Call Center Culture: What Is It and Why Is It Important?

By Gabriel Bristol

Professionals use frequently the phrase “corporate culture,” but they seldom really define it. Simply put, corporate culture describes and governs the ways in which a company’s owners and employees think, feel, and act.

Every company has a culture. Whether you are discussing a 900-seat outsource provider handling multiple inbound and outbound projects in a major metropolitan city or a small ten-seat customer service operation in a rural town, they both have one thing in common: a culture. What’s more, that culture is going to exist whether or not that company has actively created and nurtured it.

For example, in the 900-seat center, when notified by senior management of a sales push in order to meet month-end numbers, the agents rally around the goal and work with a sense of determination, pride, and enthusiasm to ensure they meet their numbers.

For this company, the corporate culture is one of goal achievement, positivity, and encouragement. It’s likely in this scenario that the management team leads by example, actively engages the employees, and encourages and supports them with positive and constructive feedback. After all, how agents react to a challenge is ultimately the product of their environment. The more positive the environment, the more positive the response.

In contrast, the ten agents in the small center when given a similar goal may complain about the short notice, the stressful working conditions, and the unrealistic expectations. In this company, the culture is very different. Here there is very little positivity or teamwork. In this environment managers haven’t done enough to be role models, to encourage, or to lead by example. The employees in this company probably feel little ownership of their projects and have even less accountability. It’s likely that there is minimal feedback, either positive or negative, and not much encouragement. Because this environment is negative, it’s easy to understand why the response to a goal would also be negative.

Which of these organizations is most likely to rise to the challenge and meet their goal? Based on their different reactions to the same opportunity, we can see how each company’s culture can inform us as to whether or not they will ultimately be successful.

Regardless of call center size, if your call center has a culture that leads to poor productivity, negativity, and low morale, and you want to change it to a culture of accountability, pride, and peak performance, then you must take some deliberate and decisive steps. As these two examples illustrate, culture can and does affect outcome. But know this: A negative corporate culture isn’t created overnight – nor will it change overnight. It takes time, work, and consistency on the part of everyone involved, especially from those on the management team.

The first step to changing your corporate culture is to define what you want it to be. This should be a collaborative effort, shared with an internal team. Settle on a few words, phrases, or even a short paragraph succinctly defining your desired culture that you can communicate clearly. Choose these words carefully because they will act as a blueprint that defines the preferred behavior of your employees going forward.

Second, with some fanfare, you must broadcast the definitions of your new company culture, as well as its desired results (such as improved morale, better communication, a decrease in employee attrition, improved customer service, increased sales, or even all of the above). This message needs to be shared enthusiastically with every person in the company, regardless of their job description.

The third step is often the most difficult. You must walk the walk and talk the talk at all times. Leaders must not only set the example, they must also praise those employees who are also doing the same. You might be surprised at how far a public accolade for an employee demonstrating that they have bought in to the new culture will go in helping others to do the same.

Of course, this also means that leaders must counsel those who are stuck in their old ways and resist change. This is where patience and persistence is important. Change can be uncomfortable for some, but for a change of culture to be fully realized, it must have total and complete buy-in from every employee.

It may feel awkward at first, as is often the case with change. However, if you remain consistent, after the first thirty days, you will begin to see the new standards you set start to take root. You will soon witness tangible improvements in areas of attendance, productivity, and morale. You may also feel a difference in yourself – and if you continue to foster this new culture, you will be able to see your company blossom in a way that will exceed your expectations.

Gabriel Bristol, president and CEO of Intelicare Direct, has led turnarounds for several large corporations as well as helping establish rapidly growing start-ups. Bristol’s success has been documented with features in Forbes and other publications throughout the country. Because of his record in successfully managing highly diverse employee populations, dramatically increasing sales and customer retention, and his commitment to improving customer service, Bristol is a highly sought-after public speaker and business strategist.

[From Connection Magazine Jul/Aug 2014]

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