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Inside Outsourced: A Friendly Fire

As we join the Mid America Novelties call center this week, Rajiv is requesting two weeks off so he can go on a honeymoon with his future wife Vimi. When asked where they’re going, Rajiv tells Todd and Asha that they’re going to be staying at Vimi’s uncle’s house, since he works at a resort on the beach and can sneak them in. Todd and Asha tell him they should do something more romantic. Though Rajiv would love to, he just doesn’t have the money for something more extravagant.

Meanwhile, in the lunchroom, Charlie and Gupta are having a hot pepper eating contest, a seemingly inconsequential fact, but one that will factor in later on. Anyway, we find out that Charlie’s gun supply company is going out of business. Though he has an interview to be the manager of lingerie company’s call center, the interview doesn’t go so well. With no other job prospects, he convinces Todd to hire him.

We then go back to Rajiv, who is trying to figure out how to get the money to pay for a nicer honeymoon. He then notices that a goat milk vendor out in the street has gotten another goat. The vendor tells him that he got a loan from an American charity that helps small business owners. And so Rajiv hatches a plan to fake his way into getting a loan. Since he has to submit a picture of himself in the loan application, but doesn’t want anyone finding out what he’s doing, he tricks Gupta into posing for the picture.

While this is going on, Charlie gets adjusted to his new position as an agent in the Mid America Novelties call center. However, he gets a little too comfortable and tries to take over Todd’s management responsibilities. Todd explains that his job is “just to answer the phones.” As Charlie has more experience managing call centers than Todd, he really takes offense to this. He explains to Todd that he has a lot of good ideas, so it would be good for Todd to listen to what he has to say. Todd agrees and encourages Charlie to share his ideas.

Going back to Rajiv, he gets a call from the charity, saying his application for a loan was approved. The only problem? The woman he speaks with wants to meet him in person. So Rajiv convinces Gupta to play along again by saying he’ll make him employee of the year (with the condition that no one else will ever know about it). Since the loan was to be for Rajiv’s supposed delivery service, the woman wants to see Gupta ride the delivery bike. Being the clumsy person that he is, Gupta is unable to ride the bike, and the woman from the charity denies Rajiv the loan.

Despite giving Charlie a second chance, Todd tries to persuade Tonya to hire him at her center. As she points out, she isn’t going to hire someone with a history of stalking her. Not sure what to do next, Todd goes back to his center, only to find his agents blasting air horns. Apparently, Charlie thought it would be a good incentive plan for the agents to literally toot their own horn after making a sale. Well, this was the last straw for Todd, who promptly lets Charlie go.

Later on, Todd sees Charlie at a bar drinking by himself. He goes over to apologize, and finds Charlie depressed about his life. He’s tells Todd how he doesn’t have a job, a wife, or a family and that no one will remember him when he’s gone. And that’s when Todd thinks of a way for Charlie to leave his mark.

With Todd’s encouragement, Charlie attempts to set the world record for eating the most ghost peppers, India’s hottest type of pepper. He succeeds and becomes a local celebrity, finally feeling that he has accomplished something in his life.

To help us make sense of it all, here is ICMI's panel of experts, consisting of Jean Bave Kerwin and Rose Polchin.

Q. With years of call center management experience, Charlie had a hard time adapting to the agent role, and Todd had a hard time managing him. What advice would you give to a call center manager who must work with someone more experienced than they are?

Jean: If I thought the experienced manager knew what he was talking about, I’d thank my lucky stars, and groom him or her for promotion. With Charlie, however, perhaps Todd was right to blow him off!

Rose: First, Todd should have had a conversation about this during the interview process. With HR guidance he could have asked questions around if/how Charlie would handle being a representative when he had extensive management experience.

Second, if the dialogue proceeded positively and Charlie was hired, Todd could have leveraged Charlie’s strengths! Another discussion around Charlie’s skill set and the contact center’s needs would go a long way towards making sure they were compatible. Perhaps it would have been good to have Charlie mentor other representatives; provide coaching and training, run a team meeting etc. so that his skills were put to good use and the call center benefited from them – a win-win all around.

Q. Charlie was offended when told his job was to “just answer phones.” What can managers do to make sure their employees feel that their job is more important than just answering phones?

Rose: Usually the “they just answer the phones” comes from outside the center rather than inside the center. So anything a manager can do to position the contact center as a strategic asset to the organization and establish its value will go a long way to elevating the contact center representative’s role in the bigger picture. Then the manager can continually make and reinforce the connection between the frontline and contact center objectives and how the achievement of those objectives contributes to the success of the larger organization!

Jean: This is probably one of the most important aspects of a manager’s job. We all know that contact center work is stressful by its very nature, so we need to find ways to let people know they’re appreciated. Management should be “tooting the horn” for all of the hard working agents.

We need to be creative about how we do this, so it doesn’t become routine recognition for performing routinely. Agents really get it if you patronize them, so be sure that praise is plentiful when deserved and that it is congruent with the personality of the agent and of the manager. If the agent is a person who is more introverted, he or she may appreciate a more private sort of recognition, while the outgoing personalities in the group may be more comfortable with public recognition, balloons, cakes, and pizza.

And by the way, never never use either of the following phrases:

  • Agents just answer the phones
  • He or she is just a secretary/clerk/admin asst.

These are the people on whom your success depends, so you need to recognize and appreciate that fact!

Q. While Charlie’s idea of having the agents toot their own horn wasn’t the smartest idea, he did have good intentions. What more practical ways are there for agents to receive recognition for making a sale?

Jean: Here are a few ideas:

  • Personal thank you note, written by hand, from the manager
  • Link appropriate sales to reward compensation or bonuses
  • Count sales and attempted closes toward quarterly bonus
  • Reward agents by public recognition to fellow agents
  • Create rewards and recognition for following coaching advice and making better attempts to cross-sell/upsell
  • Culture of gratitude from management for a job well done – e.g., managers personally cook breakfast for all staff when quarterly goals are met