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“But my way is better!”– How to manage a common Coaching Challenge

by OmniTouch International OmniTouch International No Comments

In this article we talk about a common coaching challenge faced in the Contact Centre industry.

In a recent course, one of my students, ‘Roberta’ shared:

“Dan, I’ve just been promoted from Call Centre Agent to a Quality Assurance role.

And I’ve been asked to help the Centre improve its call quality.

But how do I handle a situation where the Agent believes that what they’re saying to the Customer is perfectly fine, even when I know it can be better?”

Roberta explained that there was an Agent, ‘Deborah’, in the Centre who had been there for many years and was set in her ways.

The Agent liked to use a colloquial expression when asking for the Customer name at the beginning of the call.

She would say –

“May I have your good name please?” 

But this Centre served an international Customer base.

Roberta believed that the Deborah’s phrasing could be confusing for some of their international Clientele.

All it took was listening to a sample of the call recordings to prove out the hypothesis.

Awkward pauses from Customers made it clear that the phrasing was confusing.

The suggested phrasing for this Centre was simply, “May I know how to address you?”

When Roberta approached Deborah with the recommendation to change the phrasing, Deborah became defensive.

Her response was along the lines of:

“This standard is perfectly acceptable. 

In fact, my sister in law who works in the Education Ministry in my home country told me that this standard appears in all the major textbooks in use in classrooms.”

Roberta was struggling with how to respond.

Handling the classic case of “My way is better”

When you conduct transactional coaching, it’s expected that there will be cases where Agents believe their way is ok.

And in some cases even better than what they’re asked to do.

My first suggestion is to listen to the Agent input without judging.

Remember that Agents do this for a living.  They may have great points and suggestions to make.

Be ready to tell them that’s a great idea.  And what you’re going to do to help put that idea up for consideration.

But to carry on with this story I advised Roberta to first honour Deborah’s input:

“Sure Deborah, I can see why you would suggest that phrasing.

I always appreciate Team Members with opinions because this means that you’re thinking about how we can deliver outstanding quality.”

Then direct your conversation over to the viewpoint of the organization.

I teach a 3 Parachute Technique when I share the organization’s viewpoint.

If the first parachute doesn’t open, then pull the second one.

But if the first parachute opens – and is accepted – then there’s no need to go further.

This approach is helpful for this particular common coaching challenge.

Let’s have a look.

Parachute #1

Try Parachute #1 first:

“Deborah, each day when we come into work, we actively become part of  _________(name the organization). 

Through our individual efforts, we help bring ________’s vision, mission and objectives to life. 

In the case of the Contact Centre and our quality standards, the Management Team worked hard to design the kind of Service we want to be known for.  

In the case of asking for the Customer Name, given our international audience, we implemented a consistent standard which is “May I know how to address you?”

While I honour your opinion, we have a responsibility to deliver the kind of Service we want to be known for here at ________, regardless of our personal opinion.”

Parachute #2

Remember to open Parachute #2 only if you believe it adds value to the Parachute #1 discussion.

“Deborah, do you know McDonald’s?  Starbucks?  Coffee Bean?  Great – I guess we all do. 

Can you imagine if someone who worked at Starbucks decided that they wanted to make a vanilla latte their own way? 

That they simply changed up the recipe or added an additional ingredient because they thought it would be better prepared their way?

Imagine if at Starbucks around the city, the country or even the world, the Baristas each began to make up their own recipes?  

One of the ways companies such as ours and Starbucks for that matter, impress their Customers is through consistency and design of how things are to be done.”  

For my own training programs and coaching I typically use examples drawn from the countries where I’m working.

Parachute #3  

I urge caution here though my old VP, Operations persona comes out here and please do look for some tongue in cheek humour.

“Deborah, let’s put it this way. 

When you decide to open up your own coffee shop, service consultancy, insurance company, etc., you can select whatever standards you think will work well for you.

And I’ll be the first person to come down, visit your business and talk to you about the standards you set.                          

But as long as we both work here and our paychecks say “_________”  on them, we have a responsibility, along with everyone here, to bring our company standards to life. 

