North American Customer Service Management Association

Support for Contact Center Professionals

Step 1 Maintaining Culture


Corporate culture refers to the beliefs and behaviors that determine how a company's employees and management interact and handle outside business transactions. Often, corporate culture is implied, not expressly defined, and develops organically over time from the cumulative traits of the people the company hires.

Site culture is more important then people realize. Maintaining culture starts with the management team: how unified and organized are they on the company mission, vision and execution of plans? Too many chefs in the kitchen will ruin a good meal. Too many managers clamoring for all the power will destroy the management team. Get all the managers on board; that means getting every lieutenant and sergeant committed to the project. Without commitment, it will fail.

Most contact centers want to create a customer focused contact center culture. Setting the tone and determining which values are most important is a tricky task. Getting it right from the start is critical; turning around the contact center with poor culture can take a lifetime, since many attitudes and behaviors never die.

Many confuse company culture with the company mission statement. A mission statement simply states the mission of the company regarding its quest in the marketplace. The culture is the working day-to-day environment that is created by the management team. Culture is the way we do things around here. How do we get work done?

When agents know and understand what the brand, owners, managers and their fellow staffers are working toward, it’s easier to share that message with the customer. Daily communication is key, constantly drilling in the company messages and giving people an opportunity to connect with the message. Communicate company and site progress daily, be transparent and share KPIs. Create fun yet informative dashboards that are visible and simple to understand.

The bottom line is that a contact center should have a culture where people are proud to come to work and want to work with customers. Employees are happy to walk through that door every day.

Culture doesn’t just happen and take care of itself. It is a like an organism; it needs to be guided, nurtured and fed the right stuff. It takes a conscious effort to maintaining an effective, enjoyable and productive culture. An inspiring contact center doesn’t mean expensive benefits, activities or over the top surroundings. People want to feel valued at work, they want to connect and build relationships and desire a positive environment to do it in.

Make time to connect. Daily team huddles give people time to connect with each other. Agents pretty much work individually much of the day with little interaction with their teammates. Have a “stand-up” meeting. This sends the message that this meeting is going to be short and helps you keep the energy up. People loathe sitting down. The morning huddle is time for the team manager to take a pulse check of the team and of each team member. Check in with each team member; who is feeling stressed, overwhelmed, excited, or challenged? Who needs extra motivation? When you identify how people are feeling you can look for ways to help them manage those feelings. Why are folks stressed or overwhelmed? Is there something you as a manager can do to help that agent? Do they need help with an account but are afraid to ask? What obstacle is in their way? Who is excited and why? Positive energy will spread and there’s no better way than in a team huddle. It is far more difficult to spread one persons’ positive energy when working alone all day. Make team huddles fun, informative, high energy and you will set the tone for success every day.

Team huddles are also a great time to review team results, acknowledge and recognize team members, reiterate company values and messages and give a heads up on anything that is taking place that day. Make time to connect. The beginning of a shift is perfect way to set the tone for the day and over a short time your team will begin to enjoy the connection time and you will enjoy the team productivity.

You are the example. Too many management teams send the messages “It’s okay for me but not for you” and create this “us against them” mentality. We are all on the same team. Heck-say it to your team: “We are all on the same team.” “As the manager of the team I have a different role, but I am on the same team, I want the same things as you do and your numbers are my numbers. What can I do to help you?” When was the last time you took some calls? Show your team you still got it and are not afraid to work in the trenches with them. You will earn their trust and respect.

Leading by example is just that. It’s not “We have a smile policy”. An agent thinks “When I see you in the hall I expect you to be smiling, too. Because guess what? If you are smiling when I see you, I will mirror you!” Lead by example not by your words!

Ask the People – when you take the time to ask the agents how to improve a process, procedure or policy they have first hand suggestions. Ask the people whom it impacts the most; ask the people who have the most interaction and activity around it. As them “what can WE do” not “what can YOU do?” They will overwhelm you with suggestions, understanding not all are feasible but you listened and can submit to the management team practical suggestions.

Raise expectations – it’s okay to have a high standard. So many managers are afraid to hold their teams accountable and therefore never meet performance expectations. Employees want to be on the winning team and that is done by high standards. Achieving those high standards creates pride. Expect to win every time. Don’t expect less and your team will run to the finish line every time.

Appreciation is free all day long. Appreciation is a human need. Your kids need appreciation, your spouse, your Mom/Dad, and your friends. Everyone needs to be appreciated for who they are and what they do. Don’t be afraid to show it. Too many managers are fearful of being too vulnerable. Be looking – catch people in the act of doing something good. Reward them with a “high five” or say, “I appreciate the extra effort” or write a short, handwritten note expressing your appreciation. Those notes will be valued so much they end up posted on the cubicle panel – they become trophies. Have fun with it. Hand out “Awesome Bars” from Sees Candies when you see a team member doing something awesome! Catch agents in the act and recognize them immediately. This is the best motivational medicine out there.

Rewards, Recognition and Incentives also feed people’s need for belonging. Agents who show up, put in a good day’s work and want to be recognized when they do something great – something that is above expectations, perhaps a bit better than others. Taking the time to recognize agents is like putting free gas in their tank. This fuel will motivate them better than any incentive you put in front of them because it is pure. Agents see behind the incentives and many will just ignore them, when you recognize agents and give them a reward they will continue to perform.

