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

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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.

Fundamentals of Customer Interaction: A Leadership Primer

Gitomer (1998) was very specific about why customer satisfaction is worthless and provided keen insights into how to build loyalty.  While many businesses value and find the “voice of the customer” desirable to the organization, the focus is on satisfying the customer and not interacting with the customer.  Sinek (2009) adds the variable needed, why, as in why are businesses still trying to satisfy when loyalty is needeAre we in trouble?  We didn't do it!!!d?  Why are customers still being taken advantage of when logic claims the long-term relationship is more critical than short-term gains; thus, making the need for loyalty that much more valuable in dollars to the business.  Why serve the customer when the customer needs more than simple “service?”

Customer service is simply geared to expeditiously interacting with the customer in a mass environment.  For example, a recent call to a cell phone provider remains an excellent illustration of mass service hysteria.  During this call, a simple question was asked, why is my statement so high?  The representative placed the caller on hold four separate times, never answered the customer’s question, and because the customer changed their plan, the call was considered a success.  The customer then went online, spent an additional hour in Instant Message (IM) with a second customer service rep, and finally was given less of an answer before quitting in exasperation.  Foolishly, the call center sends an automatic survey to the customer asking for his or her opinion.  The customer is going to express his or her dissatisfaction in the “customer satisfaction survey.  Why was it sent?  Why place the financial future of a low-paid customer service rep in jeopardy simply because the customer remains upset, and the managers deem that information valuable?

The customer call center remains the epitome of the carrot and stick approach to customers with the customer and the front-line customer-facing representatives squeezed into numbered boxes, small cubicles, and an individuality draining environment making the customer and the customer representative soulless zombies held captive in an endless cycle of frustration.  Offer a carrot to a customer to go away, threaten the customer representative with a stick if they do not fit squarely into the business environment and achieve all the key-performance indicators (KPI’s) demanded by the business, although the KPI is in direct opposition to serving the customer.  The above incident is a perfect example of KPI’s being anti-customer.  The representative needs to make a quota for call plan changes and sales, the customer needs serviced, but to actually answer the question means that the time the representative spent on the phone would have surpassed a KPI.  The carrot and stick approach is to offer the customer bill credits to go away quickly so the representative can move onto the next call, a KPI mindset causing frustration for the representative and the customer.

Let’s use one more recent example as a comparison.  The Department of Veteran’s Affairs has been in the news a great deal recently.  Veterans remain the forced customer trapped in an endless cycle of bureaucratic red tape.  The result is that veterans are now being called for a customer service survey to determine how veterans feel they were served.  Why would this information be valuable with all the customer hostility in the veteran population?  Why waste taxpayer dollars to obtain veteran “customer” insight when the bureaucracy has not changed, the red tape remains stifling, and the officers enforcing the bureaucracy continue to kill and harm veterans as the captive customer?  Veterans are reporting that after every interaction with the various VA bureaucrats a customer satisfaction survey is thrust upon them and sold to them as an improvement tool.   Doubt remains as to the value to the veteran, and to the VA as a whole, and provides more KPI’s harming the customer, eliminating service to the customer, and destroying any hope of correcting the actual problems; but the VA is gathering a ton of additional information for office clerks to sort through and make reports upon.

With these thoughts in mind, what do we do and where do we go from here?  Better yet, why are these the preferred actions when logic relates there is a better path forward?  Finally, since KPI’s are needed, how should KPI’s be adjusted to provide more actionable data personalized to the individual employee while remaining valuable to the entire business?

On the subject of KPI’s, when was the last time that each KPI was evaluated and the questions “Why” and “What” were asked to justify that specific item on a list of measurable actions in a KPI process review?  If the answer is “I don’t know” or longer than 18-months, there is a significant problem with the KPI’s reporting obsolete data and doing more harm than good.  As a consultant in a call center, I walked item-by-item through the KPI matrix my first day on the job and successfully concluded a project shortly thereafter by simply moving the KPI matrix back into providing actionable and non-obsolete data.  If each piece of data cannot be explained and justified by the newest member on the floor receiving scores on performance, the KPI matrix is obsolete, confusing, and ineffective in driving actions that actually benefit the employee and those the employee contacts.  Ask the managers to define what the KPI’s are, what is being measured, and detail specific actions an employee should be coached in to improve a specific indicator.  If the answers are not clear and easy to understand, the KPI is ineffective and doing more harm than good.