Thanks.”

In closing

Coaches – don’t let the common coaching challenge of “But my way is better” throw you for a loop.

Not only can this common coaching challenge be managed, it’s an opportunity to build trust since you honor the input and share organizational vision, mission and objectives with your Team.

Thank you for reading!

Daniel

How to help your Contact Centre Agents improve their Performance

by OmniTouch International OmniTouch International No Comments

This article shares how to help improve your Contact Centre Agent performance.

What is the job of a Contact Centre Agent?

When we hire a Contact Centre Agent, we’re responsible for helping them succeed in their job.

To help improve Contact Centre Agent performance.

So a fundamental understanding of the job is the right place to start.

For the Contact Centre Agent job, this definition helps:

The job of a Contact Centre Agent is to do the right things at the right time.

 “Doing the right things” corresponds readily to Quality, while “at the right times” corresponds readily to Productivity.

So let’s look at some choices you can make to improve performance in Quality and in Productivity.

At the end of the article we’ll close out with a look at the role of Attitude(s).

“Doing the right things” = Quality

Here are some choices you can make to help your Contact Centre Agent performance in Quality.

Develop a compelling Service Delivery Vision  

When you try to please everyone, you end up pleasing no one.

That’s a powerful statement and important when you’re looking to deliver Customer-pleasing quality.

Every organisation has its own purpose, its own set of Customers and its own style and brand.

So by design, it should have its own kind of service too.

A well-crafted Service Delivery Vision helps everyone understand what kind of service we deliver around here.

Even better, ask Agents their opinion of what kind of Service we deliver around here – and incorporate their voice.

Wouldn’t be great if each Agent could say –

“I know exactly what kind of Service we deliver around here, how to explain it to others and how to bring it to life in my job role.”

Select the right Performance Standards by channel and train them well 

Every channel –  Live Chat, Email, Voice – has its own set of behavioural practices that separate a great interaction from a weak one.

upside down pyramidFor example, in Email it’s important to write the way you speak and to use inverted pyramid writing when sharing content.

Firstly – understand those behavioural practices – by channel.  If you’re internal Trainers don’t have this know-how then go to the outside word and get help.

Secondly – filter those practices through your Service Delivery Vision.  The behaviours you choose should reflect the kind of Service you deliver ‘around here’.

Thirdly – create and document meaningful Performance Standards for your Agents to learn and practice – for each channel they’re asked to handle.

And be sure that anyone involved in coaching understands these Performance Standards.

Don’t ask Agents to practice on Customers

I regularly come across Centres that ask their Agents to practice on Customers.

For example:

  • Email Agents who have never been formally trained in email writing practices.
  • Live Chat Agents who are told to start handling Live Chats without a background or understanding of what separates a weak chat from a great chat.
  • Voice Agents who may have received orientation training at the time of hire and that’s it – nothing since.

It’s hard to be an Agent who is asked to practice on Customers.

No one goes to work to be mediocre and when they can’t deliver on Quality it can be demotivating.

Quality Assurance (QA) should be an enabler – not a barrier.

And yet so many QA folks spend most of their time marking people down for things.

Wouldn’t be great if each Agent could say –

“I know the ‘why’ behind the Performance Standards my organization chose to measure quality and I appreciate that there are mechanisms in place to continuously train and equip me to do well in quality – across every channel I handle.”

Implement proper transactional coaching practices

Talking to someone about a ‘bottom box’ satisfaction rating from a Customer is not coaching.

Telling someone they failed a critical error is not coaching.

You should call it what it really is.  A poor performance conversation.

The goal of a poor performance conversation is to help the Employee understand what was poorly done and the consequences.

But a poor performance conversation is not the same as a transaction coaching conversation.

It’s not enough to just help Agents avoid ‘being bad’.  Learning & growth don’t live here.

Whoever came up with the term ‘fatal error’ should resign from the industry because that term – and the approach that goes along with it – promotes fear-based interactions between Agents and their leadership.

Transaction coaching is developmental in nature.  And it’s always about both sides of the interaction.transaction coach

What went well and what can be improved.

