Why Should Your Customers Remain Customers?

Bobblehead DollMy wife is mad at me; I was relating an email survey experience where a financial institution had sent me a customer service survey.  I described the truth, I have no reason to remain a customer and feel less than enthused at remaining a customer.  My wife fearing I had been insulting, derogatory, or denigrating, got mad at me.  I explained my position and how I had answered the rote questions, and she is still not happy.  But, her position and my position bring up an interesting point, centered around the following question, “Why should a customer remain a customer?”

Use My Name!

Daily I receive programmed emails from multiple companies.  Do you know how I pick the ones I want to do business with?  They know my preferred name and use it!  What an incredible concept; since the early 1990s, we have had the technology to put in names, create mailing lists, and use people’s preferred names, and businesses still struggle with this concept.  Why?

LookI have several titles, want my business, know and use my titles.  Pick one, and use it!  How can a company claim they “know their customers” when that company cannot use the customer’s preferred name or title in addressing that customer?  I have worked hard to earn a Ph.D.; I do not expect everyone to call me “Dr.,” but it sure as anything beats being called “mister” all the bloody time.  Worse, I still hold several ranks and positions that come with titles. I could be addressed using them, but even with a preferred name on many company customer profiles, I get that lazy customer service representative that calls me Mr. Salisbury!  Guess what company I am going to ditch at the first opportunity?Shhh----Don--t-Say-A-Thing--Just-Listen--Don--t-Talk.jpg (500×273) | The beauty and danger of ...

On the topic of names, if I say, “everyone calls me Dave,” and you continue to call me “Michael,” “Mike,” or “Mr. Salisbury,” you are either not listening, or your company has the worst policies for addressing customers.  Guess what company I will end my business relationship with post-haste?  I have given permission to use a preferred name, use my name.  Listen to me!

Listen!

Job Interview Cartoons ~ Silly BuntActive listening can be faked!  Customer service agents, I know active listening can be manufactured, I have been a customer service agent, I know your stress, I know your job, and I know your problems.  Thus, to your bosses, I appeal; stop the active listening drama!  If you are not stressing reflective listening to your employees, where they and the customer reach a mutual understanding, you are not doing your job leading customer relations!

My wife claims that conclusion is “Too harsh.”  I disagree vociferously.  Here’s why!  Remember how I just related how I had informed customer service agents, “everyone calls me Dave,” and the agent continued to call me everything but my preferred name.  Failure to listen remains the number one customer complaint for a reason; the agents are not listening to reach a mutual understanding.  Too often, they are not even attempting to listen actively but are listening to respond, responding to the voices in their heads and not the customer!Joke of the Day | Joke of the day, Funny quotes, Single words

Do you want better customer survey responses; try listening, then acting, then listening again.  Not speaking; listening, acting, listening, acting; it’s a pattern worth doing!  Yet, too often, what is the pattern found, maybe listening, speaking, maybe listening, token action, maybe listening, half-hearted action.  Wait for the customer to become frustrated and go away.  Guess which company I am going to be ending my business relationship with quickly?

Respond!

AP 20.96 Short-Answer Questions (SAQ) - Bello's Reference Page - Use GOOGLE CLASSROOM for all ...I have four companies who I have informed (several times) I no longer can do business with them.  They continue to send me emails asking for my business for old properties and cars I no longer possess.  Listening is but half the answer; you must also respond with definitive action.  How many times does a customer have to relate to your business they have moved?  I did business with a windshield repair company in Phoenix, AZ.  Good company, good service, but for the next three years, I received calls from them monthly, and I had moved out of their service area.  They were told this month after month, I was promised month after month this was the final call, and month after month, I received another call.  Guess whose recommendation I deleted online?

People ProcessesBusiness processes matter; honoring your word matters, displaying trust, integrity, and fulfilling a promise made all matters in the customer relationship long before the product or service is discussed.  Yet, how often are these issues on shaky ground, before the ink is dry on the service contract or the receipt for goods?  I have a cell phone provider I detest; I long for the day I can finally walk free of this provider and never look back.  Because their customer attention is deplorable, I feel used and abused every time I interact with this company.  I have the same problem with my current Internet provider.  When your customer service is so deplorable, you have to climb to become terrible; there is a problem that colors, signage, marketing, and gimmicks cannot fix!

Why Would I gladly Pay a Higher Price; Service!

Skillet Mac and Cheese with Crispy Breadcrumbs Recipe - Southern LivingI was in the supermarket, my wife asked for a treat.  To her, a treat is a bowl of deli mac & cheese, potato salad, or a bag of potato chips.  As I was in the deli and they had her mac & cheese, I bought mac & cheese.  My wife was shocked, I paid, what to her was an exorbitant price for the mac & cheese, but I was glad to pay the price.  The counter worker wrapped the mac & cheese package in plastic wrap to protect it from spilling, was pleasant, remembered me from a previous visit, and made my day.  The service was well worth the extra cost.

I kept going back to this store, making purchases long after this deli person was transferred to another store closer to their home because the service level did not go down.  Thus, I remained satisfied to pay extra for the service I received.  Walking on a cane, with labored breathing, and having a service representative walk with me, not ahead of me, so I feel like I have to race, is a significant service I would gladly pay more for.  I felt respected and remembered from visit to visit, even if I was sporadic in visiting for over a month.2mm to Sales Mastery | Customer Obsession: Creating "Wow" Moments That Leave a Lasting Impression

Long before the product or service costs are discussed is the customer experience.  If the customer experience fails, you can have the coolest products and the best access to services and fail because you forget the customer experience!  Getting back to the financial survey I just completed, it was full of Likert-style scale questions.  If your company employs a Likert question on a survey, you need a follow-up self-directed qualitative question to explain directly after.

Likert-Style Surveys

Likert-style questions are a quantitative researcher’s bread and butter, showing the relationships between agreement and disagreement on a broad scale.  Generally, on a scale of 1-10, these questions and scales have come to be represented by emojis, colors, statements, and more as technology has advanced.Top 10 Likert Scale Examples for your next survey! | QuestionPro

I completed 15 Likert-styled questions before I was asked why I rated the company as “Neither liked or disliked, neither favorable nor unfavorable.”  Okay, so quantitative data is easier and less expensive to collect, collate, and report.  But, if your customer survey is only collecting qualitative or quantitative data, you are only collecting half the story and none of the customer experiences!  However, you cannot simply ask ½ the questions qualitative and ½ the questions quantitative and expect anything but GIGO.  Careful planning is key to customer survey results worth your time and the customers time!Likert scale questions, survey and examples | QuestionPro

A customer satisfaction survey should first be an instrument of dedicated action!  Where your best and brightest in customer relations work to analyze, report, and propose efforts to satisfy the customers.  They investigate survey findings.  They respond to survey questions and concerns, address real people, and produce tangible results.eCommerce Customer Surveys | An Ultimate Guide 2021

A customer satisfaction survey is not the time, nor the place, for cute emojis and colorful pictures depicting customer attitudes.  Can the customer survey be more than black and white; naturally.  Remember that the customer survey is not where you go to flash and spin; this is where the customer goes, tells the truth, and expects action, not to be played with.  If the customer takes the time to complete a survey, there is a reason, find the cause, know the customer, and win.

Knowledge Check!These are but three basics, fundamental points at the start of the customer relations journey.  If you cannot get these three points right, the rest of the trip will be short, painful, and not fulfilling for you or your customers.  Worse, the experiences will be remembered, and people have this nasty habit of not forgetting bad experiences.  Why do the majority of people despise the DMV; because the majority of customers have experienced the most frustrating issues of their professional lives at the hands of the DMV agents.  Governments abuse their customers, which is as bad as customer interactions get, and everyone feels betrayed when the government and bureaucrats use them.

You are in the private sector; you have competition; your first question daily should be, “Why should my customers remain, my customers?”  When you answer this question, your customers will hear the answer loud and clear!

© 2021 M. Dave Salisbury
All Rights Reserved
The images used herein were obtained in the public domain; this author holds no copyright to the images displayed.

