Culture, Customer Experience

Changing times – What CX means to me today

I have been on a long hiatus from social media and business-related blogging. 2020 has been like no other year, and I’ve been thinking a lot about what all this change in the world means for me personally and professionally. Now, I’m digging in again, and I wanted to share where I’m at.

I’ve been trying to articulate my stance on all of this and I think maybe a story helps.

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Culture, Customer Experience, Emotional Intelligence, Work

[Video] The AvoCAREdo Show

We spend 1/3rd of our entire lives at work, so it’s vital to be tuned into what you need to be happy and healthy there.

What’s more, customer experience and customer service are difficult fields to work within. I’ve written before about the impact of emotional labour on call center employees, and the difficulties that come when call center work is stigmatised.

Because of this, it was fantastic to be invited on the AvoCAREdo show by CX and wellness pro, Jenny Dempsey, to chat about my own self care wins and struggles.

Thanks Jenny! 🥑❤

Originally published here.

Culture, Emotional Intelligence, Team Building, Work

Constructive, Positive Feedback Tips for Your Contact Center Agents

As a contact center leader, you will know the importance of feedback to help your agents continuously learn and improve their work. Truly effective contact centers recognize that agent development should continue to occur even long after initial call center training, and that constructive feedback and coaching should be a part of the entire employee lifecycle.

Many management development programs teach the basics of giving great feedback, but choosing the right method of doing so can often be difficult – and actually getting results from that feedback can be even harder, which is why we recommend getting to know more about the EHS Insight.

Here are some straightforward feedback tips you can start using right now to shake up the way that you give constructive feedback, engage with the development needs of your reports and ensure that you’re consistently acting as a driver for exceptional quality within your center.

Show, Don’t Tell

Asking your agents to reflect on their own interactions is often a very effective way to get the message through. Many agents take pride in their work and can be often more critical about their own work than you would be, so take advantage of this.

This method works especially well for call center QA reviews, where you can pre-prepare some examples of conversations you want to give feedback on, and focus on the areas where you think some learning could occur.

In your QA review meetings, ask your agent to look at or listen to the interaction, thinking about what went well or not so well in four areas:

  • Put yourself in the customer’s shoes. Was language used positive? Was tone appropriate? Were their thoughts and feelings acknowledged and adapted to?
  • Was the interaction professional in terms of established conventions in your center – such as the greeting, the closing statements, hold or escalation processes, any survey offering, or any other mandatory requirements?
  • Was the right information given? Was it enough for the customer? Could any more detail or information have been useful?
  • What else could you have done? Were there any alternatives which could be offered? Were there any opportunities to go above and beyond?

Give your agent time to make some notes or collect their thoughts and ask them what they thought about each area. Often the agent will be able to see areas to develop if you are able to lead them in the right direction to think about these areas in detail. Make sure you are using high-quality questions throughout, such as “Tell me what you thought about…”, “How did you feel about…” to encourage your agent to open up as much as possible.

This method is great for… encouraging agents who are quiet and don’t contribute much in feedback sessions to open up and engage critically with their work.

Challenge Ingrained Behavior

Many of us hope that when we’re giving constructive feedback, the person who it has been given to will take it on board and act upon it. However, some agents will agree with feedback given while they are in the room with you, but carry on using the same old behaviors anyway.

There can be several reasons for this. Either, agents just don’t agree with the feedback given, or see why it’s important. They might feel threatened, worried or unclear about how they can actually make a change. And we all know ourselves that unless we really believe in and are committed to a goal, we are unlikely to actually make changes – consider the amount of New Year’s resolutions made each year that don’t last.

It’s important to realize that every behavior has a positive intent – that is, for everything a person says and does, there will be a positive factor behind it for them, even if that intent is simple self-preservation.

In order to get your agents bought in to making the changes you need, you need to drill down to what intent is driving the way a person acts at the moment, emphasise the negative consequences of this, and propose a more appealing option. (If you can’t think of any ways in which the option you’re proposing is more appealing, perhaps you might want to think about whether it is such a good option after all.)