Agents who only hear what they did wrong, understandably disengage, dislike ‘coaching sessions’ and become mistake-avoiders.

Effective transaction coaching is at the heart of Contact Centre Agent performance in Quality.

For some lucky Agents it happens nearly every day – not now and then or crammed in at the end of the month like a quota system.

Wouldn’t it be great if each Agent could say –

“I receive regular and helpful feedback about my quality performance which helps me understand where I do well and where I can improve.”

“At the right time” = Productivity

Let’s look at some choices you can make to help your Agents improve their Productivity.

Stop measuring the wrong things

More than anything else, the key to Agent productivity is to understand what Agent productivity is – and what it isn’t.

Let’s start with what it isn’t:

It isn’t Average Handling Time (AHT)

The significant drivers of AHT don’t lie in the control of Agents.

They lie in process, technology and complexity experienced by Customers.

Leading Centres measure individual AHT to identify outliers for root cause analysis.  But they don’t consider AHT a viable productivity metric at the Agent level.

It’s better used for accurate forecasting & staff planning.

For Centres that still want some aspect of AHT in their Agent performance scorecard, they simply assign it a low weightage in the overall ‘basket’ of productivity KPIs.

That approach is perfectly acceptable as long as the weightage placed on AHT is not too high.

https://www.omnitouchinternational.com/why-are-you-still-talking-about-average-handling-time

It isn’t Number of Calls Handled

The mathematical realities of Service Level based contacts like calls and live chats mean that Agents don’t control the number of interactions handled.

factoryOnly Response Time contacts, such as Correspondence & Email, can have appropriate volume-based targets.

If you still think that Agents should be measured on quantity for Service Level based contacts you need to urgently sign up for some solid Operations training.

It isn’t Occupancy

Agents don’t control how ‘busy’ they are when they are signed in handling Service Level based contacts.

Management is the ultimate driver of Occupancy through setting Service Level objectives, Forecasting & Staffing and Managing Service Level in Real Time.

If you believe Agents somehow control their Occupancy rate, you need to urgently sign up for some solid Operations training.

We’re talking here about how to help your Agents improve their performance – and Occupancy isn’t in their control.

Mathematical realities such as the Pooling Principle further highlight how wrong it is to target Agents on personal Occupancy rates.

What you need to know about the Pooling Principle in Contact Centers

Setting the wrong productivity KPIs will earn you Agent confusion and a host of unwanted outcomes

It’s not so great when your Agent says –

“I work in a Centre that asks me to achieve both productivity & quality but then sets KPIs that compete with each other.  This situation not only puts me in a confusing position but makes it hard to meet my targets.  So that in turn drives me take some uncomfortable shortcuts.  Something feels wrong here.”

Start measuring the right things

We turn back to our definition of the job of a Contact Centre Agent.

The job of a Contact Centre Agent is to do the right things at the right time.

At the right time is best expressed through ‘Adherence to Schedule’.

Simply put, when your Agent adheres to the schedule they’re given –  at an interval basis – your Centre Service Level improves and stabilises.

That’s a great thing.

Adherence to Schedule is at the heart of Contact Centre Agent performance for Productivity.

And it makes intuitive sense.

When you’re short by even a small number of Agents, your Service Level goes down and all sorts of important KPIs go awry.

When you’re overstaffed by any number of Agents, your Service Level barely improves.

That means you’re wasting organisational resources.

Putting the right people, in the right place at the right time is not just a mantra.

It’s a way to manage your Frontline resources efficiently.

At a management level, you need to marry effective interval-based forecasting, staffing & scheduling with great Adherence to Schedule behaviour across all individual Agents.

You can’t wing this part.

And don’t think that Agent performance cannot make up for weak forecasting practices.

You need both.

When it comes to Agents, choose the right measures for productivity – with a heavy emphasis on Adherence to Schedule – and combine them in an appropriate ‘basket’ to measure their performance.

The weight of each item in that basket depends on the degree of control the Agent has over that item.

