Words aren’t remotely enough to convey the extreme level of
gratitude we owe to the nurses, doctors, respiratory therapists,
and other medical workers entrenched in the frontlines of the
COVID-19 pandemic. Committed to the oaths they’ve taken as
medical professionals to care for the sick, and often lacking
adequate testing, PPE, and other vital equipment, these
genuine heroes put their lives on the line every day to save
In a less hazardous, though still vital, theatre of the coronavirus
war, contact centers have also stepped up to maintain continuity
in customer support for healthcare, communications, transportation,
public services, and other critical industries. Within a matter
of days, tens of thousands of customer contact agents, supervisors,
and additional support and management staff transitioned entire
operations from traditional office facilities to massive Work
from Home (WFH) programs. This achievement is unprecedented in
scope and speed and has revealed much about the potential for
humans to accomplish seemingly impossible feats when the cost
of failure is unimaginable.
While the success of these efforts is undeniable, the WFH
paradigm has amplified the pre-existing challenges faced by
supervisors in a traditional office setting to nurture, develop,
and motivate employees. Realizing optimal agent performance
in any customer contact environment is reliant on informed,
equipped, trained, and meaningfully engaged frontline leaders.
Lacking these capabilities in a WFH arrangement is, at best,
a setup for stress, uncertainty, and confusion and, at worst,
a path to outright failure. To address these challenges and
win in the WFH age, make the following three initiatives a
priority for your organization now.
1. Transform Performance Management.
Most contact centers are managed based on a defined set of
performance metrics and targets. Some common Key Performance
Indicators (KPIs) include quality, net promoter score, customer
satisfaction, attendance, attrition, average handle time, sales
conversion rate, calls per hour, service levels, bill-to-pay
ratios, and countless others. The KPIs selected vary depending
on business type, department or program, functional role, and
other factors, and together, comprise a complete scorecard of
specific performance objectives.
Performance can apply to operational, behavioral, financial,
emotional, customer, or other attributes that impact the business.
However, at a minimum, supervisors and their colleagues should be
aware of the following:
the metrics that constitute success for their program/department
and how that fits into the success of the enterprise overall
accurate and complete knowledge of how their team and individual
agents are performing to the defined goals
actionable insights and guidance derived from performance
data about how to help their agents and teams become more productive
In most organizations, pieces and parts of the performance
picture exist in isolated systems and data silos. Supervisors
and other members of the workforce, therefore, lack the
complete view of performance needed to analyze and improve
behaviors and results. It’s not difficult to understand the
level of frustration and disadvantage a supervisor (or any
employee) would experience without a timely, accurate, and
complete basis for gauging and guiding performance. Without
such awareness, it’s not logical to expect effective leadership
or success in a traditional, let alone Work from Home program.
If you haven’t yet fully committed to the digital transformation
of your performance analytics and management system, there should
be no higher priority as immediate gains in people, data, processes,
and technology will accumulate the moment you do. Like a live
conductor’s score, the system is the dynamic interface by
which all stakeholders understand their respective roles, how
the components fit together, and the effectiveness of the
individual parts. Moreover, the system serves as the knowing
framework to harmoniously align, assist, and engage your entire
workforce and vendor-partner network.
2. Systemize Coaching & Agent Support.
For supervisors, cultivating productive relationships with contact
center agents is a significant challenge. WFH compounds the problem
by eliminating the advantages possible by physical proximity. Team
success is dependent on the supervisor’s ability to establish and
maintain credibility, trust, and influence through mutually
respectful and beneficial relationships with agents.
Yet contact center team leaders are rarely equipped with
adequate, if any, tools to develop constructive relationships
with agents, peers, and senior leaders. They don’t possess a
system to document coaching interactions or establish targets
for coaching frequency. They lack structured, collaborative
accountability to a standard of coaching quality. They’re
missing a meaningful analysis of the impact of the support
they provide. Ask any supervisor how many times they coached
Sally or Marco last month, and they’ll most likely have no
idea. Ask a manager to share with you the metrics by which
they can identify their strongest or weakest team leader,
custom-tailor an individualized skills development program,
or effectively mentor - and they can’t. They simply haven’t
been provided the systems or guidance to do so.
