— TouchPoint One Survey Reveals the Truth About the State of
Frontline Leadership and How to Address Morale, Execution,
and Performance —
Achieving lasting success in the contact center hinges on the
effectiveness of frontline leaders. Few would argue that any
other resource possesses greater capacity to influence everything
that matters most in the customer contact organization. De facto
“frontline CEOs”, they are best positioned to develop and motivate
agents, deliver critical insights about customers and competition,
and understand what’s working or failing in training, systems,
processes, and personnel.
But supervisors are often disadvantaged, if not entirely doomed,
from the start; these ambitious, aspiring leaders, themselves
typically former CSR superstars, are promoted to a position
for which they are frequently ill-suited and unqualified. No
training or guidance is necessary; after all, they know better
than anyone what’s required to succeed. They’ve seen it all as
top agents, right? Of course not. Setting aside the fact that
they may not have been good candidates for the position in the
first place, supervisors report that they are simply not provided
with the information, tools, training, and other forms of support
necessary to do their jobs.
There is a vast body of research exposing the direct link
between strong frontline leaders and higher levels of workforce
engagement, retention, and business success. But despite the
evidence and the voices of determined team leaders around the
globe, contact centers have been slow to acknowledge this
connection and that the legacy approaches, outdated processes,
and unqualified technologies currently in use won’t deliver
success in today’s highly competitive, rapidly evolving,
labor-constrained digital age.
...supervisors report that they are not provided with the
information, tools, training, and other forms of support
necessary to do their jobs effectively.
The purpose of this report is to share insights, analysis and
interpretation of feedback gathered via a recent survey conducted
by TouchPoint One in which supervisors were asked for their
perspectives about the quality and adequacy of support they were
provided by their employers while senior managers were asked
similar questions regarding the support they provided or wished
to provide their supervisors. The report is intended to stimulate
serious thought and action by contact center executives
interested in better understanding and fulfilling the needs
of their frontline leaders, their most vital human capital
asset, and improving their organization’s stature, influence,
and value to its customers, employees, and stakeholders.
Discovery Summary and Highlights
One of the primary objectives of our project was to understand
how supervisor and senior manager perspectives about aspects of
the frontline management support received or provided differed.
Our process began with inquiry via a short survey.
We asked supervisors and team leaders the following three questions:
What is the most useful thing provided to you by your employer to help you succeed?
What is the one thing you wish your employer would provide you to help you succeed?
On a scale of 1-10, to what extent are you provided by your employer with what you need to succeed?
And of senior managers we asked three similar questions:
What is the most useful thing that you or your organization provides specifically to supervisors to help them succeed?
What is the one thing you’d like or plan to provide specifically to your supervisors to help them succeed?
On a scale of 1-10, to what extent are you providing supervisors what they need to succeed?
As you might expect, the feedback received from the survey was
incredibly enlightening and offered valuable take-aways. For
example, despite the growing perception that non-monetary and
intrinsic incentives surpass financial rewards as effective and
preferred motivators, 36 percent of supervisor respondents
cited higher wages and financial incentives as the one thing
they wished their employer would provide to help them succeed.
Only 5 percent of respondents stated that existing compensation
and related programs were adequate.
This feedback from supervisors closely aligns with findings
from Addison Group’s 2019 Workplace Satisfaction Survey in
which almost half (47 percent) of the job seekers reported
that they were unsatisfied with salary/compensation.
Thirty-four percent of respondents said this was the job
benefit that mattered more than any other.
Increased pay and incentives, perhaps not surprisingly, was
mentioned by just 6 percent of senior managers in response to
the question ― What is the one thing you’d like or plan to
provide specifically to your supervisors to help them succeed?
No senior manager mentioned compensation as a “most useful thing
that you or your organization provides specifically to supervisors
to help them succeed.”
