Customer Experience News & Trends

Keys to building a contact center where everyone wants to work

Contact centers are notorious for high turnover and low job satisfaction. Employees don’t want to be there, and customers don’t want to get help from those who are there. It’s a recipe for a poor customer experience – unless you create an ideal work environment.

The good news about building an effective contact center: It’s not going to cost bundles of money to upgrade the facility and infrastructure, or dish out big bonuses to employees to get them to stay on.

Instead, you can focus on providing the six elements essential to creating the ideal work environment — and none of them are budget-demanding.

Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones, authors of Harvard Business Review’s Creating the Best Workplace on Earth, relied on surveys, research and interviews to identify the most important factors in any workplace. For a contact center — where employees are sometimes barraged with tough customers and are on the low end of the pay and benefits scale — creating an environment heavy in these six attributes is particularly important.

“They describe an organization that operates at its fullest potential by allowing people to do their best work,” Goffee and Jones say. “We call this ‘the organization of your dreams.'”

From bad image to field of dreams

114405392Can contact centers really shed that low-paying, no-respect, tedious-work image and become a field of dreams? It’s really not a question of can contact center leaders do it. Now the question is: When will they do it?

Consider this: Highly engaged employees are 50% more likely to exceed expectations than those who are less engaged, a Hay Group study found. It creates a strong case for building an environment where people want to be now and stay for a long time.

Customers can tell the difference between a front-line employee who cares about them and one who just goes through the motions to get to the next paycheck. Transactions that are filled with interest, empathy and a concern for the greater good of the customer and the company create the ideal customer experience — the kind that builds loyalty.

Here are the six attributes of the best places to work — and how top companies facilitate them. Beware: Some actually run counter to established practices. Some may even seem impossible to implement. But know that many companies can try these ideas – even in smaller ways – to realize success.

1. Let people be themselves

162901676In the best work environments, employee individuality is encouraged. There are no blue-suit, white-shirt rules (although some dress codes may exist to maintain professionalism). Leaders look to fill their offices, cubicles and seats with people who have different perspectives, habits of mind, core assumptions — not necessarily the traditional diversity categories such as race, gender and age.

The explosion of differences helps organizations thrive creatively and economically — and it can do the same for contact centers where problem-solving and brainstorming with some budgetary confines is on the daily menu.

Take, for example, the Zappos contact center. One of their core beliefs is “Be Adventurous, Creative and Open-Minded.” To that end, contact center reps don’t use scripts, and their bosses don’t measure call time. Translation: Reps stay open-minded to what customers say and are given the time to be as creative as possible to make the experience superb for customers.

And it usually is: Zappos’ customer satisfaction scores are consistently in the 90s.

2. Let the information flow

listeningEmployees can only do the best possible job when they know what’s really going on. In the age of Facebook, Twitter, WikiLeaks and the good, old-fashioned water cooler, it’s better that employees who deal directly with customers hear the truth before everyone else does.

It’s particularly disheartening for contact center agents to hear bad news about their companies — anything from promotional flops to recalls — from customers and not be equipped to properly respond.

Although many companies communicate on a need-to-know basis, leaving employees in the dark, some, like PepsiCo, are more aggressive. Indra Nooyi, CEO of PepsiCo, sends bi-weekly letters to all employees thanking them for their contributions and updating them on what’s happening with the company. Result: She’s been rewarded with a motivated, loyal workforce.

Contact centers can use the company intranet to keep employees informed. There they’d ideally get a direct feed of the latest company news, marketing promotions, sales figures, product launches and updates, and new trends in customer needs and issues.

3. Magnify people’s strengths

153522154Good employees will only become better in the ideal work environment. People who work where they are challenged and recognized for their contributions will thrive. Yet, many organizations are guilty of rewarding managers for lowering labor costs rather than increasing employee effectiveness through training, performance-based rewards and proper job placement. Contact centers are particularly guilty of this.

The ideal approach is to add value to the already valuable people companies have working for them. The options for doing this are many and aren’t just limited to in-house training.

Example: Some companies provide networks (usually online because employees work in different areas), stretch assignments and cross-training. More importantly, they provide employees the time to step away from their day-to-day activities and take advantage of the opportunities to become better employees and people.

As an example, John Lewis, a chain of department stores in Great Britain, reviewed thousands of its jobs and slotted them in a hierarchy of 10 levels so employees could have an easier time taking advantage of opportunities across the organization. This allows employees and their managers to take steps to match workers with the work they want to do and excel at.

One caveat: An investment in contact center employees and growing their strengths must be an ongoing effort. Recognition, training, opportunities to grow and rewards must be regularly updated.

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