Developing Teleservices' Next Leaders

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Corporations spend millions of dollars marketing products and services, each designed to deliver loyal customers. One-time quality improvement may deliver early success, but the best way to sustain a competitive advantage is through continuous quality improvement.


In this economy, people shop for more than the best price, especially when the cost of financing has never been lower. Discounts and low-cost solutions buy only temporary customers. Conveniences such as online servicing can be duplicated. Consumers are more in charge than ever, happy to find the competitor that combines valuable products and world-class customer satisfaction.


We've known for years that quality and customer satisfaction are crucial. The trend is clear, and the proof is in the performance. The call center industry promotes from within, promoting top agents to entry-level managerial positions such as quality analysts, supervisors and instructors.


Promoting your best and brightest can create a paradox. Many former star performers are now in positions requiring leadership skills and competencies that are unfamiliar. We've made strides in developing call center technologies to reduce cost and increase efficiency; however, along the way the human factor has been missed.


A recent survey, sponsored by Kelly Services in partnership with Benchmarkportal.com and Purdue University's Center for Customer Driven Quality, found that 92 percent of U.S. consumers form their image of a company based on contact with its call center.


Given this consumer trend, we must consider that the outsourcers of tomorrow will have a keener focus on the satisfaction levels of their customers. Many outsourcers select along a continuum of criteria. As consumers demand increased service, we must consider that future call center selection criteria will include "management-level training capabilities and focus."


One critical cost factor for call centers is agent attrition. Benchmarkportal research found that the No. 1 initiative for reducing agent turnover is "Managers with a clue." Close behind is "Recognition/Value/Listen," followed by "Clear/Balanced Expectations/Feedback."


From the employee perspective, the top initiatives for reducing agent turnover are linked to behavioral competencies of frontline leaders. Despite little research on the expectations of outsourcing clients, industry data indicating the effect of customer experience on loyalty cannot be ignored.


In the end it is people, not products and strategies, that produce results. In my experience with leading global organizations across various industries, I've found that the most successful ones share two qualities:


• Their people are aligned at all levels and among all departments.


• Their people are engaged and produce more than the minimum acceptable level of performance.


Creating alignment and engagement takes vision, focus and resources. Individuals, teams and the overall organization need knowledge, skills and tools. People learn best when the information and the learning process are relevant to the main challenges and issues they confront in the workplace. To achieve that relevance, the learning methodology, key outcomes and language must be aligned with the learner's organization and personal environment. Take a moment and answer these questions:


• Do you have a common methodology and process for planning, managing and assessing both individual and team performance?


• Is there a shared language and philosophy that all levels of employees can articulate clearly?


• Do you have a performance management system that includes clearly defined goals, including supporting key accomplishments, behaviors and tasks?


• Do you have a system to measure the skill to coach and provide balanced feedback while building strong, lasting relationships?


• Do your frontline leaders understand how people's skills, motivations and values affect their jobs, teams and organizations as well as their careers?


• Do you have a process for constructive and fact-based development plans that align organizational and individual needs and interests?


• Do you have clearly defined competencies for each frontline leader role?


• Do your frontline leaders understand call center metrics and analysis?


• Do you have a system to determine competency levels?


• Is the majority of your frontline leaders' time spent coaching employees?


If you answered "No" to any of these, your organization and leaders are limited in their ability to lead and maximize the performance of the program or channel. Specifically linking the program learning to the participants' real-world experiences is, in part, what can make a difference in the application of the learned skills and behaviors.


As the service sector of the economy continues to grow, increasing emphasis is needed on developing call center leaders. While self-service solutions promise reduced cost and immediate response, a phenomenon seems to be rippling across the industry. It manifests itself as follows:


• Consumers who must call for servicing, because of the inquiry type, expect higher levels of service as the importance of the phone call has now increased.


• Consumer loyalty can be compromised by a negative call center experience.


In tough times we are all asked to deliver more with less. The value of the contact is growing exponentially as new legislation raises the importance of maximizing your customer contact. Consider the effect of call center leaders on your service/sales delivery equation and ultimately on your response rates. Then evaluate your strategies - do they include plans to develop your leaders?


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