How to Turn Your Customer Service Contact Center Agents Into ‘Rising Stars’
November 18, 2019
By: Paul Chaney
Nothing is more important to the ongoing success of a contact center than its ability to identify and develop tomorrow’s leaders today.
Yet, many customer service contact centers place little time or value in cultivating leaders and often limit formal agent training to the initial two-week period — just enough to get them onto the floor. Then, when a leadership opening exists, management taps the best performer on the shoulder and says, “Congratulations. It’s your turn.”
At Transparent BPO, we know our success is dependent upon having a strong pipeline of emerging leaders, trained and ready to step in as a program expands or new opportunity arises.
That’s why, two years ago, Pat Ricken, our Director of Leadership Development, worked with the Operations team to design and launch a Leadership Development initiative she dubbed “Rising Stars.”
Here’s Ricken on why she started Rising Stars:
“We began Rising Stars as a way to recognize the personal investment our employees make in the success of the business every day and to encourage and incentivize growth for those who want to make working in the contact center industry a career.
“‘Rising Stars’ are those who do the right things every day, helping others who struggle, stepping in to provide support, taking on extra work…even before they wear a badge that says ‘Leader.’ Our goal was to give them the tools, skills, and confidence to move successfully ahead into the role of ‘Leader.’”
According to Ricken, continuing to have a readily available pool of leaders as the company grows can be challenging.
“Too often, customer service contact centers fail to plan far enough ahead to identify and develop potential leaders,” she said. “The lack of planning compounds one mistake with another — putting people in roles for which they are unprepared.”
Ricken emphasized that the number one priority at Transparent BPO is to create leadership paths for potential leaders, from team leads to operations managers to site directors.
“Our Rising Stars program ensures we always have a crop of emerging leaders who are trained and ready to go when the next entry-level leader opportunity arises, allowing others to then step up into roles of increasing responsibility,” she said.
To date, a total of 52 agents have graduated from the Rising Stars Program, 38 (73 percent) have already been promoted into positions of greater responsibility. Plans are to train and graduate 20 more in the spring of 2020 and another group in the fall.
Contact Center Leadership Development Best Practices
When contact centers have well-trained management at the team lead and operational levels, it is no secret that the organization will realize several benefits, not the least of which is increased retention and better performance in terms of meeting KPIs.
But how do you get front line agents to the level where they are future leaders — the “Rising Stars?” Following these five best practices can help.
1. Make Training and Development a Continuous Process
Getting an agent from the initial training through nesting to the floor isn’t where their development should stop. Ensuring leaders are in the pipeline at all times starts with an organized, disciplined, and ongoing process.
Research from the Aberdeen Group revealed that contact centers that provide ongoing agent training achieve a 4.6 percent year-over-year improvement in agent performance compared to those that don’t. So, make training and leadership development a continuous process.
2. Train for Behaviors, Not Just Metrics
Training leaders in the “mechanics” of the daily checklist is important, but educating them on how to develop each individual on the team to reach their full potential, is where the real rewards come in.
No one joins a company to fail, yet companies often focus only on the metrics and neglect to train their leaders on how to inspire and elevate others to success.
That’s why developing leaders is so essential: Equipping agents with the required skills to interact with prospective customers, respond to their questions, and represent the brand’s products and services well are critical in meeting service levels. And those skills can translate into Leadership skills, as your “customers” now become those who look to you to guide and help motivate them.
3. Invest in Agent Success
A survey by NewVoiceMedia, a cloud technology company, found that when customers felt they made a positive emotional connection with an agent, they would be more likely to do business with that company again.
When leaders make that same emotional connection with the teams they lead, and the agents feel valued and relevant, their engagement is increased. It’s no secret that employees tend to stay longer and outperform others who don’t feel the connection.
That’s reason enough to not only make a sound investment in your recruiting, hiring, and training practices but also in providing agents with a career path that includes moving into a leadership role.
4. Help Leaders Understand the ‘Why’
Your leaders-in-training may know what they do and how to do it, but do they also understand the “why?”
By that, he means for leaders to inspire cooperation, trust, and change in others, they must first understand the purpose of the organization for which they work and why it exists.
At Transparent BPO, our mission statement says we “offer our clients a competitive advantage in their industry by providing advanced call center technological services and skilled human resources.” But that doesn’t fully explain our “why.” This statement does:
“Transparent BPO stands for pushing boundaries to ensure every experience delivers a meaningful outcome.”
When our “rising stars” understand that as the reason to come to work every day, we know they will operate from intrinsic motivations and inspire the agents on their teams to strive to accomplish more.
5. Train Based on Organizational and Ethical Standards
Knowing the “why” is essential, but so is understanding the Core Values on which the organization is built. We have four — Quality, Clients, Community, and Transparency — and we seek to instill those in our leaders as the ethical standards by which we (and they) are to operate.
When an agent moves through the ranks into a leadership role, he or she becomes not just a manager of tasks and metrics, but also a leader of others.
Leaders help their teams understand the big picture, and how the work they do on their program fits into the overall goals of the company as a whole. Knowing that inspires people to do their best, understanding that one individual can impact the brand, reputation and success of the whole company.
If you want your agents to become Rising Stars, commit to making training an ongoing process, train for behaviors (not just metrics), invest the necessary time and resources, make sure they understand the “why,” and train based on organizational and ethical standards.