Tag Archives: Leadership Articles

Getting Your Team in the Zone

By Glenn Pasch

At one of the press conferences at the Masters Golf Tournament, Lee Westwood, the round two leader, was asked if he was worried because Phil Mickelson had caught up to him. He answered that he could only worry about the shots he hit. This got me thinking about two different types of call center agents: those that focus on what they can control and those that focus on what they cannot.

Have you ever worked with someone who always had a reason why they did not hit their production levels?  When you speak to them, they usually give you excuses for their lack of success, usually something like this:

  • “It was the list of people you gave me to call.”
  • “I’m getting the people who just want information.”
  • “No one listens.”
  • “It’s just not my day.”

Just as any great golfer tells you that they get in the “zone” (meaning that they focus on what they are doing and block out everyone else), you can help your employees get into their own “zone” and stay there.

So how do you change the focus of your employees? To improve the training and performance of any employee, whether it’s customer service training, sales training, or management training, you need to assist your employees to focus on what they can control instead of what they can’t so they will be more successful. Here is what your agents can control on the phones:

Tone of voice: Agents need to make sure that their tone is pleasant and clear and their volume matches that of the caller.

Attitude: Are your agents focused on the call they are taking and how best to serve this customer?  Or are they still focused on the call they took ten minutes ago, when the caller frustrated them? Carrying that attitude into the current call will kill any chance of delivering great service.

Focus: Where are your agents looking when speaking to a customer?  Are they focused on their screen, as if the person was sitting right across from them?  Or are they more concerned with what is happening next to them – or across the room? They may not realize it, but if an agent is looking across the room, a distracted tone will come across in their voice, and the customer will feel that the agent is not listening or giving them his or her full attention.

Listening skills:  Nothing frustrates customers more than having to repeat themselves. Make sure your team is taking the time to listen and ask the correct questions to make sure they get all of the information they need the first time.

Pace: It is easy to speak to someone over the phone at the same pace as you would face-to-face. The problem is that people understand a good deal of what you are saying by your body language. Over the phone, you do not have that benefit. I recommend having your agents speak at half speed. This will slow them down enough so those on the other end of the line can follow what’s being said.

Strive for understanding: Agents read their script repeatedly during the course of a day. Many of them begin to go into an “autopilot” mode, where they are not focused on making sure the caller fully understands what is being asked. Train your agents to take the time to repeat information back to the person or summarize it before ending the call.

Here are some things your agents cannot control on the phones:

  • The agent is the fifth person to call them today.
  • The person’s child just spilled their milk.
  • They just sat down to dinner.
  • They are just walking out the door.

As your agent’s coach/supervisor, you must listen in on their calls and give them your feedback, pointing out when they are focusing correctly. This will help to train them to monitor their own progress.

A Helpful Tip: To help my sales teams, I created and posted these five questions on the bottom of each agent’s terminal. To this day, some of my friends who used to work for me still remember using these to help their agents, and they have used the same idea when managing their own employees.

1. Did you open the call correctly?

2. Did you present the body of the script correctly?

3. Did you present the offer correctly or get the correct information needed?

4. Did you listen to the customer and offer the correct response?

5. Did you do everything you could on the call?

If my people said “yes” to these five questions, that call was as good as a sale. They did everything they could control. So many times we focus on results instead of the effort. It may take a lot of encouragement to convince employees that excellent effort will turn into sales, but the result will create a more productive and motivated workforce.

Glenn Pasch is the president of Improved Performance Solutions, a consulting firm that specializes in helping organizations improve their customer interaction. They provide the proper training to convert conversations into sales and positive customer service experiences.

[From Connection Magazine Jul/Aug 2010]

Responding to the Recession

By Steve Michaels

Over the past few months, I’ve been asking call center owners how the recession has affected them and what they are doing to combat this economic downturn. I’ve also surveyed call center owners around the country. Overall, everyone has been affected. The drop in call volume ranges from 8 to 38 percent, while the loss of clients is from 5 to 25 percent. Most of those losses were due to cutting expenses or going out of business. One call center wrote off $50,000 in accounts receivable from clients who went out of business.

One respondent shared with me that the economy in Vermont has not been affected as much due to banks being more careful in lending practices. In Washington State, one woman said that the recession was slow to hit, but when it did, she lost about a quarter of her business from clients who went out of business. In New York State, a telemessaging call center with 950 accounts lost about thirty-five of them due to clients who went out of business, and call volume dropped 5 to 10 percent. In California, with a 15 percent drop, one call center went from a staff of twenty-nine agents to twelve. Although scheduling was a bit tighter, all of this center’s current staff are secure in their employment and grateful for their jobs. However, a Kansas business owner said that some of his trade people had fired their secretaries and outsourced calls to him at $275 per month versus paying their secretaries $275 per week. He regained about eight trade clients as a result and is doing fine.

Intensifying the problem nationwide is a reluctance by many employers to hire again until they’re convinced the economy is on firm footing. One unemployed agent said she is concerned for her future and that of her eight-year-old son. She’s had to fight off discouragement. “You don’t see a light at the end of the tunnel,” says the twenty-year veteran, “and that can be very frightful at times.” She is among hundreds of call center agents who are looking for work.

