Circling Back:  Going the Extra Mile in Customer Service

Bobblehead DollIt is no secret; I am a doctoral candidate.  On Facebook, I advertised my dissertation to find participants to engage in my dissertation data collection.  My dissertation is all about the role of the trainer in call center training.  I am looking to answer some specific questions about what a trainer does, their role in training, and flush out details about the role of the call center trainer in establishing genetic memory.  My first ad on Facebook, believe it or not, received more direct respondents than my second or third attempts.  That the respondents accused me of being fake, a troll, and committing several bodily functions on their timelines bothered me greatly.

When mentioned to representatives from Facebook, who could see the comments and the original ad, the representatives reflected less care than I would have ever imagined.  Yet, Facebook claims to be “customer-centric,” “customer-driven,” and “customer-obsessed.”  LinkedIn, AT&T, Sprint/T-Mobile, Bank of America, Navy Federal Credit Union, and many other companies make similar claims and act similarly, where the professed policies are disconnected from reality, and the only person who suffers is oddly the customer.  Then, the agents representing these companies are then asked to “go the extra mile for the customer.”Pin by N D on Jokes | Dilbert comics, Work humor, Funny picture quotes

When going the extra mile was first addressed, leadership, training, business processes, and organizational communication all were aspects to the foundation to helping an agent “go the extra mile.”  More needs to be discussed on “going the extra mile” and delivering upon the promises made by leadership.  However, the discussion is useless unless followed swiftly by concerted action; thus, this article asks for and directly inspires action.

Compounded Leadership Failure

Let’s begin with reality and address the 300# gorilla.  To the leaders of companies, customers are listening, and they are not stupid!  Whether you believe this or not, your customers do, and they do not like what they see.  AT&T, LinkedIn, and Facebook regularly inundate me with the voice of the customer surveys, new products, performance surveys, surveys, surveys, surveys.  These are not the only companies demanding answers and resources from customers, but these companies are especially egregious at this practice.  Tell me, why does nothing ever change in customer approach, customer service, customer care, and the voice-of-the-customer always appears to fall on deaf ears?Colin Powell quote: Leadership is solving problems. The day soldiers stop bringing you...

Leadership never collects qualitative and quantitative data and then uses this information to make change, drive visible customer affecting policy shifts, or even act like the customer is worthy of being listened to.  How do we, the customers know we are not being heard; the agents do not have the ability to affect change.  I called Xfinity/Comcast; I have an issue, I get nowhere with the agents, but I am still expected and offered multiple times the voice-of-the-customer survey to help improve customer relations.  I invest my time in completing the survey; I even indicate a return call to discuss the scores is acceptable, only later do I discover that the voice-of-the-customer data is never worked, customers are not called, and the company does not care.

Poor Leadership #inspirational #motivational #quotes | Bad leadership quotes, Leadership quotes ...If you are sending a survey out, you need to address the survey results.  Publicly with your agents, transparently with your shareholders and investors, and clearly and openly with your customers.  By refusing to do these things, the leadership failures in demanding customer resources to complete surveys are wasted, compounded, and the customer is listening!  Worse, the customer is sharing this information with other customers and is openly looking for options to replace you and your company!  By publicly claiming “customer-obsession,” “customer-centricity,” and “customer-first” propaganda (e.g., marketing promises), you are making a commitment.  Failure to honor that commitment delivers a “Used Car Sales” pitch, and lawyers and politicians become more trustworthy than you and your company.  Customers are tired of “Lemons” when paying for cherries; is this clear enough?

Who is your first customer?

To every person claiming the first customer is a service or product purchaser, you are WRONG!  Your first customer is your employees.  Yet, employee abuse remains central to employee churn.  Asking your employees to “go the extra mile” for an external customer and not seeing the business first go the extra mile for them is disheartening at best to your employees.

I am intimately familiar with a well-known company, its operations, and its customer commitment.  The company does an excellent job in employee relations, which leads to year-over-year success with external customers.  But the company has some deep-seated problems they are working on, and because they are honestly working on these issues, I am willing to give them anonymity for their efforts.  One of the most fundamental issues this company has is in product delivery; the operations in the warehouse prioritize outbound (customer shipping of products ordered) to the exclusion of quality.  The products are more important than the people, which is a growing pain for this company.Tiger Team

By forgetting that the first customer is the employees, this group churns at phenomenal rates compared to other business units.  Why?  Because of the insanity of being left out of customer service.  Company benefits, time-off, vacation policies, “swag,” free merchandise, etc., none of this compensates for irrational operations that fundamentally treat the employee poorly and in a confused manner.  If your company is “customer-focused,” then employees are top priority, and in making them top priority, they look after your external customers more efficiently, more expertly, and they will build a fatter bottom-line through “going the extra mile.”

