Getting Top Level Support
Illustration by Claire Jones

Interaction with the staff is important in most any leadership position, but it is absolutely critical in a contact center. The agent’s job success depends on interpersonal skills, and it is the supervisors, managers, directors and top executives who model the desired behavior.

The amount of time you spend with your staff, and the manner in which you use it, are two of the factors that differ greatly from one contact center to the next. We visit some centers where agents do not know, and have never spoken with, anyone above the supervisor level on the organizational chart. At other centers, agents are on a first-name basis with all those at the director level and above, including staff in the C-wing. While engaged, visible and respected leadership is not a guarantee of success, a disconnected leadership team will almost surely spell failure.

The opportunities to get engaged are likely more numerous than you think—they include formal communication, such as large group meetings, and informal contact, which is how you interact during ad hoc situations—walking through the center, standing in the lunch line and getting on the elevator with a group of people. Because these are the most common visible situations, they are the ones that have the most impact.

There is no one personality type that defines an executive. We generally think of executives as extroverts, but many are analytical, serious in demeanor and at least mildly introverted. Informal “chit-chat” may not come as naturally to these less outgoing types. No one is suggesting that a personality overhaul is required—in fact, some of the research out there shows that these types can be the most successful executives. Yet the environment, assuming that you hired well, will be full of phone agents who are friendly, engaging, outgoing people with good communication skills. Their standards regarding interpersonal skills will be higher than what you might find in the warehouse or the accounting department, so there is an expectation that you can remember names, exchange pleasantries and, when time permits, hold an engaging impromptu conversation.

These informal encounters make a difference, and it’s difficult for any personality type to be consistently successful at them without being prepared. Communication options are limited if you know nothing about the person standing next to you, and are fewer still if he knows nothing about you. Great leaders in contact centers go out of their way to set this up—here’s a short list of some of the most effective ways to do it:

  • Meet trainees early in the training session. A formal presentation during the class is fine, but also make time during lunches, breaks and other down time to learn a little about the people who will soon be spending eight hours a day serving your most important asset—your customers.
  • Leave a little early for meetings, and take the long way. Weave in and out of agent workstations, always using a different path. Chat up some of the folks who are between calls or doing non-phone work.
  • Drop in on team meetings. These sessions are usually a bit more informal than committee or project meetings, so staff are likely to be less guarded and more open.
  • Attend company-sponsored fairs, picnics and other events. This is exceptionally important for contact center leaders, since being tied to the phone makes it difficult to connect with agents during the workday.

Once you have established a connection, conversation is easier to start and the potential topics are more numerous. Asking about new products or customer insights is great—no one knows the customer better than your agents. Asking about a recent trip, hobbies or the family members you met at last month’s open house is equally important. One shows that you care about their input, the other shows that you care about them. People will forgive a multitude of other company sins if they believe that they matter and that their opinions count.