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Have You Heard Them Being Quiet?

We always seem to wait until we are hearing noise, and usually loud noise, before we react. Isn’t it time we started listening to the silence and using it to be proactive in solving for our customers, agents and stakeholders?

In my staff meeting a few weeks ago, I asked my team what they were hearing: on the floor, from our customers and from employees in general. My team was quiet. The silence was deafening. Sometimes they are that way and sometimes they can be very animated, especially when it comes to their work (great passion!) I probed harder, as I hadn't been hearing anything either. Again, no one said much. Finally, I asked them, "Have you heard them being quiet?" One of my senior schedulers gave me the definition of all eye rolls. I realized what I had actually said. We then had a lively discussion around the "root cause of quiet."

After the staff meeting I reflected on the noise around quietness. At one time or another, haven’t we all heard someone say, "They are being way too quiet?" I know it was one of my mother's favorite sayings. I also know that my mother was spot on. If it was "way too quiet" in our house, nine times out of ten it meant that my brothers and I were doing something we shouldn't. (Of course, these were the times my mother chose to focus on.) The tenth time, maybe we were reading a book, listening to music, or even taking a nap, she never had too much to say. (I occasionally wonder how my mother defined "degrees" of silence — I will ask her that one.)

I thought harder — what if we all listened to the silence?

I am sure by this point you are asking yourselves, "What in the world does any of this have to do with a contact center or best practices?" I am getting there. The great Eric Clapton was once asked what made his guitar playing so exquisite. His response: "It isn’t what you play. It's what you don't play." What if we took this premise of what makes things great and applied it to our daily routine in the contact center?

Noise Drives Action

If your contact center is like the ones that I have worked in, then noise drives action. Red reader boards drive action. Upset customers drive action. Too many people in the break room and not enough on the phone drive action. What if we focused as much on the agents who never say “boo” as we do on the ones who excitedly tell us how they enjoy their work, share their best practices, or even rant about having no Red Bull in the vending machines as they dislike the other energy drinks?

I am guessing that your contact center has a large number of folks who have great compliance, are seldom late for work, have average stats and a definite "satisfactory" quality. Chances are that these agents always have the same review, never say much at one-on-ones and accept change easily. These agents may also be the ones who, when his or her name is mentioned to peers, (especially peers in a different department or not on the same shift) they ask, "Exactly who is that? I have seen the name but can’t quite place the face." These agents have probably been with your organization for many years and may be our most valuable resources. But if these veteran agents are not "he who shouts the loudest" when it comes to the voice of the employee, they may be unintentionally overlooked.

I posit that if we focus on what these agents have to share, we could truly learn some best practices. It's up to us as management to be facilitating leaders in service to gain this insight, as these folks are too busy just doing their jobs to make any noise. We need to ask them questions like "What techniques do you use to always take your break on time?", "How come I never get a QA report with a rattled customer—what are your techniques?" or "What do you do to keep your ACW average so perfect?" Think about it for a second: If we had a whole center full of these agents, how much could we focus on growth and development? How much less fire-fighting would we have to do? How much deep knowledge and insight would we actually gain and be able to share if we listened to the quiet ones?

Don't Just Listen - Connect

What about our customers? I never hear anything but silence when we are under forecast. How many times have we been called into a tiger team huddle because we are running "at plan" or we have a "running handle time" that is too low? Many of us use a closed loop system; following up with customers who have low survey scores. Some of us even follow up with the ones who shout about how great we are and call to thank them. What about the 7’s and 8’s? The wise John Goodman from TARP Worldwide theorizes in the article he co-authored for Quirk’s Marketing Research Review, October 2011,“The Passives Are Not Passive: Why you should be careful with the Net Promoter Score,“ that this is where we have the largest opportunity. This is where we can gain traction in driving net promoter. My suggestion would be if we aren’t hearing much in normal VOC channels, check social media. What are folks telling their friends on Facebook? What’s up in Twitter? Seriously, if Twitter is not mentioning you, then you are in deep and abysmal trouble. Finally, reach out - call some customers at random - to find the emotional connection between your customers and your products/services. Ask them what they really like. Ask them how your product/service adds or helps their quality of life. Find ways to cement those connections not only to the customers that you know will actively promote you, but also to the quiet masses.

Voice of Our Stakeholders

If we are to stay holistic in our review of silence, we would be remiss if we didn’t think about our company stakeholders. Stakeholders tend to, as my wise and wonderful boss said, (shameless plug intended) "get excited about something new." In all earnestness, what if we called out what’s working on a regular basis? Doesn't confidence come from a tried and true proven principle? It isn’t the folks who invented things that drive loyalty; it's those who have perfected their flavor to the point that the brand is synonymous with the product. My guess is that the shareholders who bet on consistency are truly the quiet ones, as they have a lot less risk in their life. Their challenge with consistency is likely much more related to making a 3-foot-putt than worrying about their next paycheck. Find out what drives their silent confidence, patent it, and use this as the mortar in building a new innovation.

How do we bind silence? (I know — it sounds like something out of Lord of the Rings.) Do our stakeholders know our employees are quiet — not just in what they say, but also in what they do- because they are content and happy? A workforce with insignificant attrition leads to great customer delight. Satisfied customers lead to retention (a must-have foundation before any consistent growth patterns can be predicted or achieved.) Do our customers know that our employees and stakeholders put them first in value propositions? It's up to us to be the "loop closers" as we as contact center leaders are the ones with a portal into all three dimensions.

I ask you to think about how "quiet" can take us to the next phase of greatness. Wouldn't it have been great if during that tenth time of quiet, the one when you were doing exactly what you were supposed to, you heard a bit of noise? If you heard, "Wow! We really appreciate you for doing exactly what you are supposed to be doing?" Wouldn’t it be great if we could focus on building a future instead of breathing the present due to something that should never have effervesced through the past? I challenge you to the following:
A) Celebrate the quiet agents in your call center
B) Dig deeper into why the customers are quiet (or not even calling, chatting, e-mailing or Tweeting) and
C) Ask the stockholders why they are happy. What are we doing that we can keep doing?

Give it a try and don't be silent about it. Share the findings and make our industry one where people talk about "how cool customer service is," as opposed to "Oh no! I have to wade through one of those phone tree deals."

Listen. Listen hard. Listen to the silence. Silence will allow you to become proactive in a reactive world.