Five Tips to Encourage Employee Engagement
By Jay Minnucci
As with practically all improvement activities, an engaged staff starts with the
right hires. Passion is a requirement, but it needs to be driven by the type of
success that the contact center environment can support. Those with a passion for
external rewards and working on their own schedule will not likely be as successful
as those that get a charge out of quietly helping others. Yet even with the right
staff, there are plenty of ways we need to shape the environment to turn a potentially
good hire into an engaged and valued member of the team. The following are some
ideas on building a contact center that promotes engagement.
1. Promote the Importance of the Job. Let's be honest: An agent's position
is not generally considered to be glamorous. Glamour, though, is not a prerequisite
for engagement. Instead, it is critical for agents to recognize that, while there
is no red carpet, the work itself is important. Small but heroic efforts happen
on a fairly regular basis, and they make a real difference in the lives of customers.
Resolving a long-standing issue, finding the perfect product for a weary shopper,
and taking the extra time needed to properly explain a situation are ways that we
give customers a lift. Yes, we can (and often do) recognize the person for the extra
effort, but we often do not promote these wins as a benefit of the job. This type
of intrinsic reward should be front and center when describing the work to an applicant,
when discussing job expectations with frontline staff, and when creating the mission
statement for the organization.
2. Embrace Rotational Education. You probably have many different areas—training,
quality assurance, workforce management, etc.—which support the center. Agent
activities are to some extent directed by these areas, but the agents rarely know
anything about these roles. Allowing them to spend some time in these areas, observing
(and, if possible, doing) the work will provide greater insight into the organization.
With a greater appreciation of the entire organization, it is easier for agents
to understand how their role affects others. Greater vision translates to improved
3. Expect Collaboration. Your new employees want to collaborate, and you
will be better off for it. Some opportunities are obvious. Today's knowledge management
systems, for example, encourage input from users to improve content. Some of the
best opportunities, though, are not so obvious. Scheduling is considered to be a
very rigid discipline, but our zeal for adherence does not need to be at odds with
collaboration. Rather than viewing schedules on an individual basis, we can take
a team-based approach, and look to groups of employees to work together to meet
team or department adherence goals. The beauty of this is that, in the end, the
collaborative practice that improves engagement also delivers better performance
results at the team level.
4. Whenever Possible, Get Agents Closer to the Customer. I once did a project
for a transportation authority, and to a person, every agent on the phone said the
single most valuable activity was being given days off the phone to ride the routes
that customers use every day. It helped them better grasp the job and improve their
understanding of the customer's perspective. If you have retail stores, agents should
have a chance to work in them. If you have focus groups with customers, agents should
get the opportunity to be involved (even if only observing). If you have a product
or service that a consumer can use, every agent should get it for free (or at least
at reduced cost). For the relatively minor expense of some time off the phone, the
payback is more compassion, greater understanding, and a higher level of engagement.
5. Be Approachable. When people spend most of their day on the phone with
customers, it is difficult to develop personal relationships with them. Even leaders
who want to meet with staff often have a difficult time simply coordinating schedules
to make these meetings happen. Informal meetings are most important in contact centers,
and they just do not happen when leaders are holed up in offices or conference rooms.
Block out time on your calendar where meetings are not scheduled, and spend that
time making contact with the agents. Snake through cubicles when on your way in
and out of the area, and strike up some conversation whenever possible. Positional
authority matters, and when agents see that leaders care about their input, it is
only natural to feel more connected to the organization.
Inside View: American Water
American Water is the nation's largest publicly traded water and wastewater utility
company. It is committed to delivering the highest quality—in both the service
and the product that it provides. As Vice President of Customer Service Meg Neafsey
points out, "Water is the only utility service that is actually ingested by consumers.
Therefore, quality is of the utmost importance to our customers and to our company,
as well." Within the Customer Service Center, key operating values drive the main
performance targets by which the frontline staff is measured, and which the management
team models on a daily basis: communication, engagement, excellence, honesty and
integrity, and teamwork. "These are the behaviors that we drive through constant
communication and measurement, and which we focus on leading by example," Neafsey
says. "We try to create the visibility and then live our values."
Read the full story here. (PDF)