The Role of a Call Center Trainer: A Qualitative Descriptive Study

Bobblehead DollI want to express my deepest gratitude to Call Centre Helper Magazine for the opportunity to advertise for my dissertation research.  I once asked a call center leader what a trainer does; their answer still makes me chuckle.

A trainer trains!

Kind of obvious, right.  Now, what does a trainer train?  How does a trainer train?  How does a business leader know the trainer has been successful in training?  What is the purpose of training?  What does training do for those trained?  These questions and the business leaders’ comment have inspired my professional and academic footsteps for several years now.Call Center 2

In early July 2021, I finally received permission to begin human testing for my dissertation.  I have posted several advertisements on social media for call center workers, trainers, and senior leaders to entice 17 people willing to answer some questions about training in call centers, a call center trainer, and what precisely a call center trainer does.  The following is a brief description of the aims and intents of my research to increase interest and hopefully glean the needed participants to finish my study.

Consider for a moment a teacher who has influenced you professionally or personally, and why did they make such an impact?  Could a different person have made the same impact?  Why?

The above questions are the crux of my research; to date, the role of the instructor has not been considered a variable in corporate training.  As an adult educator, I find this gap very alarming.  In academia, the teacher’s role has been extensively studied, and opinions abound regarding the role of the teacher.  Yet, in a professional setting, no researcher has addressed this gap to date.  With the push to move all training to computer-based solutions in autonomous environments, if the trainer does not teach corporate knowledge and behaviors, who does?

Call Center BeansIn researching the history of professional training, the model employed has not changed since a master taught journeyman who led novice instruction.  Yet, with technology, global populations, cultures, language, and globe-spanning organizations, the role of the trainer seems to continue to take a back seat.  Yet, if a corporate trainer profoundly influenced you professionally, would you not want that experience for another person?

Due to the restrictions on human testing in research, I cannot change the dry legalese of the advertisements.  I know they are long, tedious, and challenging to get through.  However, if you are interested, please get in touch with me directly using:

Msalisbury1@my.gcu.edu

Please note, to participate, you will need the following:

      • Work in an English Speaking Call Center with a home base in the United States.
      • Have a LinkedIn account (This is for verification of professional qualifications only).
      • Speak English like a native.
      • Be willing to answer demographic questions, including time in the current role, education, and so forth.
      • Be willing to elaborate upon your answers. I will ask you some questions about your experiences; please provide details, depth, and descriptions as your answer.

Knowledge Check!Important to note, your name and business will never be mentioned in my dissertation!  I am not collecting any personal data beyond education and years of experience.  Any direct quotes employed will carry no connecting data, and no one will see your details.

Thank you for considering joining me in my dissertation research.  I look forward to publishing this research and discussing the findings with you in later articles.

© 2021 M. Dave Salisbury
All Rights Reserved
The images used herein were obtained in the public domain; this author holds no copyright to the images displayed.

 

Call Center Senior Trainers – Focus Group

Date: 19 July 2021

Andragogy - The PuzzleI am a doctoral candidate under the direction of Professor Dr. Susan Miedzianowski in the College of Doctoral Studies at Grand Canyon University. My name is Michael D. “Dave” Salisbury. I am conducting a research study to explore the trainer’s specific influence on employees’ development in an English-speaking call center based on a clear understanding of the trainer’s role.

You can participate if you can answer “Yes” to all of the following questions.

      • Do you speak English?
      • Do you live and work in the United States?
      • Are you employed in an English-speaking call center?
      • Do you have an updated LinkedIn.com profile (for verification purposes only)?
      • Are you willing to answer demographic questions about your age, level of education, years of experience in the call center industry, years in your current call center, and your current job title?
      • Are you an adult over the age of 18?
      • Do you have a trainer/senior trainer title, or are you expected to train or supervise call center trainers in your current role?
      • Do you have more than six years in the call center industry?
      • Are you willing to be audio recorded using ZOOM online software?

If you answer “No,” to any of these questions, you cannot participate in the focus group. I will verify your eligibility via your LinkedIn.com Profile before the focus group meets.

The activities for this research project will include:

If you are eligible to be in this focus group, you will be asked to:

      • What:
        • Meet with other similarly qualified professionals via Zoom, approximately 90 minutes, video and audio recorded.
        • Answer the demographic questions honestly.
        • Answer a series of questions regarding how a call center trainer has influenced you. As well as what you think a call center trainer does.
        • Review a job description of the call center trainer’s role.
        • Review data collected during interviews for completeness.
      • When: On the date and time discussed via email.
      • Where:com online meeting.
      • How: Using your home computer or Internet-capable device, connecting with Zoom.com.

Your participation in this study is voluntary.

An alias will protect all data in this study during the recording of the actual interview and in the documents by using an alpha-numeric code to tie your email address and hide any potential method to track your responses back to you.  All information reported in the dissertation will be in a collated format so individual data cannot be tracked to any single participant.

If you are interested in participating in this study, please contact:
M. Dave Salisbury
(435-219-5414)
msalisbury1@my.gcu.edu

Thank you!

Distant Learning – Adult Education Strategies for the Call Center (Part 2 of 2)

Chinese CrisisGagné’s Instructional Design Model, is a conceptual model for moving organizational goals into organizational behavior, referred to by Gagné (2018) as a “motivational model of organizational goal pursuit,” (p. S98-S99).  Gagné’s instructional design model collects the curriculum, the organizational goals, needs, desires, managerially acceptable behaviors, and supports the trainer in the training environment.  Important to note, Gagné (2018) stated a known truth, the trainer, and training department, are dynamic influencers in the business organization, and any learning organization will gladly take the trainer and training department and make the importance of learning observable from the first moment a visitor enters to the last impression as the visitor leaves.

Gagné’s Nine Events of Instruction

Gagné’s Nine Events of eLearning Instruction

Gain Attention Gain Attention
Inform Objectives Inform Objectives
Stimulate Recall Stimulate Recall
Present New Materials Create Goal Centered eLearning Content
Provide Guidance Provide Guidance
Elicit Performance Practical Application
Provide Feedback Provide Feedback
Assess Performance Assess Performance
Enhance Retention to Transfer to the Job. Enhance Retention to Transfer to the Job.

As stated in Part 1, there is not a significant difference between Gagné’s Nine Events of Instruction, and Gagné’s Nine Events of eLearning Instruction.  The difference is in the modality or training delivery, or how the student interacts with the trainer and the materials.  The events are the same, and only adapted to the specific way the materials will be delivered.  Think of these two models as two different channels on TV, except one channel has the news anchor standing in your front room and the other channel you have your front room to yourself.

Andragogy - LEARNThe importance of making the shift from training being a singular activity for the extent of the employee working in a role and making training a regular event where learning is ongoing as a competitive advantage, represents a major hurdle for call centers to overcome.  However, it cannot be more emphatically declared, training is an event, and the training events can be replicated for lifelong and lifewide learners to enjoy.  Let us take the individual events and break them down into specific actions a trainer uses to plan and execute training in call centers:

