The New Broom Sweeps Clean

The New Broom Sweeps Clean

/ Operations, Strategy
The New Broom Sweeps Clean

Valuing contributions, small teams, true analytics, and effective hiring and training can make 2022 into a fine year for your contact center.

The idiom The New Broom Sweeps Clean is great for the New Year since it essentially means to get rid of the old and bring in the new. It appears in John Heywood’s 1546 proverb collection, was used figuratively by Shakespeare, and exists in many other languages as well.

Let us approach 2022 with a new broom. Sweep out the cobwebs of yesterday and get on track to meet the demands of our ever-changing contact center landscape.

The lessons of 2021 are abundant and fall into many categories. We cannot sweep them away just yet. We can, however, plot the future based on what we have learned from our past.

For one thing, who would have thought at the end of 2020 that we would still be in the throes of the COVID-19 pandemic at the end of 2021? Nevertheless, here we are.

Contact centers have had to face ongoing challenges, and among the biggest is work-from-home (WFH). Many organizations turned to WFH as a business continuity solution when COVID-19 quarantines began but found it to be more difficult to implement than they had anticipated.

While calls were routed without too much difficulty, many contact centers’ WFH programs highlighted issues related to management, hiring, training, real-time assist, escalation, and retention. These must be considered when deciding whether to continue WFH or return to the office.

Many organizations have had workers return to their offices while others continue the debate. Not a few of them have adopted hybrid models. We need to bring the debate to a close in 2022 and plan to achieve success regardless of the contact centers’ locations.

The issues described below are not unique or new to premise-based or WFH operations. They simply have become more visible and difficult to deny partly due to the shutdowns and the WFH solution. We are able to see more clearly the issues that have been present for a very long time.

Management

What is the glue that holds your management team together? Is it the brand? The leadership? The mission and vision?

Any of these forces would be great to propel positive momentum. However, I fear that teams with this type of glue are few and far between.

Metrics are a form of management glue in the contact center. If your leaders are held together by short-term “metric achievement,” chances are that one way or another your agents will be held responsible for those outcomes and measured accordingly.

Do metric measurements work in today’s market? Simon Sinek writes that “if organizations no longer choose to value contributions other than performance metrics, it can become a toxic work environment.

“You now have to be very careful not to develop relationships that just feel purely transactional, and that the only thing you talk about is the targets. Otherwise, you are unlikely to inspire the loyalty needed in your organization to keep the momentum going.”

Your contact center’s organizational structure also contributes to every individual contributor’s experience.

For 2022, I would like to see all contact centers (regardless of physical work location) convert supervisors to full-time “coaches” on small teams (8 -12 to 1) that work the same hours as their people.

Small well-trained teams, led by dedicated individuals who serve the teams, rather than be involved in multiple special projects and administrative tasks that keep them away from their people, provide a more effective means of working than large teams with many supervisors.

Did you have enough analysts in 2021? This is an organizational gap that must be closed. The role of analyst must expand beyond the “real-time analyst” who monitors the whereabouts of agents and often bullies them into compliance.

This is accompanied by the collection of simple metrics: service level abandon, handle time, who took how many calls, how long did the call last, and so on.

Once upon a time we referred to these simple metrics as “dead soldiers” because the data is historical; it has already happened. When data stands alone it provides little actual analysis. It provides only WHAT happened. True analytics goes beyond the WHAT to the WHY and then to the HOW to improve.

True analysts use their analysis to focus management on improvements in all areas: process, technology, job aids, training, scheduling, and ultimately the agents. It fosters focus to yield performance improvements at a quicker pace than focusing solely on improving frontline agents one by one.

Sweep out the need to harp on isolated metrics as performance indicators. These metrics are not enough: cause and effect is the backbone of all contact centers.

Make 2022 the year of true analytics!

Hiring

The “Great Resignation,” as it is being called, has disseminated many operations and forced recruitment frenzies. Unemployment rates are way down in many locations. This makes recruiting increasingly competitive, particularly for frontline positions.

