Who Are These People?

By Bob Furniss and Scott O. Thomas

You can have the best technology and the best processes in place and enjoy some level of success, but to achieve real success, it comes down to the people that are communicating with the callers. The best way to get them to communicate effectively with clients and their callers is for the frontline supervisors to communicate with them! Here are two ideas that focus on frontline communication and leadership.

Who Are These People? Do you really know the people on your team? We often talk about the need to create customer relationships, yet you may not have taken the time to create solid relationships with those you work with on a daily basis. Your team members may work for you, but don’t forget that they also work with you. The more you are able to connect with your employees, the more successful you will be in motivating and leading them. Studies show that most people who leave a job do so because of their manager, not their responsibilities.

We believe that you can instill loyalty in your team by connecting with them on both personal and professional levels. Too often, we are so caught up in our business needs that we fail to find time to connect with our people. Spend some time getting to know your people and what makes them happy. You might be surprised what you will learn. You may find a creative hobby or personal interest that could translate into a project, volunteer work that could identify leadership skills, and a variety of other interesting elements.

Here is a list that we use when training frontline supervisors. It can be used at all levels of management in a company. In your next meeting, ask your supervisors or managers to take this test to determine what they really know about their teams:

  • List the first and last names of all direct reports.
  • List something about their families (kids’ names, pets, and so forth).
  • List each person’s most important work accomplishment in the past six months.
  • List each person’s most important personal accomplishment in the past six months.
  • List their biggest passion in life – their passion on their days off (such as favorite hobbies, music, kids, and so on).

The further they are able to go down the list, the better they are connecting, both personally and professionally. They may also find that they are connecting with some employees but not others. This is sometimes a result of human nature to connect with others who have similar interests. Employees whom they seem to know the least about probably are those that need more focus.

Be Creative: As managers we need to find the intrinsic motivators of each individual. This investment will not only help in building strong relationships and loyal clients, it will also help identify high potential candidates among staff. We have worked with clients that have former ambassadors, brain surgeons, rocket scientists, CPAs, and church leaders all hidden among their frontline staff.

Let me share a great way to start connecting. Make it a point to ask each of your employees this simple question: “What keeps you busy these days?” Then get ready. You will learn about families, pets, and hobbies – and yes, even some drama or things you never really cared to learn, but you will also learn just how amazing your staff is. You will also identify resources you never dreamed you would have access to for future projects.

Early in my career, I (Scott) was a frontline agent in a call center. I was also playing in a band. My manager at the call center cared enough to ask me that question. When she learned I had a passion for all things creative, she assigned me to a special project to help raise awareness of customer retention. What happened next was the first time that I realized, “Wow, work really can be fun!” I worked with several colleagues on creating a low-budget training video to help inform and train employees on customer retention strategies. We even made an original soundtrack. This also allowed other talents – actors, comedians, and artists – to emerge in starring and supporting roles. It also was a great example of a culture where an organization really took the time to connect with its employees.

We recently consulted with a client with a call center in a very challenging environment in the transportation industry who expressed concern about being unable to motivate staff. They were restricted by certain policies and thus not able to implement recognition programs to motivate staff. As a result, they had given up, the logic being that without the ability to reward employees with movie tickets and gift certificates, they were unable to motivate them at all. I was asked to spend some time doing focus groups with their employees. I heard amazing personal stories among the staff. There were vets, athletes, musicians, and artists – all of which became incredibly motivated to share these parts of their lives. Their eyes lit up, full of passion, and we were moved by the stories they shared. One gentleman named Bill had been with this organization for twenty-one years. He was also an enormous fan of blues music and had played the saxophone during college.

Over the last few years, he had decided to pull his horn out and dust it off. After several months of practicing and regaining his ability to play, Bill decided to sit in at an open microphone night at a blues club in Fort Worth, TX. After he hung up his headset at the call center every Thursday night, he would head out to the club to recharge by doing something he loved.

During a meeting the next morning with this client, I decided to review some of the information I acquired while interviewing some of the frontline employees with members of the management team. I explained that I wanted to get their feedback on their staff. I would write various agents’ names on the board and then ask for feedback on each individual. I wrote Bill’s name, and here are some of the comments I received:

  • Bill’s attendance is satisfactory.
  • Bill has been with the company a long time.
  • Bill needs to work on his greeting; he is not consistent.
  • Bill needs to watch his schedule adherence. He sometimes takes too much time on his second break.
  • Bill gives pretty good customer service most of the time.

I asked if there is anything else we could add. “What is Bill like? What motivates him?” I received one answer: “I am sure Bill likes money!” I explained I had a couple of things I could add:

  • Bill loves the blues; especially Texas blues.
  • Bill plays the saxophone.
  • Bill plays with a band in Fort Worth every Thursday night.

So, what does this have to do with the type of agent Bill is? Everything! What is the first thing I should ask Bill every Friday afternoon when he reports to work if I am his manager? “Bill, how was the gig last night? Did you knock ’em dead? Great job (high five)! Now go knock some customers dead today!”

Think about the passion that is ignited in Bill when he thinks or talks about the blues. What if we could tap into that, and have just a tiny fraction of it spill over into the work culture? This is where Bill begins to connect with his manager. He now feels valuable as “Bill,” not just as “CSR#56712,” and Bill will build a relationship with his manager that transcends any relationship an employee can have with a “company” or benefits program.

With thirty-five years of combined call center experience, Bob Furniss and Scott Thomas share from their book, Ideas at Work, providing perspectives on improving the frontlines of call centers.

[From Connection Magazine March 2008]