Rewards don’t have to be expensive but they do have to be appropriate and genuine. Get creative in your ideas for rewards. Discover what gets your team excited. What does each person on the team appreciate as a reward? Handing out rewards that don’t mean much will not give you the results you hope to achieve. The owner of an insurance broker shop once awarded top performers with t-shirts from a Sturgis Motorcycle rally he attended that summer. While the owner was excited about those shirts, the agents saw it as a thoughtless reward. They had no interest in motorcycles and therefore the t-shirt went in the trash. It wasn’t a bit motivating to be a top performer.

Growth can wreak havoc with the troops. Policy and procedure get challenged, attitudes get warped, employees get tired from overtime and stress, and overall behavior starts to change for the worst. How can you maintain the culture through rapid growth?

First, keep doing what you have been doing. Continue to recognize team members. When the contact center is small it is easy to know everyone’s name and bump into them in the aisle and congratulate them. When the army of new agents shows up it becomes more challenging to know who is who. Don’t let that be the barrier to personally praising and recognizing employees. Make time and show up to team meetings and hand out fun gifts, certificates or just plain high fives. Agents will appreciate that you took the time to attend their morning huddle. They will feel valued, recognized and visible. You will learn names by engaging on a regular basis. Keep up the recognition.

Secondly, contact centers typically hire quickly and in big numbers. This can drive down the quality standards fast. Don’t sacrifice talent, fit and skills to fill seats. Stick to your hiring best practices; personality assessments and skills tests in addition to the standard job interview. This is the time you want to maintain your high standards to prevent the degradation of quality.

Next, you want to maintain contact center traditions. Keep doing what you were doing when you were a small site. For example, when you only had 15 agents you stopped at the end of the month for pizza and presentations of team accomplishments. No reason to stop the tradition now that you have 200 agents. Have the team managers make presentations to their teams over pizza. The bonding will continue, the energy it creates will spills over into the workday and traditions create a uniqueness that separates your site from other contact centers within the same company or from competitors. The strength of your traditions defines your success; it is imperative to maintain what makes you successful.

Finally, more than ever, in growth mode you want to encourage and value an open-door policy. As more agents and supervisors arrive so do the layers between agents and the site manager. You want to hear the good, the bad and the ugly. Encourage the communication between agents and the management team. As a manager, you can’t fix a problem you don’t know about. Through communication is how you find out because you can’t be everywhere. Your job is to foster the environment that nurtures ideas to rise. This sends the message that we value your input, we are listening and then you must use one or more of those suggestions or else employees will see through it. Agents spend most of their day working alone, so set up brainstorming meetings, focus groups or one-on-ones to hear insights from your team. If you think you know it all and don’t need their help, then the contact center culture will stagnate. Suggestions will stop and the word on the floor will be “don’t bother”, which is a morale and culture disillusionment. This will surely impede growth and progress.

Scaling up can be a very exciting time in a contact center’s life cycle. Continue to invest in your core values and don’t lose sight of them in the hubbub of growth chaos and busyness. This will protect your greatest asset: your people.

The result of a great culture is a high performing workforce and lower turnover. What contact center wouldn’t like lower turnover? How much can your contact center team produce if they love coming to work every day? Companies on the Fortune’s Best Companies to Work For list outperform the market by three times. A great place to work is not just nice for shareholders, but it is nice for employees too.

Tips!

Control the first 30 minutes of the day. Set the tone and energy for the day. Greet your team with enthusiasm and your team will mirror that same enthusiasm back throughout the day.
Use positive reinforcement and get away from “write-up” enforcement mentality. People, like dogs respond well to “treats”.

Take the Next Step!

Corporate culture is a delicate living, breathing organism that doesn’t take care of itself. It requires nurturing, guidance and fuel to create a productive, effective and enjoyable culture where people like coming to work. Too many contact centers let it evolve on its own and many times it becomes an out of control, unrecognizable monster. This monster is the barrier to the company’s growth and advancement. By taking charge of the culture you can intentionally create the culture you desire for your contact center. It takes effort, commitment from the management team and time. The culture starts with the management team. Culture is “they way we do things here”.

Since culture starts with the management team, what are the messages they are delivering each day? Take time to connect with the people. Walk around daily and talk to agents and conduct daily team huddles. These are perfect opportunities to connect people who work independently every day. You are the example; model the attitude, the way to think and behavior. Managers are the most watched individuals so if you want everyone smiling, smile yourself.

To encourage cultural progress, recognize those who already embrace the values you want to see exhibited daily. Rewards don’t have to be pricey gift cards. Most people just want to know they are appreciated. So just say those words: “I appreciate you and what you do”. They will go along way and its they’re free.

Have individual conversations with those who are stubborn and unwilling to embrace the cultural values. Throw down a challenge. If they are still unwilling to embrace the values, then perhaps it is time to let them go; that includes managers too. Those people are detrimental to the team and need to be terminated.

When you intentionally create and manage the culture, you get a high performing workforce, lower turnover and a great place to work. Culture is the invisible element that drives the success. Be the place that everyone wants to be at.

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