Congratulations! Your contact center made it through 2020. Last year compressed five years’ worth of digital transformation, work-from-home initiatives, and massive customer contact volumes into just nine months. However, the New Year brings new hope for the future. Here are seven contact center New Year’s resolutions to help you get started in 2021.
1. I will take better care of myself.
This goes beyond typical New Year’s resolutions regarding diet and weight loss. Instead, take care of your emotional and leadership self. Think of the announcement airlines make regarding oxygen masks. In an emergency, they ask you to put your own oxygen mask on first, before helping other passengers. That is because if something incapacitates you, you will not be able to help anyone else in an emergency. Was 2020 a stressful year? Have you taken time to recharge and reload for the new year? 2021 is not about “going back to the good old days” (of 2019). It is about moving forward into an era of digital transformation, artificial intelligence (AI) and hybrid/work-from-home (WFH) teams. That takes leadership and energy.
Leaders are paid to make decisions. However, it is easy to procrastinate rather than make a major decision when you are tired. You need to take good care of yourself so you have the energy to make good decisions and lead your contact center. That means taking care of your physical body by eating right and exercising. It also means taking care of your mental and emotional self by spending time with loved ones, reading a good book and enjoying music, movies or art. Take good care of yourself so you can take good care of others.
2. I will take good care of my team.
Forty-one percent (41%) of American adults have experienced mental health issues due to the COVID-19 pandemic, as per a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). That means almost half of your contact center team may be experiencing anxiety, depression or other mental health challenges.
Help your team members cope with stress so they can avoid burning out. What can you do to support your team? Encourage employees who need help to utilize your company’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP). Some companies contract with outside providers to offer virtual yoga, meditation, fitness and nutrition classes to help with stress reduction and boost employee wellness.
Within your contact center, you can also add a five-minute stretch break to monthly team meetings to help your staff. In addition, you can post wellness tips and stress reduction reminders in your knowledge base (KB) or learning management system (LMS).
The pandemic is also causing financial stress. Even if your employee has a job, their partner may have been laid off. Or they have additional childcare expenses due to school closures. To support them, some companies offer third-party financial counseling services to help employees manage their money. Equip managers and team leaders with the tools they need to refer employees to these resources.
3. I will help my team deal with change.
How many changes did you make last year? How many changes do you think 2021 will bring?
Help your team deal with change. Be proactive. Plan your communications strategy in advance. People want to be treated as adults. Explain WHY a particular change is happening. Discuss how each change will affect your contact center, your company and your customers.
Communicate exactly what is needed from each team member to support this change. After that, continue to communicate throughout the change process. Explain what is going well and what needs adjustment. Listen to your team’s feedback and suggestions regarding those changes. Work together to make each change a success.
4. I will improve employee engagement, especially with WFH employees.
One of the unexpected challenges of last year’s sudden shift to work-from-home was having employees feel disengaged from the office and from each other. How can you solve that? It takes more than “virtual happy hours.” It involves building a sense of personal connection.
What are your WFH team’s touchpoints with the company, and with each other? For example, a WFH agent’s touchpoints are their team leader, quality assurance (QA) coach, workforce management scheduler, trainers, IT help desk, and possibly their senior manager and human resources team.
How can each group improve their interactions with WFH agents? For example, trainers can pair WFH agents into study buddies for training. Team leaders can create virtual breakout room activities during team meetings so WFH agents can do one-on-one role plays or discuss “best responses” to various customer inquiries. That allows agents time to bond with each other, just like they would if they were in the office.
At a department level, leaders can organize virtual team-building events. For example, one of my clients uses a food delivery service to send lunch to each WFH team member as they celebrate a success with a virtual team lunch.
On an individual level, team leaders and QA coaches need training to deliver video-based coaching and performance management. Using video effectively is a skill. Like any skill, it can be taught. However, most contact centers have not yet trained team leaders and coaches on how to build employee engagement through video-based coaching sessions.
5. I will ensure my contact center has the right internal tools.
If you have not updated your knowledge base platform in the past five years, now is the time to do it. Gone are text-only KBs. Modern KBs incorporate visuals, flow charts and graphics so agents can easily find answers and share them with customers. Another key step is to upgrade your learning management system in conjunction with your human resources team. A modern LMS supports audio, video, e-learning, virtual classes and advanced testing. To increase team productivity, upgrade your collaboration tools. Systems such as thoughtexchange.com, miro.com and www.mural.co can help WFH employees brainstorm more effectively.
Another challenge is ensuring that WFH agents have proper equipment. If your contact center provides WFH equipment, make sure agents receive the tools they need to be most effective. That includes dual monitors, a proper headset, an ergonomic keyboard and a mouse. If they had that technology in the office, they should also have it at home. Or if your contact center has a bring your own device (BYOD) policy, establish standards for minimum processor type, RAM, free hard drive space, internet connection speed, etc. Better yet, have the technology to help WFH employees (and future WFH agent candidates) test their hardware and internet connection remotely.
Lastly, ensure that all on-site and WFH team members have access to IT support so they can do their jobs effectively.
6. I will help my team adjust to the impact of artificial intelligence (AI).
AI chatbots can handle routine inquiries, such as, “What are the store hours for your Austin location?” That means a greater percentage of calls/chats/emails forwarded to live agents will involve higher-level skills.
Equip your agents with advanced customer service skills such as emotional intelligence, conflict resolution and negotiation skills so they can deal with increasingly challenging interactions. In addition, examine if their compensation needs to increase since agents are handling more complex interactions. That will help you retain higher value staff and recruit higher quality candidates.
7. I will tear down silos.
The first six resolutions are internally focused on you and your department. For the seventh resolution, it is time to look outside the contact center.
I grew up on a family farm in Canada. We had large silos filled with grain. Each silo stood independently. Some held wheat; some held corn. It was important not to mix those grains since they would be sold separately. While silos are great for farms, they spell disaster for large organizations. When sales, marketing, product development and the contact center exist in separate silos with little interaction, customer chaos results. Products get developed that marketing cannot promote, the sales team cannot sell, and the customer care team cannot service.
The key to defeating silos is bridge building. If your company has a project management office, work with them to ensure that your contact center has input on every major project. Otherwise, your contact center is like the cleanup crew at the circus. They are always cleaning up everyone else’s messes!
Your contact center has a wealth of customer information. Even if you don’t have a formal Voice of the Customer (VOC) program, you can still provide input on anticipated customer inquiries for a projected marketing campaign. You can work with your sales distribution team to pinpoint store locations that require extra training to prevent unnecessary customer calls. Handling unnecessary customer inquiries cost money. Prevention is cheaper. That is why fire departments run fire prevention campaigns. For example, my local fire department has a safety campaign regarding smoke detectors. Do you want your contact center putting out a blazing fire such as a failed marketing campaign? Or is it better to work with your marketing team to prevent customer complaints before they happen?
Like all New Year’s resolutions, it may take time to achieve these goals. However, your investment can pay off in increased employee engagement and improved customer service.