    1. Gain Attention – a 360-degree event! Trainer and student should be present physically and mentally.
        • This is not a game, nor is it an activity. Gaining attention means to tell the introduction to a story.
        • State a real-world example problem statement.
        • Represents a crucial moment in new training, to capture the cognition of the students. Get the students to have a stake in solving the problem.
        • Tell them WHY this class is important to them personally and professionally.
        • The trainer must declare, and then exemplify that they are a student, and the trainer is excited to learn and explore the topic with those in attendance.
        • Encourage the student to be an active participant in giving and receiving feedback!
    2. Inform Objectives – a 180-degree event. Set high standards, train to meet those high standards, and watch the student perform!
        • Restate the WHY
        • Detail the WHAT
        • Examples of HOW
        • Focusing on these three items in the objectives will advance attention, and this begins to build trust between the instructor and the materials.
        • Encourage the student to be an active participant in giving and receiving feedback!
    3. Stimulate Recall – a 180-degree event
        • What do they already know? Ask!  Go around the room and get 100% participation, including the trainer.
        • How do they use the materials, or topic of the class, currently?
        • Get the students to declare WHY they are interested.
        • Get the student looking for WHEN and WHERE they should be using the materials being discussed. Anticipation for application is crucial to attention!
    4. Present New Materials –
        • Encourage the student to be an active participant in giving and receiving feedback!
        • Students can instruct.
        • Ask questions.
        • Go around the class to involve everyone.
        • Use conflict as a positive force to stimulate new thinking on current topics with new materials.
        • Supply a “Parking Lot” for topics not specifically on topic but are questions from the students in the moment.
    5. Provide Guidance – a 360-degree event!
        • In face-to-face delivery this means answering questions.
        • In eLearning, this means answering questions; but employing technology adroitly to meet the student’s needs.
        • Be honest! Expect honesty.
        • Be forthright. Anticipate forthrightness.
        • Declare what is known and not known.
        • Timely responses are critical to setting up the elements of trust needed to achieve the remaining events successfully.
    6. Elicit Performance – a 360-degree event!
        • Encourage the student to be an active participant in giving and receiving feedback!
        • Regardless of delivery, get the student practicing what is being taught.
        • Role play.
        • Using software, searching for data, doing the duties of the role.
        • Start as soon as practical and continue in ever increasing levels of difficulty.
        • Emulate real life scenarios!
    7. Provide Feedback – a 360-degree event!
        • Feedback is NOT criticism. The second the trainer becomes critical, is the moment trust is destroyed and the student stops progressing on the nine events of instruction.
        • Feedback is positive, truth filled, and delivered best in a neutral tone.
        • Honesty is everything.
        • Use the sandwich method. Compliment what is being done well.  Offer opportunities for improvement (NOT Criticism).  Compliment other strengths.
        • Be open to receiving feedback.
        • Encourage the student to be an active participant in giving and receiving feedback!
    8. Assess Performance – a 360-degree event!
        • Formal exams
        • Informal scenarios where the student talks the trainer through what they would do.
        • Student led instruction on a topic.
        • Student led assessments of other students.
        • Keep event 7 clearly in mind when designing performance assessments.
    9. Enhance Retention to Transfer to the Job – a 360-degree event!
        • How does a student contact the trainer after the class concludes?
        • How does a student know they have successfully learned the materials?
        • Is the “Parking Lot” empty?
        • Gage the enthusiasm of individuals to do what they are doing in class for real.

Andragogy - Trainer FailureHow does a trainer know they have achieved success using these events; “Enthusiasm is the greatest asset in the world, it beats money, power, and influence; it is nothing more than faith in action” – Henry Chester.  Faith in action involves trust and reflects confidence in the trainer by the learner.  Are the students excited to perform; if so, the trainer has achieved success.  If there are reservations, address them on an individual student level.  If there are hesitations; assure the student, the trainer is still there to aid and encourage.  Experience will be the new instructor and the trainer will now be a mentor and advocate.  Explain these roles and show how the trainer is still there through technical means and physical visits; ensure each student remembers that the trainer is still learning and is willing to learn with the student.

How does a business leader evaluate the efficacy of training using Gagne’s tools as detailed; through the performance of the employees in the roles they have trained to perform.  Set the standard for performance using an untrained individual, a newly trained individual, and a trainer, which then becomes the measurement template for evaluation.  For example, if the training was on performance of a task, then use time to complete the task as the metric and use the template in how quickly those tasks are performed as the measurement of performance.

Call Center Agent - FemaleEnd the silliness of five different methods for evaluating training.  Happy sheets are ambiguous and do not reflect reality.  Measuring learning is uselessly inefficient for judging how much has been learned, mainly because the person taking the test is not applying in real-life the principles learned.  Worse, only a small percentage of the population can adequately take tests and have that test-performance reflect real-life application in using the principles learned.  Measuring just through application is a time-wasting event.  It takes time to setup, time to take down, time to score, and still only a small percentage of the population can adequately show application when under testing requirements.  Speaking of time, using business results or returns on investment as the stick to measure training effectiveness requires long-term time commitment and resource investment which do not reflect the ambiguity of market conditions.

Only through performance-based assessments can training be evaluated as the event that influences business results or reflects a return on the training investment.  Thus, the assessment begins with those being trained able to perform the tasks hired to perform more efficiently because they succeeded at a formal training event.  Does the newly trained person exemplify the behaviors, attitudes, and enthusiasm, as a product of confidence and trust in the trainer, to act independently?  If so, training was a value-added event and the business will see the benefits.

Blue Money BurningOn a final note, give training an actual budget.  Too often training is an unbudgeted expense that absorbs costs unrelated to actual training.  This method of paying for training produces unrealistic costs for trainers to explain or to precisely track.  Changing how training is evaluated, and budgeting the costs of training, without all the garbage of untrackable expenses, will improve the call center immeasurably.  Call center leadership can, and should, be actively learning in the call center.  Learning represents a commitment to changing personally, then professionally.  Change is the key to competing in the current global marketplace, and the company that can change and adapt is the company focused on learning.

Reference

Gagné, M. (2018). From strategy to action: Transforming organizational goals into organizational behavior. International Journal of Management Reviews, 20, S83-S104. doi: 10.1111/ijmr.12159

© Copyright 2020 – M. Dave Salisbury
The author holds no claims for the art used herein. The pictures were obtained in the public domain, and the intellectual property belongs to those who created the images.
All rights reserved. For copies, reprints, or sharing, please contact through LinkedIn:
https://www.linkedin.com/in/davesalisbury/

Communication – A Tool of Improving Call Centers, a Leadership Guide

A call center recently asked for some help. They have an “open-door” policy for employees to use. The call center meets all the designated training directives and compliance mandates. They believe they are the “best of the best” in providing customer support and have won awards from third-parties to back up these claims. Yet, employee churn remains high, employee morale remains low, and the leaders are becoming wary of the employment pool attracted to the call center.

ProblemsIn making observations, the consultant team tested the “open-door” policy and found that those sought were never in their offices even though the doors were open. The training was occurring, but the training offered had little to no value for the front-line customer-facing staff. It was generally considered a zero-sum game, providing time off the phones and causing stress and overtime costs. Worse, the front-line supervisors and employees’ perception was the existence of a chasm, separating them from higher organizational leaders.

Yukl (2010, p. 7) stated the definition of leadership as a “… multi-directional influence relationship between a leader and followers with the mutual purpose of accomplishing real change. Leaders and followers influence each other as they interact in non-coercive ways to decide what changes they want to make.” Fairholm (2001) built on the definition by Yukl (2010), insisting that leadership is a social event specific to the group of followers and leaders. Leadership and followership is a social contract; a call center is one of the most unique social environments possible. Due to this social environment, the leader who inspires communication is the call center leader who will be highly successful and train others to be highly successful.

Inherent to a fruitful and lasting social environment that promotes growth and development, leadership requires non-coercive methods to inspire and empower and provide aid to followers during change. Leadership in call centers is a social event specific to that group of followers, and leaders requiring mutuality in action to influence objectives being appropriately met. Coercion is a poison that infects like cancer into social environments; unfortunately, coercion is an easy trap to fall into as it is effective in the short-term.

Using the definition of leadership by Yukl (2010), we find why coercive leadership is ineffective; coercion cannot touch the followers’ hearts and minds to empower action towards objectives. A coercive action is any activity performed to harm or ensure the compliance of the action’s target. Coercive practices take many forms, from withholding benefits, including praise, to overt action, including threats and force. Coercive measures are used as leverage to force an individual or team to act in a way contrary to their individual or team interests. Covert coercion is rampant in many call centers and takes the form of restrictive policies, carrot/stick incentives, and human treatment policies that allow favoritism to rule instead of results.