Juran’s rule that the KPI is expected to form a pathway to progression as a business process remains powerful.  When problems arise in KPI data and employee adherence, the problem is 90% of the time not the employee, but the KPI in question.  Is Juran’s rule being applied consistently, effectively, and powerfully to drive understanding and communication in the organization or is the answer to “blame the employee?”  Dandira (2009) remains powerfully applied here: ineffective KPI’s can be, and many times are, a dynamic source of organizational cancer because of employee confusion about what to do to improve, resulting in employee morale problems.

Moving forward, the way remains clear:

  1. Never allow a business process or procedure to be older than 12-months without a full and comprehensive review justifying that process and every step in that process.

I was called in to discuss a customer influencing process.  The process had more than 30 steps involved and 12 separate employees to accomplish the task.  The process could not be described in 30 minutes, and customers were upset from experiencing this process, adding to the already upset nature of the involved customers and the frustration in the front-line employees assisting them.  Technology improved this process by a third, but the company could not determine how to improve the process.  I asked why on each step and employee involved.  Four hours of discussion resulted in cutting 8 of the involved employees from the process.  Asking “what” resulted in further steps cut in the process.  At the conclusion of the contract, the complicated process was described in a single elevator ride, which simplified the results for the customer and set the business on the road to continuous improvement of business processes.  Pick a process, look at the age, and ask in an elevator ride for the process to be described.  Keep riding the elevator until the entire process from beginning to end is detailed.  How many elevator trips were needed?  Never create a process or a measurement that cannot be explained in a single elevator ride.

  1. Who is catching the blame on recorded calls: technology, the customer, or the customer service rep? The problem is not with any of these parties, and properly naming the problem remains the first step in solving the problem.

For example, on a contract for a manufacturing company, a problem existed that could not be explained causing issues in quality control and proper billing to customers.  The problem observed was not the problem; the process and actionable data capture were the problems.  Until the company could properly identify and act on the real problem, they continued to blame the employee and burned through several highly talented employees in the process.  The action taken began with identification of the real problem and the underlying processes.  Then, we began working out the actual solution.  The first and second actions projected and beta-tested were abject failures.  Once the full measure of the problem was identified in a series of continuous events, the third proposed solution worked, not great, but worked.  The fourth and fifth solutions worked better.  Finally the sixth review fixed the problem.  Identify the problem, and then make the resolution an intuitive process of learning and developing.  Failure is okay provided the current failure is moving the problem forward towards solutions and new thinking.

  1. Who is the customer? Are we wasting time on separating internal and external customers when that time would be better spent treating them both equally?  Rarely should the internal customer be treated better than an external customer, but many times resources are limited and external customers must come first.  Do internal customers know why this decision is being made and when the experience is projected to end?

During a merger, I was contracted as a W-2 employee on start of contract.  At the conclusion of the merger, employees were told external customer resources were being moved back to support internal customers, and benefits and resources would flow back to the employees.  Upon the successful completion of the merger, this policy was not honored, and the mass of employees leaving the company was monumental, as employees felt betrayed.  Knowing the “why” and the “what” behind organizational decisions by all customers is important.  If this company had been more forthcoming about the “why” and the “what,” the loss of so many employees would not have been so great.  More to the point, the loss of employees created post-merger problems resulting in “right-sizing efforts,” “down-sizing,” and finally “post-merger consolidation of facilities,” all of which are euphemisms hiding the real problem, failure to treat all customers with respect and valuing the customers.

  1. The “Why” and the “What.” While the “Why” is critical, both remain powerful, and communicating these simply, effectively, and persuasively remains the role of leadership.  Ask yourself, can employees define “what” we do?  Can employees define “why” we do the things we do?  Do employees know “why” we compete in our marketplace the way we do?  What are the answers and why are the answers coming in with the trends?  Can you answer this, and what is the action to move forward?

