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Respect the Individuality and Diversity of Your Contact Center Workforce

diversityThroughout my career as a contact center leader, I continue to learn about the value of providing the space to respect the individual differences of each member of the workforce. Contact centers are incredibly diverse places - we hire people from all walks of life, and traditionally leave them to figure out how to work well as a team. When we truly embrace who they are as individuals and meet their individual needs, we work better together and take better care of our customers.

Here are three examples:

Example 1: Respecting the diversity of the individual ensures that our customers make meaningful connections with real people, not numbers.

1. I was once working with a contact center team to find ways to help them improve customer satisfaction. As part of this effort, I spent time shadowing top-performing agents to understand some of the best practices that made them top performers.

As I remarked to the manager about one particular agent’s performance, I used the incorrect pronoun (he or she) to describe the agent. The manager stopped me in my tracks and said, “That agent has asked that we use pronouns ‘them and they’ when speaking about them.” Since that encounter, I’ve become more keenly aware of occasions where people specify their pronouns — perhaps in an email signature or on LinkedIn.

It is vitally important to recognize, respect, and celebrate what makes each of our agents unique — and their pronoun is just one of many examples. When we find ways to work together, understanding and leveraging the unique strengths of individuals, we are better as a team.

Example 2: Regardless of how somebody looks, consistency of performance is what matters most. 

I once interviewed a candidate for a customer service job. When he walked into our contact center, it was impossible not to notice his long hair, equally long beard, and extensive array of tattoos. He and I had a great interview and I left our meeting with the feeling that he was a strong candidate for the position. We said our goodbyes and I headed back to my desk.

At that moment Steve came back into the center and said, “Hey Jeremy. I almost forgot to ask. Will my hair, beard, and tattoos be an issue if I get this job?” I said something like, “Not at all. All I care about is that you take good care of our customers.”

We did end up hiring Steve and he indeed took great care of our customers for several years — before he moved on to the Air Force, where I’m pretty sure they did make him cut his hair.

Example 3: Allowing for flexibility of work location can help you hire and retain the best agents. 

3. We just celebrated 15 years since I hired my good friend and co-founder of the CustomerServiceLife.com blog, Jenny Dempsey, to work in our contact center. Jenny can make a customer feel like the most important person in the room, and she also works tirelessly to solve their issues.

After a few years of working together, she came to my desk and said, “Hey, I’m thinking about moving to New York City, just for fun. Is there any chance I can work from there?” At the time we rarely had people working from home, but I didn’t want to lose one of our best agents.

We made it happen. Not only did we keep Jenny around for many years, but having an employee in the Eastern Time Zone made it so much easier for us to staff those early morning hours. And as we are all now learning, there are many advantages to a work from home contact center.

As a contact center leader, and human, I don’t think I’ve remotely mastered the skill of respecting the diversity and individuality of my workforce. What matters most is that we commit to being lifelong learners on the subject. Doing so allows us to hire and retain the best people and work better together for the benefit of companies, contact centers, and our customers.