Incongruity between senior and frontline management regarding
the level or basis for compensation shouldn’t be neglected or
addressed with any less creativity applied to solve other
critical business challenges. Being aware that an issue exists
and demonstrating a commitment to developing a compensation
plan that rewards supervisors according to performance will
improve outcomes for all stakeholders and engender trust and
Resources most valued by both classes of management was also
revealed in the survey and despite some disconnects, there was
broad agreement about areas that needed attention. Responses
generally aligned to the following categories of which we’ll
examine in more detail throughout the report.
training and skills development
real-time performance intelligence
management guidance and agent support systems
recognition, reward, and incentives
Designing effective solutions is dependent on context and
understanding. To understand something well requires a
continuous cycle of inquiry, observation, and interpretation
which can ultimately lead to informed, imaginative
strategies with high potential to drive advantageous change.
Surveys, as used in this example, are one effective method
of gathering such information, but polls, suggestion boxes
(virtual and physical), peer-level round-tables, and other
forums provide opportunities for employees to share,
contribute, and learn – and undertake change with collective
intelligence and purpose.
Training and Skills Development
The strongest point of alignment between senior management
and frontline leaders revealed in our survey was a consistent
appeal for more training. Structured, frequent, varied, and
continuous were recurrent qualifiers used to articulate the
ways each party sought or intended to enhance supervisor
“For the best return on your money, pour your purse into your head.”
― Benjamin Franklin
Ben Franklin had it right – training can’t be beat on investment
returns, and developing critical skills in frontline leaders is
paramount to ensuring they can be effective in their current
roles and prepared for advancement as future opportunities arise.
Twenty-two percent of senior managers in our survey named
training as the most useful thing provided specifically to
supervisors to help them succeed. Thirty-eight percent indicated
training as the one thing they’d like or plan to provide
specifically to their supervisors to help them succeed.
Twenty-one percent of supervisors surveyed said that training
was the most useful thing provided to them by their employer
to help them succeed, but 31 percent identified it as the one
thing they wish their employer would provide more of, second
only to higher wages and financial incentives. Both senior and
frontline managers view training as essential to developing the
skills required to effectively support agents and consistently
lead their teams to success. Moreover, frontline leaders voiced
specific attributes of the training sought like; “hands-on”,
“regular”, “workshops”, “skill-building”, “continual”, etc.
Survey responses from supervisors made clear connections
between training and skills development and opportunities for
achievement-based incentives and career advancement.
To excel, supervisors must possess a broad range of management
skills. Business and operational acumen are a fundamental
requirement, but leadership skills like communication, motivation,
critical thinking, problem-solving, organizational, and others
are what ensure success. Self-awareness, time and priority
management, motivating others, conflict resolution, coaching,
and good listening may sound simple, but they are distinct,
dynamic skills that can only be developed with experience,
training, and mentoring. Recognized contact center thought
leader and Call Center Coach President, Jim Rembach, recommends
a six-part framework to optimize frontline leader training
that includes micro-learning, quick tips, questions & answers,
boot camps, industry insights, and communities of practice.
Training can be delivered offsite, onsite or online via
third-party or internal programs and curriculum and is
ideally integrated with the organization’s in-house learning
management system (LMS).
Don’t take anything for granted, as it’s very often little
things that make or break agent engagement and performance.
According to Brad Baumunk, President and COO of Robert C.
Davis and Associates (RCDA), “An excellent customer experience
comes down to having Quality Conversations and providing
supervisors with enough time, and the right tools, to coach
and develop their team members.” This concept applies to the
support interactions between supervisors and agents as much
as with customers. For example, how often does a coaching
session dive right into a weak metric rather than a recognition
of something done well? A “how’s the family?” or “how was
your drive into work today?” icebreaker before discussing a
recent customer survey can go a long way in building rapport
and setting a positive tone for constructive support and
Whether you’re a fan of the term or not, the importance of
soft skills (Oxford English Dictionary defined as “personal
attributes that enable someone to interact effectively and
harmoniously with other people”) in any organization, and
most certainly densely-staffed contact centers, can’t be
understated. 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.
Moving the needle half this rate on attrition, productivity,
and other contact center metrics equates to significant
financial gains and enhanced customer experience for the
organization. The impact of the soft-skills training provided
at the supervisor level will naturally extend to agents, and
so this should be a priority within an overall strategy to
better equip your frontline leadership.
