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Drama: A Top Killer of Agent Satisfaction and Retention

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Drama: A Top Killer of Agent Satisfaction and Retention

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Drama: A Top Killer of Agent Satisfaction and Retention

5 proven methods to overcome drama in your center.

Drama is a great thing when you’re going to the theatre, but in a contact center it can be devastating. By “drama,” I mean any kind of contagious complaining, squabbling, misinformation or gossip. Drama can intensify over time, mutating from chronic negativity to outright sabotage.

Let’s look at five proven ways to overcome drama and negativity in your center.

1. Don’t Ignore It

Winston Churchill said, “Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.” Famous quarterback Terry Bradshaw was even more succinct: “Bad attitudes will ruin your team.” When a team of agents begin to focus on the negatives in your center, it’s like they’re peeling an onion. They go deeper and deeper, peeling away everything good, until they destroy the core.

Now, we all know that it’s normal for employees to complain—sometimes legitimately—about aspects of the job or customers or their coworkers and managers. After all, even leaders complain sometimes. However, when enough agents go negative and begin stirring up excessive drama, it can infect your culture and drive your best agents away from the toxic atmosphere.

It’s probably not your favorite part of the job to police attitudes. As managers, we usually prefer to focus on our business responsibilities. But, ignoring an outbreak of negativity is just as dangerous as ignoring poor performances. Luckily, there are ways to stop the contagion from spreading.

2. Communicate the Purpose

Often—or rather, almost all the time—drama is a result of a misunderstanding or miscommunication. By communicating successfully, we can overcome the negative messages that cause drama in our centers. As leaders, we need to understand our agents and how the processes and changes we implement affect them. Once the root cause is identified, it is essential that we recommunicate the message around their perception.

Top organizations have systemic communication plans that provide actionable knowledge at every level. At All-Calls, we have daily “Rhythm Meetings.” In these meetings, the senior leadership team discusses current challenges, metrics and daily goals for the center. Then, the operations leaders hold daily Rhythm Meetings with the frontline supervisors to further push the communication and plans to the front line. Finally, our agents receive a daily report from our learning management system. This daily digest spotlights quality and processes—emphasizing their importance to the organization. It also communicates and explains any pending changes.

Don’t forget the WHY! You may have leaders who feel that employees don’t need to know the reasons for decisions that affect them. In fact, this information is critical for your culture. It helps agents understand the purpose of the center and how they fit into it by enabling beneficial changes. It also prevents rumors or misunderstandings from starting. Lastly, in more than one case, agents have saved organizations from making costly mistakes because they identified issues with pending changes that leaders didn’t foresee.

3. Learn by Listening to the “Voice of the Agent”

At All-Calls, we have 100% at-home employees, so we provide our agents with an online social chatroom. This makes it possible for them to share knowledge and build relationships and friendships with coworkers. Leadership is part of the chatroom and interact with agents as needed to answer questions and explain policies or processes. We can poll agents or start discussions on any topic that we think needs attention. From a distance, we also monitor the chatroom to ensure that the tone and content is professional. This gives us a window into agent attitudes, knowledge gaps, stress points and overall engagement. The chatroom is an effective tool for listening to the voice of the agent, and not just the “squeaky wheels.”

In brick-and-mortar call centers, you can listen to the agents and see their expressions and demeanor, but there’s rarely enough time in the week to pay attention to what’s being said from one cubicle to another. You also don’t want to hover over employees and eavesdrop on their conversations. There’s a better way.

To examine and diagnose your center’s culture, create a Voice of the Agent (VOA) committee. The VOA team assesses the attitudes of the agents, finds out how leadership decisions affect them, and solicits ideas from them for improving communications and processes. The VOA team should act as a culture builder, driving exceptional customer experiences and a positive workplace environment while communicating purpose and engagement among agents.

As leaders, we know that the agent’s perspective and experience is valuable to our business. The VOA team is a way to capture more value and develop buy-in and loyalty.

4. Incentivize for Attitude

Most contact centers offer incentives for agents and team that meet goals. Why not incentivize attitude?

At All-Calls, we have an incentive committee that creates monthly incentives around metrics as well as fun. Every month, we also have an incentive for positive attitudes and pushing communication in a positive light. By offering incentives, we encourage agents to identify and promote the organization’s positives.

Part of the attitude incentive also rewards problem-solving. In our center, we live by the motto, “Don’t bring me a problem, bring me a solution.” We encourage and reward our agents for turning negative situations into positive ones, using ingenuity and creativity. We ask our agents for their great ideas and we encourage them to demonstrate to senior leadership how changes affect their daily work. This is a drama-killer, turning a complaining culture upside down.

5. Make it A Game

Promoting a positive workplace and managing drama are part of your daily responsibilities. Waiting for drama to disappear or for attitudes to bounce back is a recipe for failure. Putting proactive programs in place year-round is the best insurance for positive attitudes and positive changes.

At All-Calls, we break our year into three trimesters. Each trimester, we have a theme around one of our three pillars of success.

  • Be Nice
  • Communicate Effectively
  • Understand Our Goals and Metrics

Each trimester, our communication program explains the themes and describes the incentives and reasons for our pillars of success. For “Be Nice,” we have the “Be Nice Award,” honoring agents who do something nice for a coworker or customer. Anyone can nominate an agent for the “Be Nice Award,” and we have a budget in place to provide small bonuses for nice and positive actions by our agents.

We achieve our “Communicate Effectively” pillar through daily meetings and publishing the daily digest, as well as work by our Voice of the Agent, Voice of the Customer, and employee incentive committees. Employee incentive committees reach out to agents and customers and bring ideas and beneficial feedback to the leadership team, with the goal of improving performances and attitudes.

To make sure that agents “Understand Our Goals and Metrics,” we tell them in writing the purpose of all the business metrics that apply to them. We show them how these metrics affect our organization, our customers and the agents themselves.

Finally, we empower our agents to bring suggestions for reaching our goals or for making other beneficial changes that we can share with our clients. We implement many agent suggestions, and we always publicly recognize the employees who contribute ideas, even if we don’t implement them all.

Drama Can Be an Opportunity for Engagement

It’s important to remember that drama is natural and human, even if too much of it is destructive. Drama is what happens when people feel bored, disengaged or powerless. By inventing theories or spreading gossip about what’s happening, employees are trying to have an impact on a situation. If your first instinct is to crack down, you may be adding to the anxiety and lack of control the agents are experiencing. Drama will just go underground, simmer beneath the surface, and then flare up again at the worst possible time.

Don’t add to the drama. Every day we have countless opportunities to look at the negatives of our situation or see them as positives—and every day we choose how to communicate this to our staff. If drama is taking over your call center, ask yourself these three questions:

  1. Have you made your organization’s positives visible to everyone?
  2. Does every agent know how important he or she is to the good things happening in your organization?
  3. Are agents empowered to help your leadership team make things even better?

An engaged and empowered workforce is less likely to be sucked into drama. They are your best defense against negativity. Instead of hoping drama goes away, listen and act with decisiveness and positivity, and your culture will improve measurably.

Eric Berg

Eric Berg

Eric Berg is a 25-year veteran of the contact center industry, running multiple brick-and-mortar as well as virtual agent centers across the U.S. Eric is founder of the Midwest Contact Center Association and currently provides consulting in the areas of outsourcing selection, recruitment, applicant intake process, employee retention, creating at-home agent programs and creating a culture of success. 

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