Coercion is pernicious, and coercive practices are preventable. Yukl (2010) further elaborated that the follower only gives the coercive leader power out of fear or acts as a coercive agent to oppress others.  Furthermore, Yukl (2010, p. 137) specified that coercive leadership produces fear as the only motivator, and fear is dysfunctional, making nothing but more dysfunction in followers. Academic researchers often use the military as an example of coercive power and coercive leadership. Yet, having served in the US Army and the US Navy, I can attest coercion does not work in the military just as it does not work in any other industry. Coercive power is an acid destroying everything, building nothing, and dehumanizing people into animals.

The opposite of coercion is persuasion. Persuasion is the mode of being effective in collaboration, and persuasion requires trust and communication. Trust is an operational factor that builds the relationship between followers and leaders. It is the single most crucial factor in collaboration; but, collaboration and trust, as operational concepts, require two-directional communication to reach maximum effectiveness (Du, Erkens, Xu, 2018).

Internal-CS-Attitude-Low-ResCommunication as a tool in expressing confidence in the follower/leader relationship gains strength to clear misunderstandings and reach the desired consensus to meet organizational goals and operational objectives. The operational concept of trust and communication requires the third leg of the trust relationship agency. The follower needs to possess agency to act, informed agency requires training to employ, and the power and support of leadership to feel confident in action as detailed by Boler (1968), Avolio and Yammarino (2002). Which is where concepts meet reality, where theory is tested, and the leader is needed.

The following are proposed actions to build trust in organizations, improve communications, and empower the agency in employees to act. One of the worst things a leader can do when coercion is suspected is “trust exercises.” Trust exercises like standing a person on a chair and having them fall back into the team’s waiting arms. A call center leader colleague tried holding team and department meetings using “trust exercises,” and the result was best described as a catastrophe. The actions proposed are practical and can be employed in all call centers, including those working remotely due to COVID.

  1. Employ praise! Honest, truthful, fact-based, and reasoned praise is the most powerful tool a call center leader can employ to build people. With many call center workers working remotely, using praise as a recognition tool is critical to improving employee performance.
      • Use QA calls to issue praise.
      • Use non-cash incentives to recognize powerful deeds.
      • Make praise public through company newsletters and leadership emails.
      • Be specific, direct, and honest in your praise.
      • Be consistent in offering praise.
  1. Saying you have an “open door” is not enough, be the support mechanism your people need.
      • Respond to emails. Even if you cannot offer a substantial response immediately, personalize the email response, set a follow-up date, and meet those follow-up dates for additional communication.
      • Respond to employee questions with enthusiasm for listening and acting, not merely speaking.
      • Stop active listening; begin immediately to listen to meet mutual understanding through reflective listening. Mutual understanding and a promise to act on a concern are essential to support “open-door” policies; failure to listen and act is the number one failure of “open-door” policies.
  2. Training must change. If training is not a value-added exercise to the person receiving training, training has not occurred, resources have been wasted, and problems are generating.
    • Does your trainer know how to gather qualitative data from front-line workers to make curriculum developments?
    • Does your trainer know how to collect quantitative data from the training program to gauge decision-making in curriculum improvement?
    • What adult education theories are your trainers employing to instruct, build, and motivate adult learners who are employed?
    • How do you measure training effectiveness?
    • Does a “trained” employee know how to use trainers’ information to change individual approaches?
    • Do team leaders take an active role in training, or are they just “too busy?”

All these questions and more should be powering your training of the trainer discussions. If these questions are not being addressed, how will you, the call center leader, know your training investment dollars can return a positive investment? Training remote workers, especially, requires training programs that can motivate learners to change personal behavior. Thus, the training must have the ability to reach the student’s honor and integrity.

Leadership CartoonCOVID has provided many opportunities, and only through collaboration, communication, trust, and empowered agency, can help call centers to survive this difficult period. Regardless of how long the government shutdowns occur, your call center can survive, and call center leaders can prosper, provided they are willing to be leaders indeed, not managers in disguise.

References

Avolio, B. J., & Yammarino, F. J. (2002). Transformational and charismatic leadership: The road ahead. San Diego, CA: Emerald.

Boler, J. (1968). Agency. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 29(2), 165-181.

Du, F., Erkens, D. H., & Xu, K. (2018). How trust in subordinates affects service quality: Evidence from a large property management firm. Business.Illinois.edu. Retrieved from https://business.illinois.edu/accountancy/wp-content/uploads/sites/12/2018/03/Managerial-Symposium-2018-Session-IV-Du-Erkens-and-Xu.pdf.

Fairholm, Gilbert W. Mastering inner leadership. Greenwood Publishing Group, 2001.

Ruben, B. D., & Gigliotti, R. A. (2017). Communication: Sine qua non of organizational leadership theory and practice. International Journal of Business Communication, 54(1), 12-30.

Yukl, G. (2010, April 23). Leadership in organizations [Adobe Digital Edition Version 1.5] (7th ed.).

© Copyright 2020 – M. Dave Salisbury
The author holds no claims for the art used herein, the pictures were obtained in the public domain, and the intellectual property belongs to those who created the pictures.
All rights reserved.  For copies, reprints, or sharing, please contact through LinkedIn:
https://www.linkedin.com/in/davesalisbury/

Call Center Chaos and Appreciative Inquiry

While this article discusses government call centers generally, and New Mexico (NM) Government call centers specifically, please do not think the problems described are specific only to, or lessons could not be applied to, many other call centers.  New Mexico Government call centers all have a common problem, they are purposefully designed to not help or serve the customer.  Worse, the work processes are convoluted to the point that work takes anywhere from 10 – 15% longer than it should, costing 30 – 50% more than it should.  Worse, if a customer gets connected to an “Escalation Department,” the workers in that department have no authority, no tools, and nothing they can do but repeat marketing materials, and hope the customer goes away.

Cute CalfEssentially, the NM Government call centers, at the city and state levels of government are as emasculated as a spring-born calf!  Let that sink in for a moment.  No tools, no authority, no support, and only their verbal wits to make the customer go away.  If you think this problem is only apparent in government call centers; well, you are wrong.

AT&T has a very similar, though not as endemic issue.  Sprint, the problem is both apparent and not considered a problem.  AIU, COX, Comcast/Xfinity, FEDEX, UPS, UoPX, and more, you all have very similar issues where the work processes and the customer service are disconnected, leaving employees emasculated and stuck spouting marketing lines in the hope of appeasing the customer.  Sure, some of you have better call escalation processes, but these escalation processes only show the emasculation of your people more exactly.

For example, take today’s interactions with a NM Government Call Center.  The representative on the call escalation line could very easily reach out to their supervisor and take the criticisms and ideas from the customer’s call, put them forth as their own ideas, and improve the call center and customer attentiveness of the organization.  Unfortunately, sad experience has shown that new ideas in NM Government Call Centers are anathema to the good order and discipline of the call center.  Thus, proving that the endemic lack of customer attentiveness is systematic in NM Government Call Centers and considered a benefit to the customer/taxpayer using the government service.

Purposeful customer abuse is not appreciated, not acceptable, and eventually leads the call center to ruin.  Which is a monumental waste of the potential in your employees, as well as being ruinously expensive for some future disaster.  In speaking with retail associates at Comcast/Xfinity and COX Communications, one learns from frontline representatives what to expect from calling the call centers.  If the retail associates are frustrated with the inability to be served, this is automatically passed to the customer.  Bank of America has this problem in spades!

Appreciative InquiryAppreciative inquiry is a growth mechanism that states that what a business organization needs, they already have enough of, provided they listen to their employees.  Appreciative inquiry and common sense tells leaders who want to know and change their organization, how, and where to go to begin.  Appreciative inquiry-based leadership is 6-continuous steps that start small, and cycle to larger problems as momentum for excellence permeates through an organization.  But the first step, just like in defeating a disabling addiction, is admitting there is a problem.

Coming back to the NM Government Call Center, the front-line supervisor upon hearing about this representative’s experience, chooses to believe there is a problem.  Knowing that the problems are endemic and systematic in the organization, decides, “For my team, we will be the core of excellence.”  Thus, this supervisor is now motivated to take the second step in the appreciative inquiry cycle, “Define.”

