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Woe Is Me… How About You?

Woe Is Me… How About You?

/ Strategy, COVID-19, Agent Motivation, Remote Work, Strategy
Woe Is Me… How About You?

Three areas where you can lighten the load—for yourself and others in the contact center.

"Woe is me” is defined as “an overdramatic, often comical way to express sadness or disappointment at an unfair situation.” Well, there you have it… the definition describes quite well what many of us are currently feeling.

I don’t know about you, but “woe is me.” I’m kind of sick of all the “COVID” offers being made across the web. Be it home or office, we are inundated with how to make all this “better.” I believe we have to do better to make things better, but better may not just involve whiz-bang technologies.

While technologies are becoming ever more critical to navigating our “new normal,” my take on better is more human-focused because that is where the “sadness and disappointment” reside.

I am becoming weary of being optimistic and miss at a gut level being engaged with humanity with the ease I have known for a lifetime. I never thought I would hear myself say this, but I even miss traveling! My husband and I were chatting/joking the other day about going to the airport to “hike” around the terminal… just for old times’ sake.

Let’s face it. The definition of “woe is me” in part is “overdramatic,” so we have to find ways to lighten the load. As leaders in the contact center industry, that means lightening the load of others. For some, there is a tendency to get too caught up in “woe is me.” I had a doctor’s appointment the other day and the doctor was going on and on about how he can’t sleep at night because the news gets him too wired. I suggested sagely that he stop watching the news (while in my mind I was thinking that he just needed to get back to my rash)!

Here are three areas that I think will help to lighten us up, whether as leaders or others within the contact center… reach out, have some fun and plan for the future.

Reach Out

Virtual operations that have emerged from a disaster-recovery perspective (i.e., work from home due to shutdowns) are all brand new to leaders that lacked any experience in overseeing a virtual operation. The good news is that now you know… sort of. For many, there is still a long way to go. However, what we do know now is that frontline staff, particularly those folks that didn’t sign up for work from home, seriously miss the human interaction.

The contact center has been known for decades as a “village,” a closely connected group handling the nerve center of the enterprise with “neighbors” to rely on for support. Many contact centers have been moving toward handling increasingly complex interactions and transactions. This contributes to the likelihood of dealing with upset, impatient and “woe is me” callers. Add the pandemic to the mix and many interactions become emotionally charged.

When this occurs within the “village” itself, there are supporters all around to help process the stress. Being alone in a work-from-home model often leaves this particular situation untended. If your organization handles more complex call types, it is critical for leaders, coaches, trainers, etc., to address this reality and create a stress reliever. And here’s the reality: Leaders connecting in real-time is the real answer via a phone or video call. Emails “dispatched” from HQ, even if written in reassuring language, do not help those stressed from caller demands. This is especially true if the frontline is not empowered to actually resolve issues.

Call your direct reports simply to ask how they are doing. Listen for the real feelings. If a coach monitors a tough call, encourage them to give the agent a call immediately without any evaluation. It may be just to say, “Wow, that was a tough one. Sorry you had to experience that.” Calls matter, private conversations matter, and learning about how the frontline feels about working from home matters. Create an “outreach” program at all levels.

The most senior executives also need to check in with their direct reports. Perhaps the message is a bit different and one more like, “How can we help you?” or “Do you have what you need?” For my taste, far too many executives bark about handle time, service level, etc., without considering the conditions. It amazes me, really.

Another place to reach out and say THANK YOU is to your contact center teams—training, workforce and quality analysts, coaches, IT, HR, etc. There is a lot to be thankful for and thinking in terms of gratitude helps us to remain optimistic and positive.

Have Some Fun

Yes, we can still have fun. We just need to be more creative about it. A recent interview with a frontline agent brought up the fact that, when they were physically in the contact center, they had a Wheel of Fortune type of game where agents could win prizes based on any number of accomplishments. That is what she missed most!

What we can do for “fun” while we are physically together is certainly different than when we are working remotely. The ability to build a wheel to spin for a prize seems like a frivolous pursuit to some; if it enhances employee engagement, it is a small price to pay. We must choose games and criteria wisely to keep it fun. Stay away from production metrics as there are far too many ways for agents to hit a productivity metric that ultimately damages the customer experience.

If you’re lucky enough to have budget dollars to spend, look at some of the “gamification” applications on the market. For example, Noble Systems has innovative contact center gaming solutions to facilitate agent engagement and fun. Also, DoorDash is experiencing record increases in gift cards. Businesses are sending them to their remote workers to order food; in these times, it is a solid and practical option. Other gifts might include various “care packages.” For the health-minded, nuts and dried fruits are welcome; others might love a nice box of chocolates. Maybe agents can “spin to win” an award of their choice.

Requests from work-from-home agents include access to wellness apps, online therapy and life coaches. Make the award criteria simple… for example, reading an article of interest and sending out a quick summary to colleagues. What about receiving customer compliments, adding on sales, helping out a co-worker, helping leadership on a project, or volunteering to mentor a new employee? Be creative!

"Look to the future because that’s where you’ll spend the rest of your life."

Plan for the Future

Will your agents remain in a work-from-home model? Will you be bringing agents back into the contact center? Will you craft a hybrid model? I think that, more than anything, agents want to know what the future holds. While we cannot predict the end of this pandemic, we can keep folks up to date on what is being considered.

If the decision is to remain in a work-from-home model, many contact centers will require serious revamping of their “programs.” Many organizations moved resources home using a disaster-recovery model: take a laptop, plug it into your home internet, log on, and off you go. This model is not meant for the long term.

First of all, agents in complex business environments won’t be terribly efficient working on a 13- or 15-inch laptop screen. Heaven forbid if they are expected to use the touchpad for navigation. Most have left a premise environment where they have a desk, a decent chair, good connectivity, a mouse and large dual monitors.

True work-from-home programs replicate the technology stack in the office for work-from-home teams. They also have a documented program guide that outlines the criteria for space required in the home. For example, the space must be private (i.e., must have a door). As well, traditional models do not allow children to be cared for in the home by the worker and discourage small children being under the care of a babysitter in the home. This particular limitation has been abandoned during the pandemic, but the future will require that it be readdressed.

Define what your company will pay for. Best-in-class programs pay for a dedicated internet connection to be used solely by the employee, pay for the laptop, and often even provide a chair (though not a desk). It is up to the company to determine its program guidelines and plan for the transition from the disaster-recovery model to a true work-from-home model.

Some organizations are now allowing team members to return to work in the contact center and/or are establishing remote-work locations to have groups of 40 to 60 agents with a site supervisor for those folks who don’t qualify or don’t want to work from home.

There is much to consider… hence “woe is me.” But we can’t stay in that state of mind for too long as it will get in the way of our creative thinking. So when the “woe is me” hits, give yourself a mini “pity party” and move on. Engage with your people, keep them informed, inquire as to their well-being, and plan for the future as best you can. We will get through this!”

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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