When was the last time your employees were honestly engaged in voice-of-the-customer surveys and results?  When was the last time the employees knew they were the top priority in your business?  When was the last time operational policies and procedures were adjusted to remove confusion about employee worth and value?  Tell me, are your shareholders and investors treated better than your number one investor, your employees?  If so, your shareholders should be raking the current leadership over the coals for robbery and theft.  Reduced bottom lines because of employee treatment should be a significant issue of discussion by the shareholders and investors, for this is nothing short of robbery. You are compounding another leadership failure through employee abuse, which increases costs and lowers bottom-line performance, e.g., robbing the investor and shareholder because you have refused to provide your first customer simple customer recognition, let alone service.

Going the Extra Mile

Before a supervisor, team leader, director, or other leaders in your business organization asks for an employee to “go the extra mile,” rate that leader on this question, “Have they already walked two miles with the employee?”  If not, that person is asking for the impossible.  No extra efforts can or ought to be sought when leadership fails to first show and do what it takes to walk two miles with an employee.

Call Center BeansWant to know a secret?  When the leader first walks two miles with the employee, that leader never has to ask anyone to “go the extra mile,” EVER!  Your best leaders, your followers, are the people who, instead of looking forward first, make it a priority to look sideways.  These leaders are experts at lifting the talent needed to look forward to a higher level.  Looking sideways includes value-added training programs, professional paths to progression, recognizing and praising efforts honestly and frequently, delegating assignments and tasks, and being actively engaged in delivering “customer-centricity” to the employees.  As a supervisor, team lead, director, etc., your first customer is those who follow you; what have you done lately to prove customer obsession to them?

By the way, your first customer is listening, awake, and actively engaged in either growing or leaving, all based upon how you treat your first customer.  I suggest taking heed of them.?u=http3.bp.blogspot.com-CIl2VSm-mmgTZ0wMvH5UGIAAAAAAAAB20QA9_IiyVhYss1600showme_board3.jpg&f=1&nofb=1

If you want to be part of my dissertation research, please reach out to me using the following email address: msalisbury1@my.gcu.edu.  Please help me help you and your company through value-added research.

© Copyright 2021 – M. Dave Salisbury
The author holds no claims for the photos or images used herein, the pictures were obtained in the public domain, and the intellectual property belongs to those who created the images.  Quoted materials remain the property of the original author.

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/

Insane Abuse – The VA Edition: The Leaders of the VA Must Shift the Paradigm

I-CareDuring new hire training for working at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) New Mexico Medical Center (NMVAMC), the first day contains a lot of warnings about what you can and cannot do as a Federal Employee.  Annually, there are mandatory classes that must be passed to remind an employee of their obligations as a Federal Employee.  Leading to a question, “How could an attorney for the Department of Veterans Affairs – Office of General Counsel (OGC), be allowed to break the law for eight years?”  The department of Veterans Affairs – Office of Inspector General (VA-OIG) investigated after a second complaint about the same person was received, and only then did the OGC take action.  The attorney in question was released from government employment, but where is 8 years’ worth of wages being requested back?  Did the attorney lose anything other than an undemanding job and title where they could be paid for not working for the Federal Government while advancing their private practice, violating ethical laws, and breaking several Federal Statutes along the way?

What this attorney has done is insane, it is an abuse of trust, and for it to go reported and not acted by the senior leaders at OGC represents inexcusable abuse!

ProblemsOn the topic of insane and inexcusable abuse of the VA, the VA-OIG investigated the Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System in California and found a supervisor in an “other than spouse” relationship with a vendor and they used the VA property to improperly conduct business on contracts the supervisor oversaw.  These actions are a clear and blatant violation of the Federal Statutes on contracting as a Federal Employee, even if these consenting adults were married, it would remain illegal, unethical, immoral, and inexcusable!  Yet, because the supervisor quit during the investigation, the VA-OIG has no power to take any action.