This problem was confirmed by Jim Geary in Jackson, Tennessee, who stated that he has never received so many calls from “out-of-work” agents as he has in the last quarter of 2009. Jim has been dealing with two major problems: the first comes from clients who want their charges reduced – something that has never happened before from the well-established doctors who make up his client base. The second problem is the delay in payment, which has skyrocketed. There are some long-term healthcare clinics that used to be current and are now three to four months past due. Two reasons for this are delayed insurance reimbursements and people who can no longer afford to see a doctor.

To decrease his clients’ monthly bills, Jim has increased the use of call center automation, intentionally making it harder for patients to reach an agent. He changed the “speak to an agent button” from a zero to a double-digit number, requiring callers to actually listen to the client’s prerecorded announcement. In most cases, the announcement answers callers’ question without agent intervention. This simple adjustment has saved Jim approximately 15 percent in labor, thereby reducing his clients’ bills.

In Florida, Nick Koutrakos from Call-4-Health has lost some of his smaller doctors’ offices who have either gone internal or to a cell phone. Nick said that his doctors’ patients have been slow to pay or not to pay at all, affecting the doctors’ ability to pay him. Nick’s clients are also concerned about costs, so he proactively looks for ways to reduce their bill. One method he uses for smaller clients is increased automation or voicemail. He also offers some clients a “piecemeal” type of billing, billing them only for the services they use.

Mark Herlache of TelAssist in Chicago is also feeling the recession but is doing well because of his “First Level Helpdesk” program. This program, explains Mark, enables clients to offload their simple tasks to his outsourced agents, while freeing up their higher-paid tech people. One example is helping wireless subscribers set up their accounts. Mark believes that great opportunities and lessons can be learned from these trying times.

In Ohio, Basil Pinzone stated that he has lost a fair amount of accounts from people who went out of business or switched to a cell phone. He has even offered some clients a three-month courtesy service, but most still couldn’t make it because although they gained business as a result, oftentimes they wouldn’t be paid. To balance his finances, Basil initiated a rotating layoff for his part-time staff. One laid-off employee receives unemployment for twenty-six weeks, returns to work, and then someone else goes on unemployment. He said his employees have accepted this program because he provided them all with a fair share of work without having to permanently lose his longtime, valued staff. Like others, Basil lost some accounts of doctors who decided to retire because of Medicare and Medicaid price cuts and paperwork hassles. He believes businesses need to carefully control expenses to maintain their margins.

Jim Geary noted that potential business is being lost by call centers that do not respond quickly to inquiry calls. Jim takes sales calls on his cell phone 24/7. “You wouldn’t believe the calls I receive after hours from individuals [needing immediate help],” said Jim. “The best time to sell is when a customer is in a mood to buy – that’s why I am available 24/7.”

Companies that are able to persevere during poor economic cycles will always come out on top in the end. We need to become proactive rather than reactive. If you know that something is about to happen, then prepare. According to my surveys, this is exactly what the prudent businessperson is doing. By being proactive, you will create a rapport with your clients and establish a reputation as someone who really cares about their problems and their business. Here is what others are doing to stay viable in the marketplace:

  • Selling entry-level accounts with short-term contracts, making it easy for a potential client to test the service
  • Soliciting current clients for additional business
  • Networking
  • Tightening up agent schedules
  • Being selective about replacing departing employees
  • Diverting travel and convention budgets into sales and marketing efforts

The call center industry provides employment, as well as the services that clients need and want. Despite the threat of job losses and bankruptcies that serve as powerful reminders of a bad economy, the basic reality is that these call centers are still in business. Just knowing that you are not alone or stumbling blindly through this era is huge; 2010 will surely be a better year.

From my interviews, I found call center leaders are resetting their priorities and are eager to meet their own make-or-break challenges. “You have to be resolute and determined all of the time,” concluded Jim Geary. “You also have to be alert to any situation that may lower your bottom line. If your business is suffering, it is just a matter of looking inward and fixing or changing what doesn’t work, which ultimately results in one of the upsides of a bad economy – a more productive company.”

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

[From Connection Magazine January 2010]

Effective Change Management

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

There has been a great deal of change in the DeHaan household over the past year. Last summer Laura and Chris were married, with Laura moving out of state and looking for a new teaching job. Plus, they both started graduate school last fall. This spring, Dan and Kelli graduated from college and married the next weekend. In this short time, our family of four grew to become a family of six.

Although neither Laura nor Dan have really lived with us since they departed for college, there have had been brief intervals, such as the occasional weekend or school break, when they have returned to the nest. Additionally, on holidays they and their significant others often show up for welcomed visits. Even so, our nest has been effectively empty for quite some time. Notwithstanding, people have been inquiring about their perceived change in our status. Last week, a friend asked how my wife, Candy, and I were dealing with the empty-nest syndrome. “It doesn’t seem empty,” I remarked dryly. “Even though they’re gone, their stuff is still here!” In time, I hope that each child’s belongings can be consolidated into one room until the day they are ready to accept full possession of their possessions. Yes, things are changing, albeit good and normal changes.

