“There will always be people who are ahead of the curve, and people who are behind the curve. But knowledge moves the curve.” — Bill James
The most important technology in your call center isn’t hardware or software. It’s your people. As the originators of technology, we human beings demonstrate thousands of years of development, invention and progress in uncountable ways every day. Despite the widespread belief that we humans despise change, we learn and adapt without really noticing it. We are constantly adjusting to new demands and circumstances as they emerge.
The right combination of hardware, software and process technology will equip any contact center for success, but people drive the results. And people, as we’ve said in previous posts, are experts at learning and relearning. Relearning needs to go along with retooling. Organizations that ignore the capacity for ongoing learning in the call center fail at getting optimum results, and then wonder why their expensive hardware and complex forecasting algorithms let them down.
In my 20-plus years in the industry, I’ve heard this excuse a thousand times: “We’ve tried to teach our agents to have better people skills, but it doesn’t work. People skills can’t be taught.” Yet our teams have done exactly that. So the question really becomes, “how do you know your agents can’t or won’t learn?” Are managers objectively assessing skills development based on performance, or simply assuming staff members don’t want to learn new things or improve? Or put another way, have you ever met someone that really didn’t want to learn better ways to work with other people?
Writing in EE Times, news analyst Keith Dawson interviewed a number of training experts to identify best practices in contact center training. In that article, the CEO of Aslan Training and Development, Tom Stanfill, presented an interesting and useful alternative to measuring performance alone as an indicator of an employee’s willingness to learn and change.
Stanfill suggests that managers and coaches should divide their team into four quadrants based on performance and demonstrated willingness to change. They are categorized as:
Showing your employees how growth and change is not just necessary but absolutely possible is the first step on the path to improvement. Poor performers, given appropriate attention and proper feedback, can benefit from managerial attention, but how much time is too much time to spend on someone who doesn’t seem to want to learn?
“Once the team is categorized, the coach can now implement the appropriate strategy and determine where to spend their time,” Stanfill said. Here are his recommendations on how much time managers should dedicate to the staffers in each category.
Make no mistake about it: performance metrics are invaluable, even if they are not the ultimate measurements of your customer service representatives’ success.
A cornerstone of effective, lasting workplace education is for managers to give feedback designed to center their employees and give them the reinforcement, tools, and support needed to excel. However, in our industry the definition of feedback varies from company to company, and often, manager to manager. Essentially, feedback is data. And the old computer adage, “garbage in, garbage out” applies to feedback quality also. If the input is bad, the output will be, too – even from your highly ranked employees.
The Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) defines feedback as information that tells how we are progressing in our efforts to reach a goal. Feedback is not advice. Advice is guidance meant to help a person improve. For improvement suggestions to have meaning and relevance to their employees, managers must first give objective feedback that is related strictly to the task being performed.
“The ability to improve one’s result depends on the ability to adjust one’s pace in light of ongoing feedback that measures performance against a concrete, long-term goal,” writes ASCD educator Grant Wiggins.
According to Wiggins, truly helpful feedback has several clear characteristics, including:
As for the effect of high pressure environments on the ability to give feedback, Wiggins writes, “Remember that “no time to give and use feedback” actually means “no time to cause learning.” As we have seen, research shows that less teaching plus more feedback is the key to achieving greater learning.”
Now that your managers have categorized the team, worked out how much time to devote to each individual, and have learned how to give feedback that reinforces training, lets consider four “substantial but insubstantial” interpersonal skills that managers can (and must) teach their employees.
The “four C’s” are quite substantial – they are the foundation for great customer service experiences on both sides of the desk, phone or screen. However, their “insubstantial” nature (hard concepts to articulate) may give trainers pause.
“Teaching” these skills is, quite often, a matter of accessing what your employees already intuitively understand about themselves and the world, and trainers may need to think out of the box to do that effectively, as Harvard’s Mazur did.
Mazur changed the classroom paradigm by eliminating lectures, even though he was a very highly regarded Harvard lecturer. Instead of giving his students lecture notes at the time of his physics class, he gave them as a prerequisite. Students were told to read the notes before attending his class and contact him by email with their ideas and questions relating to them. In turn, he would build his classes on that input. The quality of his students’ questions helped him to identify the strongest and weakest learners.
Here are some helpful questions for trainers and managers to have team members answer to show their grasp of the 4 C’s:
Clarity: what do you know about the situation? What are the facts?
Connection: what is your customer feeling? What is the customer’s tone of voice telling you?
Composure: what can you do to positively influence the situation and stay grounded and impartial?
Closure: have you met all of your internal requirements for completing the call?
As experts in call center optimization, GCS places high value on teaching, coaching and continual learning. We’ve developed an on line soft skills training program named “Say THIS, Not That…Most of the Time.” It provides an essential baseline of communication skills and understanding of the customer service role in both spoken and written encounters. It is delivered in 30 minute segments to make it easy for the supervisor or trainer to schedule and the trainee to absorb and practice. Perfect for new employees and a great retool for the experienced ones. Ready to make the most of your time, knowledge and staff? Try the demo today!
Publish Date: July 27, 2016 5:00 AM
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