Federal Employees are blatantly breaking the law, abusing the trust and honor of their stations, flagrantly flaunting ethical, moral, and legal regulations with impunity.  Why?

From the VA San Diego Healthcare System, California, we find another VA-OIG inspection. Staff manipulated time cards for seven fee-basis medical providers to pay these individuals on a salary or wage basis rather than a per-procedure basis.  While the medical center took appropriate action and no VA-OIG recommendations were made, the question remains, “Why was this behavior allowed in the first place?”  Another supervisor, improperly acting in their office, and abusing the VA; this behavior is inexcusable!

moral-valuesThe VA-OIG performed an audit, also referred to as a “data review.” “The data review consisted of a sample of 45 employees and found the employees were paid an estimated $11.6 million for overtime hours for which there was no evidence of claims-related activity in the Fee Basis Claims System in fiscal years 2017 and 2018, representing almost half of the total overtime paid. Significantly, 16 of the 45 employees each received more than $10,000 in overtime for hours during which there was no claims-related activity.”  The Department of Veterans Affairs – Office of Community Care (OCC) is backlogged and this is leading to late payments to providers, delays in care, and is generally a bad thing.  However, the sole reason for the overtime being abused was due to a lack of processes, poor supervision, and training.  These are the same three excuses that are used by the Department of Veterans Affairs – Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) and is designed incompetence at its most disdainful and egregious level.  Worse, this was a sample of employee misconduct on overtime pay.  How many more cases are floating in the OCC that were not included in the audit that will pass unresearched because the VA-OIG did not refer the cases for disciplinary recommendations?

The VA-OIG cannot be everywhere and clean every hole in the VA organizational tapestry.  This is why supervisors and leaders are in place to execute organizational rules, regulations, policies, and monitor employee performance.  Why are the supervisors and mid-level leaders not being held accountable for failing to perform their jobs?  If overtime pay is going to be clawed back from the employee, the managers, team leaders, and supervisors need first to write and train to a policy standard.

Root Cause AnalysisThe VA-OIG conducted a comprehensive inspection of the Eastern Kansas Health Care System, Kansas, and Missouri.  The findings are startling for several reasons, one of which being the deficient lack of leadership leading to poor employee satisfaction, patient care issues, lack of knowledge in managers and supervisors, and minimally knowledgeable about strategic analytics.  Essentially, there is a lack of leadership in this healthcare system.  The director has been working with a team for 2-months, but the director has been in charge in 2012.  Leading to questions about long-term staffing replacement, staff training, building the next generation of leaders, and why this long-term director can brush off the criticisms of leadership failure because the team has only been in place for two months at the time of the inspection.

Again, the VA-OIG audited a system and found a lack of training, lack of oversight, lack of leadership, and made recommendations to “close the barn door, after the horses got out.”  From the VA-OIG report we find:

“The VA-OIG found that VA lacked an effective strategy or action plan to update its police information system [emphasis mine]. In September 2015, the VA Law Enforcement Training Center (LETC) acquired Report Exec, a replacement records management system, for police officers at all medical facilities. Inadequate planning and contract administration mismanagement caused the system implementation to stall for more than two years [emphasis mine]. LETC spent approximately $2.8 million on the system by the fiscal year 2019 [emphasis mine], but police officers experienced frequent performance issues and had to use different systems that did not share information. As of April 2019, only 63 percent of medical facility police units were reportedly using the Report Exec system, while 37 percent were still using an incompatible legacy system. As a result, administrators and law enforcement personnel at multiple levels could not adequately track and oversee facility incidents involving VA police or make informed decisions on risks and resource allocations. The audit also revealed that information security controls were not in place for the Report Exec system that put individuals’ sensitive personal information at risk [emphasis mine].”

Behavior-ChangeNo controls, no direction, no strategy, no tactical action, losing money, and not even scraping an F in performance.  The repetition in these VA-OIG investigations is appalling!  Where is the accountability?  Where is the responsibility and commitment to the veterans, their dependents, and the taxpayers?  Where is the US House of Representatives and Senate in demanding improvement in employee behavior?  Talk about a culture of corruption; the VA has corruption in spades, and no one is taking the VA to task and demanding improvement.