I had the pleasure of working as a W-2 employee for a company that did this right.  On the first day of training, the employee learned the “Why” and the “What.”  Then, everyday the employee learned how each process, procedure, and daily task fed into the “What” and the “Why.”  This promoted the employee to understanding and becoming an agent for action in the business.  This pattern is replicable, but employees must know the “why” and the “what” and business leaders must know the “Why” and the “What” and disclose this information to the full organization?

  1. Stop only “serving” the customer. “Serving” the customer is useless, wasteful, and ruins the power of customer interactions reducing these opportunities to filling needs, not building relationships.  If your customer-facing employees are only providing “service,” the business has settled for failure and has become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

This is not a subject of semantics, word plasticity, and mind games.  This is a fundamental mindset of the power possessed by loyal customers acting as marketing tools to drive profitability.  If the customer only receives “service,” the customer is not satisfied, the customer-facing employee is not satisfied, and precious resources are wasted on fruitless gimmicks and useless action.  Worse, the ROI is zero at best, but usually negative.  If internal and external customers are simply treated as customers, how can a business leader expect to build customer and employee loyalty or experience bottom-line growth?  Make time to build customer-reaffirming experiences and the bottom-line will grow.  Stop serving the customers, stop blaming the employees, stop looking for solutions in technology without knowing the business and identifying the problems.  If not, Dandira’s (2012) counsel will be the reward, organizational cancer, and organizational death.

References

Dandira, M. (2012). Dysfunctional leadership: Organizational cancer. Business Strategy Series, 13(4), 187-192. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1108/17515631211246267

Gitomer, J. (1998). Customer satisfaction is worthless – Customer loyalty is priceless. Atlanta, GA: Bard Press.

Sinek, S. (2009). Start with why: How great leaders inspire everyone to take action. New York, NY: Penguin Group.

 © 2016 M. Dave Salisbury
All Rights Reserved

Customer Call Center Leader – Part 6: The Role of Technology in Creating a Culture of Adaptability

The role of technology is to act the neutral part in the human work relationship. Technology is a tool, like a hammer, designed for a specific role embodying potential for good or ill, delivering a specific role, and serving a specific function. Technology is not positive or negative and possesses no value matrix beyond addressing the concern, “does technology fill the role it was designed for or not” (Budworth and Cox, 2005; Ertmer, 1999; and Ropohl, 1999). Technological philosophy, detailed by Ropohl (1999), provides greater details into the underlying core issues leaders and organizations face daily when merging technology and people together. Yet, always in application do we find managers attempting to make technology more than what technology can ever be, the neutral variable in the human technology work relationship while thwarting culture and other organizational changes.

The automatic dishwasher is an example; if the dishes go in dirty and come out dirty, the blame is the technology instead of the human interaction in the technology work relationship. I was on a call to customer service recently and heard no less than five times in a 10-minute phone call, the “system is slow,” the “computer is not working right,” or some other similar excuse from the agent not being able to answer questions from the customer. How many times has human resources heard, “the car wouldn’t start,” “my GPS gave me wrong directions,” or my personal favorite, “the alarm clock failed.” The technology is not at fault as the neutral variable; human interaction with the technology is where the fault lies.

Application of technology to leadership and organizations may be summed by Wixom and Todd (2005) as they quote Fishbein and Ajzen (1975) for the specific principle espoused by Trist (1981) and applicable here, “For accurate prediction, beliefs and attitudes must be specified in a manner consistent in time, target, and context with behavior of interest” (Wixom and Todd, 2005, p. 89). Virtual and non-virtual teams are connected by the specific behaviors of those being led; the attitudes of the users predict beliefs and flow into production, especially into call centers and other front-line/customer-facing positions. Technology brings leadership into possibility, but the potential cannot be realized unless the leader knows how to harness negative beliefs, core out the actual problem, address user concerns, and then redirect the negative into either neutral or positive productivity.

