The InsideOut Approach: Three Ways Managers Can Improve a Contact Center Culture

WRITTEN BY BILL BENNETT

Challenges and Priorities Survey

Virtually every contact center understands the unique challenges its employees face: Agents often struggle with low pay, high stress, few chances for advancement, not enough training and poor leadership. All of these lead to more stress and lower engagement, which makes turnover rates incredibly high (the average annual turnover rate for call centers is 30%-45%).

Yet, the agent’s primary job is to provide one of the most essential aspects of a business: customer service. Their role is vital.

So how can managers foster higher employee engagement in the contact center? They must create a more fulfilling workplace culture. One way to do that is by promoting a culture of coaching, which will enable agents to take ownership of their own progress.

The following are three ways to start building your coaching culture.

Ask, Don’t Tell

If a contact center supervisor believes in their team and their capacity to learn and perform at a higher level, the team knows it. But if that supervisor constantly lectures team members and doesn’t believe in them, employees will know that, too.

Rather than inundating agents with more information, the InsideOut approach emphasizes empowering agents to get past daily interferences so they can focus on doing what they know how to do.

This is done by asking employees three simple questions:

  • First, ask “What’s working?” This sets the stage for the conversation by reminding both the manager and the employee what is going well and helping them make progress.
  • Second, we ask, “Where are you getting stuck?” This helps to give everyone a clear picture of the possible breakdowns (e.g, in processes, training, policies, etc.) without leaving much room to play the “blame game,” which never really moves anything forward.
  • Then, after managers and employees understand what is and is not working, we’re ready to ask, “What can you do differently?” This ensures that the conversation will end with people talking about their own solutions instead of looking elsewhere for help.

Leaders are sometimes hesitant to take this approach. Why? Partly because it feels like coaching takes more time, while telling someone what to do only takes a few minutes. However, these conversations help agents to understand the problems they face and how to create their own solutions, which is time well spent. On the other hand, the more common “tell approach,” doesn’t resolve the underlying problem and leaders will waste more time having to give instructions over and over.

Provide Continuous Feedback and Communication

Even when your agents know what to do, they still want to receive more constructive feedback. Contact centers are very metric-heavy, so your agents know their metrics, where they stand in comparison to others (and their own previous performance), and whether they’re meeting organizational standards. Use check-in and feedback conversations to help agents feel like their growth and achievements are being noticed, while still providing them with structure to determine how to further their progress.

Some of that structure is provided inherently through organizational metrics that tell agents where they need to focus and what they need to do to be considered successful. But how individuals reach those metrics can be more flexible. People want to have discretion in how they make progress, and the GROW® model, described next, helps to enable that flexibility.

Help Employees GROW

One way to approach coaching and help people choose how they make progress is by using the GROW® model, which is an acronym for Goal, Reality, Options and Way Forward.

Here’s how it works: First, employees must establish a clear goal that they want to accomplish in the contact center. Next, they work with managers to understand what reality they are working within—whether there are restraints due to deadlines, budgets or personnel, and any other limitations of which they should be aware. Then, employees look at all their options within that reality, and finally, they come up with a way forward.

When used correctly, this model provides agents and managers with a clear system to follow for making and achieving their goals, while enabling agents to take ownership of their own progress. Having clear goals and a path to accomplish them will empower your agents to reach and exceed organizational metrics, which will improve overall performance while helping the company’s bottom line.

Bill Bennett is the CEO of InsideOut Development, a workplace coaching company that provides management training programs for Fortune 500 companies like Apple, Salesforce.com and others. Bill has almost 40 years of leadership experience, including 20 years in the training industry. Bill speaks regularly on the topic of leadership, coaching and productivity. Outside of work, Bill is a best-selling novelist, and author of the popular book “Jacob T. Marley.”