In today’s call centers, employers aren’t just looking for professional expertise or experience in team leaders. They’re also looking for other qualities like the ability to build rapport with customers, team members and other team leaders, as well as interpersonal and communication skills that help leaders steer teams effectively.
Developing these traits and learning these skills will help you stand out and advance your career faster because you can build positive relationships with people who quickly learn they can trust you and be open to your ideas and suggestions.
Building positive relationships is critical to becoming an amazing team leader. However, despite your best efforts, sometimes things go wrong. And when they do, the question is: Can you still maintain rapport with unhappy team members, other team leaders or your manager? Yes, you can—the key is how you communicate with them! For example, think about those times when your team didn’t hit its targets or KPIs. When that happened, you knew that there would be a discussion about it with your manager, right?
How to Prepare for a Tough Conversation with Your Manager
The following are some ideas about how you can prepare for and manage that tough conversation with your manager using an interactive communication style.
First, be very honest and clear with yourself about why your team didn’t hit its KPIs. Don’t look for excuses! If you offer up excuses, you’ll only look defensive, unaccountable or even unaware of what’s going on with your team. That’s the last thing you want people thinking.
Identify the real reasons why your team missed and ask yourself a few questions. Start with:
- How close were we to hitting our target? If your team was only off by a little, think about what you need to do with your agents to make sure they hit the target next time. It may just involve some simple coaching or training tweaks to get back on track.
- What percentage of my team fell short? You have consistently strong performers and others that aren’t. It’s really important to recognize the achievements of those that hit their targets to make sure they want to do it again and again—even if the team misses its target!
- Who fell short, and why? If only a few members of the team didn’t deliver, focus on those you need to work with and how to improve their performance to the minimal levels at least. Think about why they fell short. Do they need more coaching or training on their call skills, product knowledge or processes?
Once you’ve figured who needs help and where they need it, develop a simple coaching plan for how you’re going to cover these shortcomings and who would be the best person to help them with it.
If some team members need an “attitude adjustment,” be honest with yourself about that. Figure out what their core problem is and how you should deal with those situations, and whether you need help from your manager or HR to help you correct the poor behaviors.
How to Build Rapport During a Tough Conversation
When it’s time to have the “conversation” with your manager, the following are a few scenarios for how the talk might begin, and tips to manage each so that you are building a deeper rapport.
If you don’t regularly meet one-on-one with your manager each week, be proactive and ask them for a minute to chat about your team’s performance. But before you do, prepare a one-page list of the things that went wrong and the steps you’ll be taking to make sure your team hits their target next time. This will help to ensure that you cover everything you want to discuss.
Remember, you don’t want to come across as defensive by listing all the things that went wrong as “excuses.” So, create your coaching plan in a positive way that demonstrates you’re accountable for your team’s performance, aware of what went wrong and what you’re going to do to address it, and that you’re open to getting help.
When you start your chat, thank your manager for their time and mention you’ve been thinking about why the team didn’t hit its target (as you hand them a copy of the coaching plan you’ve created). By doing this, you’ll be perceived as proactive and on top of the needs of your team, not to mention that it will be easier to remember all the points you wanted to bring up in case your conversation gets cut short. At least your manager has a list of what you feel needs to be corrected and how you intend to do it.
If you do regularly meet one-on-one with your manager each week, be prepared as mentioned earlier. If your manager starts the meeting by mentioning the poor team performance, don’t interrupt.
When they’ve finished, respond by reiterating their views to show that you’ve listened and understood their point of view. For example, you can simply say: You’re right, we didn’t deliver last week.
Then follow up with something like this: I’ve been thinking about what happened. I’ve prepared a list of what I think went wrong and a coaching plan on how I’ll correct things, and I’d really like your thoughts on this.
If your manager is the take-charge type and kicks right in before you can get started, let them tell you what they think before suggesting any solutions. When they’ve finished, you can say, as you hand them a copy of your action plan: Those are really good points. I’ll take them on board, and I have some ideas to help us hit our target next time that I’d like to get your thoughts on.
Communicating with Your Team
To get the best results from your team members, you need to be assertive. And, let’s be clear: Assertiveness is not about bulldozing your way through by disregarding people’s feelings. The key is learning how to express your views honestly and respectfully.
For example, when holding a preshift team huddle where you need to share a new development, be sure to explain why you need your agents to do certain things and how it will help the customers, team and organization.
In today’s call centers, team members really want to know the “why” behind anything that affects their jobs. Long gone are the days where you just told them what to do and expected them to blindly follow your directions. So, when sharing information, always be open to their suggestions and always accept responsibility for your decisions—otherwise, how will your team members believe in what you say?
You need to build rapport with each team member individually. One way to do this is by understanding the way each person prefers to process information. For example:
- If they are a visual person, use graphs, pictures and videos to help them visualize your message.
- If you’re communicating with auditory people, let them hear your message through face-to-face meetings and phone calls.
- If they are a feeling person, get your message across by sharing personal experiences or the experiences of others that speak to the point you want to get across.
Push and Pull Influencing Styles
Other communication tactics you can use to influence team members to get your message across effectively to get the outcomes you want or manage change are push and pull influencing styles. Depending on the situation, you can use one or more of these influencing styles.
One push style is to use logic by pointing out flaws in their thinking. However, when using this style, be sure to fully hear them out first (you don’t want to get into ridiculous arguments). After you’ve heard them out, offer a few logical solutions that highlight the best way for them to get the outcomes they want.
Another push style is the old carrot and stick. Show your team members the reward they’ll get if they comply and highlight the potential downside if they don’t. I don’t mean for you to do this in a threatening manner at all. Every action has an upside and a downside for doing it. Just help them to see the benefits that are important to them and the consequences they want to avoid so they can make an informed decision on which way they should move forward.
Pull styles rely on a consultative approach to engage your team and move them forward by using the “big picture,” such as shared values, mission and life goals. It’s a style to use when you need to inform your team about general and informative or useful matters that don’t require direct feedback.
A simple way to do this is to create a central “general updates” file that your team members can easily access when they need general information—things like press releases, operating checklists, product features and benefits charts, and even rebuttals to objections. All you do is upload the information to the central file, then send out a short email informing your team that this information is available to pull from the update file whenever they need it. The drawback of this method is that you can’t track who has accessed this information, nor if they understood what the information meant.
Amazing Team Leaders Communicate Effectively
Today’s employers value team leaders who can grow personally and professionally. This gives senior leaders confidence in your ability to manage greater responsibilities and challenges.
If you want to be (or continue to be) an amazing team leader, it’s important to effectively manage how you communicate at all levels. Using the appropriate communication style helps those you interact with fully understand your message.