The supervisor defines what they can change, and then from that list of items that they can control will select the first item to change by asking themselves and their team, “Which item on this list can we tackle first?”  Thus, leading to the third step in appreciative inquiry, “Discover.”

Imperative at this step is the focus upon what is already going right on the topic selected.  Not focusing upon what is wrong, or upon what cannot be controlled or influenced by the team.  Focus on the positive, list the best of what is going right!  For example, if the inquiry will be reducing hold times, and the team has been trending down from multiple hours to single hours of hold time, focus on the positive, and get ideas about tips used from those who are successful in reducing hold times.

The idea in discovery is to create the motivation for the next step in appreciative inquiry, “Dream.”  But, do not dream small!  Remember, when you shoot for the sun and miss, you still land among the stars.  Dream BIG!  Dreaming is all about setting your sights on what currently is considered impossible, that your team can make possible.  Going back to reducing hold times, set the dream at 30-minutes.  You can always come back and dream bigger or repeat the appreciative inquiry cycle on this topic again in the future.

Next, “Design,” design the future and it becomes your destiny; which also happens to be the remaining two steps in the appreciative inquiry cycle.  President Thomas Monson is quoted as saying, “Decisions DO Determine Destiny” [emphasis in original].  If you decide the status quo is acceptable, that decision determines the destiny, and ruination will follow.  If you decide to pursue excellence, this decision will determine how successful you and your team can be.  Design the future you desire, state the goal, write it down, post the goal, speak positively about the goal, and build momentum through accomplishing small steps towards the goal.

Thus, the destiny is born into fruition and what today is impossible, is tomorrow’s reality.  Destiny in the appreciative inquiry cycle is defined as creating what the future will be.  Positive growth occurs through incremental steps and changes the destination.

A pilot friend of mine loves the story about a new pilot who is making their first cross-country flight with a more experienced pilot.  The young pilot is close to being able to solo, and the experienced pilot knows the route, the weather, and decides to let the young pilot fly solo for a few hours.  The new pilot gets bored holding a single course and wavers a little to the left, and a little to the right of the base course and does not think anything of the consequences.  Several hours go by and the experienced pilot returns to the flight deck to discover bad weather is moving in fast, the small lane cannot fly in the weather that is coming necessitating an unscheduled landing, and the plane is 400-miles off base course.  The young pilot said, I only moved a few degrees left and right, we cannot be that far off course.  Later the experienced pilot shows a track of the airplane on a map to the young pilot and reality sinks in, by a matter of a few degrees, over time, the plane got in trouble.

A few DegreesAppreciative inquiry is exactly like the plane, by having a destination, defined according to positive desires, through the process of discovery, dreaming of the possible future, while designing the future, the appreciative inquiry leader can make the small changes today that move the destination from ruination to success.

The first step is admitting there is a problem, and desire to fix that problem at all costs.  What are you passionate enough about to fix at all costs?  Whether you are a representative or a company director, the same question applies and the answer will determine your ultimate destiny.  The key is action at all costs.  The efforts, time, resources, etc. will be spent to achieve does not matter, the new destination does matter.

A call center supervisor friend of mine had three stellar and highly experienced employees on their team.  My friend also had some young talent with incredible potential.  Because the three stellar employees did not want to become supervisors, this effectively blocked the new employees from achieving potential.  My friend had to make a choice, lose the new potential, or reorganize the team.  My friend chooses to keep the experienced people, and shortly after this decision was made, two quit for other opportunities, the new potential quit because they longed for professional growth, my friend was promoted, and the new supervisor had no depth of experience left on the team.

Some would blame the new employees for quitting too soon, others would lay the blame on the supervisor for not developing the talent pool, others might express dismay at the senior talent leaving; honestly, they are all right, and all wrong!  My friend decided to hang the costs, and the decision was a tremendous learning experience.  Using appreciative inquiry will provide similar learning experiences, prepare, and commit, now to learn first and stay focused on the positive.

Appreciative inquiry can help; there are six operational steps:

  1. Admit there is a problem and commit to change.
  2. Define the problem.
  3. Discover the variables and stay focused on the positive.
  4. Dream BIG!
  5. Design the future and outline the steps to that future.
  6. Destiny, create the destination you desire.

Follow the instructions on a shampoo bottle, “Wash, Rinse, Repeat.”  The appreciative inquiry model can be scaled, can be repeated, can be implemented into small or large teams, and produce motivated members who then become the force to producing change.  Allow yourself and your team to learn, this takes time, but through a building motivation for excellence, time can be captured to perform.

© Copyright 2020 – M. Dave Salisbury

The author holds no claims for the art used herein, the pictures were obtained in the public domain, and the intellectual property belongs to those who created the pictures.

All rights reserved.  For copies, reprints, or sharing, please contact through LinkedIn:

https://www.linkedin.com/in/davesalisbury/

 

The Johari Window: A Tool of Incredible Proportion – Understanding a Key Psychology Tool in Call Center Relations

The Interest GridTo understand a principle takes time; to apply that principle involves experience; but to indeed change a person, the principle must be absorbed into the very fiber or essence of an individual, reaching comprehension through mental, physical, and spiritual understanding, some might even say the soul of the individual.  Freedom is one such principle; the tool for remaining free is the ability to choose, or agency.  When applied to organizations, the same path to success must be tread, but with many individuals onboarding the principles is a challenge.  Many people believing the same way is often described as a culture (Greenwald, 2008, p 192-195), or society, and when belief turns into dedicated and repetitive action, a paradigm is created (Kuhn, 1996), also called business processes and procedures.

Agency theory is a tool for understanding how organizational cultures become cultures.  Individuals apply agency, and when many make the same choices, the creation of an organizational culture occurs.  Emirbayer & Mische (1998) expand the term agency that gives reason why Tosi (2009) and Ekanayake (2004) both classify agency theory as an “economic theory” and how agency theory “… shapes social action [p 963].”  If Emirbayer and Mische (1998) are correct, placing more emphasis upon individual agency opens doors into re-shaping controls, control mechanisms, and affects the entire organization.  The power of agency to change people, organizations, and societies is immense.  Recognizing that people will always exercise agency, guiding that agency exercise is not so much a discussion of control, but of harnessing energy and momentum to develop individuals into a cohesive whole.

Johari WindowThe Johari Window is a tool for quickly assessing a situation before making a choice.  Consider the job of a call center agent; they must be technically savvy, adept at handling multiple tasks while engaging in productive conversation, and must be able to keep a caller enthusiastically engaged in reaching a solution quickly so that the agent ay meet business set metrics and production goals.  The Johari Window is suggested as a desktop guide in promoting self-knowledge in the call center agent to improve performance.  Having personally employed the Johari Window as part of logical thinking, I explicitly recommend, that before handing an agent this tool, training must be accomplished to help allow for clearer thinking that often leads to more speedy action.  The first Johari Window represented links to a .pdf that contains additional specific information for improving training in the Johari Window principles.

Open Area

Of all the locations in the window, the open area position is where the majority of people want to stay; wherein everybody and everything knows and is known. The unknown is frightening, and change in this location comes the slowest, if at all.  Each call center agent wants to, and needs to, feel confident in what is known and where they go when they do not know; hence, training as a continual process remains the catchword in this location, even though it might not be well received.

While the location is desirable, rarely will customers call in because they already know something.  Agents in a call center should leave new hire and continual employment training and start every working day from this location where they are known and know.  The open area could also be referred to as the preparation location.

Hidden Area

The hidden area is where business in a call center will occur most effectively.  The customer knows what they want, and the call center agent knows how to deliver what is wanted and through reflective communication mutual understanding is achieved to make the hidden area become known.  Imperative to understanding in this area is the power of choice, agency, to choose to reveal only pieces of what is wanted.  If the customer chooses not to disclose what is wanted, it is not poor service when the customer’s wants are not fulfilled. This point is especially important in understanding the voice of the customer (VOC) survey results and quality call review.  The only time the agent is in the wrong, in this location, is when the agent cannot choose and thereby communicates less effectively to the customer, delivering a poor performance in need of remediation.  Both the agent and the customer have something hidden and something known.  The importance of clear communication remains pre-eminent in this location.