Wouldn’t it be great if your Agent could say –

“I work in a Centre that has defined productivity very clearly for me.  And they’ve explained the rationale behind it.  I understand how my individual contribution has a big impact on our overall performance and why I need to be in the right place at the right time.  Best of all – the productivity standards set do not compete with Quality.  I’m in a position to deliver both.”

Summing up Productivity & Quality (P & Q)

One of the powerful aspects of this Productivity (P) and Quality (Q) approach is that P & Q don’t contradict each other.

You can ask for both and you can help your Agent achieve both.

They should never be in contradiction.

see saw balanceAnd there’s no such thing as ‘balance’ here.

That’s a dangerous myth that costs many Centres either their Quality or their Productivity.

There’s one more dimension I’d like to look at before closing this article.

That’s the power of attitude.

Nobody has an attitude problem

It’s quite normal to hear a Manager say, “I think my Contact Centre Agent has an attitude problem.”

But is this a fair assessment?

I don’t think so.

There’s really no such thing as an ‘attitude problem’ because there are so many different attitudes at play to succeed in a job role.

In my former VP Operations days, if a Manager came into my office and said their Agent had an attitude problem, I’d ask them to tell me specifically which attitude was the problem.

If they couldn’t, I’d recommend that they figure it out and then come back and see me.

Was I being overly strict?  I don’t think so.

Every job, from the top on down, requires a certain set of attitudes to succeed.

And it’s our job to know the attitude requirements for any job role we manage – in this case the Contact Centre Agent.

Common attitudes I come across for Contact Centre Agents include–

  • Adaptability
  • Ownership
  • Positive Attitude
  • Consistency
  • Confidence
  • Goal-orientation
  • Teamwork

But I’d recommend you work through the selection and definition of the attitudes that make the most sense for your Centre and for your Agents.

Then be ready to explain what those attitudes really ‘look like’ at work.

What it helps to know about Attitude(s)

Nobody is a superstar at every attitude.

Some attitudes were inculcated in us through how we were raised, some we learned from trusted teachers and mentors.

Attitudes evolve and develop over time , especially with the right guidance.

For me, I’ve found the following (2) thoughts about attitude to be helpful-

  1. An Attitude is a settled way of thinking or feeling about something
  2. Attitudes are choices – people can choose and/or change their attitudes over time

When helping someone develop a specific attitude, my goal is that they end up making a conscious and personal choice to adopt the attitude for their success.

So that means that in addition to talking about Quality and Productivity, I need to also talk about Attitudes with my Agents as well.

Frequently!

In closing

When you’re able to help your Agent improve their quality, productivity & attitudes, life is good – for everyone.

Thank you for reading!

Daniel

 

Why the miscellaneous part of your Job Description matters

by OmniTouch International OmniTouch International No Comments

When it comes to the miscellaneous category in a job description, there are two kinds of Employees.

Employee type #1:

Why is there a miscellaneous category in my job description?

That makes me uncomfortable.

I’d like to know exactly what this job entails and how I will be measured.

Employee type #2:

Thanks for the miscellaneous category.

That means I can make this job my own.  And I have a chance to shape my contribution.

Whether that’s through the job I took or by ‘running to trouble’ to solve organizational problems that come up.

Employer intention matters

It’s easy to guess that Employee type #2 would be preferred over Employee type #1 for hiring.

Set your intentionBut Employer intention matters.

If the miscellaneous category is added because the job description writer is unclear on what the job entails, that’s an Employer problem.

Find out what the job entails and correct the job description.

If the category is added because the Employer expects the Employee to do anything that is asked of them that’s not only unclear, it’s negative.

Positive Employer intention

What if when you walked someone through the job description, you said –

Here you’ll see a miscellaneous category on the job description.  Let me explain that a bit.

The world is changing very fast, and we value folks who adapt to grow and flourish.  We’re all in this boat together. Noah's Ark

Even more, we think that you should have a voice in what your job becomes.  

We’ve given you the Job Purpose, we’ve listed out the key Roles & Responsibilities. 

We’ve also shared who you report to, both directly and indirectly.

