Applying strategic supervisor training to boost contact center retention rates
By Dan Campbell, CEO of Hire Dynamics
When a contact center agent becomes a stand-out at his or her job, the career progression is typically a promotion to supervisor. Never mind the fact they aren’t generally trained for the role, sometimes don’t have the personality traits to successfully manage others, or even have a desire for the responsibilities and accountability that come with a leadership position. Hiring managers often feel an agent’s proven track record will make them a sufficient leader, after all it’s the “logical next step.” But as it turns out, there isn’t anything logical about it.
Supervisory roles require the ability to lead and inspire – both in personnel management and operational competence. Being good at a job and proving aptitude by accomplishing a specific set of tasks well does not necessarily or automatically give someone the skillset to manage others. Putting them in this position doesn’t do them or the company any good in the long run.
The adage that “agents don’t leave their call center job, they leave their direct supervisor” is an important one to follow here because staff success is directly related to the success of the supervisor. The leading source of turnover can be traced back to the fact that a majority of call center supervisors are promoted from frontline agent jobs – the position at which training ends.
“The supervisor role in the call or contact center is the most critical and demanding of all and often gets the least attention,” says John O’Brien, CEO and founder of Sales Talent Group. “They are on the front lines and working with live issues involving customers, employees, technology, and any manner of problem all day long.”
Contact center turnover rates averaged 30-45% nationally in 2014, but the disparity is great with some centers having almost no turnover while other top out in the triple digits. The costs associated with combating employee attrition are the leading industry expense, however, the impact of high turnover hits more than just a contact center’s bottom line. The Quality Assurance & Training Connection (QATC) to a closer look at some of the numbers associated with turnover in its winter 2015 report, “Exploring Call Center Turnover Numbers.”
The opportunity costs of lost time and productivity as resources are devoted to hiring and training, the negative drain on employee morale, and the loss of knowledge that walks out the door with experienced employees are just a few of the many unquantifiable detriments. These losses can be prevented, however, by implementing strategic supervisor training.
Effective communication means communicating effectively
Communication is the transfer of information, and effective communication is all about ensuring the information is relayed and received efficiently and accurately. How a manager communicates with his employees is the most crucial variable determining the ultimate success of any team. For example, an effective communicator will tailor their message for the target audience – individuals learn differently, and a strategic supervisor will be aware of how best to deliver information to team members to meet expected outcomes.
The level of familiarity that must be achieved in order to identify these differences and the wherewithal to account for them does not simply materialize when one is hired or promoted to the role of manager. These are skills that must be trained, and knowledge of the practices to be implemented must be attained before one can hope to communicate effectively in a managerial setting.
It’s important to remember communication is not unidirectional. An effective manager will encourage a candid and open dialogue, be receptive to constructive feedback, will promote key company values by modeling behavior, and will focus on speaking the language of truth to build trust. This plays into additional managerial tools that depend on communication for their degree of effectiveness, including the coaching and development of employees.
Coaching is cultivating success by practicing positivity
Anyone can point out another’s mistakes, yet we’re not all coaches on professional sports teams. What gives? While there is no denying we all learn from our mistakes, the greatest teachable moments are created when desired, positive outcomes are realized, and the steps to success are made plain for all to see. By pointing out when an agent does something right as opposed to something wrong, a strategic supervisor cultivates a culture of achievement and positivity.
Not only do we all feel good when recognized for a job well done, but we’re hardwired to pattern behaviors on what we should do, not what we shouldn’t. For example, instruction manuals flow from step 1 to step 2, as opposed to listing out all of the things you shouldn’t do to put that bookshelf together. By focusing on the tasks required to achieve a goal, an effective manager lays out a roadmap to success for team members to follow. Alternatively, if only mistakes were highlighted, a manager would simply point out what not to do, leaving employees focusing on a negative example with no other takeaways, in addition to the ramifications of calling out a team member in front of the whole group.
Coaching also involves recognizing the potential in individuals, and fighting for the highest possible good of the team. Strategic supervisors should be equipped with the tools necessary to encourage, develop and reinforce the behaviors and decision making that leads to victory. Establishing meaningful and measurable goals, monitoring employee performance and providing constructive feedback, and jumping in to assist team members troubleshooting challenging situations are some of the hallmarks of a strategic supervisor – practices which managers can be trained to employ.
Training supervisors is equipping them with tools to excel
In addition to effective communication and impactful coaching, supervisors should be equipped with a host of other skills, tools, and knowledge to build team success. O’Brien of Sales Talent Group shared some additional thoughts on the high-level requirements strategic supervisors need to possess.
· Understanding their role in terms of how it impacts the contact center, how their performance is quantified, and what results they are expected to deliver as a supervisor.
· Learning hiring and interviewing skills. Too many contact centers keep this process away from the supervisor because it’s considered too time consuming. But they need to be taught and included in the process and have final say on their team.
· Possessing the lost art of time management and how to run a great team meeting that is useful and productive.
· Coaching and developing talent so they connect their team on an individual basis and help them grow. The younger generation is starving for this, but it’s required for all generations in the workforce.
· Understanding current technology, not just the tools the contact center uses, but social media and its use (or nonuse) and impact it has on a contact center today.
Training supervisors not only prepares them to take on the responsibilities of management, but it places them in a position to meet and exceed the goals put in place for themselves and the team. They will feel successful and rarely do people leave a job where they feel successful. The benefits are quantifiable, and the cost of training is far surpassed by the amount saved in reducing employee turnover. The myriad of other advantages that come with strategic supervisor training make it an even easier choice to ensure your contact center teams are poised for success.
About the author:
Dan Campbell is founder and CEO of Hire Dynamics and served as the 2014 Chairman of the American Staffing Association. Putting an average of 4,000 people to work every week, Hire Dynamics is an industry leading staffing provider specializing in contact (call) centers, manufacturing facilities, logistics/e-commerce operations and office support. The company has been recognized by Staffing Industry Analyst’s list of “Best Staffing Firms to Work For,” as a “Best Places to Work” company in all its markets, and on Inc. Magazine’s 500|5000 list, among others. More information may be found at hiredynamics.com and on Twitter @hiredynamics.