For instance, two top call center agents were continally competing with each other for first place evaluation. The agent who routinely came in second asked why. The answer to improving performance is found in the hidden area, opportunities that guided the agent to drop AHT/ACW and increase VOC into productive communication towards a solution.  There is power in the hidden area to capture and employ. Train agents to be alert for hidden areas to gain improved performance, not through active listening, but through reflective listening where mutual understanding between the customer and the agent is reached.

Blind Area

Of all the locations in the Johari Window, the blind area is the most dangerous for call center agents.  When the customer has information the agent does not know, the result is lost resources, productivity, and customers.  Of course, the reverse is also true.  When the agent has information about the customer and does not voluntarily devolve the information, the customer is surprised upon becoming aware and is lost because of this blind area.  Then organizational reputation damage is complete.

For example, I was working in a credit card call center and regularly saw agents not bother to bring up account issues to save AHT/VOC and other metrics.  Hence, the customer upon learning of the negative actions would call back because opportunity in the blind area was sacrificed for potential short-term gains.  Operating blind means the agent and the customer are in danger.

Unknown Area

Chinese CrisisOf all the locations in the Johari Window, the unknown area possesses the most opportunity for delivering upon a service commitment.  Consider the Chinese character for a crisis that includes danger and opportunity as equals.  The unknown always combines danger and opportunity.  Danger is risk, risk of losing a customer, risk of saying the wrong thing and insulting, etc.  Opportunity lies in making the unknown known.  In the Johari Window, when the unknown becomes known, the unknown quadrant shrinks and the known quadrant grows.  The unknown quadrant could be considered the crisis quadrant.  Good skills in mastering the unknown to thwart a crisis, eliminate danger, and win the opportunity to create a powerful customer interaction.  The unknown area is where confidence in training overlaps with the customer’s crisis to maximize opportunities for service excellence.  If there is a single shred of doubt communicated to the customer in crisis, the opportunity is lost forever because the danger was not ameliorated. The unknown has many hidden dangers to be wary, but fear is not one of them because of excellence in training.

Working as an agent in customer retention was very lucrative.  When we could probe, dig, and investigate, generally we could save a customer and generate new business.  While the company spoke about, preached around, and dictated the use of active listening, the retention department was using reflective listening to glean details and save customers through reaching mutual understanding. In the unknown area, both parties struggle with not knowing and being unknown. Therein lies the opportunity for increasing business by becoming known and learning knowledge that is not currently possessed.

While the current Johari Window reflects proportional space for each location, reality rarely allows for such clarity.  Many times, an agent’s Johari Window will look like any one of the following, none of the following, or a mixture of all:

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The key for call center leaders is to train the call center representatives to first understand themselves and then to visualize who they are in the Johari Window in each call.  The more familiar the agent is with data gleaned from knowing themselves and the business, the more power each agent will have to handle the calls more effectively and efficiently.  In teaching the Johari Window, one of the many lessons I have learned is that people do not understand and second guess their limitations.  If a person has, or considers having, a small blind area, do they know their equally important unknown or open areas.  More than likely the answer is no; why, because of the need to invest time and other resources into improving themselves and their approach to others.

When discussing the agents understanding themselves, the call center trainer, first line supervisor, and managers will employ the eleven principles of change as discussed by Luft.  The agent will need to understand the energy lost in hiding, deceiving themselves, and the problems this causes them.  Cause and effect play a significant role in visually attuning the Johari Window to daily work activities.  The call center trainer, first line supervisors, and managers will need to be able to answer clearly and effectively “why” based questions about processes and procedures, while exemplifying the Johari Window principles.  Luft’s Point No. 5point number five is critical in this process, “Interpersonal learning means a change [is taking] place so that Quadrant 1 is larger, and one or more of the other quadrants has grown smaller.”  Do we understand what this means; as leaders, we exemplify making Quadrant 1 (Open Area) larger by learning.  Leaders are teachers, teachers are leaders, but both teachers and leaders must remain loyal to learning.

Consider Gilderoy Lockhart from Harry Potter.  Gilderoy Lockhart considered himself highly capable, gifted, and talented, but reality proved his ineffectiveness and limitations.  His example opens a second issue when using the Johari Window tool in a call center:  personal perception versus reality.  Gilderoy Lockhart would see his Johari Window as thus:

Johari Window - GL 1

Reality would suggest the following might be truer:

Johari Window - GL 2

The disparity between a person’s perceived understanding and reality causes significant problems in interactions in all types of societies.  In the call center, the agent will interact with various kinds of personalities; hence, the need to train agents in this tool and to understand themselves, including their likes, dislikes, triggers, emotional hooks, and talents brought to each call.  For the best opportunities for your agents to interact successfully, training them in understanding themselves is just as important as training the agent in organizational policies, business products, services, and sales techniques.

Ongoing, regular training remains a key component to highly effective call centers and capable workforces.  Without refresher training, regular training for new products, and annual training, the capable employee gets into a rut, the rut becomes a paradigm, and the employee becomes lost to attrition and slower productivity; but most especially, lost customer interactions hamper all levels of business performance.  One employee working slow can ruin a business, and the first indicator something is wrong is the higher cost of doing business.  Win the employee through training and then treat them respectfully to reduce operational costs and increase sales through training.

In conclusion, never stop asking why, encourage learning, and never fear using the answer, “At this time, I do not know, but I will find out and report back.”  When the discovery loop is closed with the individual, everyone learns, Quadrant 1 grows, and other quadrants reduce perceptibly.  Proving once again the veracity of the axiom, “Train people well enough to leave; treat people well enough to stay; and grow together as an act of personal commitment to the team.”

References

Ekanayake, S. (2004). Agency theory, national culture, and management control systems. Journal of American Academy of Business, Cambridge, 4(1), 49-54. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/222857814?accountid=35812

Emirbayer, M., & Mische, A. (1998). What is agency? The American Journal of Sociology, 103(4), 962-1023. Retrieved from: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2782934

Greenwald, H. P. (2008). Organizations: Management without control. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Kuhn, T. S. (1996). The structure of scientific revolutions. (Third ed., Vol. VIII). Chicago, ILL: The University of Chicago Press.

Tosi, H. L. (2009), Theories of organization. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

© 2017 M. Dave Salisbury

All Rights Reserved

The images used herein, obtained from the public domain, this author holds no copyright to the images displayed.

 

Leading the Call Center: Flavor of the Month Philosophies

Chinese CrisisHaving just completed a project that saw me leading a team in a call center, I want to make something clear; quick fixes and flavor of the month philosophies do not work.  I cannot stress this enough; yet, the practice continues to the detriment of call center employees and the organizations served by call centers.  Flavor of the month philosophies is the latest bestseller to fix the problems in business.  We have all seen these programs including, FISH, WAIT, Strengths Quest, and so much more.  These ideas are good ideas, and they possess value, but when changed monthly, these programs, never do more than briefly mark the surface intellect of the call center.  I am not disparaging these ideas in the least; let me elaborate as to why the flavor of the month idea fails.

The project previously mentioned when concluded saw the call center director very much converted to a program of definite value in and using one’s strengths entitled Strengths Quest as presented by Clifton, Anderson, and Schreiner (2006).  The culture of strength promotes unity, and by extension, organizational power, when combined intellectually, becomes the corporate culture.  Integration in business, especially in call center operations, remains crucial to bottom-line health.  The call center director invested a lot of organizational resources to capture everyone’s strengths, publish these advantages, and use this information to measure the call center.  The problem was the staff has no idea why they are investing company time in completing the “Clifton Strength’s FinderÒ (CSF),” and many completed this assignment while taking calls and distracted.  How verifiable is the data if the attention of the person completing the task is diverted?

My assignment, as a call center supervisor, included gauging the employees in the call center about their strengths.  Of the 10-employees in the call center, two had forgotten and blatantly said they do not care.  Three expressed a desire to retake the CSF to more fully focus on the task instead of completing it between calls.  Four employees asked why and what is the purpose of taking the CSF.  Finally, all the employees, when asked how they use the CSF data in their daily actions, expressed the same answer, I do not know.