The answer to leaders needing to harness user beliefs is found in proper communications aided by technology, as detailed by London and Beatty (1983). Empowering the users with 360-degree feedback, empowering the leader with another channel for 360-degree feedback, and operating a third channel for the organization in 360-degree feedback places the user in the driver seat to improve their technology beliefs and attitudes. Ropohl (1999) and Omar, Takim, and Nawawi (2012) combine to complete the puzzle in addressing how technology applies to leadership and virtual teams by underscoring the people element in the technological equation. Omar, et al. (2012) claim,

“…Technological capability refers to an organisation’s [sic] capacity to deploy, develop and utilise [sic] technological resources and integrate them with other complementary resources to supply the differentiated products and services. Technological capability is embodied not only in the employees’ knowledge and skills [combined with] the technical system, but also in the managerial system, values and norms” (Omar et al., 2012, p. 211).

360-Degree FeedbackAs the image reflects in the convergence of the three channels of 360-degree feedback, the power of communication is enhanced by the technology employed as a neutral variable in the human technology work relationship. If technology fails, the relationships in the channels remain and the relationships are not separated or closed. When discussing flexibility and adaptability in organizations, clearly understanding the roles of technology and communication empower the combined user, leader, and organization relationships.

The leader and organization need to understand and develop these principles to harness the innovative power of the human element where technology interacts with the human work relationship. If technology, especially technological improvement, is not thought through, planned, discussed, and elevated, Dandira (2012) claims the result is ‘Organizational Cancer.’ The power of technology as a force multiplier to unleash the power of humans cannot be understated, but the flip side of the technological coin is that as a force multiplier, if technology is not handled correctly, the negative aspects are as large as the positive aspects. Toor and Ofori (2008) detail how leaders need to understand and embody the differences between managers and leaders to contribute fully to the technology implementation and daily use in production. If leaders cannot lead physical teams, they will never understand virtual teams where technology must be understood more completely, and managers need not ever apply as the mindset is not conducive to creating success in the human technology work relationship.

A recent technological change was heralded, marketed, bragged, and positioned to the stakeholders in a company as akin to being better than “sliced bread.” The new system was discussed for three years before images of the new system began to be floated. Everything was prepared to have the technology play a more flexible and vital role in the organization. The problem was managers and programmers implemented the technology instead of users and leaders. User interfaces were ungainly, illogical, and made no sense in the completion of user work processes. More specifically, the impact for every single process and procedure in the current technology was not considered and revamped during the rollout of the new system. The result was chaos among users, failure to deliver the promised products and services, and a customer service disaster. Early in the rollout of the technology, managers directing the rollout were alerted that processes and procedures needed to be revamped, and the user was being left behind in how the system was “supposed to work” resulting in compounded chaos, increasing customer dissatisfaction, and further diminishing the company reputation. The managerial response was to “sit and wait” for the programmers to finish building the system and changing the technology to “fit.” Where a leader was needed, a plethora of managers existed and they actively worked to make the problems worse for the end user, the customer, and the other managers.

Creating a culture follows a basic set of principles, namely, the example of the leaders, including their words and actions, followed by repetition, and the passage of time (Tribus, n.d.). Tribus (n.d.) specifically places the core of culture in the example of the leaders regardless of whether the organizational leader is a leader or a manager as evidenced by action and word. To create a culture specific to adaptability, several other key components are required, namely, written instructions, freedom, and two-directional communication in the hierarchy (Aboelmaged, 2012; Bethencourt, 2012; Deci and Ryan, 2000; and Kuczmarski, 1996 & 2003). Two-directional communication has been warped into 360-degree communication. Regardless of name, the input from the workers and the customer is more critical than the voices of managers to organizational excellence.

Alvesson and Willmott (2002) add another component to this discussion. As the organizational culture takes hold of an individual employee, the employee begins to embody the culture, for good or ill, in their daily interactions both personally and professionally. This hold becomes an identity adding another level of control from the organization over the employee binding them to the organization. The identity control becomes a two-edged sword because the employee will form loyal opposition that can be misinterpreted to be intransigence, and the loss of that employee causes other employees to question their identity and the organizational culture. More to the point, the changed employee becomes habitualized into the current culture and then hardens into intransigency when changes are needed to help the organization survive.