Another change has been Candy’s work. Although her employment has remained intact, her company’s local office has been closed. She now makes an hour-long drive twice a week to a nearby city, working from home the other three days. She has accepted this change admirably – although it has not been so easy for me, since I also work from home.

I now realize that I had unintentionally developed a comfortable and functional routine, which dovetailed around Candy’s comings and goings. Now that her schedule has changed, mine has been affected as well. As a result, I am finding it more challenging to focus on work when I need to be working. I recognize that it is much easier to work at home when I am alone at home.

There are also many significant changes happening in the United States and globally. There is the credit crisis, the recession, the woes of the automotive industry, increased unemployment, companies laying off staff or shutting down, various state governments scrambling to accommodate lost revenue and prop up budget shortfalls, and various bailout plans that are increasingly challenging to track. The amount and degree of these changes is formidable and threatens to overwhelm us. Yes, as a nation and a world, we are experiencing a time of great change.

When considering change, there are three general truisms: change is opposed, change is loss, and change is mourned. These apply at home, for our nation and our world – and at work in the call center.

Change is opposed: Change represents a deviation from the status quo, from what can be expected, regardless if it is good or bad. Change represents moving from the known to the unknown. Therefore, it is normal that people will oppose change and resist it to whatever degree they can. This might mean clinging to the old ways, lobbying against the change, or rebelling by acting out, offering resistance, or passive-aggressive behavior.

Change is loss: All change means giving up something – even if it is something bad. Many people view change as a “zero-sum-game,” which implies that there are winners and losers. When things change, they assume that someone else must have won and therefore they have lost. This assumption is natural when the change that is taking place was not their idea.

Change is mourned: When something is lost, that loss is lamented and grieved. Sometimes the loss is perceived (it didn’t happen) or potential (it might happen), whereas other times it is real and tangible (it did happen). Regardless, the emotional reaction to that loss is mourning. Just as there are steps to grieving (be it five, seven, or ten), mourning the loss wrought by change will progressively proceed down a similar path.

However, it doesn’t need to be this way. Change can be accepted if it is understood, occurs in small increments, and is within the control of those affected by it. This trio of suggestions may not offer much relief when we’re confronted with global or national upheaval that is foisted upon us, because those situations are not within our control, nor do they generally occur in small doses – though we can seek to understand them. But this advice is helpful when responding to changes in our personal lives, like children marrying and moving on, or work situations, such as layoffs, job cuts, restructuring, office closings, and wage freezes or pay cuts. In these circumstances, we can make a reasonable and successful effort to accept and even embrace change.

Change that is understood: We can best accept and deal with change if we understand it. That doesn’t mean we need to agree with the reasons for the change, merely that we comprehend why the decision for change was made. In Candy’s situation, it was clearly communicated that cuts needed be made and pointed out that the physical location of her office was not germane to her organization’s success. Though the work being done there was important, it could just as easily be done from the main location.

Change in small increments: Change made over time and in small doses has a much better chance of acceptance and becomes more manageable. For Candy, the decision to close the local office was discussed over several months, thoughtfully planned, and a phased transition timetable was established. This gave time for the change to sink in and for Candy and her coworkers to adjust mentally and emotionally as the change transpired.

Change within control of those affected by it: Whenever people can experience some degree of control over a change, they are more likely to handle it positively. Although Candy did not have any input over the office being closed, she was afforded a great deal of control over the ramifications. She was given the option to work at home, she and her boss decided how many days a week she would work in the main office, and she has a great deal of discretion over which days those are and the number of hours she works on those days. Each of these has served to make the office closing more palatable.

A final consideration is directed at those who make decisions for change. Yes, it will be opposed, viewed as loss, and mourned, but you can take steps to greatly minimize those responses by communicating the reasons necessitating the change, making the change in small increments over time, and providing as much control as possible to those who will be most affected by it.

In the end, we might not escape change, but we can alleviate some of the negative reactions to change. That is successful change management.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Connections Magazine. He’s a passionate wordsmith whose goal is to change the world one word at a time.

[From Connection Magazine Jul/Aug 2009]

The Essentials of Great Leadership

By Ida Rowlands

What constitutes a great leader? For the most part, a proficient leader must be able to provide clear direction and limits, give backup and assistance to his or her team, and then, most importantly, step back and let them achieve what needs to be done.

The best leaders provide insight and information in order to allow their teams to exercise their own creative powers with independence and pride, while maintaining guideposts along the way to assist them in their quest for perfection.

Developing a democratic organizational structure can sometimes be a route prone to the fragility of the system itself. There is a thin line between allowing full freedom and maintaining accountability; yet the best leaders know that by establishing performance standards which can be readily monitored, evaluated, and – if necessary – corrected, they can provide the much-needed balance to get the job done efficiently and successfully.

Balance is essential to progressive leadership skills. In order to deter conflict and tension among the staff, a good leader realizes that organizational requirements must be coordinated with individual needs. Although ultimately the organization must maintain control at all times, effective leaders realize that cohesiveness and accountability between management and staff is crucial to the success or failure of any venture. Rather than control being based on individuals controlling others, effective leadership provides the framework that allows the organization to maintain control while providing incentive co-opted with accountability for its team members.

