Customer EngagementKathleen's Corner

Auld Lang Syne … What to Leave Behind?

Kathleen Peterson
Kathleen Peterson

Another year has just ended. Some of us will have raised glasses and voices as 2013 turned into 2014, and heralded the new year in to the chorus of “Auld Lang Syne.” How did this tradition begin? I consulted the Internet and discovered via ABC news that “despite its strong association with New Year’s Eve, ‘Auld Lang Syne,’ written by Robert Burns in the 1700s, was never intended to be a holiday song. Guy Lombardo is credited with popularizing the song when his band used it as a segue between two radio programs during a live performance at the Roosevelt Hotel in New York in 1929. By coincidence, the band played “Auld Lang Syne” just after the clock struck midnight and a New Year’s tradition was born.”  Here is just another unintended consequence of a random act … similar some might say to the impact of social media. Radio was an early vehicle for social media! Promotion of products, ideas, entertainment, and politics had never before enjoyed such a magnificent platform.

The words “auld lang syne” mean “times gone by” and that is what I would like to discuss … the times gone by this year. What has been learned, changed, or forever altered? What is better, worse, or unchanged? The Contact Center industry is one in which so much is changing or could change. But sadly it often remains the same, or heaven forbid, it gets worse. I would like to share a few areas that I think really need to change in the Contact Center business. These will merit the lifting of a glass and the singing of Auld Lang Syne. They are things best left behind!

When will this mantra ever end? Ihave heard this phrase for close to 25 years! If you know Marketing isn’t communicating activity which spikes your call volume, then institute the ASK Program (Always Seek Knowledge). Engage with Marketing in advance and open a dialogue. Look for ways the Contact Center can support Marketing. Demonstrate the value of sharing information by identifying information the Contact Center is able to collect which has value to Marketing. Consider the fact that Marketing is not “holding back” information; it is much worse. They simply do not recognize the Contact Center as a cross-functional partner worthy of time and attention. It is your job as a Contact Center leader to change that mindset! This is an issue that can and must be eradicated; there is no place for it in 21st Century operations.

This sentences rankles me each time I hear it.I once polled an audience equipped with a response device on this topic. First I asked, “Who believes training is a critical success factor in the Contact Center?” Participants agreed unanimously that it was. Later in the same talk, I asked how many attendees had recently cancelled training for one reason or another. Ninety percent confessed!
Training is the single most important activity any Contact Center engages in. (And in today’s world, there are many ways to engage learners that extend well beyond the traditional instructor-led model.) Cancelling training may occur for very legitimate reasons. However, cancelling training or (even worse) not scheduling training causes staff morale to decline and overall quality to suffer. Far too often the only training front line agents experience is the new hire program! Consider evaluating this past year’s training. Did ALL front line staff participate in 10, 20, 30 hours of training this year? When evaluating this for “times gone by” think about what you consider to be training. Your answers may be enlightening.
Instead of a Christmas tree this year, mount a Learning Tree in your Center as a reminder of the many ways in which we learn. We learn when we interact with coaches, peers, and customers. We learn when we share articles or white papers. This tree can be themed monthly … “What have we learned about our customers?”, “What have we learned about our processes? “, or “What foolish things do we do?” (perfect for April Fool’s Day). Make it fun and create incentives around contributions and suggestions.

Create a program where your “Learning Tree” bears fruit. Consider having Contact Center staff hang “fruit” in the form of learning testimonials and a monthly harvest of interesting insights to be enjoyed! People learn from a variety of events and activities; we must broaden our definition of training to include the power of observation, discussion, insight, and curiosity. People long to be part of something. How wonderful it would be to make them a part of a Learning Operation. I believe there are things you can do to stimulate (i.e., feed the tree)! Provide a well-designed topic schedule for team meetings, lead lunch and learn discussions, create scavenger hunts. Any activity that “stimulates” qualifies. Broaden your definition of training so that the experience becomes more creative and your annual training hours grow. All while the Learning Tree bears fruit!

Management training remains the MOST NEGLECTED area in Contact Centers though front line leaders (supervisors, team leads, etc.) face massive challenges. For many, it their first management position as they most often rise from the ranks. These leaders have a large number of people to oversee … with no previous experience and little if any management training. It is sad that companies are often satisfied with leaders that lead based on how they were managed. It is all they know and if it was a good experience, that’s great. If not, the experience can be disheartening for all. How many hours did your Contact Center leaders spend in management raining this year? What is your plan for next year? Think about it, seriously!

Talent is a precious commodity. How to get it, nurture it, and keep it has long been the topic of endless management books, conference sessions, and articles. There is good reason for this. Talent is critical to success and succession. I am really troubled by those Contact Centers that do not possess a genuine “Talent Pipeline.” Interestingly enough, there are often others in the enterprise that look at the Contact Center as THEIR Talent Pipeline. This is all well and good as long as everyone involved is included in the decision. Cross-functional “poaching” is very common. Its occurrence is often used to soften the blow of turnover numbers …”a high percentage of folks that we lost in the Contact Center took other jobs in the company.” While this might look like a good thing, how good is it for your customers?

Experience promises are made and include connecting customers to competent resources. (No company says call us and we will hook you up with a trainee who is years away from knowing the answer to your question.) These promises must be kept or your Customer Experience will suffer! You must evaluate to assure that your agents and/or front line management are not making lateral moves simply to get out of the Contact Center. If they are, there is something wrong. And of course the poachers are not going to take your poor performers; they are hunting for TRUE TALENT. This leaves you and your customers with poor performers and new hires. Turnover in the Contact Center must be calculated from the customer’s perspective and plans made to retain a balance of skills in the Center. The resources you want to hold onto must feel as though they are part of a true Talent Pipeline … one that has opportunities for growth within the Contact Center and within the enterprise. Be creative and craft mechanisms that keep talent alive and engaged!

Of course the Talent Pipeline really begins with hiring. So I once again share the sage advice my daddy once gave to me related to my dating choices …”Easy to get is hard to get rid of.”

I wish you all Peace in this holiday season. I wish you all quiet time to relax and enjoy your friends and family. And when you sing “Auld Lang Syne” this year, remember the things you want to bring forward next year. Remember too, the things best left behind … but that will remain branches on your learning tree forever!

“For auld lang syne, my dear, for auld lang syne,
we’ll take a cup of kindness yet, for auld lang syne.”

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