Creating a culture attuned to adapting, the organizational leader needs to communicate, be seen exemplifying the organizational culture, and building that culture one employee at a time; until the changed employees can then begin to sponsor other employees into the organization’s new culture. The organizational leader must set clear goals, define the vision, and obtain employee buy-in prior to enacting change, then exemplify that vision after the change (Deci and Ryan, 1980, 1985, & 2000) while remaining open to the possibility of a need to change direction if indicated. Key to this process is Tribus’ (n.d.) [p. 3-4] “Learning Society” vs. “Knowing Society.” The distinction is crucial. The organizational culture must be learned and the process for continually learning honed and promoted to protect the culture while adapting to variables both internal and external. Learning societies know change occurs because of new thinking and inputs and remains adaptable to that change as a positive force in improvement. Knowing societies remain afraid of changes due to the fear of losing perks, benefits, or personal power and actively thwart change at every turn, usually while preaching the need to change.

To be clear, technology is a neutral force and can neither be a positive or a negative in an organization. The need for leaders cannot be overstated as the driving force in organizational change, or simply day-to-day leadership. Leaders must be seen and heard living the organizational culture. If, and when, changes are required, leaders must listen to user, customers, and the managers, but the weight and value are not the same and should never tilt in favor of the managers. Finally, if the organization needs to adapt, the organization must provide employees in front-line/customer-facing positions with freedom to act and the technology to record the actions, which are supported by back-office processes and procedures that respond to the front-line, not the other way round.

With the “.dot com” bubble burst in 2000, the world of business changed dramatically. As more baby-boomers leave the workforce and are replaced with millennial workers, the business culture is going to change more. To adapt, the engaged and determined business leader needs to embody a spirit of freedom and adaptability into the business culture, into the processes and procedures that define “work,” and into the customer relationship (internally and externally) or the business will continue to fail, struggle, and breed chaos.

References

Aboelmaged, M. (2012). Harvesting organizational knowledge and innovation practices: An empirical examination of their effects on operations strategy. Business Process Management Journal, 18(5), 712-734.

Alvesson M, & Willmott H. (2002, July) Identity regulation as organizational control: Producing the appropriate individual. Journal Of Management Studies 39(5):619-644. Available from: Business Source Complete, Ipswich, MA. Accessed July 27, 2014.

Bethencourt, L. A. (2012). Employee engagement and self-determination theory. (Order No. 3552273, Northern Illinois University). ProQuest Dissertations and Theses, 121. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/1294580434?accountid=458. (prod.academic_MSTAR_1294580434).

Budworth, N., & Cox, S. (2005). Trusting tools. The Safety & Health Practitioner, 23(7), 46-48. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/201021810?accountid=458

Dandira, M. (2012). Dysfunctional leadership: Organizational cancer. Business Strategy Series, 13(4), 187-192. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1108/17515631211246267

Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (1980). The empirical exploration of intrinsic motivational processes. In L. Berkowitz (Ed.), Advances in experimental social psychology (Vol. 13, pp. 39–80). New York: Academic Press.

Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (1985). Intrinsic motivation and self-determination in human behavior. New York: Plenum.

Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (2000). The “what” and “why” of goal pursuits: Human needs and the self-determination of behavior. Psychological Inquiry, 11, 227–268.

Ertmer, P. A. (1999). Addressing first- and second-order barriers to change: Strategies for technology integration. Educational Technology, Research and Development, 47(4), 47. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/218016186?accountid=458

Kuczmarski, T. (1996). What is innovation? The art of welcoming risk. Journal of Consumer Marketing, 13(5), 7-11.

Kuczmarski, T. (2003). What is innovation? And why aren’t companies doing more of it? What Is Innovation? And Why Aren’t Companies Doing More of It?” 20(6), 536-541.