Expecting good performance from your contact center without
a structured program for supervisor training doesn’t make
sense, but it’s not an uncommon practice. Lacking continual
education and guidance, existing supervisors will underperform,
become disengaged, and eventually leave. Capable team leader
candidates will quickly recognize a prospective employer’s
lack of commitment to their success as major gaps in
training and support are discovered either during the
recruitment process, or worse, after several weeks of costly
onboarding and organizational ramp-up post-hire. It’s likely
that there are at least some significant deficiencies in your
supervisor training program, and given the consensus of its
value and importance, identifying and reconciling gaps should
be an ongoing priority.
Real-time Performance Intelligence
Apart from a competitive wage and frequent, varied, and
structured training, a common response provided by supervisors
to “What is the most useful thing provided to you by your
employer to help you to succeed?” was access to real-time
performance intelligence. The organizations participating in
this survey manage large global customer contact operations
and had developed sophisticated data analytics capabilities
on an advanced performance management platform. As a result,
data management was comprehensive and nearly fully automated,
able to deliver real-time, role-based performance dashboards
to every employee.
The survey provided a strong confirmation of the value of
this capability and in what ways it was integral to supervisor
effectiveness and team performance. Thirty-four percent of
senior managers indicated performance intelligence, reporting,
and real-time stats as the most important thing provided by
the organization to help supervisors succeed. Twenty-six
percent of supervisors named it the most useful thing provided
to them by their employer to help them succeed.
Most contact centers operate based on some form of metrics-based
performance strategy. Though varied depending on industry and
function, contact center performance is typically associated
with a weighted set of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs),
such as quality, customer experience metrics (NPS, CSAT, etc.),
attendance, attrition, sales conversion rate, calls per hour,
service levels, profit, and so on, that encompass the complete
basis for which business success is measured and understood.
Ideally, these metrics are aggregated and dynamically calibrated
to an evolving range of performance targets that are visible
on-demand across departments and stakeholders in a manner
appropriate to one’s role or function and consistent with
specific coaching and support methodologies and styles. Performance
intelligence and transparency are core capabilities within
advanced performance management systems and essential to all
levels of employee success. Deloitte asserts that transparency
is actually the enterprises most valuable currency, but that
only 18 percent of respondents in their 2019 Global Human
Capital Trends survey believed they have a transparent and
open model. It’s not difficult to appreciate the level of
frustration and disadvantage a supervisor (or any employee)
would experience without an accurate and complete basis for
gauging and guiding individual or team performance. Without
awareness, it’s not logical to expect effective leadership or
Performance measurement can be applied to any operational,
behavioral, financial, emotional, customer, or other attribute
that impacts the business, but at a minimum, supervisors and
their colleagues should be aware and informed of:
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
Ensuring a shared awareness of the criteria that constitutes
the contact center’s success would seem obvious, but in
practice, the contrary remains the common practice. 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
portrait of performance needed by to fully analyze and
improve behaviors and results. If you haven’t yet fully
committed to the digital transformation of your performance
management systems, immediate gains in people, data,
processes and technology await you literally the moment you
do. Without it, performance awareness and alignment are
perhaps haphazard, and a likely root of significant stress,
friction, and frustration within your organization.
Don’t leave supervisors guessing, assuming, and wasting time
with manual reporting processes and analytics routines that
detract from coaching, training, team-building and other
activities that add value to the business. Whether you build
it yourself or procure it from a third-party, it’s critical
to have a single system for performance measurement, insight,
and action that synthesizes the disparate systems data
relevant to your KPIs and facilitates performance improvement.
How are your supervisors informed about how and to what
degree performance expectations are being met? Is there
latency in performance report delivery? Is reporting inclusive
of not only operational KPIs, but also engagement, financial,
attrition, sentiment and other metrics? Is reporting and
performance management accessible on-demand, easy to
navigate and to share? Are reporting systems consistent
throughout workforce levels (including agents), to
facilitate optimal organizational alignment and
transparency? Can your supervisors frequently and
appropriately reward, recognize, coach and otherwise
support their agents based on data-driven insights?
