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3 Counterintuitive Ways You Can Significantly Improve Your Contact Center Culture

You have no shortage of ideas for improving your contact center culture. Unfortunately, many of those ideas simply “put lipstick on a pig” -- sugarcoating the core challenges you face without actually fixing them.

What if you shifted your perspective and, instead of focusing on “fixing” your challenges, began accepting their existence and leveraging them?

Improve call center culture

Here are three counterintuitive ways you can do just that:

1. Leverage the elephant in your room.

Absenteeism and turnover: what if you stopped beating your head against the wall to bring those numbers down?

Look, everyone in your centers knows they’re in the muddiest trenches of customer service warfare. Their jobs exist because your company’s products don’t always work as easily or as well as they’re advertised to work. Customers have given your organization money, and now they’re dissatisfied with what they’ve gotten in return – or at the very least they’re poised to be dissatisfied.

Who wants to talk those people off a cliff all day long, all week long?

Be honest with your team about how brutal their jobs are. Be upfront about the stress the job can bring. Call a spade a spade. The truth is, many of the customers who call your people will exhibit truly terrible behavior. And, despite your best efforts, you know that your systems aren’t keeping up with the breakneck pace of technology. Trying to get your people to accept more of an emotional impact every week than they are capable of handling only leads to them resent and distrust you.

Do you want and need your employees to deal with the challenges of the job and be reliable? Of course. So, get proactive about understanding the schedules that will support their reliability. Be realistic about how much stress humans – any humans – can handle before they need a breather. Will being realistic force significant scheduling changes throughout your organization?


Ask yourself which is more sustainable: a dramatic change in the short term or fighting human nature forever?

2. Leverage your high turnover rates.

Does your company value agile learning in the pursuit of improving the customer experience? If your center is like every other call center I’ve served, you do. Speed, collaboration, and flexibility: these are the things you’ve learned to prize in your efforts to make your customer service better. The question is, are you leveraging your most significant resource for agile learning?

Every person that quits your center leaves with a head full of shovel-ready ideas for how your center could be run more effectively -- and humanely (which will lead to even deeper effectiveness). Moreover, when people are leaving an organization, they’re much more inclined to be open books about everything you could have done better.

When you look at every fire or resignation from this perspective, your turnover rate converts from your biggest liability to your most significant opportunity for agile learning.

What can the people who you leave you teach you? How are your company’s values not being lived out? What support are your employees not getting from you?

Get a system in place for proactively and exhaustively capturing this knowledge and insight. Right now.

3. Leverage customer rudeness.

Who holds your rudest customer record? More importantly, who among your employees holds the record for the best response to a rude customer?

I know. You want to focus on positive interactions with customers. You don’t want to spend your time talking about customers who can’t, under any circumstances, be pleased.

However, you also want and need to keep your people sane, right? Levity is an excellent tool to keep people grounded and sane in a relentlessly stressful environment.

Honor your employees who can keep calm and demonstrate your company’s core values when faced with striking rudeness from customers. Develop a Rudeness Hall of Fame. Every month, award the employee who provides the most values-aligned response to a customer who simply can’t be pleased.

In this process, be explicit about the precise behaviors winning employees practice to live out company values when they’re pressured to “cave” and respond unprofessionally. Draw out the employee’s story.

Are there behaviors they practice before their shift to get in a “head space” of calm and centeredness? Do they have a specific piece of script they’ve found to be particularly effective in maintaining politeness in the face of rudeness? Discover these things. Then, spotlight them in your Rudeness Hall of Fame.

Do this. It’ll send two clear messages to your employees: (1) On this job, you will be challenged in unfair ways, and (2) It is entirely possible – and deeply satisfying for you – to take the high road and “win” the conversation with every single rude customer you face.

If you are bold, you can even extend your Rudeness Hall of Fame into other aspects of your culture. What other extreme challenges do your people face? Would you benefit from developing a Multi-tasker Hall of Fame? An Unanswerable Question Hall of Fame?

Give yourself permission to get creative. Give your agents permission to be creative. I guarantee that your agents’ engagement will improve when you acknowledge their challenges and provide a realistic standard for them to aspire to.

Of course, all of this activity rests on the assumption that your employees know the values they are supposed to be demonstrating when they face adversity on the job. If you don’t have your organization’s values articulated and behaviorally defined, that’s your first step.

If your company does have defined values, but you’re not sure if they’re actually being brought to life in how people relate to one another, I recently created a free online assessment to help you discern what steps to take to build a purposeful, positive, productive working environment.