The VA is referred to as a cesspit of indecent and inappropriate people acting in a manner to enrich themselves on the pain of veterans, spouses, widows, and orphans.  There have been comments on several articles I authored which would make a non-veteran blush in describing the VA.  These actions by supervisors and those possessing advanced degrees do not help in trying to curb or correct the poor image the VA has well and truly earned.  A behavior change is needed, culture-wide, at the VA for the tarnished reputation of the VA to begin recovering.

Only for emphasis do I repeat previous recommendations for a culture-wide improvement:

  1. Start a VA University.  If you want better people, you must build them!  Thus, they must be trained, they must be challenged to act, and they must be empowered from day one in the classroom to be making a difference to the VA.
  2. Immediately launch Tiger Teams and Flying Squads from the VA. Secretary’s Office, empowered to build, train, and correct behavior. These groups must be able to cut through the bureaucratic red tape and make changes, then monitor those changes until behavior and culture change.
  3. Implement ISO 9000 for hospitals. If a person does not know their job but has held that job for over a year, every person in that employee’s chain of command is responsible for training failures.  Employees need better training, see recommendation 1, need clearer guidelines and written policies.  Hence, with the VA University training, each process, procedure, rule, regulation needs written down, and then trained exhaustively, so employees can be held accountable.

There is a theory in the private sector called appreciative inquiry.  Appreciative inquiry is the position that whatever a business needs to succeed, it already has in abundance, the leaders simply need to tap into that reservoir and pull out the gems therein.  Having traveled this country and witnessed many good and great employees in the VA Medical Centers from Augusta ME to Seattle WA, and from Phoenix AZ to Missoula MT I know that appreciative inquiry can help and promote a cultural change in the VA.  I do not advocate a “one-size fits most” policy for the VA, as each VISN and Regional Medical Center has a different culture of patients, thus requiring differing approaches.  However, the recommendations listed above can improve where the VA is now, and form a launch point into the future.Military Crests

© 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/

Wanted A Leader – The Leader’s Job Description

The best job descriptions address the standard questions of Who, What, When, Where, and How.  The common question ‘Why’ is excluded because it remains self-evident, there is a “something” desired from the job, or the position would not be considered worthwhile.  Since value and rewards are the sole facets of the beholder, ‘Why’ has been excluded.  The sum of these points and positions is derived, deduced, and selected from the following resources, and this list is not all-inclusive, Avolio (2008), Boylan (2005), Brady (2005), Carpenter (1868), Chaleff (2003), Lundin (2000), Costa (2008), Hamlin (2008), Hinckley (2000), Oyinlade (2006), Morrow (1935), Sandburg (1926), Wren (1995), and Yukl (2006).

Wanted: a Leader

All Applicants will have the following characteristics:

  • Drive and Determination – This is required as the task is difficult, the work often arduous, and the pay is never sufficient.
  • Education and Experience – Knowledge is good, but a continued thirst for learning must supersede past educational experiences. Experience in applying education is critical.  Without experience in application, the education is not enough to obtain this position.
  • Willingness to sacrifice – As a leader, the followers need to be trained and supported; this requires a large measure of sacrifice in time, resource allocation and demands innovation in thinking.
  • The power to delegate – Leaders do not have enough time to meet all their responsibilities; if a leader cannot delegate, oversee, and inspire others to action, that leader is not capable of achieving success.
  • Willing to follow without sacrificing the need to lead – Leaders can never sever the ties to the following, but the leader must act to lead. Above all else, leadership requires balancing between being a follower and leading well.
  • The ability to exude a ‘Quiet Confidence’ – Knowing you know what to do, have the ability to find the answers, and still meet achievement goals is required to inspire confidence and determination in others.

Charismatic people need not apply, but those possessing ‘Chutzpah’ are always welcome.  Charisma is a potent drug and, when combined with the power of leadership, tends to lend itself to abusing followers.  People possessing ‘Chutzpah’ have the backbone to make a stand and remain standing long after others would consider quitting.  Determined ‘Chutzpah’ will be the order of the day to make any change, lead change, and drive change in others while putting followers at ease, delivering praise, and inspiring others to achieve.

