This has been a brutal few years for many contact centers. Supply chain problems and the Great Resignation have caused challenges on every aspect of customer care. The work we’re handling has surged and become more complex, while the employees we need to handle it have become harder to find and keep.
What do organizations with the most engaged employees have in common? I’ve observed some principles that, without fail, are at work, like vision, values, communication, and collaboration. The key is to live those principles, not just give them lip service—in good times and bad.
A key to ensuring that engagement is having the right goals and metrics. You can do a lot of things right, but if the goals and metrics being emphasized day to day are getting in the way—well, good luck.
I remember a consulting assignment in which I was given a list of team members ranked by their “productivity.” The person at the bottom of the list was helping fewer customers and more of her cases were still open, waiting for resolution. Her manager was concerned. But as I looked further, the facts emerged. She was one of the team’s most capable troubleshooters. The toughest customer problems were sent to her by her teammates. Those were the cases that needed more time and research.
Of course, even the most enlightened organizations set expectations. Getting things done right and on time are not bygone ideas. We need to establish expectations that make sense and that our team inherently understands and supports.
I once worked with a healthcare system that set up a resource center that patients could access 24/7 without the need to go to a physical facility. They incorporated the latest thinking and tools in telemedicine, and staffed the center with doctors, nurses, and physicians’ assistants (PAs). All very cool and very advanced, but the workflow and schedules were a mess. Few felt the need to adhere to what they saw as overly rigid schedules. The result was workload mismatches, missed appointments, and frustrated patients.
I was brought in with the unenviable task of making a case for better “schedule adherence” with the employees. I remember the first few minutes of the first workshop—looking out on a sea of faces, many with their arms folded.
“So,” I asked. “What’s going on?”
“You’ve seen our schedules, right?” one person asked. “They seem to think we’re some kind of assembly line. ‘Start here, stop there. Take a break at 10:15.’”
I understood why he felt that way. “Let’s kick that around a bit,” I suggested. “What approach would make more sense?” We wrote a lot of comments and ideas on a white board. All the while, a central idea began to emerge—the importance of being available when needed.
The real turning point in the discussion came when a nurse near the back of the room stood up. She asked some questions of the group: How many have worked ER (the emergency room)? Every hand went up. “How many know how to triage?” Laughter with every hand up. “Look, every day, we’re all making time-driven decisions in operating rooms and on hospital floors,” she reasoned, “Not for our own comfort or convenience, but because that’s when our patients and these situations need us, and when we need each other.”
I saw heads nodding. She was right of course. Many of today’s responsibilities are time driven. It doesn’t matter if someone has the most incredible knowledge and expertise if they’re not there when customers or colleagues need help.
Her point helped to change the mindset. While schedules should not be overly rigid, they matter regardless of work arrangement—in the office, work from home, or any combination. In this case, the organization improved schedules and put more flexibility and control in the hands of their employees, but they also built a culture that understood the importance of being in the right places at the right times. Today, that organization is exemplary in their focus on customers.
Being in the right place at the right times is just an enabler. The other part of the equation is doing the right things—quality. Solid values and sensible quality standards should provide support and guidance for every employee. In that context, our employees must be empowered to make decisions and take action.
Conflicting objectives are a killer to motivation and engagement. Ask your employees if there’s ever a time they feel they have to choose between acting in the best interest of a customer and hitting a performance target. If so, revisit and revise your objectives so that they complement each other.
The Great Resignation is not impacting every organization equally. Some are doing an amazing job of keeping their employees and building cultures that are fun, effective, and engaging. Without exception, the goals and metrics they emphasize make sense for their employees and the customers they serve.
This article was originally published for ICMI at icmi.com.