When People Are Your Business, Behavior Is Your Product

FROM THE OCTOBER 2019 ISSUE

Challenges and Priorities Survey

People are more than cogs in a machine. Like it or not, a person’s history and current situation drives behavior more than workplace rules.

There are certain unchangeable facts about any business. In the contact center, our business is people. On the surface, it may appear that our business is service, infrastructure or technology. But, its true power is people serving customers. If you want to grow your business, your top priority is the happiness of your workforce.

Are You Missing the Point?

At scale, every business, no matter how automated, needs people. Think about this for a second. If you’re in your office right now, look left and right. If both those people were no longer there, what wouldn’t get done? Which customers would be angry, what projects would be left half-finished, and what opportunities would be missed?

You might think that your company’s product is consumer contact solutions for financial services, healthcare, telecom or consumer goods, but you’re missing the point. In reality, the product of value that you produce is the behavior your agents exhibit to consumers who contact your clients.

If you want the people in contact with customers to behave in alignment with your business philosophy, then you must consider how they feel in their jobs and their lives. Much of the behavior that your agents exhibit today is shaped by past experiences.

How much do you know about the life of your agent prior to coming to work for you? Have they shared their personal triumphs and tragedies? Do you know the events in their lives that shaped who they are and guide them forward?

There are agents in our contact centers who grew up dirt poor, in subsistence agricultural poverty. There are agents whose families were wealthy, and then lost it all because of a business or personal tragedy. There are agents who were the victims of sexual violence. Others were incarcerated.

As much tragedy as our agents have endured, there has also been triumph. Some were first in their class, or tried a small business and succeeded, or helped to pay for a sibling’s education. Indeed, no life is lived without triumph and tragedy. These are human beings. How can we expect them to come to work and not be affected by what’s happening to them?

What people do, how they interact with coworkers, customers and vendors, and the work they accomplish, is all behavior. Whatever you say you’re paying them for, you’re really paying them to behave in a certain way. There’s a lot that goes into the ability to behave the way you want.

Think about Mental Health

When we hear the words “mental health,” most of us hear “disorder,” or some issue that is so severe it needs professional treatment. But the reality is that all of us, at all times, are struggling with some situation that affects our mental health.

Historically, employers have simply hired the employees who knew how to deal with the stresses in their lives sufficiently to perform their jobs. It generally has not been viewed as the company’s problem. But this mentality is short-sighted when you’re trying to get work done through people. Employees won’t behave the way you want if they’re always worried about themselves.

Savvy managers and bosses know this. Many companies offer free counseling services at work. This is good, especially for companies who employ people earning above the middle class. But for those in the contact center industry, people lead lower-income lives. In these populations, the instance of trauma and destabilizing family situations is much higher, regardless of geography. As good managers (and good humans), we must think about mental health, as we strive to get our employees into the middle class.

When employees behave at cross purposes to your desired business outcomes, what is really going on in their lives? When you look hard enough, there’s a reason why an employee either forgot training or made the wrong decision. You will likely find a personal reason that drove the behavior.

Be sensitive. Lend a kind ear. Simply ask, “Can I help?” A manager’s job is to provide people with a workplace where they can perform at their peak. Think about what gets in the way of peak performance for your employees.

Repeated Behavior from Your Employees Is Your Product

In the contact center, we really have one goal: Produce the “correct” behavior from agents in response to a live customer situation, repeatedly and at scale. Not an easy task, as evidenced by the many times you’ve had to coach or discipline an employee. You pay your employees to behave the way you want them to behave.

It’s hard. Listen to those words again: “repeatedly and at scale.” Not only does an individual agent have to exhibit the right behavior repeatedly, but then you as the manager must figure out how to get an entire group of agents, sometimes in the hundreds or thousands, to exhibit that repeated behavior.

So it’s natural that we, as a profession, turn so often to automation. Automation is much better than humans at doing things repeatedly and at scale. That’s why our industry has been automation and AI happy for the last five years.

But humans will always be essential to our industry. While more people become comfortable interacting with automation, there’s a threshold.

You Have Awesome Power to Achieve Your Goals

The reality is that humans are still best at dealing with other humans. So the good news is that you have amazing power at your command: your agents. You just have to pay attention to get them to perform optimally.

Are your employees satisfied financially? How are they feeling physically and mentally? What happened in their past that prevents them from operating at peak?

When things go wrong, try to see the why behind their actions. It will lessen your frustration, temper your reaction and make you a better manager. It promotes a sense of fairness in your workplace. Your employees know that the boss cares, so they endeavor to react accordingly for your business.

It will also make you a better person. You will feel better as an individual who cares about your agents. The more you do it, the more it will become who you are, and it will be rewarding for everyone. You can make a dramatic difference, as long as you also ask yourself if you’re doing all you can to make your agents successful, which in our business, means behaving repeatedly, at scale, the way we want.