7 Keys to Effective Contact Center Team Leadership
September 18, 2018
By: Scott Newman
I recall my first day of being a team leader of a remote monitoring team. I was extremely excited about the promotion and opportunity but remember the anxiety and thoughts of “no one told me how to do this properly.”
So, like many people thrust into this new role, I hit the internet and tried to find information on how to effectively manage my team. However, the one thing I know after all these years is that everything I did as a new team leader was wrong!
While there are no shortcuts to becoming a good leader, over time I have learned a few lessons that can help you avoid my mistakes, guide you in the right direction, and make a huge difference in your team’s performance.
If you’re genuinely passionate about making your contact center team successful, master these seven keys and you will unlock the door to effective team leadership.
1. Remember that Everything Matters
When you become a leader, you learn quickly that everything matters. It matters that you arrive early before your team; it matters who you say hello to in the morning; it matters how you dress, who have lunch with, the look on your face… everything matters!
Rather than fight this notion, own up to it and remember that you must be aware of your actions and always push yourself to do the right things. Your team will notice your hard work and dedication (or lack thereof) and follow your lead.
HELPFUL TIP: Make an extra effort to show up early and prepare for your pre-shift meeting with your team. Say hello to someone in the hall you haven’t spoken to before and ask them how things are going. Learn something new about that person.
2. Make Employee Engagement Top Priority
To be an effective leader, you must show genuine interest and care in developing your team members — your agents will feel that — which is why you need to make employee engagement a top priority.
How do you do it? Through intense focus and effort. It means supporting team members inside and outside the office.
Do you know anything about their families, their goals, and aspirations? What about their personalities and learning styles?
During work, we should focus on work things, but how would you feel if your leader asked you how your kid did in his or her soccer game last night? Showing that you care about their lives and being a pillar for their success will engender loyalty and foster engagement.
HELPFUL TIP: Have lunch with a different team member occasionally. You can easily schedule your lunch around their breaks and take the opportunity to connect with them one-on-one outside of the pressures of the job. Learn about their families, motivations, and goals. Ask them for ideas on how to do your job better. Showing interest and then implementing the learnings will help build an engaged culture.
3. Become a Program Expert
As a team leader, you must know everything about the program(s) for which you are responsible. After all, you are the front line for all knowledge about your program.
Let’s say, for example, there is a crucial metric your program is accountable for hitting — conversion percentage perhaps. An ineffective leader will say something like, “My job is to motivate people to hit the best possible conversion percentage.”
However, that response lacks substance and action items. A highly-effective leader would respond with something like:
“Conversion percentage is dependent on three main areas: the opening of the call, the initial pitch, and the close. When a team member is struggling, I review their calls to identify which part they are missing on and coach them to that point and develop an action plan. I then monitor them to see improvement.”
The second response is concrete and action-oriented. To offer that kind of feedback, however, you first must become an expert who can identify where and when things are going wrong and know how to implement a fix.
HELPFUL TIP: Spend some time listening to top performer’s calls and speak to them one-on-one about what they do. Identify what makes them successful, and then find ways to copy that with your team. Just sending out a note with the tips isn’t useful. Instead, coach one-on-one and monitor for improvements.
4. Provide Real-time Feedback
A day in the life of a contact center agent (and team leader) is hectic, to say the least. If one of your agents has a bad call at 9 a.m. that needs coaching, by 11 a.m. he has already forgotten because he’s handled another 50 customers.
Because of this, real-time coaching is by far the best way to deliver feedback to your team. That means you cannot be pinned to your workstation all day, and when you are walking the floor, must listen to calls in real-time. In fact, walking the floor with your headset and tablet creates the sense among your team that you might be listening to any one of them, and they will stay sharp.
QA coaching and feedback from graded calls is also critical to the development of your team, but nothing replaces real-time support and coaching.
HELPFUL TIP: As you plan out your day (by looking at poor performers the day prior), walk the floor with your tablet and listen in real-time. Don’t be afraid to jump in and take over a call or tell your agent, “Let me handle the next one for you.” Not only does seeing someone else do it properly produce results faster, but you’ll also earn the respect of your team members by getting into the trenches with them. If you aren’t ready and willing to take calls with your team members, you are in the wrong position.