But we find that our most successful Team Members bring their own perspectives and talents to the job.   

So in closing, we think the miscellaneous category is one of the most important ones on the job description and hope that you find that to be true too.

In closing

When your job description is written with good intention and clarity, the use of Miscellaneous might be one of the best ways to allow your Employee to grow and contribute.

Thanks for reading!

Daniel

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How Team Leaders can talk like Leaders

by OmniTouch International OmniTouch International No Comments

It’s all about the conversations

When you’re managing or leading a team, it’s all about the conversations.

Some of my closest peers use the term ‘high frequency and high quality’ to describe the vital role of conversations with Team Members and that’s such a great way to put it.

Radio Frequency diagram

The challenge for Team Leaders is that  they either don’t know about the many different kinds of conversations at their disposal or they haven’t grown confident in the use of the conversations.

Some Team Leaders will tell you they don’t have time to have conversations with their Team Members which is a different challenge altogether.

There are many conversations in the Team Leader’s repertoire

Every Team Leader has a repertoire of conversations to choose from and use at the appropriate times and for the appropriate purposes.

In no particular order we share a few of these conversations here:

  • Praise
  • Gratitude
  • Monthly Team Reviews
  • Sincere & specific conversations about what went ‘right’
  • Sincere & specific conversations about ‘what did not go right’
  • Performance reviews
  • Manager as ‘boss’
  • Manager as ‘person
  • Transactional coaching
  • Individual monthly reviews
  • Poor performance
  • Personal advice (when asked for)
  • Manager as ‘Leader’

There’s a lot to talk about.

So how can a Team Leader talk like a Leader?

The simple advice is actually quite practical and links specifically back to the organizational or departmental Vision, Mission & Values.

Senior management wants the essence of the organization to cascade throughout every department and level.

So it can befrustrating for a CEO or VP of Customer Experience (etc.) to find that the folks answering the phone or serving at the Counter don’t have a basic understanding organizational goals, vision, mission and values.

While it’s to be expected that the senior folks incorporate organizational essence into their daily work, it often fails to appear in the conversations that take place between Team Leaders and the Frontline.

Vision, Mission & Values – this isn’t purely theoretical stuff

When we teach the Vision, we help people understand that this is a point in time in the future (as in our organization aims to become…).

Of course this is highly simplified for this article but still very clear.

In a recent class one of the students wanted to use Korean Airlines as a case study and here is their Vision:

The Mission of Korean Airlines

To be a Respected Leader in the World Airline Community

While the calibre of the Vision Statement is open for discussion, we decided that this indeed represented a point of time in the future – a point in time when all the dreams of Korean Air would come true.

When we teach the Mission, we help people to understand that this is what we do ‘every day’.

For example, if we are a Call Centre, we may seek to listen and solve the enquiries of our Customers in a positive manner – and that’s something we do every day – not just on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

We then went to the Mission Statement for Korean Air which is:

Excellence in Flight

While the calibre of the Mission Statement is open for discussion, we decided that excellence in flight was something that was supposed to happen ‘every day’.

We then went to Zappos to visit a few of their well-known Core Values – 3 of which are listed below:

Core values are supposed to guide our behaviour at work and when well designed they can be very inspirational.

So what do we mean by the Language of Leadership?

Cindy – I really liked the way you incorporated empathy into your email to Mr. Lawrence. That supports our mission to provide excellent service ‘every day’.

Tom – one of our core values is Teamwork – and by staying back last night to help Tanya finish her report on time you helped bring that value to life. Thanks Tom.

Alex, for the next Guest who checks in, be sure to remember to ask them if they have their loyalty card so that they can enjoy the additional benefits of staying with us – that supports our vision to be the most trusted provider of hospitality solutions for our Guests.

It’s a terrific moment when Team Leaders begin to speak like leaders.

In closing

Managing people well involves having a lot of different types of timely and effective conversations with them.

And every potential conversation in the repertoire has its own purpose.

But to speak like a leader, just look to your organizational and departmental vision, mission and values and aim to bring them to life in your conversations with others.

