Empowerment drives continuous improvement mindset
Illustration by Eric Jackson

We operate in a fast-changing business environment. The processes that work well today can quickly become unwieldy and undercut your center’s performance tomorrow. Leading-edge service providers understand the need to keep getting better—and they know firsthand the power that a continuous improvement culture has on customer satisfaction, quality, employee engagement and business performance.

Empowering agents with higher levels of decision-making authority helps to drive the behaviors that are critical to a continuous improvement culture. Empowerment not only increases job satisfaction, it stimulates a problem-solving, continuous improvement mindset. The following are three practices that can help you to develop an empowered front line that is driven to continuously improve your business.

Give Agents the Authority to Govern Themselves

Establishing an environment where employees feel free to challenge the status quo will increase morale and staff’s willingness to offer input. At Comerica Bank’s Customer Contact Center, agents are encouraged to contribute to center policies and processes. They’re able to take more control over their jobs by participating in an agent council. The agent council meets as a group to discuss the items that they want to present to management at a monthly meeting. They form subcommittees to oversee those issues and report on progress to the council and to contact center management.

The council is responsible for creating workplace policies as well as enforcing them. Contact center management has found that the policies developed by the agents are not very different from the original policies that were in place, but the impact and adherence is much greater. The self-governing role also has made agents more aware of how the business operates, and the reasons behind certain decisions and policies.

Practical Pointer IconPractical Pointer: When setting up an agent council, make sure that supervisors provide useful feedback to their teams on choosing delegates. For instance, don’t elect only the high-performers who love everything about the center; include those who have identified issues and policies that they want to see revised. Find the individuals who have something to say and will give honest feedback.

Focus on the Process, Not Individual Performance

NCCI Holdings adopted a Six Sigma approach to customer interactions, which has streamlined call-handling processes and improved quality. Instead of looking for errors to improve in the individual agent’s performance, NCCI focused on improving processes in the overall, end-to-end customer experience (which ultimately impacts individual quality).

Frontline staff plays a key role in improving the center’s workflow and processes. During quality reviews, quality analysts sit with agents and have them walk through each step of the call. The reviews help QAs to identify the different approaches to processes that have evolved over time. QAs learn from the agents, sometimes incorporating their workflows into the process, or they may reexamine the process entirely as part of a problem-solving project.

Upgrade Your Recruiting Profile

Developing an empowered environment that focuses on continuous improvement typically calls for different skill sets, attitudes and a revised agent hiring profile. Call center management at Frontier Communications screens its frontline candidates for resiliency. To determine whether a potential frontline representative is resilient, hiring managers evaluate candidates’ responses to questions like, “Tell me about a time when you did not perform as well as you would have hoped. What was the situation, and what were the results?” Or, “Describe a time when a customer you were interacting with became angry at you. What did you do? What were the results?”

Having the right attitude is also important. Frontier seeks candidates who are responsible for their actions, accept and learn from criticism, and can live the company’s “I can help” mission. In addition, interviewers look for helpfulness, friendliness, concentration, intelligence and empathy in candidates, combined with a positive attitude and comfort with decision-making.

Practical Pointer IconPractical Pointer: Reinforce your culture by hiring like-minded individuals. Frontier’s sales and service consultants are requested to submit two referrals for employment each year. The center leadership has found that current employees are the best evaluators of the right attitude and culture fit. In addition, new-hires who were referred tend to perform better and stay with the company longer.