Creating an aura of support and morale within the team will ultimately result in increased productivity. The essence of progressive leadership relies on adherence to three basic tenets: reduction of ambiguity between team members, fair allocation of assignments, and providing and encouraging a positive attitude.

Reducing ambiguity essentially means providing clear and concise instructions. Far too often, team leaders fall into the convenient trap of assuming that all members of the team understand their ultimate goal. Therefore, a clear definition of goals and expectations must be readily identified at the onset of any project. Good leaders allow others to ask questions, and they must work diligently to provide astute answers to concerns they themselves may consider mundane. All team members may not be privy to every aspect of management proposals, so beginning with basics and progressing to advanced expectations can sometimes seem moot. However, this exercise can go a long way in clearing up any misunderstandings at the outset of a project.

Fairness must be exercised at every turn. There is always the tendency to allocate responsibility to the same people each time, but sometimes this can have an adverse effect. It can lead to other team members becoming unwilling to contribute one hundred percent to the project because they feel they may not receive recognition for their input. Effective leaders are willing to encourage all team members to present new and progressive ideas about any given project.

Maintaining and projecting a positive attitude is contagious, and the best leaders know that promoting affirmative, constructive behavior among every team member goes a long way on the road to success.

Providing much needed, critical feedback is an essential component of efficient leadership. Crucial, developmental analysis must be balanced with a modicum of praise. While most people do not relish receiving critical feedback, when it is tempered with a positive message they tend to be more willing to accept and consider another viewpoint.

Effective leaders promote positive performance. Good leaders have the fortitude to provide praise for positive input while putting negative performance in perspective. Great leaders tend to seamlessly combine both these attributes while maintaining control of the helm, which results in the consistent achievement of success in their endeavors.

Ida Rowlands is administrative assistant to the executive director of CAM-X (Canadian Call Management Association).  As a CAM-X team member, Ida has worked behind the scenes on various association projects including the Annual Call Centre Coaching Clinics, CSR and Supervisor Certifications, AOE and AOD awards programs, and the CAM-X Annual Convention and Trade Show. In her spare time, she likes to write short stories and has ghostwritten hundreds of articles for various online businesses.

[From Connection Magazine September 2008]

The Taylor Institute for Direct Marketing: Inspiring the Next Generation of Industry Leaders

By Steve Brubaker

If you were ask a roomful of direct marketing experts how many of them have a degree in direct marketing, what do you think the answer would be?  A good guess would be not many. That’s staggering considering these statistics from the Direct Marketing Association (DMA):

  • Direct marketing accounted for 10.2 percent of total U.S. GDP in 2007, and marketers spent $173.2 billion on direct marketing in the U.S. alone, which generated $2.025 trillion in incremental sales.
  • Direct marketing is also a substantial employer, with 1.6 million direct marketing employees today in the U.S. alone, directly supporting another 8.9 million jobs.

So what gives? Well, for starters, at last count only forty-two out of the 4,100 U.S. colleges and universities reported offering a direct marketing program with at least 50 percent or more of the course content focused on direct marketing. None of the schools reported requiring hands-on experience with direct or interactive marketing companies.

Since Lester Wunderman first coined the term “direct marketing” over forty years ago, learning the profession has pretty much been done through on-the-job training, trial and error, and seminars.

Knowing how academically underserved the profession was, Gary Taylor, founder and chairman of InfoCision Management Corporation (the second largest privately held teleservices company), thought it was time to elevate the profession. With a donation of $3.5 million from Gary and his wife Karen, the University of Akron College of Business Administration launched the Taylor Institute for Direct Marketing in the fall of 2004.

“The sad truth is that previously the only alternative for developing young direct marketing professionals was to hire them with no exposure to our great industry. As a proud alumnus, I wanted to help the school in its mission to prepare competent and responsible business leaders by providing the finest education in direct marketing,” commented Taylor.

Located on the campus of the University of Akron in Akron, Ohio, the Taylor Institute for Direct Marketing offers the only fully accredited four-year degree in direct marketing, and it is the most sophisticated direct marketing educational program anywhere in the world. Created to provide students entering the field with valuable skills, the Taylor Institute offers a variety of major and minor programs of study covering all facets of direct marketing. The classes balance theory with practicum, so students get the hands-on experience they require to be successful.

Featuring interactive environments for students, the Taylor Institute houses laboratories in telecommunications, TV infomercials, direct response, eMarketing, and marketing analytics (such as the data analytics laboratory, the focus group room, and the eUsability laboratory). The Taylor Institute is able to provide students with leading-edge skills and practical experiences.

“Direct marketing is the most focused of all mass media communications and is significantly more highly targeted today than ever before. And, like direct marketing, our teaching cannot be stagnant. We will continue to modify our approach to best meet the needs of our students and the changing direct marketing landscape,” said Dr. Dale Lewison, director of the Taylor Institute for Direct Marketing.

