Managing in a Call Center
Creating a Positive Work Environment
Call centers (also known as contact centers) are frequently cited as some of the most stressful places to work. It's quite common for staff to become disengaged or burned out, and absenteeism and job turnover are often high.
However, many organizations have overcome these challenges, and have created positive, enjoyable working environments. When this happens, service quality and morale improve, and complaints and job turnover go down.
In this article, we'll discuss how you can manage a call center team effectively, so that you get the best from your people.
Call Center Challenges
Call center work can be stressful. Budgets are often tight, and you frequently have to find ways to motivate staff without using additional financial compensation, such as bonuses.
The work can also be emotionally challenging. Talking to angry or upset customers all day can be demoralizing; use of automatic call distribution and auto-dialing software can put people under a lot of pressure; and, when managers or quality analysts monitor calls, it can cause stress and worry for employees. If the company culture isn't motivating and uplifting, team members can quickly experience burnout.
This can lead to high job turnover and absenteeism, as well as low productivity and engagement. This, in turn, affects the quality of service that people deliver, putting further pressure on managers and team members.
Recruitment is another major challenge for call center managers. Call center work can be demanding, and it can be difficult to find the right people for these roles.
Getting the Best From Your Call Center Team
Let's look at strategies that you can use to overcome the challenges of managing in a call center.
Some of the strategies that we highlight below can be difficult to implement in some types of call center. This is especially true in larger operations, where you may have limited control over the processes that your team uses. So, use your own best judgment when applying these strategies to your own situation.
Be a Good Role Model
While you can do many things to create an empowering and positive work environment, you must first realize that you set the tone for your team. When you come into work feeling and looking positive, excited, and engaged, your team will likely respond in kind.
Set Clear Goals
Next, set clear objectives for team members.
When you do this, make sure that the goals you set don't conflict with your organization's wider objectives. For example, many call centers measure call time: in general, low wait times mean happier customers, because their issues are resolved quickly. However, this performance metric can negatively affect customer service, since staff may feel pressured to shorten calls, leaving customers with unresolved issues or further queries.
Use Management by Objectives to make sure that team member goals align with those of the organization. Set goals around customer satisfaction, or other good behaviors that serve long-term organizational goals. (You can use frameworks such as the RATER Model to help you decide what to measure.)
Invest in Training
Once your team members understand what their objectives are, they need the tools, knowledge, and resources to achieve them.
Where you can, give everyone on your team a Training Needs Assessment. This will give you a better understanding of each person's skills and strengths, so that you can provide targeted training to address deficits and weaknesses. (This may be difficult to achieve if you have a lot of job turnover, however.)
Next, make a list of the information and critical skills that your people need to do their jobs effectively. Make sure that the training you provide helps people develop these skills, and gives access to this information.
Your list will likely include helping them understand how to defuse tense interactions, and knowing how to deal with unhappy customers. Use role-play to help your team prepare for these difficult situations.
If your call center experiences unpredictable call volumes, consider developing short training sessions that team members can work on between calls. These can be quite effective, especially when they focus on one specific skill or concept. Alternatively, give them access to online training (such as the Mind Tools Club), which they can use when they have time.
Motivate People Effectively
It's important to remember that different factors motivate different people. Once you know what each member of your team cares about, you can adjust your motivational strategy to account for these differences.
Start by talking to team members individually to discover their personal goals, and to find out what interests them in their work. What stands in the way of their happiness at work? What would they like to see changed?
These conversations can give a valuable insight into what motivates each member of your team.
Many call centers have strict scripts or fixed customer service processes in place. While these can be effective, you may find that people are more motivated when they have an opportunity to make some decisions. So, give your people the freedom to help customers as they see fit, where this is appropriate. This shows your trust in their ability, and empowers them to make the best choice in each situation. If you can't do this, get their input when you're developing team processes and procedures, and be clear about why certain rules are in place.
Take time to recognize and reward people, too. Celebrate the staff members who take time to help others, improve their skills, suggest improvements, and meet goals consistently. If your budget is tight, use what you discovered about team members in your earlier conversations to reward them with things that matter to them. For example, you could use rewards such as an afternoon off, a handwritten “thank you” card, or more responsibility.
Last, make sure that your team has a healthy workplace. A workplace that's healthy, comfortable, and inviting will improve morale and productivity.
Create Job Satisfaction
No matter how motivated your team members are, they're unlikely to stay motivated unless you address the deeper issue of job satisfaction.
Your team members want to know that their work has purpose, so help them uncover the deeper meaning in their work. Let them know that the care they show towards customers makes people's lives easier and less stressful. Communicate the results of your team members' work regularly, to remind them of the good that they're doing.
Also, use Herzberg's Motivators and Hygiene Factors and Sirota's Three Factor Theory to identify causes of job satisfaction and dissatisfaction. Realize that you must first remove causes of job dissatisfaction before you focus on improving elements related to job satisfaction. (This is also really important for effective motivation.)
A lack of career opportunities is a common factor in job dissatisfaction, and this is a frequent complaint in call centers. If your team members feel that there are no options for growth and development, chances are that your best people will look for those opportunities elsewhere. Help your people create a development plan that links their career goals with the organization's opportunities and expectations, and provide opportunities for advancement, where you can.
Keep Stress to a Minimum
Call center staff are often engaged in emotional labor; this means that they must hide their personal feelings while they deal with customers. This can be challenging and stressful, especially if customer interactions are often emotionally charged.
First, help your team members develop emotional intelligence; this can give them more objectivity about their experiences, and help them depersonalize a customer's anger or stress, so that they can handle calls professionally.
Next, make sure that your team members take any breaks that they're entitled to. If you notice that people are particularly stressed, encourage them to take a walk outside, or talk to you or a colleague during their breaks.
Consider pairing team members who experience frequent high stress with mentors who have more experience in call center work. This one-on-one relationship will help them develop the skills that they need to work effectively. Also, it will help them to resolve stress if they have someone to talk to about the challenges they face.
When someone is experiencing short-term stress, you could also consider temporarily switching off automatic call distribution applications and auto-dialer software, so that this person can manage the pace of their work. Again, however, this may not be possible in all situations.
To create a great working environment for your call center team, start by setting a good example. Then set clear goals that let team members know what you expect of them.
Next, motivate people by learning about each person's needs, and by giving people more autonomy in their role. Then, create job satisfaction by giving your people opportunities to develop long-term career skills.
Last, remember that call centers can be stressful places to work. Monitor your team members' stress levels, and help them manage stress when this is appropriate.
However, bear in mind that some of these strategies may not be appropriate in all situations, so use your own best judgment in how you apply them.