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  May 2012 Vol. 5 Issue 2    CONNECT  


Empower Contact Center Employees:
Give Your External Front Line an Internal Voice

By Elizabeth Lupfer
Founder and Social HR Pundit
The Social Workplace

I have a friend who works in a call center in Columbus, OH. She is someone who is not only passionate about her job, but also about having a voice and affecting change to improve her teams’ functions. But her greatest challenges to feeling included in impacting and changing company processes are related to the working environment itself: with the exception of a half hour lunch and two 15-minute breaks, she must be on the phone all day long, which makes conversation with other colleagues impossible, as well as making opportunities to express opinions with other team members or suggest changes are limited to monthly team meetings. Neither of which are conducive to driving a culture of social, human interaction.

It’s hard enough to drive engagement in the standard corporate environment, but imagine what it must be like to promote interaction in an environment where employees are separated and siloed as a requirement of the job.

Call centers have a workplace setting that differs greatly from those of a corporate setting, so I’ve always appreciated the diligence of contact (call) center employees and have wondered how it’s possible to drive (and enable) engagement, interaction and productivity when the basic functions of the job requires employees to be connected to their phones and computers their entire work day. Any time away from the phone has a direct impact on performance metrics such as call quality, length and ability to wrap the calls as quickly as possible within government or corporate regulations.

With the pressure of performance expectations that are read out on a daily basis even a five minute restroom break can have the perception of costing the contact center money. And the net result of working in an environment that is regimented is that employees either feel too intimidated to voice their opinions or they feel that no one will do anything about them, making them feel hopeless and unmotivated. If the culture doesn’t demonstrate sensitivity to its employees then you’re certainly not fostering an environment of employee engagement.

If you give your front line contact center employees a voice with external customers, why wouldn’t you empower them to have a voice within the organization?

And the thought crosses my mind… if your front line contact center employees are given a voice with external customers, why wouldn’t you empower them to have a voice within the organization?

Give your front line a voice in process improvement for long term change that impacts culture, performance and morale.

In the most recent issue of Contact Center Pipeline, Natasha Gonzalez, Team Lead, Contact Center Operations, Wyndham Consumer Finance, Inc., shares how Wyndham senior leaders decided to implement changes to make contact center employees’ concerns a priority and to ensure that they know that their opinions are valued. They developed a plan to engage frontline agents in process improvement, and empowering employees by making them an essential part of the company’s decisions and goals; thereby allowing them to take ownership and responsibility of their own work.

Some highlights of the article:
  • Identify Staff Pain Points: Use the results of your employee opinion survey to conduct sessions with frontline supervisors and team leads to discuss the most common concerns and issues, and working with all departments to rank the issues and create a change plan.

  • Use Six Sigma Tools to Improve Processes: Use an X-Y matrix, also known as a cause-and-effect matrix, which is a Six Sigma tool that allows a team to identify performance gaps and areas of improvement. This methodology removes subjectivity so that employees feel they are being scored fairly and accurately.

  • Implementing Change and Training New Processes: As part of the overall change plan and communications strategy, allow the team leads or agents who participated in the discussions to present the new process to their peers. Use these same team leads to help conduct training sessions on the new process and make sure that management is involved as well.

  • A Continuous Culture of Improvement: After a period of six months, hold follow-up discussions to gauge how the new process has impacted employee morale.
Do social technologies fit in?

One of the benefits to the natural synergy of a workplace environment is the ability to not only socialize but to also learn from each other and share knowledge with one another. In the absence of that, what do you do? Do social technologies fit in? And how do you blend social technologies with a workplace where employees must be connected to the phone system at all times so they can be ready for the next call that pops up in queue. Even call center employees should feel that they have an impact within their organizations and the company itself should work to provide an environment where employees have an opportunity to learn from their greatest resource: each other.

It’d be interesting to learn whether or not there are contact centers that have successfully deployed collaboration sites so employees can connect with each other. If you’re such a contact center, I would love to hear what successes (or even tribulations) you’ve experienced.

This article originally appeared at The Social Workplace.

About the Author

Elizabeth Lupfer is an intranet strategist with an extensive background in employee communications and HR technology, who successfully translates business needs into technical requirements to deliver best-in-class portals that resonate on a global level. Lupfer is the Senior Manager, HR Technology and Employee Experience, Global HR at Verizon as well as the Founder and Chief Blogger at The Social Workplace.
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