ICMI’s 2018 Contact Center Supervisor of the Year shares insights on how to be a caring leader.
Adriana Thompson has been drawn to customer service roles throughout her career. That is not surprising given her positive outlook, natural charisma and genuine interest in helping others. These are just some of the qualities that have enabled her to excel in her current role as Customer Love Team Floor Manager at BuildASign.com, an online custom printing provider of signage, apparel and home decor items.
The officials at ICMI’s Global Contact Center Awards Program recently recognized Thompson’s stellar performance by presenting her with the 2018 Contact Center Supervisor of the Year award at the annual ICMI Contact Center Expo & Conference last May. I had the honor of speaking with Thompson recently to get a glimpse into some of the qualities that the award judges identified and to get her insights on what it takes to succeed in the contact center profession.
Transforming Challenges into Opportunities
Thompson joined BuildASign.com in 2014 as a contact center agent. It was her first service role where she didn’t have the benefit of visual feedback during interactions. “I didn’t get to see my customers’ faces and reactions,” she recalls. “It was definitely a brand-new challenge.” It was one of many that Thompson rose to with great success. In just two years, she was promoted to supervisor and currently leads a team of 17 email, chat and phone agents.
For Thompson, professional development is a matter of continuously looking for opportunities to learn from others. “I have been fortunate to have worked for great bosses and managers,” she says. “I try to take away a piece of knowledge from every person I’ve worked with or for, and I fill my skills toolbox with what I’ve learned.”
She points to her mentor, Customer Experience Manager Brandy Dance, as having had the most significant impact and influence on her career. “Brandy is the most amazing manager,” Thompson says. “She encourages me to be better every single day. She takes the time to work with me, which builds my confidence to respond to different types of personalities and situations.”
Focus on One-to-One Relationships
The support that Thompson has received from her mentor is something that she, in turn, strives to pass along to her team. She believes strongly in developing personal relationships with each member of her team—and that starts from Day 1. “When a new team member comes on board, I dive in and try to learn more about them, what brought them to the company and what they’re passionate about,” she explains. “I also want to know the personal side, such as what are their interests? What do we have in common that we can talk about?
“Having that type of personal interaction is important for understanding how to communicate with each other. We all have our own communication style—it’s not one-size-fits-all. You have to adapt your style to match the personality, the person or the situation. Doing so speaks very loudly to your team members because it shows that you’re taking the time to get to know them. They can feel that and, in return, they’ll do their best to produce higher results.”
Maintaining one-to-one relationships when you supervise a large team can be a challenge to balance with meetings, reports and other management duties. But, as Thompson points out, it is one of the most enjoyable aspects of her job, so she makes checking in with her team members a daily priority. “You have to make sure that they get that face time with you,” she notes.
Supporting Agents: Be Generous with Your Time
Thompson’s cheerful demeanor sets the tone in the workplace. An early riser, she enjoys being first in the door so that she can greet her team members as they walk in and start their day with a smile.
No matter what other tasks are on her plate, Thompson believes that the most important role for supervisors is to be present for their team members. “You can’t be in a supervisory role and just work your 8-to-5 shift. You have people who are depending on you every single day and every single minute that you’re here,” she says, adding that “even when I’m not onsite, a situation may come up that someone needs help with. My team knows that I’m available for them whenever they need me.”
Being present also means being approachable. “Don’t sit at your desk and look unapproachable,” Thompson advises. She makes a point to listen patiently when a team member has a question or problem they can’t resolve. “You can’t just say, ‘I don’t know’ and walk away,” she notes. “I may not know what the answer is right then, but I’ll respond honestly and then say, ‘Let’s figure it out together.’ That shows your human side, because you’re never going to be perfect or know all the answers, but as long as you’re humble enough to realize that, you’ll be a successful leader.”
Be Ready to Step Out of Your Comfort Zone
Thompson is always ready to challenge herself by taking on new tasks to expand her skills and knowledge. She recently took on a pivotal role in the contact center’s web chat rollout and email system switchover. Both projects required substantial process changes and agent training. “My background is not process improvement, system development or IT,” she admits. She spent time with the development team asking questions and learning, and also conducted online research to fill in the gaps.
Thompson’s drive and hard work paid off. She became the liaison between the product, IT and customer service teams, communicating each area’s needs, requirements and processes, and had a hand in developing the system training for her agents. The new systems were rolled out successfully with all departments highly satisfied with the results.
Customer Service Is a Rewarding Career
Customer service can be a challenging job at times, but it is also a profession that is filled with inspiring and heartfelt moments. Thompson recalls an escalation that she handled in which a customer’s banners were sent to the wrong company. The customer was highly agitated, so Thompson stepped in to work with her, resolve the situation and made sure that she received the banners on time. A week later, Thompson received a picnic basket filled with snacks and wine along with a handwritten note from the customer expressing her appreciation. “Our team had a blast with it,” she says. “When a customer who had been upset takes the time out of her day to write a thank-you note and send us a gift basket… it was awesome.”
Thompson places that same focus and attention on serving her internal customers, for instance, by helping her team members to grow and succeed. One individual, in particular, stands out for her: A rep who was looking to build a career path but was unsure of what he wanted to do or where to find opportunities for growth. Thompson recognized his potential and worked with him on a plan to develop his skills. He quickly progressed from a temp position to permanent employment and then, within months, moved from the phones to the inquiry team. “He did a phenomenal job and is now on our enterprise sales team,” she says. “Seeing his dedication, growth and optimism about his future has been a great experience.”
Great Leaders Bring Out the Best in Others
Helping people to succeed is what Thompson enjoys the most about her job. “I’ve helped a few people leave my team, but I don’t view that as negative. They moved into different parts of the company, and that is success,” she says. “You don’t want someone to stay on your team forever. Everybody has a path; everyone has a passion. You have to recognize it and help to spark it to see growth and development. That is the best thing ever.”
Thompson’s advice to others who are seeking to grow their customer service career: “Fill your skills toolbox. Be humble and be open to feedback so that you can keep learning. You’re not going to get everything you need from your company, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. You want to look outside of your company. Go to networking events. Learn from people outside your company who in the same field, and learn from people who are outside of your field.”
Thompson adds that having supportive leadership is a significant advantage. She credits BuildASign.com’s leadership team for providing opportunities that allowed her to grow as well as their support along the way. “It is a great company,” she says. “Our leadership has been super supportive—from our call center all the way to our executive team and the CEO. I greatly appreciate the opportunity and their support.”