This unique learning experience allows students to gain practical, hands-on experience in all components of direct marketing, such as project ideation, analytics, creative, and campaign evaluation. Using state-of-the-art laboratories and tools, they manage and develop marketing-based print, Web, broadcast, and other media products and campaigns for actual clients in a real-world, professional environment. Upon graduation, students from the Taylor Institute can expect to be employed in direct marketing and marketing departments for large and small firms, advertising agencies, Web-development firms, and especially in their own entrepreneurial businesses.

Scheduled to launch January 2009, theTaylorInstitute will offer a unique MBA program with a concentration in direct marketing. The program follows a traditional MBA structure with foundational and functional areas of study from each of the business disciplines, plus a specialty concentration in Integrated Direct Marketing. The Integrated Direct Marketing concentration blends database, strategic, relationship, creative, and integrated marketing into a well-balanced arrangement that illustrates how effective direct marketing can be achieved. More specifically, the required courses consist of Database Marketing, Strategic Marketing Management, Customer Relationship Management, Integrative Marketing Communications, and E-Business Marketing Strategies and Tactics.

The Taylor Institute has also become a hub for professional meetings and seminars. For the third year in a row, the Taylor Institute has hosted the Great Lakes Direct Marketing Day’s conference, Interaction. This one-day conference features speakers with expertise in direct marketing, including multichannel marketing, creative marketing, marketing analytics, and ethics. During the conference, the Taylor Institute honors a direct marketing colleague with its Direct Marketer of the Year Award, which recognizes an individual who has made a significant and continuous contribution to the field of direct marketing.  Honorees include John Costello, Lester Wunderman, and most recently, Jeffrey Hayzlett, chief business development officer and vice president of Eastman Kodak Company.

Never has the old adage “providing the right customer with the right product, at the right time, for the right price” been as true as it is today. Marketing is going through turbulent times, as the old tried and true methods of reaching consumers fall short, forcing marketers to change fast or close up shop.

Technology and consumer power have forever changed how marketers connect with their customers. As consumers increasingly embrace the growing variety of communication channels, direct marketing is poised to become even more sophisticated – while spending on eMarketing, mobile marketing, social media, and word-of-mouth or viral marketing continues to grow.

Consumers now control the game, and what better resource for an evolving industry than the Taylor Institute for Direct Marketing – the only one of its kind dedicated to the profession.

Steve Brubaker is the senior vice president of corporate affairs for InfoCision Management Corporation.

[From Connection Magazine September 2008]

Why You Should Serve on a Board

By Dennis O’Hara, ATSI president-elect

“It’s all just politics.”

“I just don’t think I have the time.”

“I’m not sure what I can bring to the table.”

“Maybe when I have more time….”

Do these quotes sound familiar? Perhaps you have even used some of them yourself. I’m sure that at one point or another most of you have heard this kind of thing. Let me add a couple of other quotes for you to digest:

“No man has a right to withhold his support from an organization working on his behalf,” said Teddy Roosevelt. “Every man owes a part of his time and money to the business or industry in which he is engaged.”

Vincent Lombardi affirmed, “Individual commitment to a group effort: that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.”

“The purpose of an organization is to enable common men to do uncommon things,” stated Peter F. Drucker.

Alexis de Tocqueville declared, “America’s strength is in its groups.”

In any industry, or indeed in any group, the privilege of service comes with burdens. Some are real: time, expense, and extra work; some are self-generating: personal image, self-doubt, and insecurity. But what thing of substance comes without a price?

Think back on your life and recall the accomplishments of which you are most proud. Where they easily accomplished? What do they all have in common? I suspect that in most, if not all, cases what they have in common was your ability to overcome obstacles and to achieve your goal when no one, perhaps not even you yourself, thought you could.

“Look at a day when you are supremely satisfied at the end,” said Margret Thatcher. “It is not a day when you lounge around doing nothing, it’s when you had everything to do, and you’ve done it!”

Some of the best memories I have of my business career center around the work that I have been privileged to have been a part of for my industry. The results may not have always come out the way I would have done them by myself, but in joining with a group of committed individuals something of value, something of worth was created. In essence, I paid back the group with my time and in return was repaid with a lifetime of fond memories and the knowledge that, in my own small way, I made a difference.

Can you be a difference-maker for your group? Can you be an agent of positive change who others will seek to work with and accomplish what seemingly cannot be done?

I say, “Yes, you can.” There is no magic formula for having success when working with a group. No matter what your level of commitment, if you are an agent of positive change, then you are a difference-maker! Having served on an executive level with a variety of groups, I can tell you that any president can only be as good as his or her board. It is the collective energy of any group that fuels the engine of productivity.

Are there obstacles that will be placed in your way? Certainly. We have all served with bullies, know-it-alls, and do-nothings, but in the end they are just rocks in the river –you flow over them, around them, and ultimately the work is done.

So the issue is not should you serve on a board, but can you serve on a board? Consider these three questions, and you will know what to do.

1) Do I want to be an agent of positive change?

2) Do I want to work within a committed group of individuals to accomplish something of value?

3) Do I have the fortitude to say “yes” when everybody else says “no”?

Remember the saying, “Many hands make light work.”

Elihu Root sums it up nicely: “It is only through the power of association that those of any calling exercise due influence in their communities.”

