Tag Archives: Managing Call Center Agents

How to Manage More Creatively

By Stephen Manallack

It is said that creativity and management are a great team. Yet, so many in senior management positions say, “I just can’t be creative.” Here are some tips to help you become more creative:

Re-build an open mind: When we were kids everything was new and we had an open way of looking at things. It’s worth trying to get this attitude back now that you are in management.

Don’t censor yourself: One of my colleagues often says, “I know this is a dumb question, but…” and then he asks the very question that was on everyone’s mind. We often don’t ask these “dumb” questions because we censor ourselves. Just because you are in a management role, this does not mean you know everything. Importantly, you are not expected to know everything, so you’ll lead better by being the first to say, “I don’t know.”

Move on from mistakes: I once watched a creative team of art director and copywriter working on an advertising campaign. Some of their words and ideas were clearly ridiculous. As they talked, one or the other would come up with an awful line or a weak joke. But they just moved on. They did not keep reminding each other of their failed efforts. They did not fear mistakes; nor should you.

Keep active, be involved: Creativity needs feeding, and the best food is the wonderful diversity of human life. If all you do is work, you will become dull. To keep your creative energies flowing, get out of your chair. See a movie. If you must watch TV, watch something you would normally reject. You don’t have to sit glued to the business news or current affairs. Buy a different magazine. Don’t keep closing more and more doors on the outside world: start to smash some of them open. That’s a big step towards increasing your level of creativity.

Leave things alone: Sometimes you need to get up from your desk, walk away, and give a thorny problem a rest for a while. “Let’s sleep on that” can be good advice.

Act on the idea: Once creativity arises, you have to put it to work. Pass it on, write it down, share your idea with friends or colleagues, or take any other action that commits the creativity to memory. One of the big differences between creative management and the rest is having the courage to put your ideas into action.

To get ahead in management today, you need more than technical or professional skills. You need to be more than a well-read lawyer or accountant, more than an MBA, and more than a marketing expert – you also need creative communication: the ability to get your message across.

Stephen Manallack has more than 20 years experience as a freelance communication consultant and is a professional speaker and author of “You Can Communicate; PR Secrets for Personal Success,” Pearson Education, 2002. He can be contacted in Australia at 613 9827 9368 or by email at sm@labyrinth.net.au.

[From Connection MagazineMay 2003]

Being a Better Manager

By Lisa Olson

Do you have times when employee morale is low? Do your employees seem unhappy, maybe even scared? These types of issues usually surface when there is too much space between those at the top and those closest to the work. The gap between the two can cause false assumptions that allow employees to tell untruths. Gossip starts and can get out of control. Why does this happen?

  • Managers want to spare employees from issues that are complicated or risky so they turn off communication.
  • Managers do not want to admit to others that they have made a mistake.
  • Managers are supposed to know everything and when they do not, they go into hiding.
  • Managers become busy and cannot possibly get all details to all people, all the time.

Unfortunately, the lack of information makes employees feel out of the loop. When things do not go well, they might feel that they will be blamed. Often times, they engage in self-protective and defensive behaviors. The longer this culture exists, the more deeply rooted these feelings become. Even just one influential employee of influence can have a major negative effect on the entire organization. So what do you do?

There are several answers. Many of us would opt for a subtle approach. An example might be sharing your stories. This is a great way to bond with your employees. For example, when my supervisor came into work late three days in a row, she decided to come into my office and talk to me. As it turns out her mother was elderly and failing. She was the primary care giver for her mother. Her recently added personal responsibilities had caused her to be late. We all probably have stories of elderly parents or grandparents. I appreciated her honesty and in return for her small confidence, I shared a story about my grandfather. My supervisor had strong family values. I encouraged her to take care of her own first. We worked out a new temporary schedule that she and I could both live with.

However, the better answer to communication problems is quite simple: plug in. Plug in to the grapevine, plug in to the front line – better known as the line of fire.

In today’s office environment, it is possible to network with the right people at the right time in order to get the right job. People are interested in rumor. Managers would be smart to keep tabs on the rumor mill. That does not mean they should engage in gossip or encourage it. The best way to deal with gossip is to “manage by walking around.” Keep your door open and occasionally eat lunch in the lunchroom with everyone else. Employees will always hear of bad news. Try to keep gossip healthy, not malicious.

