According to contact centre analyst ContactBabel, there are 5,675 call centres in the UK employing 1,125,000 people. Keeping that 3.9% of the UK’s working population motivated and contented is no small feat. We examine just some of the factors that contribute to a happy workplace, engaged and productive staff and, ultimately, happy clients.
Recruitment and Training
One of the reasons clients trust in WeAnswer’s service is they know how much we invest in the training and recruitment of our call handlers. Every stakeholder in a contact centre operation benefits from retaining exceptional staff and avoiding unnecessary churn.
Businesses that outsource contact centre services are rightly protective of how their service offering is presented to their customers. We make sure our colleagues have a comprehensive understanding of the client’s brand so they can speak knowledgeably about all facets of the products and services, and be the best brand ambassador possible. Parroting information to the customer is unsatisfactory for all parties; client, customer and call handler. Call handlers should be recruited for their ability to converse naturally and fluidly with customers and these attributes are further developed through support and training as the client’s requirements and services change.
While good call handlers can be trained to converse engagingly on any subject, we’ve noted excellent results for the client and increased job satisfaction for the employee when placing call handlers on campaigns where they have a personal interest or knowledge, or they understand the demographic well.
Many contact centre skills can be taught: accurate note taking, compliance, listening skills and problem solving to name a few. When you recruit call handlers who not only excel at these but seek out and foster skills that add genuine value to the caller, client and business, then you must do all you can to retain and support them. Managers who recruit for another cog in the machine do the business and its employees a disservice. Perhaps the new recruit has language skills that could be utilised, or a marketing graduate assigned a social media customer service campaign – one of our most talented software developers started life at WeAnswer as a call handler.
Employees that display a natural aptitude for customer service should be treasured by your business and encouraged to grow and take on more responsibility. Contact centre employers cannot expect to recruit ambitious and enterprising individuals and then let them stagnate within their role. Management should create a structure for development opportunities within the current role and, where possible, beyond. Depending on the size and scope of the business, this could mean senior operator roles, quality assurance, team leaders and management of other channels such as email and social media response.
Employees need to be aware of opportunities for progression from point of recruitment, with clear documentation and processes defined to show milestones and support available in order to achieve goals.
Gauges for progression can include: appraisals of on-going call quality, low error rates, compliance to company policies and attendance. For more senior roles, management can also consider handling of escalated complaints and abilities with mentoring and colleague support.
Humans are encouraged and motivated by praise – no great surprises there. Feeding these positives back to colleagues in a memorable way, however, can be tricky. In some circumstances, commission or bonus structures are not business-appropriate and verbally recognising employee achievements may unintentionally get lost in the day-to-day business of getting calls answered and clients kept smiling. In addition to regular coaching and performance reviews, we devised a peer-to-peer scheme for colleagues to nominate others who had particularly impressed, or had done something that truly went beyond their remit, to help another or to benefit the business. From inception, our colleagues got right behind the scheme with nominations flooding in every quarter and some pretty acute (and happy) blushes showing on awards day. We’ve even had a few client requests to nominate a call handler!
As previously mentioned, there are a great many contact centres out there, and if a competitor is offering better working conditions you risk losing them. Contact centres are often fast-paced and challenging environments to work in so the environment must be comfortable and secure and facilitate good communication and team working. It should be somewhere employees are proud to work and one which impresses clients and visitors just as much as the services you offer.Employees don’t expect Google-esque amusement parks or seas of multi-coloured beanbags. But it is worth noting these factors:
- Lighting – ensure minimal screen glare and ample lighting to facilitate both on and off-screen work. A light, airy environment is preferable to the vast majority of employees.
- Noise – background noise must be kept to the minimum and noise-cancelling headphones used.
- Space – all colleagues should have ample space to manoeuvre and sit comfortably.
- Layout – colleagues should have access to relevant co-workers without unnecessary interruption to others.
- Technology – both call handler and caller are significantly affected by the quality of contact centre equipment.
- Communal and meeting spaces – must be accessible and friendly places. A nice coffee machine and games doesn’t hurt 😉
Some of the best people to tell you if you are getting this right are your colleagues. Exit interviews can be useful, but the horse has already bolted. Why not use 1-1s as honest appraisals of staff satisfaction with their environment, as well as their personal progression? The two are often intertwined.
There are multifarious tasks associated with managing a happy and productive contact centre, and people are the thing that binds it all together. Happy staff create a buoyant atmosphere and become advocates for the business and the brands you represent. Ultimately, capable and contented staff leads to happy customers – and that puts a smile on everyone’s face.