Ready to Promote Your Star Agent to Supervisor? Not so Fast

FROM THE SEPTEMBER 2018 ISSUE

Ready to Promote Your Star Contact Center Agent to Supervisor
Illustration by Nick Slater for Contact Center Pipeline

Heather had been working as a contact center agent at ABC Electric for almost 18 months when her boss approached her with exciting news. He wanted to promote her to a supervisor! A standout performer, Heather’s Csat and FCR scores were consistently some of the highest on the team. She rarely, if ever, missed work, always showed up on time, and was known for her positive attitude and smiling face. Customers loved her! The office “wall of fame” was filled with testimonials and praise for Heather’s great work. Naturally, her manager thought it was time to recognize her efforts by giving her a raise and a promotion.

When Heather heard the news, she had mixed emotions. She appreciated the recognition and was thankful to see how much her boss appreciated her hard work. The promise of a raise was exciting, too. However, Heather also felt a little nervous. While she loved her job and found helping customers incredibly fulfilling, she wasn’t sure how she’d handle managing her peers. She’d never led a team before, and as a people pleaser by nature, she wasn’t a big fan of confrontation.

But she couldn’t say no to her boss. He was counting on her, and this was a rare and coveted opportunity. So, in typical Heather fashion, she smiled and happily accepted the new role.

Two months later, Heather was looking for a way out, and sending her resume to companies with open agent positions. Why?

Without any formal training, she was struggling to hit her stride as a supervisor. While she excelled at helping customers, she didn’t feel confident coaching the team members she once worked alongside. And managing the high volume of reports was overwhelming. Heather no longer looked forward to coming to work and often felt stressed out or sick. In fact, since accepting the promotion, she’d already missed three days of work, which was more than she’d ever called out during her entire tenure with the company.

Does this story sound familiar? It’s one that plays out all too often in the contact center, and it’s easy to understand why. When a supervisor position comes open, it’s natural to look to internal candidates first, especially considering how long the hiring process can drag on. According to Indeed, if a position isn’t filled within one month, there’s a 57% chance it will take three months or longer to find the right hire. And studies have also shown that candidates who are promoted from within tend to outperform external candidates.

But promoting from within doesn’t always have to mean pulling the best frontline agents off the phones. During a recent #ICMIchat, Clark Pest Control Contact Center Director, Matt Beckwith, pointed out that sometimes the middle-of-the-road performers might actually make the best managers or supervisors.

“In my experience, there is little correlation showing high-performing agents becoming great supervisors. It is more likely that they’ll perform well in lots of different roles, but not necessarily as a supervisor. And the opposite is true,” he said. “Middle-of-the-road performers can be great supervisors. It all comes down to personalization of coaching and career growth. Many managers are lazy and just promote the best reps.”

The moral of this story isn’t to write off your best agents when you’re looking for the next supervisor. Instead, make sure that you’re equipping new supervisors with the tools and training they need to succeed in the role. What’s the best way to do that? It’s important to start by defining what it takes to be an effective contact center supervisor, then figuring out how to best assess those skills in your current employees so you can establish a game plan for supporting new supervisors after a promotion.

Characteristics of an Effective Contact Center Supervisor

Several weeks ago, #ICMIchat participants were asked to share their thoughts on the characteristics of the best contact center supervisors. Dozens of skills and attributes came to light, but a few answers rose to the top:

  1. “Supervisors need problem-solving skills, along with strong verbal communication, and reading comprehension. And a good supervisor needs to know the agent’s job well,” said Evan Watson.
  2. “In the contact center, supervisors need to be customer-focused and results-focused,” said Michael Pace. “They also need integrative thinking skills.”

How do you define success in the supervisor role? The answer may be differ from contact center to contact center, and that’s OK. What’s important is setting a clear baseline for expectations. All too often, leaders assume employees know what they should be doing, but never explicitly tell them. For some reason, this is especially true with supervisory roles in the contact center, which involve plenty of juggling and often a lack of clear direction. As Evan Watson playfully pointed out during a recent #ICMIchat, there’s an element of mystery and ambiguity to the job.

ACTION ITEM: Meet with current and former supervisors and make sure your job descriptions are accurate. Until you define what success looks like in the role, you’re not ready to evaluate who will be successful or help them succeed.

How to Determine Which Agents Are Ready for the Next Step

Once you’ve established which skills supervisors in your contact center will need to succeed, you can get a better grasp on how to evaluate readiness for a promotion. A good practice: develop a skills evaluation. Map every desired competency to an interview question or exercise. Before you consider changing an agent’s day-to-day responsibilities, see how their skills measure up against the evaluation. If you find a few areas that need development, create a plan for improvement. In many cases, an online course, peer-to-peer mentor sessions or a bit of job shadowing can make a tremendous difference.

As you’re establishing a supervisor job description and delegating responsibilities, here are some considerations to include:

  • Formulating plans to make workplace improvements
  • Coaching agents
  • Delivering corrective feedback and praise effectively
  • Addressing conflict
  • Improving performance and metrics
  • Interviewing and hiring new agents
  • Engaging, motivating and retaining agents
  • Maximizing team productivity
  • Communicating effectively—via one-on-ones and team meetings, as well as via email
  • Controlling stress levels—for themselves and their teams
  • Understanding the best way to use metrics
  • Interpreting data and compiling metrics reports

Equipping New Supervisors to Lead

Once you’ve determined which agents or external candidates are ready to step into the supervisor role, the hard work is done, right? You can set them free and watch them work their magic. Not so fast! Without adequate training, tools, resources and clear guidance, even the most natural leaders won’t succeed. So, what are some keys to equipping new contact center leaders for success? It all starts with establishing a thoughtful onboarding strategy.

Don’t just establish what you want to see supervisors focused on, share why it’s important and how each piece of their job impacts the overall success of the contact center and the business. Think metrics, employee retention rates, customer retention rates, revenue, etc. Next, establish how your new supervisor can successfully carry out their responsibilities. Communicate what success will look like at 30 days on the job, 60 days on the job, etc.

“Start by demonstrating what you want them to do by spending one-on-one time with them, asking where they need your guidance and help,” said Bill Gessert. “It’s so much easier when someone self-identifies areas in need of growth.”

To take it a step further, pair new supervisors with a mentor, someone who can guide them through the onboarding process and act as a sounding board for new ideas, challenges and more.

And don’t stop encouraging learning just because the initial onboarding period ends! Much like continual training is an important part of the agent experience, it’s critical for supervisors and managers, too. Set aside the time and money to invest in the ongoing growth of your supervisory team. Think you can’t afford to make that level of investment? The real question might be can you afford not to?

“Almost across the board, supervisors are selected by performance as an agent. Most people leave jobs because of their boss, and there are a lot of unprepared contact center bosses,” said Scott Ontiveroz in a recent #ICMIchat.

Data from a recent Gallup poll seems to agree: 75% of workers who voluntarily left their jobs did so because of their bosses and not the position itself. This underscores why deciding who you’ll promote to supervisor is so influential to the success of your contact center.

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