For those of us who have been in the teleservice business for years may think you have paid your dues. You had to start out taking calls and then moved to a supervisor, a customer service rep, or a programmer. You have climbed the ranks so why should you go back to the front line? Take this test and see what happens. Pick a day that one of your front line people can spend the day with you. Make sure this person is someone who can communicate well and someone you trust. Have this person gather questions and comments from others before spending the day with you. You will be amazed at the feedback you get. You will start to understand what is important to your employees. Allow this person to continue to communicate with you on a regular basis.

A better approach is to plan a meeting for key staff. Towards the end of the meeting, give each person an opportunity offer constructive criticism about your management style, performance, or an area where you need improvement. When they do this, you must be quiet. If two or more people mention the same thing, you will start to understand how things you do or do not do affect your employees.

I have had several opportunities to implement this feedback process. On one occasion, my employees thought I was always so busy that I did not have time for them. They were not talking to me because they did not want to bother me. I assumed things were going well so I looked for and found other things to keep me busy. Nonetheless, shortly after this exercise I decided to spend one day every other week on the operations floor learning and offering suggestions.

On another occasion, I was caught completely off guard. During this time of open feedback, I learned that my behavior had been so radical – in an attempt to make many changes in a short period – that I was perceived as being rude and uncaring.

Perform this exercise three or four times a year. It might be difficult, but it will instill honesty among your staff and open up communications. Those employees who care about your business will want to improve. Those employees who do not really care will probably quit. The result will be overall company performance improvement.

[From Connection MagazineSept/Oct 2002]

Managers Need to Be Coaches

By David Saxby

If you were to review the memories from your youth, chances are there was a teacher, a friend, or a family acquaintance whose name you still recall. You have interacted with hundreds of people over the years and their names and faces tend to fade. Yet, there is probably that one person who is indelibly imprinted in your mind, a unique individual who had a positive impact on your life; someone who played a key role in shaping you into the person you have become. A person who, in some way, acted as a coach to support your personal growth, point you in the right direction, or help you get back on track when you were heading down the wrong path.

How would your employees respond if you ask each of them if they feel they have a coach at your call center, someone who is there to support their individual growth at your company?

Providing supervisors and managers with the skills to be effective coaches for your call center employees is critical to decreasing employee turnover, increasing employee morale, and exceeding your clients’ expectations for service.

Consider these ideas for improving the coaching skills of your management team:

Give them the tools for the job: In a research study conducted by InTelegy Corporation, ineffective management and processes was one of the most common causes for staff to leave a call center. Employees felt supervisors had no skills and received no training on how to manage people in a call center environment, skills like leadership, motivation, coaching, development, and discipline. To avoid this, hire a specialist in the coaching field who can provide your managers with the skills to be effective coaches. Also, check out classroom, online, or CD training programs that offer this type of instruction.

Understand learning styles: We all learn and absorb information differently. A good coach understands the learning style of the individual they are coaching. If someone is a visual learner, they learn by what they see or read. Auditory learners learn by listening. Kinesthetic learners learn by feeling or experience. We all learn using a combination of visual, auditory, and kinesthetic abilities but one of those styles is generally dominant. An individual will learn and retain more if information is presented in their preferred learning style.

Acknowledge those small improvements: John Wooden was one of the greatest collegiate basketball coaches in history. Wooden kept journals on each of his players. He kept track of the small improvements he felt they could make and then, at the end of practice, he would share these thoughts with each player. His unique insight and his unprecedented achievements – a .806 winning percentage, nineteen conference championships, ten national championships, seven straight national titles, and four unbeaten seasons – have stood the test of time. A good coach works daily to improve the small things that help the team perform at its best.

Know employees’ strengths and weaknesses: Use a personality-profiling tool to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of your employees. A personality assessment can be an excellent way to help management identify skills that need improvement and to provide suggestions on coaching.

Keep them in the loop: Employees want to feel like they are part of the team. Ask for their input and ideas on how to improve performance, increase productivity, and decrease costs. Most employees don’t have a clue what it costs your company to process a call. Share the numbers with them; let them know the expenses in running a call center.

A manager with strong coaching abilities can be invaluable in retaining and motivating your employees and helping them develop their skills. Wouldn’t it be great if twenty years from now someone asked your former employees to identify one person who had played a big part in their personal growth and their response was, “There was this coach at a call center…”

David Saxby is President of Measure-X, a training firm specializing in providing training on customer service skills and employee retention. He can be reached at 888-644-5499 or at david@measure-x.com. Check out their website at measure-x.com.