Let’s be clear; there is nothing wrong with the latest flavor of the month programs to improve an organization, provided the leaders understand change, embrace change, train and teach “the what” and “the why,” and then remain committed long after the excitement over the bright new object fades.  I had the misfortune of working in a call center where the entire corporate culture was expected to change with every fresh flavor of leadership, and the organization is a mental mess.  What is a leader to do when each new flavor-of-the-month is presented as a potential fix for organizational dilemmas?  I suggest the following as a launching point for corporate discovery and leadership support.

  • If the organization is going to invest resources in a particular program, do not change for a set period, which includes pre- and post- measurement and evaluation. If the organization does not know where they start, they can never know what happened or where to go in the future.blue-money-burning
  • Organizational change must be more than surface polish or potential money (Blue Money) is lost, never to be recovered. Organizational change needs to fundamentally affect the organization and be allowed to produce measured results.  Does this mean that if something is not working, we keep at it?  No!  It means to provide sufficient time and measurement to gauge the application and the organizational change.  Many times beta-testing the proposed change can identify the processes, procedures, and other trouble points to be mindful of, or correct in beta-testing, to ensure full organizational change may occur with a higher chance for success.
  • Get everyone involved, enthused, and a willing advocate for the change. Getting everyone involved is not producing marketing materials and desk references.  Getting everyone involved requires explaining why and detailing what in the organizational change.  Getting everyone involved means there will be feedback, pushback, and rebellion.  Expect pushback, but never allow pushback to derail reform.  Pushback is a healthy activity that provides essential opportunities for the leader to explore solutions, answer questions, and evaluate the results.
  • Teach and train; train and teach. Learning should be a constant and desirable outcome of organizational change.  Teaching is not training, training is not teaching; but, both are critical skills needed for leaders and learners.  Teaching is helping someone else acquire knowledge.  Training is teaching a behavior or ability.  Teaching is usually one-way communication using measurement tools, e.g., tests to gauge knowledge learned and retained.  Training should be two-directional communication, is completed through experience in closely monitored environments, and includes 360-degree feedback to improve the training environment.  Never allow teaching and training to become the same confused term; while the words are closely related, they are not the same action.
  • When was the last time you discussed what you are reading with front-line employees? When was the last time you engaged a front-line worker about what they are reading, thinking, and ask for suggestions to improve?  When was the last time you asked to be trained on a process, procedure, or organizational action by those who do it all day?  If recently, did you ask why, a lot?  I promise you will be surprised when you have these conversations, especially since they open up opportunities to explain and expound, learn, change, adapt, and engage with those you lead.
  • Organizational change requires enthusiasm from all parties to begin to engage and deepen the shift from surface polish to fundamental culture adaptation. Enthusiasm takes many shapes, sizes, and colors, including the loyal opposition of followers, opinions, and feedback.  The leader must exemplify and honor, or support, the enthusiasm around them as a tool for succeeding in changing the organization.
  • Clarify intentions. Clarify processes.  Clarify procedures.  Clarify by asking follow-up questions and reflectively listen to obtain mutual understanding.  Clarification remains one of the most critical tasks in organizational change.  When confusion rears its ugly head, respond with explanation and follow-up, as detailed in two-directional communication.  When the comprehension is doubted, ask for feedback as an opportunity to increase clarification.  Clarification is both a tool and an opportunity; do not waste this opportunity and tool by neglecting those needing clarification.
  • Organizational change needs a mechanism for gathering data from many sources, including the employees affected, the vendors, the suppliers, and the customers. Open the valve for data to flow back.  One of the most horrific organizational changes it has been my displeasure to witness was increased because the leaders operated in a vacuum and never allowed data flow that was contradictory to the previously agreed upon results.  The leaders in this organization worked hard to refuse hard data, which contradicted their bias, and this ruined the business, the employees, and the customers.

I cannot guarantee following all these points will make organizational change succeed, roses bloom, bottom lines inflate, rainbows dance, and all of life fall into organized lines leading ever upward.  I can guarantee that without these points, organizational change that promotes an environment of learning will never be more than polish.  Consider the axiom, “Lipstick on a pig.”  The lipstick is not bad, the pig is not bad, but placing lipstick on a pig is out of place and does nothing to improve the pig.  Flavor-of-the-month changes are lipstick on a pig, not bad, but out of place until the entire organization is on board and enthusiastically supporting the move, and proper measurements are in place to gauge, measure, and report the change.

Business theorist Chris Argyris put forth a model, later discussed by Senge (1994) explaining our thinking process as we interact with the world.  This seven-step method is called the Ladder of Inference; according to this model, as we move up the ladder our beliefs affect what we infer about what we observe and therefore become part of how we experience our interaction with other people.  Organizational change can be plotted along the same model or ladder of inference.

Leadership LadderOrganizational change begins with information output; then collect data, preferably through listening and observation while doing the work; interpreting the data includes obtaining data, evaluating meaning, deciphering intent, and understanding value.  Please note, the assumptions should not be made in a vacuum and could be wrong; thus, always return to the data producers and ask questions to ensure mutual understanding.  Once conclusions are mutually understood, they become beliefs; but, don’t stop until beliefs become actions.

If a model is needed, please benchmark Quicken Loans and Southwest Airlines, both organizations are doing a tremendous job with the ladder steps, especially moving organizational beliefs into motivated organizational action.  Remember, one does not climb a ladder to view the horizon and scenery, they climb a ladder to begin working, carrying the tools needed to perform the work, and possessing certain knowledge that the work can be accomplished.  Climb the ladder of success with the intent to work, achieve, and move forward.

References

Clifton, D. O., Anderson “Chip,” E., & Schreiner, L. A. (2016). Strengths quest: Discover and develop your strengths in academics, career, and beyond (2nd ed.).

Senge. P. M. (1994). The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization. New York: Currency Doubleday.

© 2017 M. Dave Salisbury

All Rights Reserved

The images used herein were obtained in the public domain, this author holds no copyright to the images displayed.

Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s): Shifting the Paradigm and Bringing Balance to Measuring Employees

kpi

Drawing by: iamdrawingconclusions – WordPress.com

Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s) continue to be a “buzz phrase” and a measuring tool, a flavor of the month managerial concern, and a disastrous issue in employee relations.  Why is this a disastrous issue in employee relations?   KPI’s have no meaning, no value, and are not grounded in reality.  For all the resources invested, KPI’s continue to reflect a bad investment at best.  Yet, hope remains for KPI’s if the paradigm is shifted and new thinking on an old topic is undertaken.

KPI’s are to reflect what is needed for an employee to be adequately measured for performing the role of the position hired.  This KPI definition is the simplest statement on this topic and forms the backbone of the discussion herein.  Since KPI’s are all about measurement, knowing what is being measured, and why this particular aspect is being measured, the specific actions required to improve must be clear, concise, and easily discussed.  Please consider a common thought:  when was the last time KPI’s were reviewed for accuracy and the information being produced evaluated for veracity and actionable application?  If the answer is “I don’t know” or longer than 24-months previous, this is the first problem.

KPI’s should be producing actionable data.  For example, Net Promoter Score (NPS) is a KPI in which a baseline is established.   What is the baseline?  What are the parameters for high/low?  What specific actions can an employee take to improve NPS to meet the parameters?  Does the KPI standard make sense to the new employee?  Can a seasoned employee easily explain improvement to a new employee?  Actionable data is crucial in KPI discussion.  If the KPI is not directly tied to actions, why is this a measurable KPI?

Here is another point regarding actionable data in measuring KPI’s. Active Issues (AI) is a general KPI in many service related call centers.  Can an employee receive a zero (0) as a measurement?  The most frustrating conversation I ever had on a project was being charged an AI because the measurement system could not accept a zero in this category, even though the company preached zero-AI to all employees.  Obtaining the desired KPI meant the employees had to be charged an issue and, in being charged the issue, were then held accountable for not reaching the desired AI goal of zero.  Actionable data must be able to accept the performance desired and achieved to meet the employee performance.

