An Advice Column for Contact Center Managers
This is Ulysses Learning’s third year in bringing you one of our industry’s only Q & A columns for contact center executives—Challenge Solved. We are committed to giving you sound, well-informed advice to drive and optimize your contact center results AND we will continue to bring in well-respected experts to share their experiences as well. This month, we look to long-time industry business improvement consultant Debbie Tanis, to help answer our featured question.
Our reader who submitted her question is implementing new contact center technology to improve her company’s customer experience. She is ultimately responsible for the success of this initiative, which will require substantive changes to her center’s processes and approach to customer service excellence. I thought this was a good question to address right out of the gate this year. Most of us will be charged with implementing a new initiative (or more!) and we know that when something is new it requires some element of change. And we also know most people naturally resist change to one degree or another. Yet our success depends on effectively leading our people through that change—and that’s what our guest expert, Debbie, does best.
On a personal note, I’ve had the good fortune to collaborate with Debbie over the past 20 years on a number of performance improvement projects with global organizations across multiple industries. Debbie has an uncanny knack to know exactly what needs to be done to equip people with the strategies and tactics needed for a successful project. I have found her ability to work cross-functionally to drive execution of organizational growth and strategic change initiatives to be extraordinary and we’re excited to have her on our Ulysses team of consultants.
Q: Our company made a huge investment in a new technology application this year that will change the way our associates serve our customers. I’ve already begun to hear rumblings that people aren’t happy with the timing of the project, or with the changes they see down the road in the way they’ll be expected to perform. I’d like to learn your ideas about what I can do to set our people up for success. We’ve struggled a bit in the past when we had to implement similar changes and I’m looking for a new approach.
Senior Performance Consultant and Master Coach
A: Your question is an important one. Sadly, an alarming number of technology projects today fail to deliver on expected results. With that, let me get right to the heart of my recommendation for you. What is often missed when rolling out new initiatives is laser-focused attention on frontline supervisors and what they must do to support your new initiative. Usually organizations will assign project teams made up of line of business executives, technical specialists, and project managers. But they often fail to understand, involve, and guide the frontline supervisor appropriately.
Your frontline supervisor will make or break your contact center’s ultimate success with launching your new technology initiative—or any new initiative in your center—because they represent the very point where strategy meets execution. You can have the best overall strategy in the world and the best plan for implementing it, but if you can’t mobilize your supervisors to help your reps adapt and integrate new approaches into your daily business operation, you will be sorely disappointed with the outcome.
Here’s why I believe strongly in this recommendation. No matter how good or necessary your new technology application is, it represents change for your people and all change is personal. Your reps will look to you and your supervisors to understand the who, what, where, when, why, and how of the new project and the impact on them. And it’s not enough to train people and expect them to make the shift because they’re adults and that’s their job. While that is true, they need your help in guiding them through change—all humans do, to one degree or another.
Based on my experience with implementing strategic initiatives, here are eight tips to help you and your supervisors lead your team through the change of your new initiative.
1. Engage frontline supervisors early in the project. Don’t wait until you are ready to release your software to tap your frontline leaders. As critical stakeholders, they need to fully understand and get comfortable with the project early on. Allow enough lead time to take their insights and make them actionable. They are closest to your agents’ world. They understand how well their teams have implemented change in the past and are able to anticipate contact center agents’ questions and areas of potential resistance. This has the added benefit of giving your supervisors time to begin to prepare the team for the changes ahead.
2. Own the Change. You and your supervisors must embrace your role as change leaders. You must be very comfortable talking to others about your own “why” – why this initiative matters to you, and how you see it helping the business. You must be able to communicate this in an authentic way when your team members ask. Team members will take notice regarding the way you speak about the initiative and your level of passion. Of course, this does not mean the project needs to run perfectly. Be transparent about any delays or implementation problems, always staying positive and connecting back to the benefits of the improved customer experience you are building.
3. Provide supervisors with communication templates. One of the main reasons technology and customer experience initiatives fail, is because team members do not believe it is necessary. Don’t leave this one to chance. If your initiative is not explained properly, no amount of training will move agents to adopt the change. Be intentional about your message. Explain in very real terms, why the change is necessary and how this is good for the company, the department, and the call center agents.
4. Communicate your main messages seven or more times in multiple ways. Even though you and your supervisors may be convinced that you’re communicating to folks often about your project, communicate some more. It really is true, people need to hear the same message at least seven times, in order for them to make sense of it in their own way. This has been a rule of thumb for the world’s best ad agencies and it will work for you too.
5. Engage each team member individually. Don’t get me wrong, communicating your project messages at team meetings is necessary, yes, AND you must have conversations with your people. Your supervisors have built-in relationships with your call center agents. Through one-on-one conversations, agents can share their true feelings about the required changes. This is a normal and necessary part of helping agents embrace, internalize, and adopt your new customer experience approaches.
6. Spotlight early wins. Every time something positive happens in relation to your project in any way, shine a light on it…especially early on. You can build momentum and engagement by celebrating project wins and milestones. Give “shout outs” to early adopters. Everyone goes through the change curve at a different pace. Early adopters can help others buy in to the change and feel more comfortable trying new approaches.
7. Be a “myth buster.” Resistance and pushback usually show up in the form of misinformation. Get in front of this. Be proactive. If you spot or hear any inaccurate information being exchanged via any method, in a meeting, IM chat, email, etc., squash it quickly with accurate information. And, remember to activate tip number four. Squash misinformation seven or more times in multiple ways.
8. Equip supervisors for long-term success. Resist the temptation to “close out” your project and move to the next initiative. Be sure your supervisors have the support system they need to help agents fully adopt the changes and ensure you achieve a full return on your technology investment. Provide your supervisors with leadership training and performance coaching to help them grow in their role as critical leaders of organizational change. Host ongoing supervisory forums to measure the rate of adoption and talk about ways to remove any remaining roadblocks.
One last thought: You must develop a specific tactical plan for you and your supervisors to lead your team through this change. And make sure you’re meeting with your supervisors regularly to discuss their progress in executing the plan. Your supervisors and their actions are the missing link. They will help you push your new initiative over the finish line to a rousing round of applause by all!
More on this month’s featured expert…
Senior Performance Consultant and Master Coach
As a trusted partner to senior leaders, she leverages her deep knowledge of business strategy, change management, and organizational dynamics to construct practical approaches to driving measurable results.
Debbie brings more than 25 years of experience in the financial services, call center, franchising, and nonprofit sectors, with a special focus on improving customer experience and workplace productivity. She has extensive experience in performance consulting, change management, frontline leadership training and coaching, and project management. She is passionate about helping her clients operationalize their strategic priorities and excels at coming up with creative solutions to help leaders drive short-term results while building the performance systems needed to create sustainable change.
Before bringing her consulting expertise to Ulysses Learning’s clients in 2017, Debbie served in various leadership positions. Among these positions she was Director for Franchise Excellence for Dale Carnegie and Associates; Principal and Owner of the Tanis Riehm Group; Managing Director for the Bank Administration Institute (BAI); and Vice President for Omega Performance.
Email us your toughest challenge today!
NOTE: Your identity is protected; we will not publish your name or company name.
Challenge Solved! is sponsored by:
UlyssesLearning was 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 a multi-year recipient of the Gold Stevie© Award for best contact center customer service training.