Call center morale hinges on communication
The morale of any call center is dependent on effective communication. Call center managers should be up front and honest with employees, experts say. Also, agents must have a forum in which they can communicate with management. This chapter provides tips for managers to encourage a healthy dialogue between call center management and employees..
Communicate the Good and the Bad — Be Straight and Honest
Effective communication is critical to agent job satisfaction. If you've worked in a call center for any length of time, you can probably attest that call centers are rumor machines. It's not surprising, when you consider that so many people are brought together in one place. Furthermore, call centers abhor a vacuum — so if you're not communicating the truth, the rumor mill will fill the void.
My experience is that you can't communicate too much — the more, the better, including good news and bad. The more information you communicate, the less room there is for the rumor mill.
The great news is that today's call centers have lots of ways of communicating. From team meetings and e-mail to internal Web sites and chat sessions, you can communicate openly and honestly — and a lot.
Ask for Feedback
Communication needs to go both ways. On a regular basis (I suggest monthly) you should be asking employees for their feedback on how well management is doing at creating a healthy and effective workplace. You can, and should, ask a number of questions, but the one that's most important asks employees if they value their job.
You should also provide a mechanism for employees to give open-ended comments and suggestions. You may have to make the survey anonymous — even in the best environments some staff will not be comfortable completely opening up.
You may find a lot of harsh criticism. In any operation you're going to have some less satisfied employees, and they will be vocal. The important thing is to listen to the overlying trends.
It's important to work at either improving the most critical areas, as defined by your employees, or communicating why these things are as they are. In subsequent months, you'll want to add specific questions regarding key areas of dissatisfaction to see if your staff feel you're improving.
Tying part of your managers' rewards to employee satisfaction is also a good idea, because it engages the entire management team in improving job satisfaction.
Call centers are great environments for tracking accountability, and in the quest for constant improvement it's easy to focus on finding things that aren't right. However, if this becomes too narrow a focus, you and your supervisors will soon find yourselves concentrating mainly on "catching people doing something wrong." While well intentioned, this management style is inherently negative and can dampen enthusiasm and morale.
Constant improvement is a worthy goal. When your suggestions for improvement come in a predominantly positive environment, they'll be received much more enthusiastically. (I talk more about process improvement in Chapter 12.)
As basic as it may sound, I subscribe to the idea of a ten-to-one positive to negative ratio. People in the office should be given ten pieces of positive reinforcement for every suggestion for improvement. Even suggestions for improvement can be framed in a positive manner: "Jane, you're already good at this — imagine what will happen when you start following the troubleshooting guidelines!"
I like to ask supervisors to tell me ten compliments and pieces of encouragement that they've given out to staff during the day. This should be easy: catch people doing something right! If it isn't easy, then we're not doing enough to create a positive environment.
I'm not suggesting a withdrawal from holding people accountable. What I am suggesting is accountability in a very positive environment.
Read the rest of this chapter for more ways to improve call center agent job satisfaction
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