The ideal candidate possesses a working and living knowledge of history, politics, sales, marketing, customer service, and a devotion to seeing others succeed.  The Ideal Candidate must be willing to be an example and remain engaged mentally in leadership tasks.  Other qualities an Ideal Candidate would include:

  • Appetite
  • Passion
  • Motivation
  • Imagination
  • Understands the difference between monitoring and overbearing
  • Emotionally stable

To apply, please begin meeting these standards, and future leadership positions will be forthcoming.

References

Avolio, B. J., & Yammarino, F. J. (2008). Transformational and charismatic leadership: The road ahead. Vol 2. Bingley, United Kingdom: JAI Press – Emerald Group Publishing Limited.

Boylan, Bob (1995). Get Everyone in Your Boat Rowing in the Same Direction. New York, New York: Barnes & Noble.

Brady, C., & Woodward, O. (2005). Launching a leadership revolution: Mastering the five levels of influence. New York, NY: Business Plus – Hachette Book Group.

Carpenter, F. B. (1868). The inner life of Abraham Lincoln: Six months at the white house. New York, NY: Hurd and Houghton.

Chaleff, I. (2003). Leader follower dynamics. Innovative Leader, 12(8), Retrieved from http://www.winstonbrill.com/bril001/html/article_index/articles/551-600/article582_body.html

Costa, A. L., & Kallick, B. (2008). Learning and leading with habits of mind: 16 essential characteristics for success. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. Retrieved from http://www.ascd.org/publications/books/108008/chapters/describing-the-habits-of-mind.aspx

Hamlin, R. G., & Sawyer, J. (2007). Developing effective leadership behaviors: The value of evidence-based management. Business Leadership Review, IV(IV), 1-16. Retrieved from www.mbaworld.com/blr-archive/scholarly/5/index.pdf

Hinckley, G. B. (2000). Standing for something: 10 neglected virtues that will heal our hearts and homes. New York, NY: Three Rivers Press.

Lamb, P. (2011). Social value and adult learning. Adults Learning, 23(2), 44.

Lundin, S. C., H. Paul, and J. Christensen. Fish!, a remarkable way to boost morale and improve results. Hyperion Books, 2000. Print.

Morrow, H. (1935). Great captain: The Lincoln trilogy. New York, NY: William Morrow and Company.

Oyinlade, A. (2006). A method of assessing leadership effectiveness: Introducing the essential behavioral leadership qualities approach. Performance Improvement Quarterly, 19(1), 25.

Sandburg, C. (1926). Abraham Lincoln: The prairie years. New York, NY: Blue Ribbon Books.

Wren, J. T. (1995). The leader’s companion: Insights on leadership through the ages. New York, NY: The Free Press.

Yukl, G. (2006). Leadership in Organizations. 6th Edition. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.

© 2018 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.

What “Going the Extra Mile” means in Customer Service: A Call Center Labyrinth

cropped-snow-leopard.jpgI met a unique call center representative, who when asked by management to “go the extra mile for the customer,” remarked, “I go the extra mile for the customer by simply answering the phone.”  Recently, “going the extra mile” has resurfaced as a customer service topic, and I think we need some parameters for understanding the term to really appreciate what it means to “go the extra mile.”

The saying, “go the extra mile,” has origins in the beatitudes as discussed in the New Testament, which includes a discourse on when asked to walk a mile with a person, go with them two.  Obviously, the customer service representative, especially in a call center, cannot walk with the customer two miles.  Thus, what exactly and specifically is intended when management wants the representative to “go the extra mile?”  Think about this for a moment.  In a metrics measured call center, does the representative have the time to engage the customer in idle chit-chat and remain productive per the parameters?  Is the representative expected to perform an account analysis for the customer while answering the customer’s questions and extend the call to ensure each customer is taking the fullest advantage of the available products and services offered?

In a related question, what organizational policies are prohibiting, interfering, or downright anathema to the agent “going the extra mile?”  As an agent, I worked in a call center with this exact problem; the company instructed agents “go the extra mile” for every customer, but then discouraged agents with policies, procedures, and back office personnel whose sole purpose, it seemed to the front-line agents, was to always say no before yes.  When these issues were brought to the attention of the business leaders, the solution was to add more bureaucracy and another person to the back office, which further complicated delivering upon the customer service commitment.