London, M., & Beatty, R. W. (1993). 360-degree feedback as a competitive advantage. Human Resource Management (1986-1998), 32(2-3), 353. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/224341530?accountid=458

Omar, R., Takim, R., & Nawawi, A. H. (2012). Measuring of technological capabilities in technology transfer (TT) projects. Asian Social Science, 8(15), 211-221. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/1338249931?accountid=458

Ropohl, G. (1999). Philosophy of Socio-Technical Systems. Society for Philosophy and Technology, 4. Retrieved June 29, 2014, from: http://scholar.lib.vt.edu/ejournals/SPT/v4_n3html/ROPOHL.html

Toor, S., & Ofori, G. (2008). Leadership versus Management: How They Are Different, and Why. Leadership & Management in Engineering, 8(2), 61-71. doi:10.1061/(ASCE)1532-6748(2008)8:2(61)

Tribus, M. (n.d.). Changing the Corporate Culture Some Rules and Tools. Retrieved from: Changing the Corporate Culture Some Rules and Tools Web site: http://deming.eng.clemson.edu/den/change_cult.pdf

Trist, E. (1981). The evolution of socio-technical systems: A conceptual framework and an action program. Occasional Paper. Retrieved June 29, 2014, from: http://www.sociotech.net/wiki/images/9/94/Evolution_of_socio_technical_systems.pdf

© 2016 M. Dave Salisbury

All Rights Reserved

 

The Call Center Leader: 2-2-0

2-2-0

This is the distinctive unit insignia for the 2nd Infantry Division, 2nd Brigade, stationed in South Korea. The incredible feats of this division play a critical role in understanding a concept call center leaders need to embrace when developing people, promoting esprit de corps, e.g., building a culture, and distilling change initiatives into organizational processes. More to the point, “Second to None” remains a challenge and easily communicated phrase upon which future action can hinge.

Being “2-2-0” is an attitude, not a position in a matrix. Being “Second to None” does not mean that you have to be first in everything or anything. The attitude of being “Second to None” means that you know who you are, what you can do, and where you want to go. Capturing and holding onto the attitude develops mental rigor to continue in the face of adversity and remain focused upon the goals of the call center, the business, and the team. Each team member striving to produce “Second to None” forms a society offering support, encouragement, and motivation to stay the course. Engaging in “2-2-0” behaviors individually and projecting “2-2-0” behaviors into the team pushes the internal and personal into action for the customer, for the new, and for the whole.

“2-2-0” embodies actions, inspiring to perform better, work harder, and stretch further. Again, personal action is developing into an example followed, communicated, and easily assimilated by new members of a team. The call center leader plays a tremendous role in people development, culture development, and organizational consistency. Without an easily assimilated motto, the call center leader cannot communicate the intent before inspiring the action that can often be described as drudgery. Call center work demands leaders who can keep the attention and action of team members focused upon the end goal, not the next call. Hence, it remains important to communicate frequently the core values in a simple and easily remembered manner, promoting the cultural principles that form the foundation of decision-making and future action when stressed.

Being “Second to None” is all about integrity in leadership. In Basic Training, the new military member receives a lesson on integrity, or “doing the right thing when no one is looking or aware.” This same principle of leadership cannot be understated. Integrity forms the backbone of trust. Communicating the backbone and building trust requires the leader to embrace principled positions and know why those principled positions are important. Benjamin Franklin has this to say about principles and morals needed in a leader, “Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom.” Thomas Jefferson adds the following, “A nation as a society forms a moral person, and every member of it is personally responsible for his society.”

Integrity and principles are only as good as the morals and freedom allowed to others through the understanding of the individual. As the leader comes to grasp and understand principles to which they and the society, e.g., the call center, are mutually adhering to, the individual team member can see and understand the actions and positions others take in the context of the organizational culture. Hence, communicating integrity and moral principled actions requires the call center leader to first onboard and then to teach, and short axioms work better than long explanations. Hence, “Second to None” and “You are doing great” remain synonymous short axioms that teach a powerful action to a call center agent.

© 2015 M. Dave Salisbury

All Rights Reserved