An Advice Column Only for
Contact Center Managers
For many contact center leaders, it often can be challenging to stay connected with employees working remotely from home or satellite locations. The reader question we selected to kick off our Challenge Solved! advice column series in 2018 is on this very topic!
We’d like to thank Ulysses Learning’s clients Jeff Schmidt from HMSA (Hawaii Medical Services Association – an independent licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association) and Courtney Kaylor from BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee for their added insights on increasing management visibility with virtual staff.
And a special thank you goes out to our reader who submitted this month’s question!
Remember, anyone reading this column is invited to email us your contact-center related question. If we can’t answer it, we will seek out the experts who can!
Q: We’re adding more and more virtual agents to our contact center team. I feel like it’s adding to the complexity of our operation in ways we are not prepared to address, especially when it comes to supervising them. Any tips to help us keep our virtual agents engaged and feeling connected with our main contact center operation?
A:Dina Vance, Ulysses Learning
We were just discussing this topic with a group of over 50 of our client Master Coaches from many of North America’s largest and most forward-thinking contact centers. You are certainly not alone when it comes to adding more virtual agents to your employee mix. I see this trend continuing for quite some time as it makes sound business sense when done correctly.
After reflecting on your question, I have a handful of recommendations for you to consider, including some terrific feedback from our recent Master Coach session. One of the first recommendations I have for you is to secure a portion of your operating budget for the express purpose of virtual employee development. Literally, separate this investment from your other employee development investments and give Virtual Team Development its own line item on your budget. You have to think a bit differently when it comes to developing virtual employees and you have to make their development a top priority. Now, this doesn’t mean that your on-site reps are any less important, but the old expression “out of sight, out of mind” really does apply here. When you’re running a busy contact center, you’ll have your fair share of daily fires to put out and the main center and those who work in it will almost always take up more of your mind share and time. Again, secure whatever dollars are needed to analyze, develop and manage virtual or remote rep performance appropriately. It’s okay to treat remote reps differently in this regard.
Jeff Schmidt, a Ulysses Learning client who serves as Program Manager and Master Coach for HMSA (Hawaii Medical Services Association), makes sure a portion of his department’s training and development budget each year is earmarked for travel investments to HMSA contact centers on neighboring islands. While HMSA has implemented video conferencing as well, Jeff has found traveling to his company’s remote contact centers to be absolutely priceless. His physical presence, even though it’s not that often, helps strengthen the connection between the main and remote contact center operations and builds trust among remote reps. The remote reps appreciate his attention and respond to his performance improvement coaching throughout the year, even when most of it is done virtually.
What Jeff is doing by making these periodic visits to HMSA’s remote contact centers is what I refer to as making a deposit in the emotional bank account of the representative. These deposits go a long way in developing reps, implementing new processes and improving productivity, especially when you have to make an emotional bank “withdrawal” and give constructive feedback. From my experience, having an emotional connection to remote and virtual reps is one of the guiding factors to a successful virtual workforce.
Another recommendation I have is to get your virtual employees as involved as you can in implementing your performance improvement processes, especially your coaching process. Courtney Kaylor, a Master Coach and Performance Improvement Analyst with BlueCross Blue Shield of Tennessee (BCBST), shared a few best practices with our Master Coaches recently that I find are particularly helpful.
Each of BCBST’s contact centers is staffed with 25 to 30 percent telecommuters. Courtney suggests that managers provide as much real-time monitoring as possible and to not be secretive about it. She sends out a message to reps (as well as other coaches) ahead of time, letting them know that she’s going to be listening in on their call “side-by-side” even though she’s not physically there. She’ll even send out a skype message to let them know she’s on a particular call with them.
Whenever you can treat monitoring and coaching as a partnership-building activity you will strengthen trust with your team. While building trust is important to do with all reps, it’s absolutely paramount with virtual reps because they don’t have the benefit of being there, in person, to participate in other activities that engender trust and engagement.
Another recommendation I have is to go out of your way to get remote employees to participate in group meetings. Sometimes it can be easy to forget they are on the phone or viewing via the web. You need to probe them for their feedback. Again, Courtney, has a few simple best practices to get greater participation from her telecommuters. In meetings, she’ll call them by name and ask them questions regarding the topic, for example, a current campaign. She’ll make sure to ask their opinions and seek out their recommendations. I’ve heard her in action and you can sense her virtual team members are positively responding to her prompts.
Finally, a last recommendation I’ll share with you is to use social media as a vehicle to increase your visibility with your team and encourage communication throughout the day. For example, many of our clients with at home agents use live group chat each day so reps can ask questions and get quick responses throughout the day. You can also share quick, simple posts with your team on a number of topics – from quick notes when you’re leaving your desk for a meeting or running late to a group session, to motivational quotes or words of encouragement. Social media can be a great way to connect to all employees – onsite and virtually.
This month’s featured expert is….
Dina Vance, Senior Vice President, Managing Director North America, Ulysses Learning
Dina Vance, is a widely-respected thought leader on developing and leading contact center customer service, sales and coaching staff, and a pioneer in optimizing contact center performance through a focus on results, people and process.
In her current capacity with Ulysses Learning, Dina is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the company and also serves as the chief client relationship executive, working with Fortune 100 clients and other progressive organizations to redefine the way customers are cared for. Under her leadership, Ulysses has become well known for its work in transforming customer service, sales and coaching cultures through the development of emotional intelligence or “EQ” so that Judgment@WorkTM can be confidently, consistently and expertly applied on every call. The company has special expertise in serving the insurance, utilities and financial services industries.
Before joining Ulysses in 1999, Dina was responsible for the ground-level startup of two contact centers which led to her accepting a role as call center lead consultant and division manager for an international bank training organization.
Dina can be reached at email@example.com; for more details on Ulysses Learning visit www.ulysseslearning.com.
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UlyssesLearningwas founded in 1995 as a joint venture with Northwestern University’s Learning Sciences department and continues to bring clients new, innovative enhancements to its industry-leading training. Contact centers achieve profound business results, ahead of schedule, with Ulysses Learnings’ artful blend of patented simulation-based e-learning, facilitated exercises, coaching and tools, that redefine the way customers are cared for and transform customer service, sales, and coaching cultures. Ulysses has the only training proven to build emotional intelligence or “EQ” so that Judgment@WorkTM can be confidently, consistently, and expertly applied on every call.
Ulysses Learning is the most recent Gold Stevie© Award winner for best contact center customer service training.