I have worked my way up in a variety of contact centre roles for the last 20 years in a well known retailer, starting off in an internal help desk, and then moving over to a customer care team.
I remember the early days of being a front line agent and the immense satisfaction I would get when I resolved an issue for a caller (pretty much our only channel back then). I love to help people and I love to solve problems. It’s part of my DNA.
We worked hard and played hard. Our team was like family. We celebrated the good times and we supported each other through the bad times. But of course the inevitable restructures started happening, and as the saying goes, nothing lasts forever.
I can hardly recognise myself now if I cast my mind back to my youthful days. I was full of passion, but as your strengths can also be your weaknesses, when my passion over spilled, I could be aggressive, and lacked finesse. I was lucky though to have some great managers who believed in me and could see the potential. They mentored and coached me, and for my part, I was (and still am) keen to be the best I can be. It’s a simple motto but it works for me.
I remember being asked to become a manager of a 2nd line technical team which I had recently joined. I was the youngest and knew the least. That was hard. Trying to step away from the job that they were all doing, to lead and inspire. I fumbled my way through it. Over time though, with different roles and different teams, I got better at managing. I made mistakes, but I made sure that I learnt from them. I now got my satisfaction from seeing others grow and flourish. And I learnt how to influence change for good outside of my control.
Moving away from a relatively small internal help desk to a larger in-house/outsourced customer care team 6 years ago felt like a massive change, but I embraced it, and I think I have learnt more in the last 6 years than I had in the previous 14. I ended up managing a high performing support team and had a fantastic leadership team around me. I learnt more about vision, strategy, and measuring success. It’s not what you do, but what the outcome is.
But for one reason and another, I increasingly felt like a small fish in a big pond. Making large changes became harder, more red tape, more people outside of our team to convince. More days felt like a battle.
And then of course another restructure came. I had been in the company at this point for 26 years. It’s all I had ever known. I took advantage of the redundancy package and left. That was hard, really really hard. I took time to do some self discovery, and concluded I was done with contact centres. I was going to try something new! But as I looked for new opportunities with my now new best friend LinkedIn, the lure of contact centres was still strong. I realised that was where my passion still was. So a few months ago I took a role in a much smaller yet very successful company to lead and grow the existing customer service team to support the business expansion. And that’s my back story..
I’ve been doing this new job for 8 weeks. Thankfully only one time did I think, what the hell have I done. It didn’t take me long to realise that I had made the right decision. Ok so I now do the role of the equivalent of 5 colleagues in my old company, and the buck stops with me.. But I actually love the increased accountability, rather than before just being a “key contributor” to the success of my last contact centre. And I’ve realised that actually I know my shit! My experience and skills I can bring to this new role are significant. I'm a fresh pair of eyes seeing things in a different light.
Contact centres have the same fundamental principles no matter how big or small they are.
1.Empowering your team to fix things brilliantly through coaching, training and building trust
2. Minimising customer and agent effort through fixing root cause, and removing non value add processes
3. Creating and promoting a knowledge sharing and continuous improvement culture
4. Ensuring the right mix of technology for both agents and customers to improve their experience.
And as importantly, making changes collaboratively and taking people on a journey to get their buy in. I can’t do this all on my own and neither should I. I dont know all the answers. I’ve joined a team who have previously worked in a “tell” culture. A management down, do as I say approach. Very unhealthy. And that has led to my team feeling like they aren’t trusted and their views and ideas don’t matter. Well not on my watch. I’m changing all of that. Already I can see a change in them, a spark has been lit.
I’m encouraging them to question everything they do. What they do, how they do it, and what value it adds. The amount of times in the last 20 odd years I’ve heard “we’ve just always done it”.
I’m now a bigger fish in a smaller pond and I take my responsibility very seriously. I’ve started to recruit some managers for my new team.It’s so important that I take on inspirational leaders who are people investors. Is it corny to say happy people, happy customers when it is true?
Being on the front line in a contact centre can be hard. You’re potentially dealing with negativity most of the day, one after the other, and you’re being judged on how quickly you do it and how satisfied your customers are with your response. And the problems agents are dealing with are normally as a result of someone else’s mistake. That’s why it’s critical that we give them the right tools, support, training and voice. Someone once told me “the answer is in the team”. They might not know it, it’s our job as leaders to be inquisitive,receptive and probe so we can make positive change for both the operation, and our customers. If we get the agent experience right, we will also get the customer experience right.