In 2022, leadership will be challenged to do some “creative” recruiting. But far too many Human Resource (HR) departments have adopted a very passive hiring routine over the past decade or two.

This “post-and-pray” mentality has little proaction attached. This is a model typically accessed by unemployed or unhappy people looking for positions. Often, and in contrast, the gainfully and happily employed are not perusing hiring web sites, though they may be tempted when they learn about new opportunities.

HR needs to step up its game, get out there in the community, and make some noise so that the employed become aware of potentially greater and better opportunities.

When we were working with a client to open a 500-seat contact center, the project team attended as many local business and contact center-related events as possible in the area. We recruited there quite successfully. Our mission was to “poach” as many people as possible. But this simply does not happen in the post-and-pray model.

Once upon a time we called it “guerrilla” recruiting. And this tactic needs to be utilized again.

Here’s some examples. Consider placing notices in day care centers and children’s rooms at local libraries.

Don’t ignore the over-55 residential “villages.” There is lots of life in many of these folks and many have fixed their youthful bad habits that put showing up at risk!

Perhaps include the good old-fashioned newspaper want ad. That way, parents of candidates see and refer it to their digital offspring!

And get creative in recruiting. Write a “jazzy” position description. Peruse social media and other platforms that your target market frequents and do not settle for subpar candidates. Keep in mind that “easy to get is hard to get rid of.”

Training

I hope that more leaders in 2022 will advocate effectively for training dollars in their budgets and training time in their agents’ schedules. I also hope that leaders will study and understand the business case for investing in training and be able to stand up for the allocation.

Training budget requests need to include training for supervisors and managers as well. The Great Resignation is stripping contact centers of supervisors and managers. It is beyond important to understand every level of management in a contact center and the unique attributes and elements necessary to succeed.

We are at crisis level as far as I am concerned when it comes to educating contact center management teams in the intricacies of management.

This is the most dangerous knowledge gap of all. When leaders are uneducated in the dynamics and disciplines of how to manage the contact center the outcome is that operations are flying by the seat of their pants. We all know how well that works!

Make 2022 the year when training becomes the least cancelled event in the contact center rather than the most frequently cancelled. Address your learning needs at every level.

Assist and Escalation

Assist and escalation is training’s first cousin. To whom do agents go in real time for answers to questions or to escalate a call? How well staffed are these positions?

Often, escalation is a more informal process when it takes place in an actual building. The WFH model needs consistent virtual support, which has proven to be a major challenge for many centers.

Understaffing in this critical support area is neither new nor uncommon. So why not closely evaluate the need and resources required to close the process gap in real time and through process analysis over the long term?

Well-trained and supported agents translate to feeling valued. This improves both performance and the job experience.

Retention

Staff retention in these times is the highest priority for many contact center leaders. All the elements discussed above contribute to the frontline job experience.

Staff retention in these times is the highest priority for many contact center leaders. All the elements discussed above contribute to the frontline job experience.

It is a positive job experience that drives feeling valued and contributes positively to retention. Closing gaps and eliminating experience deficiencies contribute to your ability to bypass becoming a victim of the Great Resignation.

A recent study done by investorsinpeople.com found that employees, “not feeling valued as a member of staff was the third most common reason for wanting to move on, cited by 39% of respondents and up from 35% in 2017.”

Retention need not be explained to contact center leaders. But it must be understood and monitored so that you can intervene when your team strays. Make it your business to clearly understand the needs of your front line and leadership team in order to effectively close experience gaps and improve retention and performance overall.

Be deliberate in 2022 when it comes to your contact center’s human value proposition.

So, ask for a “new broom” for the holidays this year. The broom will be your view of what is possible. It will help you take the steps that “sweep clean” obstacles to success as the New Year dawns.

Best of Luck and Happy New Year! May 2022 bring a long period of peace and calm to us all.

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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