Questions you can consider asking to get to the bottom of this are:

  • What is it about [this behavior] that makes you keep doing it?
  • What are the advantages of carrying on doing it?
  • What are the disadvantages?
  • What would your work look like if you carried on doing this?
  • What would your work look like if you stopped doing this?
  • What advice would you give to someone else in your exact position?

Asking questions like this will help you to understand the roots of a behavior. It also gives your agent a chance to critically examine why they act the way they act, open up conversation about the real issues underlying a problem, and allow you both to collaborate on a plan of action that gets both of you what you need.

This method is great for… changing stubborn behavioral issues that just don’t seem to shift.

Harness Creative Thinking to Create Solutions to Problems

“How you think about a problem is more important than the problem itself so always think positively”– Norman Vincent Peale

Often, even where an agent agrees that a change is needed, they might not know exactly how to make that change. You can facilitate a brainstorming exercise here to explore the different possibilities an agent has to make a successful change, or achieve a goal.

Once you and your agent have worked to figure out an outcome they would like to achieve, ask them to draw on a piece of paper, in bubbles, the following headings:

  1. Tasks and things to do
  2. Resources needed
  3. Obstacles
  4. Solutions to overcoming obstacles
  5. Other people who could help
  6. Reasons to involve other people

Ask them to spend a solid five minutes brainstorming potential solutions, using each of these areas as a prompt. The key here is to ask them not to analyse or criticize anything they write – as soon as they think of any idea, get it straight out on paper. It doesn’t matter how outlandish or silly an idea is, they should write it down. Sometimes the best ideas come from pure creativity, and creativity isn’t critical.

By looking at a problem is a new way, you can lead your agents to discover solutions and resources they didn’t previously consider were available to them. Harnessing creative thinking can be a great way to drive development, and by looking at an issue in a fresh way, help others to realise the wealth of potential help they have all around them.

This method is great for… agents who reply “I don’t know” when you ask them how they could achieve a goal.

Build a Development Culture

Giving feedback isn’t easy, but tracking the progress of your reports in acting on feedback can be even harder. SMART goal setting is a common way to set a goal and the conditions through which it can be realised, but many managers don’t follow through with tracking the progress of even a SMART goal.

Some of this can be down to setting clear expectations and opportunities to discuss as the goal is worked towards. Make it clear when goal setting that you’ll be interested in and connected to your agent’s progress, and don’t be afraid to drop into everyday conversation a quick enquiry into how your agent is working towards achieving their goal.

A quick check-in, using a phrase like “How are you getting on with [your goal]?” can go a long way towards giving your agent an opportunity to ask for any further help or support, while showing that continuous improvement is something that’s part of your everyday language.

This method is great for… building a long-term, truly effective feedback culture for your entire contact center.

Do you have any tips for ways to give great feedback, and helping agents to make changes which really stick? Let me know in the comments below.

Culture, Customer Experience, Emotional Intelligence, Work

Creating Customer Heroes: How Your Agents Can Become Customer Storytellers

Let’s imagine, for one moment, that you’re casting your agents and customers in a movie.

What roles would they play?

Would your agents make their screen debut as wise sages, imparting knowledge and truth to help spur your customers to a glorious conclusion in their customer service journey?

Or would your agents be more like sword-wielding fighters, battling to defeat angry customer ogres before they burn your contact center to the ground?

Fantastical tales aside, stories about our businesses carry a lot of meaning. The narratives weaved by ourselves, our agents and our customers can communicate common values, elicit emotion, develop trust and understanding, and communicate knowledge and wisdom that can allow us all to grow.

The exercise above might seem silly. But thinking about your agents and customers as people in a story often paints a more vibrant picture of the type of service your business gives than a lot of the ‘hard’ information we calculate, classify and analyze in our contact centers.

Stories are a great way to make communicating complex information simpler, they provoke thought and learning, and they can often guide our actions in a way that’s clearer than cold NPS or CSat figures.