[From Connection MagazineMarch 2002]

The New Communications Service Bureau

By Roy Emmett

The majority of people who read this magazine are in the communications business to make money. That being true, it bodes well for all of us to explore just what it is that the business world really needs and wants, that makes sense for us to provide, in order for us to make money in our chosen profession.

Simple logic and first-hand experience can provide some substantial clues about the changing needs of today’s small- and medium-sized businesses, which are, after all, our prime prospect base.

On the side of logic, we can gauge that what our prospects want is help. Help in streamlining their business and in reducing overhead. Help in bringing their businesses in touch with how the rest of the world is communicating. Help in some or all of the functions of running a business. Help in getting new business.

From first-hand experience, we can see that what they don’t want is yesterday’s solutions and older ways of doing things. Astute businesses want what’s going to take them into the future, but based on practicality and common sense, not futuristic, far-flung ideas that don’t relate to today. We can easily recognize the first-hand experience category, since we’ve all been watching as countless businesses have shifted from the traditional methods of communication into the trends and leading-edge services being used by the world at large.

All these being accurate factors in the contest to attract new business, it’s easy to suggest that a whole new concept in communications service bureaus is at hand. Actually, there hasn’t been a lot of communication service bureau alternatives available for businesses to select from. Truth of the matter is, the only true service bureau with any history has been the telephone answering service. Interconnect companies, paging and cellular companies, and voice mail companies haven’t yet matured into full-fledged service bureaus, per se.

When you actually stop and think about it, the business world hasn’t ever had a real support team, like an in-depth service bureau to help them as a professional communications consultant. Companies have simply sold and provided service for answering telephones, for providing paging service or cellular service, or for installation of new hardware. But, there has always been a void in the area of communications assistance where someone was available to function as a resource to help businesses zero in on the best overall options and help plan unique solutions.

The reason? There have never been so many options. There has hardly ever been any option to just plain phone service. Today, there are so many variables and price differences, almost nobody knows what all is available or what will work best in each situation.

That spells opportunity in an age where telecommunication is redefining how businesses function. Consider all the home-based businesses and the concept of the Virtual Corporation. Look at how many businesses are networking together and how many very small businesses are starting where communication is a key element. Take a look at how communication is spilling over into advertising and marketing support services and how the Information Age has created the demand for access to information on demand. Look at how fax and computers have integrated with the telephone and how many advantages there are for small businesses in using specialized communication.

Think about all the types of pagers and soon-to-be-new wireless products. The telephone itself is undergoing renovations with many phone company features, as well as specialized services that voice processing technology is adding, that all fit in with our potential service bureau offerings.

Add to that, the influx of new services evolving from the Telecom Reform Bill that Congress passed. Competition in long distance and 800 number service will bring about all kinds of change. New 800 number services and One-Call services are already creating special niche features and service categories. And, just wait until video spreads its wings with new inter activity and computer-to-voice mail video capability. Business-to-business communication is entering a whole new era and the “Communication Service Bureau” has an opportunity to play a major role.

Enter The New Service Bureau For Business Communications

A new aura surrounds the new service bureau. It isn’t a telephone answering service … it’s much more, in reality and in image. It isn’t a “just anything” business. It is a “resource” for assistance in providing specialized communications, as well as marketing support services, customer service enhancements, clerical support functions, information services, and a variety of networking services.

The main engine of this new service bureau will be a feature rich, commercial grade voice and fax processing system, outfitted with special software to provide highly customized communication services. Specially trained operators will form an additional engine for this new hybrid service bureau, although many service bureaus won’t have operators on staff. Central operator services will undoubtedly become available as a resource to operatorless service bureaus, to supply the real people required for those unique services. Already we are seeing this work very well with alpha dispatch services for paging. Many such automated service bureaus are opening up and could use a good operator service with 800 number access. Anybody out there got a package for us?

Like it or not, automated communications services are the new way of the business world. True, automation won’t replace the many applications where real people are an absolute necessity in a communications link. But as a result of cost factors alone, most of the new elements of communication are designed to bypass real people whenever possible. The new generations of wireless products are designed to communicate directly, person-to-person, without any intermediaries of any kind. But the default, in case a recipient is unavailable, will always be a form of “voice mail.” Cost, efficiency, and now diverse features in automation are the logical reasons.

