Published: February 24, 2020 | Comments
On the most recent #ICMIchat conversation on Twitter, contact center and customer experience professionals joined forces to explore what it takes to promote positivity in the contact center. Participants weighed in on questions ranging from personal attitudes to organizational culture.
Below is a summary from that Twitter chat. After the summary, you can preview #ICMIchat Questions for February 25.
Attitude Is Everything
Contact center leaders were united on the importance of attitudes to excellent customer service:
Badou Bousso pointed out that positive attitudes "[... create] a good atmosphere for both the agent and customer. [Customers] will always go where they can get positive vibes."
Jeremy Watkin adds that "[...] the calls will ALWAYS be longer and the customers are ALWAYS angrier," when you have the wrong attitude.
Dave Dyson suggests that "seeing the positive in your day-to-day interactions can help smooth out the inevitable frustrations that come with the job."
Eric P. Rhodes offered another perspective - that “an empathetic attitude is more appropriate. Upward attitude all the time seems fake."
Surface acting, the practice of outwardly displaying false emotions for work, can be extraordinarily exhausting for agents. GreenRope points out that, "If you're not genuinely excited, you'll burn out quickly."
One thing is sure, as Stephanie Thum says: "No one wants to work with a sourpuss, no matter the job."
Positivity Isn't Always Easy
Positivity is essential, but we learned that there are many obstacles to staying positive all the time:
According to Richard Kenny, a lack of empowerment to resolve customers' issues even when you know the solution can be frustrating.
Dave observed that it's hard to maintain a great attitude when "your tools, processes, policies, or management make it harder than necessary to do your job."
Jeremy elaborated that when work bleeds into personal time, staying positive can be tricky.
Katrina Novakovic explained that a lack of permanent solutions adds stress for agents; she says that staying positive is challenging "if you've managed to temporarily solve a customer's issue using a short-term fix, yet you know they'll get the same issue [will reccur] at some point again. This is made worse if, due to the short term fix, finding a longer-term solution isn't deemed a priority to work on."
Similarly, Stephanie added that it's challenging to stay upbeat "if customers look at the call as a last resort, out of panic or frustration. That can be roller-coaster-ish for the rep."
Letting It All Out
Venting is a natural reaction to frustration at work, but it can hurt morale when taken too far.
Dave says, "venting can be helpful, to the extent it helps shake off bad feelings from one interaction...but it should focus on the frustrating *experience* [and not the customer]."
Stephanie suggests that "everyone needs to vent from time to time," but we must all know the right time and place for it.
Richard notes that this is where a good manager, coach, or mentor can step in as a sounding board.
Aura Priscel recalled that letting things out can help uncover another perspective, and that "we are humans, [and it] is not healthy to keep emotions inside, [especially] those that cause frustration."
Jeremy recommended that leaders have healthy alternatives to venting, such as "taking a break or doing a mindfulness exercise" at the ready.
If positivity were simple, everyone would be doing it. I asked contact center experts about barriers to positivity in their workplace:
Stephanie proclaimed that "one of the biggest barriers to positivity can be when reps try to share with leadership the systemic customer pain points they're picking up on that can be addressed at higher levels or other areas of the org, but nobody seems to care or listens."
Likewise, Dave pointed out that the "#1 barrier for positivity in the [contact center] is toxic leadership."
Eric notes that hiring people with the wrong personalities can also present a challenge. He suggests hiring "naturally empathetic people" who can be trained to develop the necessary technical skills.
At the end of the day, as Jeremy points out, "there are ALWAYS going to be reasons to be positive or negative. The key and brutal truth is that we have a choice as to which we'll cling to."
A Leader's Role
Leaders play an essential part in setting the tone and morale of a team:
Aura declared that "one of a leader's functions is the well-being of the people with [whom they are] working."
Jeremy says, "positivity as a leader is about setting a standard for the culture in the [contact center] and then being an example of positivity."
Eric raised another vital issue: "Leaders need to be in a position to take care of their people so that they can take care of their customers. EX directly impacts CX."
Richard echoed this, stating, "the role of a [leader] should be to lead (not to manage); hence they have a significant role in showing the right attitude."
Coaching for Positivity
When it comes to staying positive, we could all use a little help:
Eric said that "sharing experiences and techniques is an essential part of being a good coworker. But so is knowing when not to coach or just listen."
Aura cautioned that directing a colleague to "be extra positive" is ineffective, but validating their feelings will help them to become more positive over time.
Promoting Positive Cultures
Promoting positivity in the contact center, "requires being clear on what your culture of positivity should look like and enforcing and reenforcing it often," according to Jeremy.
GreenRope affirmed that "Culture is everything. You need to [have] the right people and effective leadership to cultivate a positive and productive work environment."
It's also important to consider the organization as a whole, according to Richard. He says, "Organization-wide culture drives the [contact center] culture - if the whole organization is customer-centric, then this makes the [contact center] a significantly better place for both the customer and the employee."
Cultures Can Go Wrong
Going more in-depth on the subject of organizational culture, I wondered if it's ever possible for a culture to promote the wrong attitudes:
Jeremy recalled a time when the location of his office made a big difference: "I once had an office across the building from the contact center I was managing. While I enjoyed the added peace and quiet, things got negative, fast. Leaders need to be present in their centers."
Eric reiterated the importance of listening to employees. He says, "It seems ridiculous and obvious to say this, but listening to your employees and former employees is one way to stay on track."
If you enjoyed this discussion, chime in with your own a future #ICMIchat, next Tuesday at 1 p.m. Eastern, 10 a.m. Pacific on Twitter. Here are the questions for that chat below:
Q1: True or False: Happier employees are more productive.
Q2: How do you like to start your workday? Are there any rituals or routines that have worked well for you?
Q3: Are there any small changes you could make to your daily routine that might prevent decision fatigue?
Q4: What are some ways to create and foster a supportive workplace culture?
Q5: Do you have any tips for staying motivated when you’re up against a big deadline or challenging project?
Q6: Thinking back over the last week, what’s one thing that went really well for you/your team?
Q7: How does your team celebrate small wins on a regular basis?
Q8: Change can cause anxiety. What are some ways contact center leaders can help their agents navigate change in a positive way?