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Inside Outsourced: Nice Guys Finish Last

This week’s episode begins with Todd and his girlfriend, fellow call center manager Tonya, talking about their relationship. She’s upset because Todd wants to hide their relationship from his friend Charlie, who has long had his eye on Tonya. Though Todd promises to tell Charlie the truth, he chickens out as soon as he sees him.

Inside the call center, we find Gupta restlessly sitting in a squeaky chair. The constant noise aggravates Rajiv, who yells at him to be quiet. When Gupta says he needs a new chair, Rajiv harshly tells him, “That chair is more valuable to this company than you are! It’s dependable, it never leaves early, and the fact that you sit on it all day makes it the hardest worker in this office!”

I think a simple “no” would have sufficed, don’t you?

Later on, Rajiv gets a call from Jerry, his U.S. boss. Upon learning that Jerry wants the agents to evaluate his performance as assistant manager, Rajiv goes into a panic. Since he knows that agents don’t think too highly of him and his aggressive management style, he fears their evaluations. He sits with them at lunch in hopes of winning their favor, but the agents see right through him.

Meanwhile, Todd again tries to tell Charlie about him and Tonya, but again backs down. (Since Charlie leads the call center of a hunting supply company, and knows his way around a gun all too well, you can understand Todd’s reluctance.) But Charlie tells him that he’s been spying on Tonya and has proof she was with another guy (aside from Todd). Todd learns from Charlie where Tonya and the other guy are meeting that night and plans to confront her.

While this is going on, Rajiv attempts to get on the agents’ good side by rewarding them with cookies and trying to be as sweet as possible. When all the agents are in the kitchen together, he goes back to his desk and watches them on the security camera. Though he overhears everyone saying they’re going to give him bad reviews, Madhuri said she’s going to give him a positive one. It turns out, Rajiv is the nicest boss she’s ever had. (If that’s true, I’d hate to meet her previous bosses!)

That night, Todd brings Manmeet along to the restaurant where Tonya is having a date with the mysterious other guy. Todd confronts her, but she puts him in his place by saying she’s tired of hiding their relationship. Todd finally understands and promises to tell Charlie once and for all. But he doesn’t need to do – Charlie has been spying on them the whole time and heard everything.

Back at the center, Rajiv sees Madhuri as his only hope to get a decent review and convinces her to help him get on everyone’s good side. Madhuri fills him on all the personal information Rajiv never cared to know about the agents and uses it to win them over. For instance, he promises to make girl-crazy Manmeet assistant manager one day and says that position will make him get all the ladies. And he even gives into Gupta’s demands for a new chair.

At the end of the episode, Jerry talks to Rajiv about his evaluations. Although the agents did give him positive reviews, Jerry wasn’t too happy about this. He lectures Rajiv about how he’s being too nice to the agents and shouldn’t be their friend. So although Rajiv went to such great lengths to get the agents to lie for him, Jerry would have approved of the questionable job he was doing anyway. In his frustration at hearing this, Rajiv takes away Gupta’s brand new chair. Seems like Rajiv will never win - though he would likely benefit from taking one of ICMI's leadership development courses, like this one!

Between the Todd-Tonya-Charlie-Other Guy love quadrilateral and Rajiv’s evaluation, this was quite the action-packed episode. To help us make sense of it all, here is ICMI’s Strategic Training Director, Linda Riggs.

Q. Gupta made quite a big deal about his need for a new chair. How much do little things like an uncomfortable chair affect the agent experience?

A. If you think about it, ergonomics is a huge issue within a contact center. An agent is basically tied to a desk and a chair for an 8-10 hour shift (longer in some instances). It can not only be uncomfortable, but unhealthy for an agent. In this case, it’s also noisy. This can be disruptive to other agents trying to service customers as well as to customers who are calling in. One of the top reasons for absenteeism and illness in contact centers is poor ergonomics. Companies who show their agents that they care about their health and well-being create a sense of loyalty as well as increased job-performance- all of which lead to higher employee and customer satisfaction rates.

Q. Rajiv couldn’t handle the fact that the agents would be evaluating his performance. Do you recommend that agents be given the chance to evaluate their managers? What are the benefits of doing so?

A. Agent feedback on supervisors is a really good opportunity for growth and respect to be fostered on both sides of that fence. Agents are usually very good at giving honest and fair feedback in regard to their supervisor. All of us deserve to get a sense of how we’re doing and where we can improve. For a supervisor’s manager, it’s invaluable to see how that supervisor is perceived by his/her agents. It also lets the agents know that their voice is heard and that what they have to say is valuable to management.

Q. In the end, Rajiv’s efforts to get everyone to like him backfired, as Jerry said the agent’s should fear him rather than like him. What do you think the ideal agent-manager relationship should be like?

An ideal agent/supervisor relationship should be one of mutual respect and accountability. Rajiv’s motives were quite clear to the agents. In reality, he wouldn’t have been able to win their trust back so quickly. Study after study has shown that the top reason agents leave contact centers is because of supervisors and not because of pay. Supervisors need to lead by example, spend 70% of their time (ideally) developing their people and helping them to grow professionally. If they are doing this, respect and trust naturally follow. Accountability also works both ways. Of course, we expect agents to be accountable to their supervisors. But, how often do supervisors realize the importance of being accountable to agents? This comes from leading by example and realizing that you, as a supervisor, are being watched; whether you realize this or not. Do you come in after your agents are scheduled and leave before them? If so, take a look at their adherence to schedule issues. Chances are, they are following your lead. What metrics do you pay attention to? Your agents will do the same. At the end of the day, the relationship starts with the supervisor.