Raising the first point for “going the extra mile” organizational support for delivering a higher level of customer service.  If the front-line agents are being asked to “go the extra mile,” the entire organization already needs to be delivering a higher level of support to the front-line agents.  Business leaders, “going the extra mile,” begins with you exemplifying the “go the extra mile” attitude.  Then, get into the “how” of work performance including the logic of processes and procedures, the reasons “why” business is done in the manner and style of your organization, and smooth the transitions between the front and back office.  The best approach for this is to take each business process from origination in customer service and walk it through every whistle stop in your business to completion, and at every stop asking “why.”  I guarantee you will find ways and means to improve the process every single time.Kindness Quote

Second, when someone is asked to “go the extra mile,” it is human nature for that person to ask or think, “What is in it for me?”  If there is no discernable value in “going the extra mile,” the person asked to put forth more effort could become hostile, depressed, and/or simply put less quality into the action wasting potential and defeating the purpose of “going the extra mile.”  There will always be a psychological value aspect to this discussion.  As a business leader looking to deliver a higher level of quality service, are you prepared to reward agents for “going the extra mile?”

Third, be specific, detailed, and precise in communicating what is meant by “going the extra mile.”  My unique colleague has a point.  If the agent considers answering the phone “going the extra mile,” how will you as the business leader address the need to act differently?  Some might think my colleague was flippant in answering as he did, but the callers at this time were more hostile than normal, technology was changing and customers were experiencing more problems than normal with the services provided, and due to employee churn, all the agents were being asked to work longer hours.  It takes real courage in these difficult circumstances just to answer the phone, let alone resolve customer problems; forget “going the extra mile!”  As a business leader, are you fully cognizant of the issues in the front office?  When asking for an agent to “go the extra mile,” have you specifically defined what this means, detailing actions that fit the description, and do you know it is possible for others to accomplish?

Speaking of accomplishing an action, on the day I was hired as a call center agent, the call center had a six-month backlog of work in the back office, meaning six months prior to my date of hire a customer had requested a bill credit or some other change, and the issue remained open on my date of hire.  After 60+ hour weeks, for three months, the backlog had been reduced to 45-days, and this was considered acceptable by the business leaders.  Thus, the front-line agents had to be prepared to explain why it would take a minimum of one and a half billing cycles for the change to become visible to the customer and encourage the customer to continue to make the payments as shown on the bill to keep from suffering any adverse consequences.  Being possible to accomplish requires business leaders to know what is happening in the front-office and the back-office simultaneously and understand from the customer’s point of view the “why” behind business processes.

Fourth, training as an ongoing, regular, and value-added action is necessary.  Too often training is considered “one and done,” and then annual compliance training is required that everyone suffers through.  If this is the attitude of training in your call center and the training is not value-added, as in “is the training useful immediately” and the value apparent, there is a failure in training, a failure in leadership, and the failure is visible to customers.

The Extra Mile Just Ahead Green Road Sign Over Dramatic Clouds and Sky.I worked as an agent for a great call center that believed in ongoing training at the team level where front-line managers held daily training and the trainers held monthly refresher and targeted performance training.  The problem was that no one measured the training for value, and the agents began to see the time off the phone for training as an exercise in futility.  Value-added is a critical component of ongoing training and begins with asking where are you, as an agent, struggling?  Value-added training ends with an agent overcoming that specific struggle and growing to find another struggle and knowing that training is there to aid them in finding a solution to the new struggle.  Build value-added training as an ongoing conversation, which will be visible to the customer, and the agent is prepared to make the opportunity to “go the extra mile.”

Is the difference clear?  Be specific, clear, and concise when directing “going the extra mile,” and agents will begin testing the waters for organizational support based upon their current levels of knowledge.  Agents will want to make opportunities to “go the extra mile” when they are properly trained and are confident in the training to help them meet the customer’s request and desires.  Agents will make opportunities to “go the extra mile” for customers when they are confident that the business stands behind them in processing, in a timely manner, the agent’s requests made on behalf of that customer.  Agents will make opportunities to “go the extra mile” when their leaders are exemplifying “going the extra mile” for internal customers.Extra Mile  Agents will create opportunities to “go the extra mile” when there is value to them personally for the extra effort and when “going the extra mile” does not harm their scores in a metric based call center.  Finally, agents will create opportunities to “go the extra mile” when they know specifically what “go the extra mile” entails; remember, amorphous feel-good lines do not clear instructions make.

© 2018 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.