Some stories have persisted for thousands of years – and many people have produced theories that help to explain why storytelling is still such a useful form of information transfer. Communication scholar Walter Fisher argues that storytelling is one of the most persuasive forms of communication.

And in Chip and Dan Heath’s book “Made to Stick”, they argue that storytelling is a key ingredient of ideas that are compelling and produce action.

I certainly agree with them – as a professional trainer, I can confirm a story told during training sessions often gives people a lot more to analyze than a basic “show and tell” type of learning.

Given that storytelling can be such a powerful way to share learning, what does that mean for your contact center?

In this article, I’ll explore some of the ways you can help your agents to become “Customer Storytellers” to help everyone in your organization benefit from the stories your customers tell, and to learn from the ways that your agents helped them.

Agents as Listeners

Every day, your agents are in the privileged position of being let into the stories and lives of your customers. Agents act as the ‘ears’ of an organization, and it’s listening and perspective-taking that allows successful agents to understand and find meaning in the stories your customers tell.

It’s been said that the contact center is one of the most data-rich departments within an organization, and that’s true. What’s also true is it’s the department most rich in narrative!

Given all of the information that flows through your center, why should we pay extra attention to trying to capture customer stories in particular?

Well, we all know that customer expectations are on the rise. The stories your customers tell every day are an authentic and real-time source of information to allow you to keep meeting those expectations.

While customers might not have the time or want to go to the effort of providing feedback via formal channels, your agents can help to fill that gap.

While we’re all used to capturing CSat data and the like to measure how we’re doing, few organizations consider how best to capture the customer stories that your agents hear every day.

Because stories come to life when we tell them, asking your agents to listen carefully to customer stories with a view to sharing and understanding them is a pretext for helping them become true customer storytellers.

Agents as Storytellers

Listening to customer stories is just the first step, as it’s the sharing of stories that holds the most potential for growth and change in our organizations.

Ask any of your agents for stories about their customers, and the tales they tell will say a lot about the roles that customers and agents play in the big story of your organization.

Do they talk about customers so angry that they threatened to call every newspaper or politician that they thought might be able to swing things their way?

Or do they talk about those stories where they laughed or cried with customers, and connected with them in a way that goes beyond a simple phone call?

The morals and learnings we can gain from those stories are significant, and whether they’re good or bad, it’s through sharing them that we can start all to understand and to do better.

Your contact center staff have the potential to be the ‘voice’ of your organization just as much as they’re also the ‘ears.’ 

Customer advocacy can start within your agent team, and encouraging them to communicate stories allows more people access to information that’s rich with learning opportunities.

Developing processes for agents to share customer stories (with the rest of your team, or even with your entire organization) helps us not just to better understand our customers, but also to better appreciate the personalities of our agent team.

And it’s through a better understanding of each other that we can begin to affect significant changes in our work.

While we will never all agree all of the time, if we can approach more interactions with our customers and each other with a view to hear and consider different perspectives, it opens up possibilities for reasoning and action that would have never been there had we simply viewed situations from our point of view.

When teams can use a variety of perspectives to develop a fair and balanced comprehension of what’s important and what they should strive for, this allows them to be better equipped to deliver a service that provides fair and balanced experiences for customers.

Not to mention that encouraging the telling of stories, whether good or bad, makes for workplaces where we can be more comfortable with telling our own stories – the ones that help others to understand more about our authentic selves.

Agents as Heroes

A danger inherent in customer storytelling is asking your agents to tell stories about situations they’re powerless to control, making them little more than a bit-part character in the tales of others. Often, this results in stories that show the frustration of agents who want to do the right thing, but are consistently unable to.

If you’re interested in using storytelling within your organization, think about how you can empower your agents to become the heroes in your customer’s stories – the characters that save the day, subvert expectations, and provide hope.

It’s a lot easier for agents to ensure your customers’ stories have happy endings if they can themselves initiate the ‘plot twists’ that turn negative situations around. The ability to act autonomously in deciding the outcomes of customer stories means that the roles agents play, of the attentive listener or the customer advocate, can become genuinely lived rather than just acted out.