Dennis O’Hara of Associated Call Centers serves on ATSI’s board of directors and is president-elect. He will be installed as ATSI’s president at the June convention in St. Louis.

[From Connection Magazine June 2008]

The Seven Deadly Sins of Management

By Lonnie Pacelli

Pride. Envy. Gluttony. Lust. Anger.  Greed. Sloth. You either recognize these as the seven deadly sins or as themes for prime-time television. Nonetheless, you were probably taught as a child that these are bad and you shouldn’t do them. For this article, do as you were taught and think “bad” when you commit these sins’ corresponding counterparts in the workplace.

Knowing the mechanics of managing a project or team are secondary to the character attributes that a manager displays in their daily action. Here are the seven deadly sins of the management, and how to avoid them. Can you relate to any of these?

Sin #1 – Arrogance: Have youever known a manager that consistently claimed to know more than the rest of the staff? How about one that was unwilling to listen to opposing views? Isn’t this just a sign of confidence? What’s wrong with that?

Confidence as a manager is crucial as people will look to you, particularly when things get tough. When it runs amok and turns to arrogance, the manager disrespects the employees. Show respect and have confidence and you’ll do fine. Subtract out respect and you’re just an arrogant fool.

Sin #2 – Indecisiveness: So you have a meeting on Monday and the management agrees on a course of action. On Tuesday, the manager decides to take a completely different course of action. Thursday the manager goes back to Monday’s course of action. The following Monday you’re back re-hashing through the same problem from last Monday.

Decisiveness means the manager listens to those around him or her and then makes the best decision that the rest of the staff can understand, and sticks to it. While employees may not agree with the decision, they should be able to see the rationale. Decisions without rationale or without listening will ultimately frustrate the staff and put a target on your back.

Sin #3 – Disorganization: We’ve all known the manager that asks for the same information multiple times, keeps plans in their head versus writing things down, or is so frantic that they’re on the verge of spontaneously combusting. Their disorganization creates unneeded stress and frustration for the employees.

The manager needs to have a clear pathway paved for the staff to get from start to completion, and make sure the ball moves forward every day of the project.  Disorganization leads to frustration, which leads to either empathy or anarchy.

Sin #4 – Stubbornness: On one of my early management jobs, I was a month behind schedule on a three-month project. I refused to alter the schedule, insisting that I could “make up time” by cutting corners and eliminating tasks. Despite my staff telling me we were in deep yogurt, I stubbornly forged ahead. I ended up never seeing the end of the project because my stubbornness got me removed as the manager. Talk about your 2×4 across the head.

The manager may believe his or her view of reality is the right way to go, but it’s imperative that he or she balances his or her own perspective with that of the rest of the project team. Decisiveness without listening to the team leads to stubbornness.

Sin #5 – Negativism: One of my peer managers, in their zeal to “manage expectations,” would consistently discuss projects in a negative light. The focus was on what work wasn’t done, what the new issue of the week was, or who wasn’t doing their job. Their negative attitude about the work, people, and purpose sapped the energy, enthusiasm, and passion out of the staff’s work. It was a self-fulfilling prophecy; the project failed because the project manager willed it to fail.

This one’s simple; a glass-is-half-empty manager is going to be a horrible motivator and will sap the energy from employees. This doesn’t mean that you have to be a shiny, happy person all the time, but that the manager has to truly believe in what he or she is doing and needs to positively motivate the team to get there.

Sin #6 – Cowardice: Imagine the manager who, when pressed on a budget or schedule over-run, blames employees, stakeholders, or anyone else that could possibly have contributed to their non-performance. It is much easier to play the blame game and implicate others because not everything went perfectly as planned.

It’s perfectly okay to be self-critical and aware of your own weaknesses and mistakes. For a leader to truly continue to grow in their leadership capabilities they need to be the first to admit their mistakes and learn from them as opposed to being the last one to admit their mistakes.

Sin #7 – Distrust: Simply put, managers that don’t display necessary skills, show wisdom in their decisions, or demonstrate integrity aren’t going to be trusted. For staff to truly have trust in their leader, they need to believe that the manager has the skills to manage them, the wisdom to make sound business decisions, and the integrity to put the employee’s interests ahead of their own. Take any one of these attributes away, and it’s just a matter of time before the manager is voted off the island.

Lonnie Pacelli has over 20 years of project management experience at both Accenture and Microsoft and is the author of The Project Management Advisor — 18 Major Project Screw-Ups and How to Cut them off at the Pass.

[From Connection Magazine Jul/Aug 2006]

Cheering for Your Team

By Ray Pelletier

At a Sunday afternoon professional football game, the stands are filled with enthusiastic fans cheering on their favorite team. These fans wake up Monday morning with scratchy throats and hoarse voices, still enthusiastic for their favorite team. Why don’t these people wake up feeling the same way on a Wednesday? Probably because these adoring fans put ten times more energy into cheering on their favorite athletes than they do their co-workers and their company.

Consider how much more successful a business would be if its teammates were as enthusiastic as those football fans. The enthusiasm of a crowd creates an energy and momentum that pushes the team forward. It works the same way in a call center. Enthusiasm creates winning companies. Fill your ranks with agents who are excited and positive. When you spend your time with fellow teammates who love what they do, you can’t help but spur each other on to do your best.

