Put the Right Person in the Right Seat
The four building blocks of a high-performance call center team
By Patty Azar
A few years ago, I saw a bumper sticker on a car that read: If you think education is expensive—try ignorance! For the call center industry, we should create a bumper sticker that reads: If you think employee development is costly, measure your turnover!
Forward-thinking call centers are embracing technology and refining their methods to recruit, hire and develop team members. Competition and the need to find and keep the best talent make it critical to put the right person in the right seat the first time.
Hire to Match Your Strategic Initiatives
The responsibility for the development and tenure of call center reps keeps falling on the shoulders of supervisors who have no power to change the employee development system. This explains the huge attrition numbers. Why are companies sanctioning an employee revolving door, and then pressuring front-line supervisors to perform? Why is it OK to hire and hire again?
Hiring is a true strategic issue initiative that must be owned, executed and properly rewarded throughout the senior executive team. This responsibility cannot be delegated to lower-level managers within the organization. The executive team has to recognize the turbulence and the costly result of call center rep turnover, and set standards for hiring and development that are in line with the company's strategic plan. This plan should not be limited to the number of call center reps. A smart plan outlines how a company intends to maintain a greater percentage of tenured workforce, which, in turn, requires a timeline and budgeted money for staff development.
All Members of the Organization Must Drive Strategic Sales
It is imperative that your call center challenge its current recruiting, hiring and development processes to hire the "whole" person. If skill is your first indicator of hiring and developing, you have already missed about 75 percent of the whole team member. This 75 percent shows up in behavior that drives creativity and critical thinking and taps into his or her ability. Without looking at the whole person, you miss key indicators that will help you determine what role best serves him, how he thinks, how he prefers to perform in the marketplace, how to stretch his performance and thinking, and how to put him on the right teams to drive results.
People perform better when they enjoy their jobs. Consider how hard it is to change yourself and you'll understand what little chance you have to change others. There are reasons that tenured call center reps enjoy their jobs. More than likely, their behaviors are accurately matched to their job demands. Studies show that when the opposite is true, representatives stay less than 18 months in their jobs.
Think of how often call centers hire customer service reps to take incoming calls, and then months later expect these same reps to change their behaviors and make outbound sales calls. Top-performing customer service reps demonstrate behaviors that are supportive, persuasive, patient and concerned about getting the right outcome for the customer. Asking these same reps to make outbound calls and, as such, to be measured against a sales goal requires the reps to change their behaviors. Outbound sales calls require that reps perform with assertiveness, take risks, work at a faster pace and be creative—behaviors that are outside the comfort zone of a customer service rep. The end result: frustrated reps and lackluster sales.
What about the "blended sale"? This requires still another set of behaviors that can coach customers through a softer sale and make them feel as if they've been handled with gloves.
Looking at the "whole" person allows management to understand each rep's behaviors, how to coach her, what drives her, what motivates her, and understand what makes her tick—which helps match the person to the call center job.
Think About How You Hire the "Whole" Person
The process of building a high-performing team goes beyond assembling a group of reps based on skill. There are four building blocks of equal importance, that must be followed in sequential order:
Building Block # 1: Management must define each specific role—i.e., customer service, inbound sales, outbound product sales—and how it impacts the business. Of each role, management must ask: Is it tied to leadership and driving strategic sales? How does that role support the creation of high-performance teams to drive customer satisfaction? In the call center industry, customer satisfaction is the big metric.
Building Block #2 : Match individuals and their basic behavioral styles to your call center roles to drive needed outcomes and ROI. Centers today see that their top performers have similar behaviors and realize the importance of job modeling to attract prospective employees with similar behaviors. Linking the correct role to with the desired behavior ensures the continued growth of each contributor.
Building Block #3: Align real corporate values to required personal values. I'm not talking about the platitudes that hang on the wall, but real, practical values that are performance driven and measured. Measurable values act as the glue to assemble a team of terrific reps and continually cross-functional, highly performing teams.
A call center's core value system incorporates processes that drive quality customer service. It must be a culture of empowerment—one that capitalizes on the specific strengths and knowledge of each individual. And, it must include a formal process review to improve response, quality and partnership.
Align these core values with each individual's personal values, and you raise the performance bar immediately.
Building Block #4: Skill is the only component that is teachable and trainable in any call center. Are you a professional skill training ground for your competition?
Again, emphasis must be placed on looking at the whole person, not just his or her skill sets. Putting the right person in the right seat the first time gets the employee, team and company moving quickly. The employee performs immediately and in a positive direction. The whole employee understands initiatives and the plans to compete—you'll be hiring a workforce that is motivated as well as ready and willing to exceed expectations to win. If centers choose to 'screen in' candidates who are matched behaviorally, yet may not possess the exact skills required, then development plans need to include the particular skill-based training needed for each rep. Behaviorally-matched employees are more likely be motivated and driven to learn the skills they need to be successful.
What is Your Current Best Practices Model?
Today, American business is investing $60 billion annually in training and development for the country's workforce. That number is projected to double in three years. What is your budgeted hard-dollar investment in building both individuals and teams? If you think employee development is expensive, measure employee loss. Try recouping the lost costs of employee turnover, and all of that knowledge walking out the door to a competitor.
Call centers that continually tap creativity with a motivated workforce understand the four building blocks of high performance teams. They invest the right amount of time, money and talent in the development of roles that supply a real business with purpose and ROI—and they do so in a structure that eliminates department boundaries and drives functions interdependently. The right role with the right behavior is the first step to keeping those employees that produce, grow and desire to have a career with your center.
Patty Azar is COO of Predix Link, a company helps businesses build high-performing teams at the executive level and throughout the organization. Azar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.