Being able to affect change in the lives and stories of your customers has profound benefits. Autonomy in work has been shown to lead to increased levels of well-being and job satisfaction, and many of us should be able to recognize that when agents can affect change in their work, it turns it from being something that’s done to them, to something that they participate in.

If you’re wondering how you can give your agents more autonomy, just ask your agents themselves. They should be able to provide you with examples of an abundance of situations where they wished they could do more, but weren’t able to – and sometimes something as simple as a change in access permissions can open up new possibilities for issue resolution.

While agents won’t always be able to give customers everything they ask for, combining sensitivity to the stories of customers with the ability to turn situations around makes for better issue resolution that’s full of possibilities and fairer for all parties involved.

Not to mention, the bonus of giving your agents more freedom to become customer heroes is that it increases the chance of positive customer experiences occurring.

And for most of us in customer service, it’s those positive customer stories which are much of the reason we’re in this industry in the first place – stories which show that we all have the capacity to listen, to understand, and to do even small things that can mean the world to others.

Originally published at CX Accelerator.

Culture, Customer Experience, Emotional Intelligence, Team Building, Work

More Than Just Lip Service: How To Turn Corporate Values into Lived Behaviors in Your Contact Center

Communication – We have an obligation to communicate.
Respect – We treat others as we would like to be treated.
Integrity – We work with customers and prospects openly, honestly, and sincerely.
Excellence – We are satisfied with nothing less than the very best in everything we do.

Do these corporate values sound familiar to you? Given that some 89% of companies have core values of some kind, it’s likely that you’re accustomed to these types of statements, which many companies all over the world proudly align themselves to.

The difference with this list of values is that they’re pulled from the 2000 Annual Report of what would become one of the most unethical companies of all time – Enron. In the wake of Enron’s 2001 accounting scandal, it quickly became clear to shareholders and customers alike that these values meant nothing, in a corporate culture where greed reigned supreme.

While Enron is an extreme example of values fallen by the wayside, sadly it’s all too often that company value statements are pinned up on the wall and forgotten about, while lived culture brews all practices and tactics which make for disempowering, politically-charged or unethical working environments.

It’s a sad thing that the contact center is so often a place where these practices are often seen and publicized. From KPIs that cause role conflict and stress, to high-pressure sales tactics employed by desperate staff at the expense of vulnerable customers, there are companies everywhere who pay lip service to great culture while allowing awful business practices to impact on customers and agents alike.

Corporate value statements are meant to prevent this, but they’re problematic for any professional who looks for results in any business initiative – and corporate values are as much of a business initiative as any other practice to fuel organizational change. How can values be measured? What even are we measuring here? While corporate values are often seen as too disputed or illusory to get to consensus on and measure, it can be done. Here are some of the things I’ve learned from helping contact centers to embed their corporate values.

Make Values Visible

Your values shouldn’t be hidden in a corporate handbook. Make it clear how much they influence your working culture by putting them front and center. Print them on coffee mugs, engrave them into meeting room windows, hang them on posters.

Making values visible is much more than physically marking their presence. Your leadership team have a huge role to play in setting the standard for values-driven business, too. To put it simply – if they’re not talking about values, your teams aren’t going to either.

Work Towards Shared Definitions

Some values are really difficult to define. Ask your average person what integrity is, for example, and you’ll likely get an answer along the lines of “Doing the right thing”. That’s all well and good, but Enron’s executives probably thought they were doing the right thing for their lifestyle and family the whole time they were secretly lining their pockets with the organization’s money.

Values mean different things to different people, so it’s essential to get your team agreed on what a particular value actually means in order for them to see how it can be applied to their work. Get your teams thinking about what your corporate values really mean to them by way of a brainstorming session – and be prepared for some deep discussions that range into the realms of philosophy, ethics, psychology, and more.

All of this makes for some seriously interesting debate that will help you understand your teams in new ways, as well as helping them towards a deeper understanding of what values really are, and how they apply within your organization.

