If I Were a Rep . . .

If I Were a Rep . . .

/ Operations, People, Development, Performance Management
If I Were a Rep . . .

Two powerful changes we can make to support our frontline.

I have spent many hours in Contact Centers of varied shapes, sizes, and purposes - both premise-based and remote. At times, I have been haunted by what I would “want” if I were a frontline representative toiling away on behalf of my employer. Based on instinct and on my experience leading many client frontline focus groups, two “wishes” come to mind. These consistently emerge when participants answer the question, “If you could change one thing what would it be?”.

Train me!

The front line is starved for additional training. This has been specifically identified by Contact Center focus groups in the last couple of years and ranks as a top need and human satisfier. Relevant training is the most valuable investment that Contact Centers can make. Sadly, many training dollars are well below the genuine need; what is there is often squandered on irrelevant topics, poor program design, or “free” online materials. As one rep has stated, “We need to learn things applicable to the job.”

Training is like vital nutrition for the front line. If reps ingest only the sugary, salty, and fatty versions of training the likelihood of in-depth learning taking place is slim to none. Training must be integrated to what the front line needs to KNOW, DO, and FEEL. It must be organized around frequency, complexity, and criticality of information/skills and have some measurable outcomes. Far too many Contact Centers today shortchange training and pay for it later in all manner of poor performance, low morale, and high turnover.

At times, I have been haunted by what I would “want” if I were a frontline representative toiling away on behalf of my employer.

Training must not be thought of as a new-hire only event. The nature of contacts handled in the Contact Center determines what ongoing learning is required related to systems, processes, products, services, or other conditions reps must understand to be satisfied and successful.

Managing training and learning is a job in and of itself. Rarely do you get lucky enough to have a manager, coach, trainer, curriculum developer, eLearning expert, information architect, etc., rolled up into one person. Whatever the size of your operation, you must acquire the right training skill-sets, tools, and budget.

If your training is skillfully designed, well developed, and properly delivered (via whatever channel), you have every right to expect learners to learn and perform. And hold them to it!

Support me!

Nearly every focus group we have conducted over the years has wished for improved support and communication on multiple levels. Communication to frontline reps is best curated by a gatekeeper assigned to manage information flow and channels to avoid overwhelming reps. Far too often we see cross-functional partners emailing reps directly or email “all” with important updates. This method conflicts with the demands of the frontline rep who often has no time to review emails. So, what is deemed “important” by another party gets lost in the information tornado that darkens the climate of many Contact Centers.

Reps that have gone from premise to remote feel the loss of “floor walkers” that are available in real time to answer questions or provide support during or after a tough phone interaction. However, whether premise or remote, reps tell us that they struggle to find help or an escalation path during a call. Contact Centers have done a great job of pushing high frequency, low complexity tasks to self-service, but this leaves the front line with high complexity contacts that often require support.

Access to current, centralized, and easy-to access information has also been cited in several frontline focus groups as a challenge. One theme recently identified was the front line’s emerging mistrust of the Contact Center’s Knowledge Base (KB). Reps have cited that their KB (whether print-based or online) is often not up-to-date and has old, incomplete, or inaccurate information that causes errors and reprimands. Very demoralizing!

“Learn everything you can, anytime you can, from anyone you can – there will always come a time when you will be grateful you did.” –SARAH CALDWELL, AMERICA OPERA CONDUCTOR

Many KBs used by Contact Centers are shared across the enterprise; this model proves inefficient for most Contact Centers. KB information architecture for the Contact Center is vastly different than the FAQ model adopted by most. While staff in a non-customer-facing role may have time to search paragraphs for insights, the Contact Center needs swift and immediate access to (online) information relevant to where the rep is in the call. Most refer to this model as a “guided conversation” tool that also includes an organized “information repository.”

Support has many aspects, among them emotional. When times are tough, and for many Contact Centers this has been the case, reps need to feel that they are appreciated. This type of human support has never been more important or timely. All leaders must commit to spending time with their direct reports beyond strictly business encounters. The remote workforce need reasons to stick around. People need to feel supported and part of a team; those whose well-being is considered tend to perform better and stay in the job longer. Consider “support” in all its manifestations as the glue that holds your operation together and get good at providing it.

There is a definite theme to frontline rep feedback and it is really no surprise. Agents are asking, and in some cases begging to make sure “I have everything I need to do the job well.” As a Contact Center business leader, realize that all employees arrive with only “potential” value. It is up to management to access, grow, and honor that potential.

Keep asking yourself and others … “If I could change one thing what would it be?” Then get to work!

Kathleen Peterson

Kathleen Peterson

Kathleen M. Peterson is the Chief Vision Officer of PowerHouse Consulting, a call center and telecommunications consulting firm.
Twitter: @PowerHouse603

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