Fail Your Supervisors, Fail Your Contact Center

I’d be willing to bet that a majority of you who are reading this were, at one time, contact center agents. You’ve since moved on to supervisor or quality analyst, manager or workforce planner, trainer or director.  The chances are also high that you received such promotion due to your exceptional skills in your previous role and then learned your current role through job shadowing, formal training, trial and error, or a combination of all three.   There were, most likely, also periods of time in which you struggled, felt confused, or later learned that you were unknowingly doing something in error.  While every job has its own share of “trial by fire” experiences that should by no means be “the norm” for any position.   Yet, in a high percentage of today’s contact centers, this type of on-the-fly, unstructured “learning” is normal – especially for one demographic – the supervisor.

Supervisors, the coaches to our agents, the day to day leaders on our contact center floor, quite possibly the most influential people in the life of our frontline staff, are often left to figure things out on their own.  They’re promoted because they were great agents, but may struggle to bridge the gap in becoming effective leaders. They’re often in the situation of managing former peers, without training or guidance on how to overcome inevitable barriers.  They’re burdened with incredible responsibility and high expectations, but never provided with the context or clarity to be successful in the roles. 

Believe it or not, many of the issues that we see at the agent level aren’t the result of having bad agents – it’s because we’ve failed to effectively find and develop our supervisors.

Contact centers that are well supervised are characterized by happy and engaged agents, teams who work toward the same goal, rising customer satisfaction ratings, higher productivity, and consistent and sustained achievement of other performance objectives.  The potential benefits to our contact center are incredible, but it’s up to us to find and prepare the right people.  Here are a few tips on how we can do exactly that:

1. When looking for new supervisors, identify the skills, knowledge, and abilities that are essential for success. Put each into one of three categories:

a. Skills you hire for
b. Skills you train for
c. Skills you hope for

2. Have a clearly defined training plan that covers each of the major areas within your organization and contact center.  The reality is that even if you didn’t think you needed a “formal” training program – you do!

3. Assign a mentor! Mentoring is a critical force in developing teams, as all leaders should be thinking constantly of who will be following in their footsteps.

4. When transitioning an agent to the role of supervisor – be prepared!

a. Address the inevitable barriers that arise as a result of the transition.
b. Focus on developing their ability to be a coach.
c. Assign a mentor, but don’t forget that you’ll also be a role model for their performance!

5. Remember your job as the manager:

a. Be accessible
b. Monitor & discuss attainment towards goals and objectives
c. Provide some direction
d. Foster teamwork
e. Create and define a career path

This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to identifying and developing the type of supervisor that we need in our contact centers.  Beyond hiring, onboarding, and initial training, we need to make a career long commitment to professional development, driving employee engagement, and having a succession plan that ensures the future success and sustenance of our organization.

If you’d like to learn more on this topic, I strongly recommend that you attend our live, virtual training session “Developing Supervisors Who Lead” this coming Thursday, March 20 from 2-4 EST. Laura Grimes, an ICMI Senior Certified Associate, will be delivering the session and will address some of what I discussed in this article and so much more!

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Jordan Linford — 5:07PM on Mar 17, 2014

Couldn't agree more. Your supervisors/coaches are your best chance to keep your agents engaged. Failure to coach your coaches will also mean failure in your agents performance.