Include these and related questions as part of your
frontline manager experience evaluation and strategy
Management Guidance and Agent Support Systems
Alongside training, frontline leaders expressed a strong
interest in our survey for greater senior management support
and standardized systems and processes to manage their
interactions and build productive relationships with agents
and senior leadership. “Collaboration” and “structure” were
principal terms used to articulate the tools they sought to
enable coaching, support, feedback, recognition, and other
forms of agent assistance and to coordinate their efforts
with senior management.
Twenty-eight percent of senior leaders identified coaching,
support and related systems as investments they’d like or
plan to provide specifically to their supervisors to help
them succeed. Twenty-five percent of frontline leaders
surveyed specified similar guidance and support systems as
the one thing they wish their employer would provide them
to help them succeed, indicating consistency between upper
and frontline levels of management about the issue.
For supervisors, cultivating effective relationships with
contact center agents is a significant challenge. Contact
center teams are particularly dynamic due to high employee
turnover, low-skill/low-wage, and demographic diversity.
Agents are typically confined to small workspaces and
subject to a variety of communications, logistics, and
schedule restrictions due to security, regulatory, and
other workplace policies. Despite the challenging environment,
team success is dependent on the supervisor’s ability to
establish and maintain credibility, trust, and influence
through mutually respectful and beneficial relationships
Contact center team leaders are, however, rarely equipped
with adequate, if any, tools to develop constructive
relationships with agents, peers, and senior leaders. They
lack an ability to document coaching interactions or
establish targets for coaching frequency. They lack
structured accountability to a standard of coaching quality.
They lack meaningful intelligence regarding the impact of
the support they provide on the specific metrics and/or
behaviors the support was intended to address. During your
next site visit, 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 provide the metrics by which
they can identify their strongest or weakest team leader,
and they can’t. They simply haven’t been provided the
guidance or systems to do so.
Supervisors are rarely equipped with adequate, if any,
tools to develop constructive relationships with agents,
peers, and senior leaders.
Contact Center Performance Management (CCPM) platforms
provide an ideal foundation from which to integrate coaching
and other collaborative support systems. They possess the
intelligence that enables supervisors to not only pinpoint
specific areas of strength or opportunity, but also act on
the knowledge to develop agent skills and improve performance.
Integrated coaching, recognition, and related support
applications provide a flexible operational framework to
guide supervisor support interactions with agents, reveal
insights into how those interactions impact performance as
well as best practices of top frontline leaders.
Software vendors are actively developing solutions to address
the urgent need for comprehensive, data-aware, process-driven
coaching tools geared for supervisors and their managers.
There are viable strategies, too, for organizations with the
financial means and fortitude to build and maintain
proprietary software in-house. Whether built or bought,
providing a systemized means for supervisors to develop
productive support, coaching routines, and skills, based on
feedback from our survey respondents, fills a critical
capability gap. Implementing a similar system in your center
will provide your frontline managers with an empowering
level of structure and autonomy to develop and lead that
they’ve not previously experienced. The positive impact
realized at the team level will ripple across the entire
Recognition, Reward and Incentives
People have an innate desire for acknowledgement and
appreciation of their effort, commitment, value, and
accomplishments, and our survey affirmed recognition’s role
as an essential form of reward that is critical to employee
motivation, performance, and retention at all levels.
Nineteen percent of senior managers mentioned various forms
of recognition, appreciation and praise as the most important
thing provided by the organization to help supervisors
succeed. Twenty-four percent of supervisors surveyed listed
recognition as the one thing they wish their employer would
provide more of to help them succeed.
Employee recognition should be an integral component of any
performance management culture, and contact centers are
uniquely positioned to show appreciation to frontline leaders
and other employees based on achievement, tenure, and
numerous other aspects of operational, behavioral, or financial
performance. Due to advances in digital workplace platforms,
it’s easier than ever to coordinate reward and recognition
with performance metrics and related business goals ensuring
they are substantive and meaningful.
Recognition programs are nothing new and are used in some
form by most organizations, and while 24 percent of the
supervisors in our survey identified a desire for more
recognition than was currently provided, only 16 percent of
senior managers mentioned it as the top concern. This priority
gap reminds us that as the workforce, organization, and
business landscape evolves, to remain effective, recognition
programs must be assessed and refreshed on a regular basis.
