Empowerment Drives Continuous Improvement Mindset
By Susan Hash
We operate in a fast-changing business environment. The processes that work well
today can quickly become unwieldy and undercut your center's performance tomorrow.
Leading-edge service providers understand the need to keep getting better—and
they know firsthand the power that a continuous improvement culture has on customer
satisfaction, quality, employee engagement and business performance.
Empowering agents with higher levels of decision-making authority helps to drive
the behaviors that are critical to a continuous improvement culture. Empowerment
not only increases job satisfaction, it stimulates a problem-solving, continuous
improvement mindset. The following are three practices that can help you to develop
an empowered front line that is driven to continuously improve your business.
Give Agents the Authority to Govern Themselves
Establishing an environment where employees feel free to challenge the status quo
will increase morale and staff's willingness to offer input. At Comerica Bank's
Customer Contact Center, agents are encouraged to contribute to center policies
and processes. They're able to take more control over their jobs by participating
in an agent council. The agent council meets as a group to discuss the items that
they want to present to management at a monthly meeting. They form subcommittees
to oversee those issues and report on progress to the council and to contact center
The council is responsible for creating workplace policies as well as enforcing
them. Contact center management has found that the policies developed by the agents
are not very different from the original policies that were in place, but the impact
and adherence is much greater. The self-governing role also has made agents more
aware of how the business operates, and the reasons behind certain decisions and
Practical Pointer: When setting up an agent council, make sure that supervisors
provide useful feedback to their teams on choosing delegates. For instance, don't
elect only the high-performers who love everything about the center; include those
who have identified issues and policies that they want to see revised. Find the
individuals who have something to say and will give honest feedback.
Focus on the Process, Not Individual Performance
NCCI Holdings adopted a Six Sigma approach to customer interactions, which has streamlined
call-handling processes and improved quality. Instead of looking for errors to improve
in the individual agent's performance, NCCI focused on improving processes in the
overall, end-to-end customer experience (which ultimately impacts individual quality).
Frontline staff play a key role in improving the center's workflow and processes.
During quality reviews, quality analysts sit with agents and have them walk through
each step of the call. The reviews help QAs to identify the different approaches
to processes that have evolved over time. QAs learn from the agents, sometimes incorporating
their workflows into the process, or they may reexamine the process entirely as
part of a problem-solving project.
Upgrade Your Recruiting Profile
Developing an empowered environment that focuses on continuous improvement typically
calls for different skill sets, attitudes and a revised agent hiring profile. Call
center management at Frontier Communications screens its frontline candidates for
resiliency. To determine whether a potential frontline representative is resilient,
hiring managers evaluate candidates' responses to questions like, "Tell me about
a time when you did not perform as well as you would have hoped. What was the situation,
and what were the results?" Or, "Describe a time when a customer you were interacting
with became angry at you. What did you do? What were the results?"
Having the right attitude is also important. Frontier seeks candidates who are responsible
for their actions, accept and learn from criticism, and can live the company's "I
can help" mission. In addition, interviewers look for helpfulness, friendliness,
concentration, intelligence and empathy in candidates, combined with a positive
attitude and comfort with decision-making.
Practical Pointer: Reinforce your culture by hiring like-minded individuals.
Frontier's sales and service consultants are requested to submit two referrals for
employment each year. The center leadership has found that current employees are
the best evaluators of the right attitude and culture fit. In addition, new-hires
who were referred tend to perform better and stay with the company longer.
Inside View: Winston-Salem Industries for the Blind
Studies have shown that people who are visually impaired or blind have the skills
and motivation to perform well in a contact center environment. In fact, they often
outperform their sighted colleagues. The primary employment obstacle that blind
adults face is overcoming the misconceptions commonly held by employers that people
who are blind won't be able to accomplish tasks that are considered to be visually
oriented, such as accessing the computer. Winston-Salem Industries for the Blind
(WSIFB) is working to change that perception by placing blind and visually impaired
customer service reps in government and commercial call centers across the United
States. Established in 1936, WSIFB is a qualified AbilityOne not-for-profit corporation,
and is the largest employer of people who are blind or visually impaired in the
country. Finding jobs for blind and visually impaired individuals is just one part
of WSIFB's employment services. In addition to candidate screening and hiring, WSIFB
provides call centers with assistive technology, new-hire training, employer education
and ongoing support to ensure that employees continue to grow and be successful
in their careers.
Read the full story here. (PDF)