How to Be a Supervisor in the Modern Contact Center

FROM THE JANUARY 2019 ISSUE

How to be a Supervisor in the Contact Center
Subscribe to Contact Center Pipeline Magazine

Company cultures and leadership styles tend to shift over the years as they adapt to the behaviors and expectations of the dominant generation in the workforce. This is evidenced today by a rise in employee-centric values and transparent leadership practices among senior executives across industries (courtesy of the millennials).

While the millennial generation’s workplace expectations have influenced leaders at all levels of the contact center, probably the most profound impact can be seen in the frontline supervisor’s function. In traditional contact centers of yesteryear, supervisors used to spend a good portion of their time directing tasks and enforcing policies. Today, the supervisor’s role has progressed from command and control to coaching and development.

Last month’s feature examined how recruiting strategies have evolved to reflect changes in employee expectations, technology trends and a digitally savvy workforce. We’re continuing the “modern contact center” theme this month with a look at the traits and skills that frontline supervisors need to succeed in a workplace environment that favors empowerment, engagement, collaboration and personalized coaching.

Technology Makes the Human Connection More Powerful

Most leaders today are aware of the powerful link between employee engagement and the relationship employees have with their supervisors. Studies have demonstrated that supervisors who are good “people managers” drive higher team performance, agent job satisfaction and have less turnover.

In the modern contact center, technological advances are quickly transforming how work is being done, but agents still look to their supervisors to provide a human connection to the business and to their personal growth. Best-in-class contact centers understand the value of the agent-supervisor connection and provide supervisors with the support they need to foster individual relationships with their team members.

“Every one of our employees is different, so that human element is always going to be critical,” says Mike Small, chief client officer at Sitel Group, a global customer experience management outsourcer.

Small has observed three trends that he believes are helping to shape the frontline supervisor’s role.

Engaging with New-Hires from Day 1

Sitel’s supervisors are responsible for driving new-hire retention. Retention performance is measured at the pivotal 30-, 60- and 90-day marks, so the supervisor’s ability to connect with new team members early is vital.

“The sooner we can inject our coaches into the onboarding, recruitment and training process, the better,” Small says. “And with today’s digital natives, the more ways that we can link them digitally, the better in terms of ensuring that the employee is going to have a successful onboarding experience.”

At various Sitel sites, the onboarding team shares supervisors’ profiles with their new team members and schedules the supervisors to visit orientation classes to introduce themselves and share stories about their own experiences and career progress. At other centers profiled in Pipeline, supervisors record welcome videos for individual new-hires and participate in new-hire chat forums to answer questions, provide encouragement and offer tips.

Leveraging QA Insights for Real-time Performance Management

An automated quality assurance (QA) system is a game-changer for coaches, customers and the business, Small says. “The ability to record and analyze 100% of calls vs. 2% to 4% with manual QA, provides coaches with insights to make changes to programs on the fly and adjust performance. Most importantly, we’re seeing significant ability to profile the right agents for our recruitment strategies, and tune our approach in terms of supporting agents and incorporating speed-to-proficiency to drive higher performance.”

Improving the Coach-to-Agent Connection

In the modern contact center, supervisors are responsible for providing personalized one-to-one coaching and mentoring for their team members. It’s an approach that was unthinkable 10-15 years ago, when supervisors spent their days generating reports with little time for agent development, much less on an individual basis with an eye toward long-term career growth.

“As technology continues to transform our call center environments, we can’t lose sight of the human interaction because, at the end of the day, our agents are people,” Small says. “The main reason why an employee leaves a company is not because of a 50 cent pay increase; it’s usually due to a lack of engagement and an ineffective relationship with their manager.

“We need to invest in our supervisors and give them the development and tools to be more effective coaches,” he adds. “Every individual on a team needs to be engaged differently. It’s not all about performance; it’s about how we interact with people.”

Profile of a Successful Supervisor

As more companies recognize the considerable impact that supervisors have on their team’s performance and retention, there is increasing emphasis on putting the right person in the role. Promoting a high-performing agent will not always give you the desired results since providing superior customer service and coaching/developing people call for very different abilities.

There are certain skills that are universally acknowledged to form a solid foundation for being an effective supervisor, such as:

  • Communication skills
  • Critical thinking
  • Problem-solving
  • Time management
  • Flexibility
  • Conflict resolution
  • Ability to motivate
  • Positive attitude

However, as the previous three trends indicate, the supervisor’s function has expanded to include individualized coaching and mentoring, using QA tools to identify trends and actionable insights, and findings ways to make instant yet lasting connections with team members. With that in mind, the following are additional traits that can help supervisors to succeed in the modern contact center environment.

Passion for developing people. This is the one trait that is absolutely essential, says Small. “Passion for people is the hallmark that differentiates a great coach from a good or average one,” he notes, adding that it encompasses active listening and an innate understanding of how to get the best performance out of individual agents, having empathy for what’s going on in their personal lives, and being able to invoke trust so that employees can bring issues forward without fear of a negative reaction or consequence.

Intellectual curiosity. Curiosity is what drives creativity and change. Individuals who are intellectually curious don’t wait to be told what to do or how to do it, rather, they’re always looking for different ways to approach an issue or to adapt innovative tools and new practices to help their teams perform well.

A willingness to step out of your comfort zone. As Adriana Thompson of BuildASign.com pointed out (see Inside View, July 2018), to develop and grow, you have to challenge yourself continually. Always be ready to take on new tasks and projects to expand your skills and knowledge, even if it is unfamiliar territory.

A focus on life-long learning. “Keep filling your skills toolbox. Be humble and be open to feedback so that you can keep learning,” Thompson said. “Learn from people outside your company who are in the same field, and learn from people who are outside of your field.”

CallShaper Webinar