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, 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.

Creative Writing, Emotional Intelligence, Learning & Training, Team Building, Work

Icebreaker Alternatives for People Who Hate Icebreakers

“Today is all about getting to know each other, building relationships, and finding out even more about the people you already know. It’s icebreaker time!”

As my colleague announced the aims for the day to our newly hired team, the atmosphere in the room turned suddenly frosty. People shuffled in their seats and looked at their shoes. Our team was made up of mostly younger staff, working in an industry that’s not known for its extraversion. At the word “icebreaker”, they visibly melted.

Several years earlier, I was a member of a team tasked with onboarding around 25 people, brand new to the company, and who would all be working closely together. As a training team, we knew we needed to help everyone get to know each other.

[Read more on the Zendesk Relate Blog]