Illustration by Ben Powell

As with practically all improvement activities, an engaged staff starts with the right hires. Passion is a requirement, but it needs to be driven by the type of success that the contact center environment can support. Those with a passion for external rewards and working on their own schedule will not likely be as successful as those who get a charge out of quietly helping others. Yet even with the right staff, there are plenty of ways we need to shape the environment to turn a potentially good hire into an engaged and valued member of the team. The following are a few ideas:

Promote the Importance of the Job

Let’s be honest: An agent’s position is not generally considered to be glamorous. Glamour, though, is not a prerequisite for engagement. Instead, it is critical for agents to recognize that, while there is no red carpet, the work itself is important. Small but heroic efforts happen on a fairly regular basis, and they make a real difference in the lives of customers. Resolving a long-standing issue, finding the perfect product for a weary shopper, and taking the extra time needed to properly explain a situation are ways that we give customers a lift. Yes, we can (and often do) recognize the person for the extra effort, but we often do not promote these wins as a benefit of the job. This type of intrinsic reward should be front and center when describing the work to an applicant, when discussing job expectations with frontline staff, and when creating the mission statement for the organization.

Embrace Rotational Education

You probably have many different areas—training, quality assurance, workforce management, etc.—which support the center. Agent activities are to some extent directed by these areas, but the agents rarely know anything about these roles. Allowing them to spend some time in these areas, observing (and, if possible, doing) the work will provide greater insight into the organization. With a greater appreciation of the entire organization, it is easier for agents to understand how their role affects others. Greater vision translates to improved engagement.

Whenever Possible, Get Agents Closer to the Customer

I once did a project for a transportation authority, and to a person, every agent on the phone said the single most valuable activity was being given days off the phone to ride the routes that customers use every day. It helped them better grasp the job and improve their understanding of the customer’s perspective. If you have retail stores, agents should have a chance to work in them. If you have focus groups with customers, agents should get the opportunity to be involved (even if only observing). If you have a product or service that a consumer can use, every agent should get it for free (or at least at reduced cost). For the relatively minor expense of some time off the phone, the payback is more compassion, greater understanding, and a higher level of engagement.

Be Approachable

When people spend most of their day on the phones, it is difficult to develop personal relationships with them. Even leaders who want to meet with staff often have a difficult time simply coordinating schedules to make these meetings happen. Informal meetings are most important in contact centers, and they just do not happen when leaders are holed up in offices or conference rooms. Block out time on your calendar where meetings are not scheduled, and spend that time making contact with the agents. Snake through cubicles when on your way in and out of the area, and strike up some conversation whenever possible. Positional authority matters, and when agents see that leaders care about their input, it is only natural to feel more connected to the organization.