Published: March 15, 2017 | Comments
It’s no secret that I reluctantly sought work in the contact center. After spending 16 years in higher education and healthcare, accepting a position in a contact center felt like a giant leap backward. It just so happened that when I first saw a job posting for trainer role, I was so miserable in my current role that I thought a contact center position couldn’t be any worse. It only took 12 minutes after submitting my application to receive a call back, and after a series of interviews, I was hired as a trainer supporting a client that was providing a revolutionary solution to a problem. I wanted to be part of that solution.
I made a fascinating discovery in my first few months in the contact center. Folks weren’t sitting in seats answering calls with a script. Instead, they were solving complex problems through critical and creative thinking. Mind blown! They impacted customers’ lives during some of life’s most critical moments like honeymoons, vacations, job interviews, and more. I began to view contact centers through a new set of eyes, seeing that there was real meaning to this work.
About a year later I was listening to Guy Raz on the TED Radio Hour and the title of the show was The Meaning of Work. On a sidenote, Guy could host a show on how grass grows and I’d still listen. Huge fan!
Okay, where were we? Oh yeah, during that show, Barry Schwartz asked the listeners, “Why do we work?” and my interest was piqued. Schwartz went on to say that most of us would reply that we have to work if we want to eat, pay rent, etc. But if we are only working for a paycheck how do we stay motivated? If the message we receive during our interview or on the job is that it’s just a job, how do we find purpose in our work?
Schwartz has discovered that the meaning of the work we perform is key to motivation and exceptional service. Translated to the contact center, when agents see the impact their work has on people, communities, or the world at large they are much more motivated to perform. I’d like to share four steps we’ve identified for customer service leaders to make work more meaningful for their agents.
Step 1: Identify the Purpose of the Work
To arrive at the purpose of our work we need to first ask how our service, product, or organization positively impacts the world. The way we communicate this to our teams makes all the difference. Let’s compare two different training classes for an organization that sells reusable water bottles and the way this purpose is communicated.
In the first training class, new agents learned that each day they’d come to work and answer questions about various aspects of the product including shipping, damaged bottles, and a variety of other issues. When this message was delivered to a new hire class, agents made comments like, “Yes! Easiest customer service job ever” but didn’t make much connection to the purpose or find motivation to provide extraordinary customer service.
After reworking the new hire training a bit, the second class received a powerful message of change. They learned about how the reusable bottles helped reduce waste in landfills and oceans. The organization even goes so far as to donate a significant portion of their revenue to non-profits that plant trees, reuse plastic, and works to make the world a better place.
As you can imagine, the agents in the second training class demonstrated much more willingness to support customers because of the connection to a greater purpose of making a difference in the world.
Step 2: Become an Evangelist
Once we’ve communicated the real, inspiring purpose of our work, we must become evangelists for our cause. This means spreading the word to anyone and everyone who will listen. A few great places to inject this message on our support teams are during the interview process, throughout new hire training, in regular coaching sessions, and as part of the review process.
It’s important to create something visual and tangible. One team at FCR is responsible for building a sense of community for their customers. To reinforce this, their manager brought in a set of legos and each time an agent provided service that built the community they added a lego to their building. This might seem trivial but it’s a visual representation of the way agents are fulfilling the greater purpose of the organization.
Step 3: Create a Culture of Autonomy and Innovation
The next step is to create a culture of autonomy and innovation. This places the importance on hiring the right agents and equipping them with the tools necessary to positively impact customers. It’s about eliminating the hoops they need to jump through and trusting them to make decisions on their own.
Barry Schwartz shares an incredible story about Luke, a janitor at a hospital. Luke can be seen mopping the floor of a comatose patient twice because the patient’s father didn’t see him do it the first time — and he does it without so much as a complaint. He was willing to mop the floor twice because he understood the impact of his work on patient outcomes and knew he had the discretion to make that decision. Are your agents empowered to do the same for customers if it means a step closer to your greater purpose as an organization?
Step 4: Focus on Positively Impacting Others
In the final step, I like to encourage our leaders to begin their coaching sessions by asking this question: How did you positively impact a customer’s life this week? As agents recall a time where they make a difference for a customer, their brain lights up, they are reminded of the real meaning of their work, and they are much more receptive to coaching.
In quality assurance, for example, it’s so easy to focus heavily on the areas for improvement. But don’t forget to focus on what’s going well and how the agent impacted the customer. Celebrating those success stories reinforces the purpose and the positive behaviors that help achieve it.
A Meaningful Exercise
Finally, here’s an exercise I like to go through in our Introduction to Leadership classes at FCR. I require new leaders to take time to identify the meaning of their product or service. I ask, “How is the world different because of your product or service?” and then have them connect their answer to the particular company they support.
Keeping them in the moment, I bring the energy down in the room, and ask them to “feel it” — really “feel” it. It’s fun to see the whole vibe shift as we can almost taste the meaning in the room. Finally, the call to action is for leaders to deliver this message to their teams each and every day.
Looking back now, I’m amazed at how I, as the begrudging contact center trainer, discovered tremendous meaning and purpose in connecting contact center professionals to the real difference their work makes. My call to action for contact center leaders everywhere is to not simply teach their agents how to solve problems with a product or service. Instead, take the time to discover the meaning of your work for yourself and then live and breathe that with your agents every day.