Thank you for reading!

Daniel

Daniel Ord

No – your Team Member does not have an attitude problem

by OmniTouch International OmniTouch International No Comments

It’s tempting to blame performance issues on attitude – but there is no such thing as an attitude problem.

When you’re responsible for leading and managing a group of Frontline staff, there are three things that you want:

  • Their Productivity
  • Their Quality
  • Their Attitude

We call this “P,Q & A” and when your Frontline is delivering on all three of these dimensions life is good.

Let’s focus on the “A” or Attitude dimension for this article.

Does your Staff have an attitude problem?

It’s quite normal to hear a Team Leader or Manager say “My Staff has an attitude problem.”

But is this true?

There’s no such thing as an ‘attitude problem’ because there are so many different attitudes at play in any job role.

If in the old days, a  Manager came into my office and said they had a staff with an attitude problem, I’d ask them to tell me specifically which attitude was the problem.

If they didn’t know which attitude, I’d suggest that they consider that – and come back later for another chat.

Was I being overly harsh?  I don’t think so.

Every job requires a certain set of attitudes to succeed.

As the boss, it’s our job to know the attitude requirements for any job role we manage.

What are some common Frontline attitudes?

Here are some common attitudes for the Frontline.  Of course be sure to formalize a definition for each one and add or subtract the ones that are relevant for you –

  • Adaptability and Flexibility
  • Attentiveness
  • Positive Attitude
  • Consistency
  • Confidence
  • Control
  • Goal-orientation
  • Teamwork

Nobody is a superstar at every attitude.

Some attitudes were inculcated in us through how we were raised.

Some we learned from trusted teachers and mentors.

Others were learned from role models, siblings and friends we admire.

Attitudes evolve and develop over time and with the right guidance.

Haven’t you ever looked back at your own career and sighed at how you lacked a particular attitude at some point – and how that impacted your work?

When helping someone develop an attitude the goal is that they end up making a conscious choice to ‘adopt’ the attitude.

To begin to believe in it for their own personal success.

Know what levels of attitude you need

When I conduct interviews, I find that some Candidates aren’t aware of some common workplace attitudes.

This is not meant to be judgemental.  It has so much to do with their own personal exposure.

I have to decide, in advance, which attitudes I’m willing to cultivate over time versus which attitudes I require from the get-go.

So before the interview, I list out the attitudes required for success in the job role and give a ‘minimum rating level’ for that attitude at hiring.

As an example, on a scale of 1 to 6 (with 6 being highest), my attitude criteria for hiring might be:

  • Adaptability and Flexibility – I look for a (5) at hiring
  • Attentiveness – I look for a (4) at hiring
  • Positive Attitude – I look for a (4) at hiring
  • Consistency – I look for a (3) at hiring
  • Confidence – I look for a (2) at hiring

Of course as time goes by, I expect to see higher levels of performance in the selected attitudes.

And that means I’ll need to provide regular discussion, coaching and feedback.

It’s not fair to leave people to figure it out on their own.

It’s important that Team Leaders and Manages have conversations about attitude with their staff

Managers don’t have enough conversations about ‘attitude’ with their staff.

It could be that they –

  • Don’t know the attitudes expected for the job role they manage
  • Aren’t sure it’s ok to talk about attitude(s)
  • May not know that the best way to build attitude in someone is to positively influence the individual

One litmus test comes up at the annual or bi-annual Performance Review exercise.

In most organizations, a few different Attitudes are included in the Performance Review with scoring such as ‘Exceeded Expectations” and “Met Expectations”.

If the staff undergoing the Performance Review has strong disagreements or concerns about the attitudinal ratings by their  Manager or the Manager is grasping at straws to justify their attitudinal ratings – there’s a problem.

Attitude ‘scores’ at performance reviews should never be a surprise to anyone.

In closing

The next time you hear someone say, my staff has an attitude problem – feel free to politely correct them and ask “which attitude are you referring to?”.

Thank you for reading!

Daniel

[email protected] / www.omnitouchinternational.com

Daniel & M&C Class