KPI veracity is found in the usefulness of the data to the individual employee and direct supervisor.  KPI actionable application is found in being able to specifically identify actions the employee can take to improve performance on a single indicator.  This actionable application hinges upon the need to understand what is being measured and being able to explain why it is being measured along with the value of that measurement to the overall organization.

For example, Average Handle Time (AHT) is a common call center KPI measurement.  Is AHT being measured because you do not want employees on the phone too long or what about too short handle time?  What value is AHT measuring and how does AHT benefit the company overall?  Can the direct supervisor specifically speak to actions the employee is making to improve performance?  All of these questions must be addressed to empower the employee in how to improve based upon KPI measurement.

During my first performance interview in a call center, I asked about KPI’s, specific actions to take, what the numbers meant and what did improvement look like for each of the 40 KPI’s being discussed.  The answer on the majority of the KPI’s, from my front-line supervisor, was “I don’t know.”  More egregious was the insistence that “it works” and to not “rock the boat.”  The supervisor refused to find out what the KPI’s meant because the supervisor had no idea where the measurements came from, who was responsible for the KPI’s, and did not want to “rock the boat.”

Another issue regarding actionable application and veracity is the power of surpassing expectations.  Should an employee surpass the expectation, is the employee harmed because of being better than the KPI dictates?  An example of this is found in another common call center KPI, After Call Work (ACW).  If the standard for ACW is 10 seconds and the diligent employee drives their ACW to zero (0), per the published company desired goals, can the KPI measurement accurately reflect the employee’s performance?  If not, the KPI process is having significant issues in delivering actionable and truthful data to organizational leaders.

Here is another real world example on KPI failure.  While working a project in a call center, I discovered how to obtain KPI excellence in ACW and taught managers and other employees how to obtain KPI excellence in ACW.  At the end-of-the-month meeting for KPI adherence, I won an award for obtaining 0 ACW, but the bonus check was based upon 1-second ACW because the KPI measurement system could not accept a 0.  More to the point, I also received a counseling statement for having time in ACW.  The award and counseling statement were delivered the same day, and the manager did not see the irony or problem with the KPI issue.  The insult to injury came when pointing out this error and being told by the VP of Customer Service that the business will not change to accommodate.

When working with KPI’s, the data must be able to be tied to specific actions of those being measured.  The actions are being measured and weighed, and the actions need to make sense by providing logic to the employee.  The KPI might make sense to an organizational leader or a high-level manager, but if the employee being measured cannot logically understand the KPI, the measurement cannot accurately reflect actionable data.

For example, “Voice-of-the-Customer” (VOC) remains a favorite call center KPI, but many times, the VOC score does not make sense as the actions the employee is told to take often do not impact a VOC because the customer survey is all about the perception of the customer, not the work of the employee.  If the customer does not like the data presented and with spite and envy fills out the VOC survey with malice and vindication, how is the customer agent expected to make improvement inVOC?  The customer service representative cannot influence the customer after the call and before the survey is completed; the customer is making choices; providing the best service is irrelevant and the employee is punished for a low VOC.  If the agent delivering service does not control the actions, the KPI is both inaccurate and ineffective!

ACW and AHT bring up an excellent auxiliary topic, baselines.  Baselines are averages and beg the questions as to when and who established the basic data being averaged to measure performance?  How were the baselines established originally?  Have the baselines been reviewed for application in the current business environment?  Do the baselines still make sense?  More specifically, if the baselines and averages do not reflect current reality, why are they still a KPI?  If training to meet the KPI is insufficient, how can an employee meet the rigors the KPI demands?

On a call center project, I asked when the AHT/NPS/ACW/VOC and other KPI’s were established.  The front-line supervisor was part of the project in their first year of employment to establish KPI baselines.  The supervisor was a 15-year veteran of the company and I asked when the baselines would be reviewed due to new technology, new processes, new procedures, and business changes since inception of the original baselines.  The response remains classic, “Why should the baselines change.  This is why they are called baselines.”  Baselines should change as the KPI’s are reviewed.  When products and services change, the baselines need to be reviewed to ensure veracity and applicability.  More specifically, actionable data takes a downturn when baselines are insufficient to proper measurement of performance.

What does this mean for the paradigm?

  1. Plan to review the KPI as a process at a minimum of every 18 months and sooner if products and services change. Review sooner if technology shifts and every time a trigger in the company processes occurs, e.g., back office changes, legislation, etc.  Regardless, set in place plans to maintain KPI shelf life and allow the KPI process to live, change, and become a tool to improve people.
  1. Make a single person responsible for each KPI being measured. For example, if there are 15 KPI’s in an employee’s performance review, then 15 different people should have a collateral duty to be responsible for the life of that KPI.  These people should be approachable, knowledgeable, and have an in-depth knowledge of the job being done to adequately measure the performance of others and how this influences the company’s goals and objectives overall.  More specifically, if those in charge have not performed the job, why are they in charge of the KPI to measure the job?

I worked on a project where the senior leaders, team leaders, directors, etc., were required to spend 8-hours a month on the phone as a front-line customer-facing representative in an effort to keep the leaders knowledgeable of the front-line tasks, current customer environment, and to gage process and procedure application in a real-world.  The customers and the customer-facing employees appreciated seeing this, and it made the leaders more cognizant of what is happening in the business from a front-line perspective.

  1. Never allow the KPI to be a punishment tool. Training, yes; development, absolutely; punishment, never.  Should actions have consequences, yes; but these consequences must be separated from the KPI measuring system.  Triggers for front-line supervisors from the KPI’s need to be removed and placed into the hands of human resource managers and non-frontline superiors/directors.  This allows for the relationship of training to remain with the front-line supervisor and places the control for KPI consequences at a level where the employee can receive a neutral assessment of performance.
  1. Never allow a KPI to be measured if the employee does not have 100% control over how to improve that KPI. While NPS is a fine item to measure, do not allow NPS to be a performance item, use this as a bonus item at best or a team item for judging team performance, but individuals must have 100% control over their own performance for a KPI to be actionable.
  1. Simplify KPI’s. Remember the elevator speech.  Can the KPI measurement be discussed in an elevator speech?  If not, the KPI’s need to be simplified, honed, and focused.  Imperative to effective KPI’s remains actions the individual can control.
  1. Drop the canned phrases, key words, and other “flavor-of-the-month” managerial gimmick. KPI’s should never be based upon word adaptation.  Every person does not successfully use terms someone else uses to succeed.  Personalization helps the customer feel their problem is original.  Canned responses rob the customer of this feeling and the customer feels “shoehorned” into the one-size-fits-all answer.
  1. Remember the individuality of the employee when choosing which KPI is to be measured and how that measurement is created. For example, once a baseline is established, does the employee retain the freedom to control their own destiny in meeting the KPI or is the employee “shoe-horned” into one-size fits most measurement device?
  1. Action plans need KPI’s; KPI’s need action plans. As a measurement tool, gauging actions and placing a statistical variable onto that tangible, a non-static atmosphere enveloping the KPI conversation is needed.  If the plan needs measuring, there must be a KPI.  If the KPI is to achieve the most use, an implemented action plan to be measured must exist.
  1. Don’t settle for what every other business measures in the industry. If AHT does not fit your call center, remove it.  If a manufacturing employee cannot control cycle time, do not use it to gauge employee performance.  KPI’s should be a hybrid solution to measuring employee actions and not represent KPI measuring to an e3-direectional-balancentire industry.  Allow the KPI measuring system to be individual, explainable, and conducive to all employees being able to detail the “why” and the “what” in measurement.
  2. Do not forget to include the “how.” How does an employee improve?  How do the numbers directly represent actions?  How easy is the KPI measurement system explained to another person?  Once the “why” and the “what” are known, the “how” should be a simple extension of the logic in the KPI process.

 © 2016 M. Dave Salisbury
All Rights Reserved – Note: I do not own the rights to the images used.