Define What Values Look Like – And What They Don’t Look Like

Many of us would say we are principled people who act according to certain standards. You’d be hard-pressed to find a person who doesn’t say that they don’t take accountability for their actions, or that they don’t treat people with respect. But ask how values can be shown in an everyday working environment, and some might struggle to come up with some concrete examples of what certain values actually look like. What do accountable people actually do to show that? What behaviours do you need to show to demonstrate excellence?

What’s more, the nature of modern work often presents some interesting ethical dilemmas that value statements alone don’t resolve. Is it a violation of integrity to book a doctor’s appointment on work time when you’re not feeling well? Is Ken’s bordering-on-xenophobic nature to be expected given his upbringing and culture, or does that signify a problematic absence of respect? Identifying behaviors linked to value statements is a great way to give clarity to these moral grey areas.

Create some clear examples of specific behaviors to give your teams that clarity. Work with them to brainstorm what each value looks like, and also what acting with an absence of that value looks like. These behaviors should cover both interactions with customers, as well as interactions with each other.

With some encouragement, many people can come up with some real-life behaviors that act as a solid guideline for value-driven working practices, and help make value statements more concrete than a list of well-meaning but vague phrases. Document them for future reference and be clear that your list should rightly be always up for debate.

Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is – Measure & Assess Values

It’s rare for organizations to measure and assess standards for behavior against corporate values, but turning values into a KPI sends a seriously strong message about how important values are to you as an organization.

What’s more, when staff know there are expectations for value-driven conduct, values transform from being statements that are talked about on induction day and then forgotten, to becoming a reliable standard which defines how work occurs within your business.

You can implement a value-based KPI into your annual review process by asking staff to come prepared with examples of times they’ve shown behaviors that signify a particular value. You can decide how in-depth and granular you want this process to be – it might be enough for you to ask your teams to evidence one or two things that show they’ve acted with a certain value at each review, and give them a tick in the box that demonstrates they have thought and acted in accordance with that value. Or, you might choose a more lengthy process that incorporates coaching and 360-degree feedback to develop a rating.

With sensitivity to the practicalities of this process, it’s possible to develop a new KPI that helps your corporate values to become truly lived.

Why Values Matter In The Contact Center

Few business areas have seen as much transformation in the last few decades as the contact center. Back in the 80s, as the telephone enabled the offshoring of customer communications, the call center was born as an opportunity for business cost reduction. The draw of call centers was the ability to cheaply process high-volume customer inquiries – inquiries which were often low quality, and the targets and practices within them tended to disadvantage agents and customers alike.

Only in the last ten years has CX become a strategic priority, and now, our agents are much more than low-skill, scripted triage staff – they’re fully-fledged knowledge workers, with valuable and transferable professional skills, creating clear business advantage for the organizations they work within.

Despite this incredible change, contact centers still suffer from the image problems of the past – viewed as places where ‘professional’ work and ethics are often absent. Agents still try to minimize aspects of their role from their friends or relatives, who still commonly see contact centers as unskilled, low-value places to work. And many customers still dread contacting customer service, expecting to talk to agents with no ability or desire to truly help. These are big issues which affect the potential success of the work that we all do, as demonstrating the worth of our centers is especially hard against this backdrop.

With that in mind, it’s important for anyone who hopes to advance contact center working practices to reject the perceptions of the past, through ensuring that their centers are staffed by agents who aren’t disadvantaged by their jobs, and who serve customers who are treated fairly. Values can be a strong driver to set a clear standard for conduct, communication, and behavior in our centers so that this hope becomes more than just an aspiration.

The promotion of value-driven business practices, then, is essential to actually change the problematic perceptions of contact center work and to help us raise the bar of best practice throughout our industry.

It’s on all of us to situate values strongly in our workplaces, helping us to create contact centers which are recognized as operating fairly, upholding exceptional standards of practice, and allowing for empowering work to take place – for agents, businesses and customers alike.

Originally published here.