The challenge is that most teammates have difficulty showing enthusiasm for their company because they’ve never tried it. So set a positive example and show your team that it’s okay to be proud of where they work and what they do. As a coach, encourage your team to bring their enthusiasm to the surface. Try the following tips to help your teammates cheer on the home team and drive your company to win.

Create a Positive Physical Environment: Working in a supportive and positive physical environment sets up the right foundation for greater motivation. So post motivational signage around the office that reinforces who your company is and what you do. Encourage agents to put up family pictures on their cubicles. Also let them put up pictures of items that inspire them or lists of goals they want to attain. Insist that they use a positive and motivating screen saver. Encourage your team to listen to tapes or read great business books. You could even purchase a few and start a lending library. The investment will be worth it. Give your staff what they need to develop the winner’s edge.

Celebrate Winning: Winning breeds enthusiasm. Just as in sports, teams will celebrate their victories; call center teams should celebrate victories too. Recognize your teammates. Have celebrations. Let teammates know in advance that if they meet a department goal, they will be rewarded with a prize. Let them anticipate the victory.

Don’t think “celebrating” has to involve lavish office parties or expensive luncheons. Celebrate the small stuff too. Hold meetings where company leaders highlight the successes of the call center and acknowledge any teammates who have gone ‘above and beyond.’ Everyone enjoys celebrations, so let them become a regular part of your corporate culture.

Take Pride in Your Company: Take a minute to list reasons why you are proud to work at your call center. If you can’t think of any, you may need to rethink your career choice. Why waste your life on something you can’t be enthusiastic about? Don’t use the excuse of, “I’ve been here a long time, how can I walk away?” A lot of corporate employees asked themselves the same question before being handed their severance package. Ask yourself if your product and company is something you really believe in. If not, start looking for something else you can be enthusiastic about.

Praise Your Teammates: Write down the names of the agents, supervisors, and managers in your call center who could use reinforcement of what a great job they are doing and how much they are appreciated. Just as an athletic coach cheers on their team, so does a great leader.

Keep in mind that it’s often easier to appreciate and praise people most like ourselves, and it’s harder to do the same with people who work differently than us. Don’t concentrate on how that person annoys you or is different from you. Recognize his or her contribution. Make a gratitude list. Write down why you’re grateful they’re on your team. What do they bring to the mix? Who are they? What are they? Then be sure to tell them. Sincere praise is a great motivator.

Care About Your Teammates and Your Customers: You can’t be an inspiring leader if you don’t care. You need to care about every person you interact with in the course of a business day. Provide your staff with the tools they need to do their jobs well and a work environment that shows you care. To the extent possible, allow agents to personalize their workspace. A work environment, whether it’s a cubicle or an office, should be a reflection of the employee, not just the company.

Often today, people have lost a sense of caring for the company they work for. They almost expect to be downsized or right sized or stuck in the same job, never receiving recognition for their accomplishments. People have to know they are cared about to truly shine. Always make the other person feel more important than yourself. Thank your staff in a meaningful way. Give them a tangible gift they can look at and say, “Boy they really appreciate me.” But it’s not about you sending them a gift; it’s about them. If you’re only caring in order to get something back, then shame on you. If it doesn’t come from the heart, don’t do it.

Wear Your Logo: Today, people spend an incredible amount of money on team jerseys, sweaters, NASCAR jackets, and so forth. People pay a lot of extra money to walk with someone’s brand name on their chest, giving that company free advertising. Is your company missing the boat because you don’t have your own people walking around in your company’s logo wear? Logo wear continues to build your brand while at the same time reinforces the pride and enthusiasm within your company. Get polo shirts printed up with your company logo and hand them out to teammates.

Start Loving Your Company: Don’t be embarrassed to love your company. Learn from today’s sports coaches. Coaches have a passion for the game, a passion for people, and a passion for success. Coaches want to take what they know and share it with another person to help that person achieve his or her full potential. Business leaders need to have the same mindset.

Working is not practice; your company is on the playing field and every moment counts. So love the game. Do your very best every single day at the position you are playing. Long-term advancement goals are fine, but don’t lose sight of today’s game.

By implementing these tips, the enthusiasm within your call center will grow, creating a more dynamic and positive work environment. Your teammates will be happier and more productive, and callers will pick up on your enthusiasm. Your teammates will be supportive of each other and will spur each other and the company on to success. Perhaps your teammates will even start losing their voices after company meetings from cheering on their coworkers instead of their favorite sports teams.

Ray Pelletier founded The Pelletier Group and authored the best-selling book, Permission to Win.

[From Connection Magazine December 2005]

Develop Your Employees Through Questions, Not Answers

By Doug Silsbee

When a child asks you for help with homework, do you tell the child the answers and do the homework for the student? Of course not! Most adults know that to do so would be a shortcut in the child’s learning process. Instead, we help children study by asking them questions that guide them through the problem-solving process. The objective is to help them learn, think, and solve problems for themselves, not to simply provide them the answers.

