit). While all four of these fit areas were meaningfully correlated with CSR performance, engagement, and absenteeism, manager and team fit were the most highly correlated. Being led by an ideal manager and working with people described as being ideal to work with has the biggest positive impact on CSR performance, the number of days off taken per year, and how engaged CSRs are with their work.

Manger Fit: CSRs who reported high levels of manager fit (working for their ideal boss) were found to convert the most number of calls to appointments (for sales), answer the highest number of calls, and have higher utilization rates than those with low levels of manager fit. Management fit was also most strongly correlated with a CRS’s engagement. CSRs working for an ideal boss are more willing to work beyond what is expected of them, persist in the face of difficulty, and possess the least likeliness to quit their jobs.

Team Fit: Similarly, CSRs who reported high levels of team fit (working with ideal colleagues) put customers on hold for the shortest amount of time and had the highest percentage of talk time. Team fit was most strongly correlated with absenteeism. The correlation between team fit and the number of days off taken by CSRs in a year was .70, which means that around 50 percent of the reasons why CSRs take days off can be connected to how well they get along with their coworkers.

Strategic Response: The implication of this research is that strategies employed to retain CSRs should also work to improve their performance and engagement, as well as decrease absenteeism rates. Over the years, many strategies have been employed to retain CSRs. Some of the most widely used strategies have included:

  • Flexible working conditions
  • Job rotation to minimize boredom
  • Reward and recognition programs
  • Using psychometric assessments in recruitment to maximize the likelihood of finding agents well suited to the stressfulness and repetition of the work

Because these strategies are relatively easy to implement at minimal cost, they are widely used within the industry and therefore don’t typically provide a strategic advantage in the market. Strategies that are less widely used (because they are viewed as relatively difficult to implement with high costs) are those that tackle the people side of disengagement and turnover, including:

  • Dividing centers into teams and allowing each to devise its own name, symbol, and persona
  • Providing team performance incentives
  • Implementing team building programs to help team members better understand themselves and each other
  • Creating personal resiliency training around concepts like emotional intelligence to help CSRs and their managers better cope with the emotional labor and repetitiveness side of their work

We didn’t indentify any call centers that are running motivational fit initiatives to drive CSR performance. The results of the study, coupled with this latter notion, suggest that running motivational fit initiatives with CSRs might offer a significant strategic advantage.

Fit Initiatives: There are two types of motivational fit initiatives that call centers can implement to improve the performance, engagement, and absenteeism of CSRs: 1) finding fit initiatives, and 2) shaping fit initiatives. Finding fit initiatives involves the use of a motivational fit assessment in the recruitment of CSRs. Here, existing CSRs should fill out the assessment to create the actual profile – that is, to describe what the actual role, team, manager, and organization is like to work for. Candidates applying for CSR jobs should also complete the motivation assessment to describe their ideal role, team, manager, and organization. The profiles of candidates can then be matched to the actual profile, and candidates with the greatest level of fit should be considered more ideal candidates for the job (all other things being equal). Like other team building programs, shaping fit initiatives involves existing CSRs completing a motivational fit analysis and sharing their results with their colleagues and manager.

In shaping fit initiatives, it’s important that individual and common gaps between what is ideal and what is experienced should be discussed and addressed. For example, if people are commonly motivated by intellectual stimulation (a role fit motivational driver) yet not experiencing it, the team should consider what things they could do to increase the level of intellectual stimulation they receive in their work.

One company decided to run a Friday afternoon journal club where members of the team took turns presenting interesting industry trends and information to their colleagues. Not only did the performance of the team improve, the team identified things its call center wasn’t doing that its competitors were and was thus able to convince management to implement these things to improve efficiency in dealing with customer complaints. Often the greatest gains in performance occur from shaping fit initiatives when team leaders realize they aren’t leading their team in a way they find motivating and engaging. While this can be difficult news to receive, it can be empowering and helpful to mangers, particularly to those who are willing to lead with a more flexible style for performance and engagement increases.

This latest research offers new insights as well as new methods on how the performance, engagement, and absenteeism of CSRs might be improved. Motivational fit initiatives combined with other people strategies (recognition, team building, and hiring people appropriately matched to the team and manager) should result in performance and engagement gains and reductions in absenteeism and turnover costs.

A 25 percent annual turnover rate typically costs a center with 100 agents around $250,000 per year. This figure doesn’t account for the additional intangible costs associated with having inexperienced CSRs, such as a decrease in customer satisfaction. The fact that these costs are associated with turnover only highlights not only the tangible immediate benefits that might arise from motivational fit initiatives but also the longer term strategic advantage that may arise as well.

Dr. Ben Palmer is CEO and Dr. Gilles Gignac is director of research and development for Genos, an Australian motivation company. For a copy of the full research, contact info@genosinternational.com.

[From Connection Magazine December 2010]