SHRM’s toolkit on Managing an Employee Recognition Program
and expert advice from Deloitte and Roy Saunderson, Chief
Learning Officer at Rideau Recognition Solutions are great
resources to tap when updating an existing program or
creating something new.
Don’t limit the scope of your recognition, reward and
incentive strategy – weave it into every appropriate aspect
of the work experience possible. In performance reviews,
team huddles, coaching sessions, and even corrective actions,
recognition and positive temper is vital to constructive
human development and motivation and far-reaching ROI.
Conclusion: Trust, Support, and Realizing Full Potential
As a member of the amazing team at TouchPoint One, I am
inspired by the opportunity to leverage our collective energy,
creativity, and commitment to develop solutions that help
people realize their greatest potential. There are plenty of
ways to make a living (even a financial fortune), but
enabling the development, confidence, and competence of
frontline leaders and agents at scale, understanding both
the urgent need and the vast potential for benefit stretching
far beyond the sphere of the local organization is, for me,
a sort of high-grade motivational fuel.
The motivational stimuli of upper and frontline contact center
management are evident throughout our survey responses. Senior
managers showed consistent interest in leveraging their
knowledge and experience to develop the skills of their
frontline leaders and expressed a steady desire to improve
and expand the tools, programs, processes, and appreciation
instrumental to enabling them to realize their full potential.
Supervisor feedback illuminated how trust, empathy, clarity,
stress, and collaboration fits into their concept of support,
professional development, compensation, and culture. In
chapter 5 of the “The Leadership Toolbox”, author Vicki
Brackett advises contact center leaders to “Admit that Your
People May Know More than You Do”, so institutionalizing
inquiry, through even three-question increments, makes
Contact centers are in an extraordinary position to help
employees develop, thrive, and excel and in turn harness the
resulting energy for the benefit of all the organization’s
stakeholders. In our survey, frontline managers repeatedly
expressed the desire for not just increased wages, but the
awareness, guidance, learning, camaraderie, and structure
that facilitate the higher levels of performance that make
greater earnings possible. With very few exceptions,
attitudes about the workplace, trust in management, and
potential for future success were constructive and positive.
The perspectives and intentions of the members of frontline
and senior management from whom we gathered feedback were,
for the most part, in sync.
The average rating provided by supervisors to the question
“On a scale of 1-10, to what extent are you provided by your
employer with what you need to succeed?” was 7.3 – slightly
higher than the average rating of 7.1 indicated by senior
managers when asked “On a scale of 1-10, to what extent are
you providing supervisors what they need to succeed?”. Senior
leadership was indeed slightly more critical of its performance
than were the recipients of the support to whom they are
responsible, indicating a healthy and encouraging sense of
accountability of their need to do better.
Sustained inattention to the needs of supervisors gives rise
to absenteeism, turnover, disengagement and other undesirable
conditions that lead to failure for many customer contact
organizations. If your contact center isn’t achieving the
level of prosperity that you know it’s capable of, try
diagnosing it from the perspective of your supervisors. Begin
the journey with a simple survey like the one used for this
report. Assemble representatives for all relevant stakeholder
groups to evaluate the feedback and create and implement a
plan that corrects the deficiencies and capitalizes on
strengths. Make the procedure a permanent component of your
continuous improvement process. Your supervisors are the
linchpins of your contact center’s success, and they are
depending on you for the support they need to deliver.
About TouchPoint One
TouchPoint One is the leading provider of employee engagement
and performance management solutions for contact centers. The
Company’s Acuity product is a full-featured contact center
performance management platform that enables improved decision
making, talent development, and process execution at every
operational level. TouchPoint One customer contact solutions
deliver the rich benefits of employee dashboards, balanced
scorecards, gamification, and advanced performance management
capabilities through leading-edge data analytics, innovative
design and complete, functional alignment with business
processes and strategies. http://www.touchpointone.com
TouchPoint One, Acuity and A-GAME are registered trademarks
of TouchPoint One, LLC. All other registered or unregistered
trademarks are the sole property of their respective owners.
©2019 TouchPoint One, LLC. All rights reserved.