5. Make Structure and Process Consistent
For most of the population, unpredictability creates stress. That is why many of the best team leaders are structured people, repeating the same actions until they become habits.
Part of that statement involves planning out your day because, without a to-do list, the things you know you need to accomplish can easily slip off your radar. More importantly, however, it refers to how you handle certain situations.
For example, when an agent is having trouble for an extended period, let’s say you decide not to put them on an action plan the first time but coach him instead. The second time, you choose to coach again. Then, the third time you put him on an action plan.
How will that action plan be viewed? Most likely, the agent will perceive it as a punitive action, and, in the contact center world, many agents will give up and even quit rather than working on their action plan.
What if, instead, every agent knew that if they struggled for two weeks, you would put them on an action plan that entailed daily coaching, feedback sessions, and some QA support? It is predictable, and agents will view it as a support measure rather than punishment.
That is what I refer to when I talk about structure and process. When your agents know what your next steps are before you even speak to them, you’ve taken one element of stress and confusion out of your team and can focus on correcting the issues.
HELPFUL TIP: “Stick to the Script.” What I mean by this is make sure actions have predictable, consistent reactions. Enforce rules consistently for all team members. Make sure your team understands that action plans and progressive disciplinary measures are objective so that they will know what’s next before you even mention it to them.
6. Have the Hard Conversations
If you’re like me, you dislike confrontation. In my early days of management, I would put off difficult conversations with some of my direct reports because it made me feel uncomfortable.
I also learned that the sandwich approach for feedback (a positive compliment, then the feedback, then a positive compliment) was nothing more than a crutch that only created confusion for the person I was delivering feedback to. I made them think they were great two times, and the feedback I wanted to give got lost in the middle. The message did not get received and, ultimately, neither did the desired results.
Over time, I realized something: I was self-serving and selfish by not having these direct, hard conversations with my team members. There were a few reasons why:
At some point, I will have to let the person go if he fails to correct his actions. If I never buckle down and give the hard feedback, eventually when I let the person go, he will be shocked and surprised. “Why didn’t anyone tell me I was doing so poorly?” he would ask. For me, this was just bad management and an easier route;
Instead of resenting me, which I had suspected would happen, I realized agents respected me for giving them direct feedback. They knew I genuinely wanted to support them and drive the company’s initiatives, and they clearly knew what needed to be done;
Not delivering feedback or corrective actions in an unbiased way spreads negative attitudes throughout your team like cancer.
HELPFUL TIP: When an agent is doing something that you know is a problem, tell him respectfully but directly. Do it in a non-threatening but factual manner that is not in public view. Calling people out in public elicits a defensive response. Remember that the agent will ultimately respect you for the direct feedback and understand your position. Your input is for the benefit of your team member, to help him succeed, so deliver it that way.
7. Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help
My guess is that your reputation and perception of how others view you is actually very important (despite what you might tell people). It’s just human nature. We care about what others think about us.
I’m also guessing that you feel telling your team members “I don’t know” or asking your manager for advice or support would be a sign of weakness, right? Well, I have news for you, it isn’t.
Everyone needs support, and GREAT leaders know what they don’t know, but do know where to go to find answers. Help is rarely just offered out of the blue. Instead, it is something you must seek to get.
Part of being a great leader is showing some vulnerability from time to time with your team. That might be sharing a personal story or just plain being wrong occasionally. That’s okay because no one will respect and work hard to impress a boss who doesn’t seem human.
Swallow your pride. If you want to get promoted, then your team’s consistently excellent performance is what will get you there, not your ego.
HELPFUL TIP: When you feel overwhelmed, are stuck in a situation you don’t know how to handle, or just want to know something you didn’t before, set aside your pride and ask for help. Contrary to what you probably think, advice doesn’t always have to come from above (your boss). Some of the best comes from your direct reports, but you must seek it out. In your next morning meeting, ask them to think about what else you could do to help them be more successful at their jobs, and during the day, have one-on-one conversations to find out.
If you want to be successful in your job, become obsessed — and I mean literally obsessed — with mastering these seven keys. Plan out your days, gain the knowledge and support needed to become an expert in each of these areas, and watch your team thrive.