This will open the door of opportunity for highly specialized operator services that will bear little resemblance to the answering service of today. Good people cost good money. The services supplied by real people won’t come cheap. As with the phone companies, connections to a real person will be charged at a premium.

I foresee the operator relationship in the new service bureau being more of an assistant to a business with greater personal contact and responsibility. An entrepreneur could build a business around such a resource who could supply in depth support via computer and through all aspects of personal contact on behalf of the clients being represented. Such services could start at $500 a month and legitimately replace the need for a receptionist, a database manager, an inventory clerk, a follow-up correspondent, and probably a host of other special responsibilities.

Even entrepreneurs in a home-based business environment could explore this opportunity. A talented person with telephone and computer skills could handle 4 – 6 accounts on an 8 am – 6 pm basis and bill $2000 to $5000 a month with select clients. Could be a whole new concept in specialized services.

The communications service bureau of this new era will have at its disposal the full range of business communications services. A proposal to a prospect would logically include 24-hour message service, information service via fax, audio, Internet, and coming up, even video. You would include automated order-taking, advertising requests for literature, even pre-recorded sales presentations. You will have a link to special discount long distance service, 800 numbers, and a variety of specialized telephone calling cards – all with passive income potential to add profits with no liability.

You will include pagers with a variety of enhanced services to make more money in paging than just paging provides. You can recommend cellular services and make money in a special relationship with a wireless service provider.

Your fully connected voice and fax processing system, the real bread and butter winner, will allow you to bring an incredible variety of services to the market that right now, today, are hardly even exposed to the business world. I suggest that you could add a good 20 to 25 services to your mix that will direct you toward a whole new audience for profitable communications services that are not pro-actively offered by the phone companies, or by virtually any other type of communications companies in existence.

Now, combine your complete resource program with a close personal relationship to your market. This is not a Yellow Page marketing effort. This is selective marketing at its classic best. Positioning, image building, application selling, niche marketing – these are all terms that spell the new focus of what the new service bureau is doing to grow whole new tiers of business.

This is becoming a dynamic opportunity for the Professional Communications Consultant. It has reached a point where you cannot logically separate the various services as individual specialties. They all work together in a cohesive program to bring about the desired results for each client. Not bringing all these services into the picture as a package presentation is to miss out on some very serious profits. Perhaps you could even stand to lose business as clients begin to expect a cohesive, interlocking program to maximize efficiency and minimize costs. The image of the new service bureau is designed to preclude that from happening.

Service bureaus that redirect their efforts this way can expect to be leaders in a volatile new dimension in the world of communication. Rather than being at the mercy of radical change that is sure to come, we can be at the forefront of change and introduce new ideas as they evolve, making money as a result. If we get pigeon-holed as a specific service company, we may never gain a toe-hold in the vast new era of telecommunications.

How Big Do You Want Your Company To Grow?

Silly question, isn’t it? Not really. A lot depends on what you want to become. A company that bills $50,000 a month and has an overhead of $45,000 a month isn’t as much fun as a company that bills $25,000 a month and spends only $5000 in overhead. Empire building, where you plan to expand into multiple markets with an aggressive plan to grow substantial revenues, requires a completely different set of priorities.

Your personal life style, your plans for retirement, your desire to play golf or travel and enjoy life – they all should have a place in your plan. Being in the new era of telecommunications has some distinct advantages over all other businesses in which you could engage. The main advantages are recurring revenue, subscriber-based services, as well as passive income. But a service bureau is not a business where you simply sleep-in and occasionally check-in on your automated system and monitor your bank account. It’s hard work and it involves developing business relationships that should last forever.

Defining what you want to be, how big you want to grow, and how fast you want to get there, are all crucial elements in your business plan. As you set up your plan to start a service bureau, or redirect the one you already have, keep in mind that today is the time. So much is happening to change the way the business world works. Service bureaus that specialize in working with businesses to support them through all the change that is here and yet to come will be building an incredible future. What was in the past is about to be forever changed. That means that the opportunity to begin today can put you on almost an equal footing with those who have been around for years. You might even have some advantages.

[From Connection Magazine, July 1996]