An Advice Column Only for
A special thank you goes out to Carol Troxell from BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee who helped us tackled this month’s question. Carol has over 30 years’ experience as an analyst and frontline call center customer service supervisor, and holds the added distinction of being a Certified Master Coach through Ulysses Learning. (Ulysses’ Master Coach Certification Program is the first and only program to receive CIAC Certification® and the endorsement by the contact center industry’s certifying body – CIAC.) We loved Carol’s perspective on this topic and hope you do, too!
And thank you to our reader who submitted this month’s question!
Q: I'm a front-line supervisor. My question is a bit tricky to ask my manager because I don't want him to think I'm not a team player, because I am! It's just that our management team tells us how important it is for us, as supervisors, to engage our representatives. I get it. But what about us - the supervisors. No one is working with us to help build our engagement. Sometimes it's tough to engage others when we don't receive it ourselves. How do I approach my manager to tell him this without sounding like I'm not happy with my job or that I'm being disruptive? I feel stuck.
A:(Carol Troxell, BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee)
I really do believe that engagement, and being engaged, starts with you and you being able to communicate your development needs with your manager. Communication is important. You have to go to him with a plan; don’t wait for him to come to you. As a leader of your team, you want your staff to come to you and talk to you, right? It’s the same way with talking to your manager. You need to take action and communicate with him first.
Before you talk to him, I would take the time to think about what you want to accomplish. Think about where you want to go with your career, what you could do to get there, and then plan your individual development. Set specific goals. If you want to increase your knowledge, think about in what areas you’d be most interested. What classes do you want to attend? Do you want to provide training to others on the team that showcases your leadership abilities? Let your manager know that. I’d also recommend that you ask your manager what he thinks about your plan, and remember to ask him to give you some guidance on other areas that he thinks you could develop further.
As part of your conversation, remember to let your manager know how much you enjoy your job. Tell him you enjoy developing and engaging your staff and that you think about your own individual development as well. I think your manager will appreciate that you took the time to think through your development needs and that you came up with a plan for the two of you to discuss as a starting point, rather than waiting for your manager to develop it for you. Again, when you take responsibility to start your own individual plan, that says a lot about you and your commitment to yourself and the company.
I appreciate your thoughtful question and want you to know that what you are feeling is very natural among supervisors. As I see it, supervisors have a lot of tactical issues to deal with. You worry about getting all the tasks done, correctly and efficiently. Oftentimes, that can take precedence over the “people part” of the job, including setting aside time to engage or develop your team. Over time, you can fall into a pattern where you focus only on the tasks and not on the people as well. I think one of the best ways to get more comfortable working with people-related issues, like taking disciplinary steps or steps to develop your team to contribute more or be more engaged, is to get more comfortable talking to your direct manager. By learning how to have conversations with your manager, you’ll be in a better position to help your own people have those types of conversations with you and you with them.
I remember what it was like to be a new supervisor. You want your manager to see that you can do the job, that you have the knowledge. You may feel vulnerable. Sometimes that need to know it all can close the lines of communication and keep us from engaging with others, especially our manager. That’s why it makes sense to take the time to develop a personal plan and share that with your manager. It’s a great way to open the lines of communication. Together you may alter that plan (remember, the plan is a starting point), but this will go a long way toward building your credibility as a supervisor, while raising awareness of your abilities in a way that could help you move up in the company, if that’s important to you.
When we don’t have open lines of communication, whether it be with our manager or our people – we can have a tendency to think we know what the other person is feeling so that’s why we don’t engage. But our perception is usually off. When we sit down and talk with people, we get a much clearer picture of what they are thinking and feeling. Again, I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to communicate.
The last point I’d like to share is to remember to be calm when you communicate with your manager (or anyone for that matter). Emotions can run high in the fast-paced world of a call center. I have two boys who play baseball and I appreciate the advice their coaches give them when they are struggling with their pitches. They tell them to just go out there and have fun. I think that is really good advice. When you’re feeling uptight, turn that around, take a deep breath to relax, and go out in the center have some fun!
A:(Dina Vance, Ulysses Learning)
I wholeheartedly agree with Carol’s recommendations and I’ll add one quick comment. I’ve also seen call center supervisors benefit from having a peer mentor, in addition to their direct manager, with whom they can collaborate. Peer mentors support each other in a very meaningful way because they share the same type of responsibilities. They walk in your shoes and can be very empathetic. For example, let’s say you’re having a challenge with an employee who is not contributing to the team and is behaving in an indifferent manner during team meetings. You can discuss or bounce your ideas around with your peer mentor (or another supervisor) – someone you have a special connection with – to get their insights into how to best handle or manage the situation. You know the old expression “two heads are better than one”? It certainly applies here. Plus, exploring different approaches to supervising staff is another wonderful way to develop your own skills. And, as Carol noted, that goes a long way toward strengthening your own engagement. Thanks for the terrific question!
This month’s featured experts are….
Carol Troxell,Business Analyst, Senior Care Division at BlueCross Blue Shield of Tennessee
Carol Troxell is Business Analyst, Senior Care Division at BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee. She has more than 30 years of experience in Customer Service from different areas such as Commercial, BlueCare, and Medicare Advantage. She is a Ulysses Master Coach who teaches the call flow to new customer service employees, nurses, and case managers in Medicare Advantage. Carol works with staff monthly to ensure they follow the Ulysses call flow to resolve the caller’s issues and educates CSRs on how to increase their First Call Resolution score. Carol is also responsible for coordinating new employee training and updating training material during the Annual Enrollment Period in the Medicare Advantage area.
Dina Vance,Senior Vice President, Managing Director North America at Ulysses Learning
Dina Vance is Senior Vice President, Managing Director North America, for Ulysses Learning. She is a widely-respected thought leader on developing and leading contact center staff and a pioneer in improving performance of contact centers. Dina was responsible for the ground-level startup of two contact centers before she moved into a consulting role where she also managed the call center division for an international consulting and training organization. She has worked with Fortune 100 companies to optimize their contact center performance through focus on results, people, and process. Dina can be reached at Dvance@ulysseslearning.com; for more details on Ulysses Learning visit www.ulysseslearning.com.
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