Challenge Solved: Useful Advice for Contact Center Managers
We recently spoke with a CEO who beautifully articulated what many contact center leaders have found to be true as well. After a worldwide pandemic which forced us to rethink and test out new business models, we are no better off and, in fact, in some cases our contact centers are struggling more than ever before. It’s like we slipped into an alternative reality from which there is no return! And that’s the focus of this edition of Challenge Solved featuring the insights of Dina Vance, Senior Vice President and Managing Director, North American Operations at Ulysses learning. Let us know if you can relate!
Have your question answered in an upcoming Challenge Solved advice column. Email your question to: ChallengeSolved@ulysseslearning.com
Q: When everyone first went home at the start of the pandemic, performance improved which made us consider the reality that virtual centers may be the way of the future. However, over time, virtual employee engagement has waned…and it’s impacting performance. Now we’ve brought the team back to the office and we’re no better off—results remain flat and some employees resisted the return and were quite vocal about it. So where does this leave us?
Our featured expert for this month’s question is:
Senior Vice President, Managing Director of North American Operations at Ulysses Learning
A: I think the key is “engagement.” We must engage our employees so they care about the work they do and feel valued and connected to the company.
As I pursued this thought and did some research, I found there are contact centers that are thriving. At our recent Master Coach Forum, we featured three Ulysses client organizations, representing forward-thinking insurance, utility, and health management contact centers, who have found ways to engage their teams and lift attitudes and performance.
Here are a few of the best practices they shared to drive engagement:
Best Practice #1: Make work matter. The litmus test for work whether it’s in the office or virtually is to ask one question: Was it worth it? And it’s up to us as leaders to ensure the answer to that question is “yes.”
But how do we ensure that our work matters? Research shows that people are less engaged and view their jobs as a “means to an end” unlike before when employees took pride in working for a company and felt a personal connection. To get back to helping employees feel connected to the company, one of our clients from a prominent integrated managed care company shared this best practice. He engages his leaders by ensuring each meeting has purpose and value. And to ensure meeting time is time well spent, he follows a four-point checklist:
- First on his list is that he encourages team members to come to meetings prepared to participate and makes sure each one of them is truly “seen.” He’ll say “I can’t hear you, if I can’t see you” to get them to turn their cameras on. I find this point so important as many meeting attendees are multitasking and not fully engaged.
- Second, early in his meetings the team celebrates successes (which boosts their engagement) and then he gets them excited about what they’re going to gain from coming to the meeting. This really helps grab their attention and gets the meeting off to a strong start.
- Third, he asks thoughtful questions to gain insight and prompt people to really think. And when they are thinking they are more engaged! He asks them to imagine different scenarios. For example, he’ll ask them to think about the team and who would they want to take their call if they were a customer with a question. Once they have a team member in mind, he’ll ask them why they selected that person.
- Forth, he creates accountability and follow through by sharing key takeaways. The team has a clear idea of the action they will initiate after the meeting and what success looks like. He makes sure they are informed and in the know, which is another important element of engagement.
This one act of consistently preparing for meetings is a key contributor to showing others that the work matters. And when people connect to worthy work and they understand the positive impact they have, it helps boost their engagement.
Best Practice #2: Build bonds through laughter. Laughter is a universal language and even though we all have different senses of humor, as humans we are all designed to laugh. One of the reasons laughter has been touted and scientifically proven to be so powerful (and the “best medicine”) is because in the act of “mirthful” not “hurtful” laughter, we build close bonds between others which leads to better performance, whether in a family, community, or workplace.
And with that, I’d like to present another best practice shared by two contact center leaders with a large utility provider. To help them implement a new customer experience initiative to take their center from good to great (and right in the middle of the pandemic), they artfully used humor in the form of storytelling with fictional characters and plenty of memes.
And they used a lot of good-natured fun to help convey the realities of learning new processes and techniques. It was an exceptional example of “edutainment”—part education and part entertainment—and it was brilliant! Making initiatives fun will help employees engage in the process of moving through the various stages of professional development, going from crawling to walking to running. Team members looked forward to their next employee newsletter or group email to see what memes or stories were shared, while learning and growing together.
Best Practice #3: Give team members some sense of control over their work and environment. Surveys have shown that most people consider autonomy and independence “very important” to their overall job satisfaction. Each day we hear more stories of reputable organizations that have found that employee health, productivity, and morale all improve when they create cultures of accountability where team members are empowered to do their best work on their own terms.
At our Master Coach Forum, we heard from a third client that is doing just that. This health care management group shared several best practices as they implemented a new initiative to enhance member experience.
At first, case managers, especially those new to the position, wanted scripts to follow for each of their new Conversation Strategies. But the leadership team needed the case managers to have control and feel empowered to have authentic conversations. They shared that engaged employees that feel empowered create more impactful customer interactions resulting in improved results. As leaders, they wanted them to use the strategies they had learned in training as a “framework with freedom” (and not to confuse freedom with free for all) and to leverage their own EQ to create conversations that felt good to the employee and customer.
What was the end result? By helping people make the learning and strategies their own, team members not only felt more in control of their work environment but formed a stronger connection to their work, overall. This also helped them build a culture of accountability and trust where everyone felt like they had a meaningful role to play.
I hope you found this information helpful and have an opportunity to activate one of the highlighted best practices. They really are #awesome!
And, remember, while we are certainly in uncharted territory, we have each other to help navigate the way. Please reach out if you’d like to discuss these ideas further.
About Dina Vance
Senior Vice President, Managing Director of North American Operations at Ulysses Learning
In her current capacity with Ulysses Learning, Dina is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the company and also serves as the chief client relationship executive, working with Fortune 100 clients and other progressive organizations to redefine the way customers are cared for. Under her leadership, Ulysses has become well known for its work in transforming customer service, sales and coaching cultures through the development of emotional intelligence or “EQ,” enabling reps to confidently, consistently and expertly handle every call. The company has special expertise in serving the insurance, utilities, and financial services industries.
Before joining Ulysses in 1999, Dina was responsible for the ground-level startup of two contact centers which led to her accepting a role as call center lead consultant and division manager for an international bank training organization.
Dina can be reached on LinkedIn or at firstname.lastname@example.org; for more details on Ulysses Learning visit www.ulysseslearning.com.
Challenge Solved! is sponsored by:
Ulysses Learning was founded in 1995 as a joint venture with Northwestern University’s world renown Learning Sciences department. Since then, Ulysses continued focus on research and development brings clients new, innovative enhancements to its industry-leading training and performance improvement solutions. Contact centers achieve profound business results, ahead of schedule, with Ulysses Learnings’ artful blend of patented simulation-based e-learning, facilitated exercises, coaching, and tools, that redefine the way customers are cared for and transform customer service, sales, and coaching cultures. Ulysses has one of the only training systems proven to build EQ@Work, enabling reps to develop skills to empathize with others, build stronger customer bonds, and improve team dynamics with confidence, consistency, and excellence.
Ulysses Learning is a multi-year recipient of the Gold Stevie© Award for best contact center customer service training.
Begin your contact center transformation now. Phone 800-662-4066 or visit ulysseslearning.com to get started.