Even though helping through questions is obvious for parents, it isn’t as obvious when helping adults. The fact is that in many call centers, managers are far too quick to jump in and fix their employees’ problems for them. Rather than asking agents a series of questions designed to develop their thinking process and enable them to solve the problem themselves, many managers give employees the answers, or worse yet, do the work for them.

Why do so many managers make the mistake of providing their employees with answers to all their questions? Part of the problem lies in the fact that most managers haven’t been trained as coaches. They are simply doing the best they can at putting out the inevitable brush fires. Therefore, we can easily understand why managers default to the easiest and fastest possible way of resolving problems. As well intentioned as this model of management is, the long-term results of being too helpful are dire. Consider the following facts and consequences of this management style:

  • Fact: A manager can often provide a solution more quickly than the time it takes to discuss the problem and promote the employee’s thinking about solutions. Consequence: Knee jerk responses to problems often aren’t the best responses. As someone said, “There’s nothing more dangerous than a good idea when it’s the only one you have.”
  • Fact: In the high-pressured environment of today’s call center, providing quick answers takes away the tension that unsolved problems create. Consequence: Short-term thinking sometimes creates long-term problems. Providing easy solutions to agents without expecting them to think for themselves creates dependency and undermines the employees’ motivation and ability to solve future problems on their own.
  • Fact: Many managers have been promoted from agent or supervisor positions where they excelled. Consequence: When managers enjoy the technical aspects of the work they supervise, they attend more to practical challenges and problem solving than they do to developing employees. Solving problems is part of the manager’s job.  Developing employees is harder to do, yet arguably more important for the long run.
  • Fact: Providing solutions makes the manager feel smart. When the manager suggests how to handle an agent’s unsolved problem, the manager is psychologically affirming his or her own knowledge and experience. Consequence: The manager is affirmed, but the agent gets the message that he or she wasn’t capable or knowledgeable enough to solve the problem. Managers can sometimes be motivated by the wrong things.
  • Fact: Managers generally have more experience and knowledge to draw from than their employees do. Consequence: If a team relies solely on the manager’s experience and knowledge, they will likely continue to do things the way the manager has done things in the past. This deprives the call center of the innovation and creativity that could emerge from a more thorough exploration of the problem and possible solutions.

Questioning Strategies for Effective Management: Fortunately, you don’t need an advanced degree or intensive training in coaching methods to begin to change these dynamics. Nor do you need to forget everything you’ve already learned about managing people. A shift in emphasis and a few simple tips for asking questions in everyday work situations will go a long way toward changing the pattern of dependency and developing your staff. Here are a few questioning strategies that will help:

  • Strategy #1: Ask questions that help employees see problems differently. You might ask, “What was different last week when this was working?” or “How might person X view this problem?” or “What would need to be different for this to not become a problem?” Such questions help expand the employee’s view of the issue.
  • Strategy #2: Exercise the discipline to develop, along with your employee, at least two and preferably three alternative solutions. Put the first solution on the shelf. Then challenge your employee by saying, “Okay, that’s a great idea. Now, can you come up with another viable option? With two ideas, we’ll have a real choice.”
  • Strategy #3: Ask “Why?” five times in a row. This investigative approach helps move the conversation about a problem towards the discovery of the problem’s root cause. Each time the employee answers a “why” question, the manager asks “why?” again, looking for the layers of causality. Eventually, by going deeper through the layers, you can arrive at the problem’s root cause, which is what a good solution must address. Be clear that you are seeking to help the employee solve the problem, not grilling him or her or trying to affix blame. Let the agent know that you are simply sharing an investigative technique
  • Strategy #4: Consider how you have approached similar problems in the past. Use the problem as an opportunity to ask the employee questions that lead him or her through a problem-solving process you have previously used. You might ask the employee, “What information might help narrow the problem down? Who else has dealt with this before?” You may even ask, “What tools or technologies might offer a new approach that no one has tried?” These questions get the employee thinking about both resources and the process of approaching a problem.
  • Strategy #5: Use questions that inquire into the agent’s contribution to the problem. Generally, if a person can think of the ways in which he or she is helping to create the problem in the first place, the employee is just one step away from identifying what he or she can do to solve it. Asking, “What did you do that you think might have made him mad?” can lead to: “I could be less critical of his efforts; he’s new on the job.” Likewise, asking, “What are you usually doing when the error rates go up?” might lead to “I suppose the error rates are higher when I’ve not calibrated the machine for a while.”

The bottom line is that engaging employees in solving their own problems demonstrates that you value their intelligence; it cultivates their independence and enhances their independent problem-solving capabilities. Doing this requires some investment in time and a willingness to experiment with your approach as a manager. But the investment is certainly worth it. You can reduce dependency, boost morale, build more capable employees, and develop better solutions. In the end, tapping into the intelligence of everyone is simply common sense.

Doug Silsbee is a business consultant and coach in Asheville, NC. He leads workshops all over the world and coaches individuals on self-development and management in any professional venue. Doug’s book is “The Mindful Coach: Seven Roles for Helping People Grow.”

[From Connection Magazine October 2005]

Selecting and Mentoring Call Center Supervisors

By Matt Harless

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[From Connection Magazine September 2005]