Software vendors are actively developing solutions to address
the need for comprehensive coaching tools geared for supervisors
and their managers. There are viable strategies, too, for
organizations with the financial means and risk appetite to
build and maintain proprietary coaching and agent support
systems in-house. Whether built or bought, providing a systemized
way for supervisors to develop productive support, coaching
routines, and skills, fills a critical capability gap for
contact centers. Adding a closed-loop coaching & agent support
system to your customer contact operations will provide your
frontline managers with an empowering level of structure and
autonomy to develop and lead. The positive impact realized at
the team level will ripple across your WFH environment and
throughout the organization.
3. Implement Continuous Training.
Among the handful of positive outcomes resulting from the
COVID-19 crisis is a sobering reminder of organizational
fragility and the incredible power of communities to rapidly
and naturally galvanize to overcome enormous obstacles.
People crave purpose, desire to be of individual and collective
value, and want to advance in skill and ability. The pandemic
has activated these innate drives around the globe and across
every conceivable demographic in an incredible shared effort
to win this great war.
Crises aren’t a prerequisite to arousing the human will to thrive,
and employers should use every means possible to exploit intrinsic
motivation to enhance the lives of their employees and, as a
result, their businesses. To do so requires intelligence,
caring, and commitment to a strategy of continuous training.
In a recent TouchPoint One
survey, thirty-one percent of supervisors
named training as the #1 thing they wish their employer would
provide more of, second only to higher wages and financial
incentives. To excel, supervisors must possess not only
business domain expertise, but management, critical thinking,
and leadership skills. A 2005 study from the Stanford Research
Institute International and the Carnegie Mellon Foundation
found that 75 percent of long-term job success depends on soft
skills and only 25 percent on technical knowledge. In 2017,
research from Michigan’s Ross School of Business found that
soft skills training boosted productivity and employee retention
12 percent and delivered a 250 percent return on investment
based on higher productivity and employee retention.
The COVID-19 pandemic has profoundly impacted the lives of
each one of your employees. The fear, sacrifice, and anger the
situation is causing are real. Supervisors trained with people
skills and equipped with the tools and autonomy to leverage
them can ensure success in the WFH era and whatever hybrid
variation our customer contact operations transition to in
the crisis aftermath.
Let’s Finish What We Started.
Work from Home momentum was building before coronavirus – the
pandemic’s impact simply accelerated the transition to lightspeed
and reset the point of strategic equilibrium. The body of
indicating the direct link between influential frontline leaders
and higher levels of workforce engagement, retention, and business
success is vast. Despite the evidence, contact centers have been
slow to act on the connection and advance from the legacy
approaches, outdated processes, and unqualified technologies
that hold talent back. This flawed strategic position didn’t
deliver success pre-coronavirus – and assures complete failure
for WFH and beyond.
The massive overnight conversion to Work from Home is an
achievement unparalleled in the contact center industry and
which anyone involved should be proud. It has enabled businesses
across critical verticals to continue to operate, serve
communities, and establish a needed baseline of normalcy and
certainty. But the work isn’t finished as the conversion
lays bare serious deficiencies for supervisor support that
are undermining performance, damaging morale, and jeopardizing
WFH success. The competitive environment won’t long tolerate
complacency, so swiftly and intelligently execute this 3 step
strategy and triumph among the customer contact elite of the
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About the Author
Greg Salvato is the CEO if TouchPoint One, the leading provider
of performance optimization solutions for contact centers. The
Company’s Acuity product is a full-featured employee engagement
and performance management platform that enables improved
decision making, talent development, and process execution at
every operational level. TouchPoint One customer contact solutions
deliver the compelling benefits of gamification, balanced scorecards,
employee dashboards, and advanced performance management through
innovative design and complete, functional alignment with business
processes and strategies. http://www.touchpointone.com
TouchPoint One, Acuity, A-GAME, and Sidekick are registered trademarks of TouchPoint One, LLC.
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