Quoted by one of our clients; Adrian Turner, Head of Sales at Freedom Insurance.
To generate consistently outstanding results, a contact centre needs a top notch centre manager. And they’re not easy to come by. The best managers possess a wide variety of technical and strategic skills along with a set of specific personal traits that cannot be easily taught.
Being particularly good at one aspect of the job is no compensation for being weak in another. It’s no good having a manager who’s a technology and metrics whiz but lacks people skills. And it’s in no-one’s best interests to hire a manager who’s an inspiring people motivator but has little interest in strategic planning and business processes.
So what should an organisation look for in a contact centre manager? What qualities must the manager possess to get the most out of the sales team? Well, as is pretty clear already, there are plenty. And here’s some of the key ones to look out for.
A great contact centre manager is a visionary – someone who understands how the unit’s day-to-day operations mesh with the organisation’s broad strategic goals. This type of manager is also continually looking towards the future, thinking about how to best equip the workplace for the opportunities and challenges that are likely to emerge down the track.
While it can be easy to get bogged down in day-to-day tasks and putting out fires, an effective manager will spend a proportion of their working week eyeing what’s around the corner and laying the groundwork for next year’s success.
Some front line contact centre agents are more ambitious and capable than their job descriptions would suggest. Good contact centre managers are keen observers of their staff, always on the lookout for those who might welcome, and be able to handle, extra responsibility.
According to Adrian Turner, Head of Sales at Freedom Insurance, one of Australia’s leading risk insurance providers, talent spotting is a part of the job of contact centre manager.
“At Freedom Insurance we encourage our contact centre managers to keep an eye out for potential future team leaders”, he said. “We give selected agents opportunities to show their stuff, for example by letting them run a coaching session or a team meeting. By doing that we’re helping them become ready to step up when an opportunity for advancement arises. This also allows management to road-test agents to determine whether they’re up for the challenge.”
The best leaders inspire trust, respect, motivation and loyalty amongst those they are leading. A great contact centre manager understands not only the principles of leadership but the art of it as well. When those two qualities are embodied by the manager, team members will rise to their potential and produce the best possible results for the organisation they represent.
Good leaders are good communicators, and a great contact centre manager will know how to communicate effectively with team members. Whether it’s laying out the company’s vision and goals, delivering a coaching session or providing technical instruction, an effective contact centre manager will be able to communicate what’s necessary in a way that fosters mutual understanding and sets team members on the right path.
Contact centre leadership is also about holding agents to account and constantly seeking ways for them to better themselves. Managers need to clearly set out performance benchmarks and provide the required mentoring to ensure agents achieve – and ideally exceed – their goals. Once performance results are in, they need to be analysed and discussed. And when under-performance occurs, a capable manager will approach the issue with authority, professionalism and sensitivity.
For newly appointed managers who have been promoted from within their organisation’s contact centre, maintaining a professional distance from previous work buddies can be a challenge. According to Adrian Turner, a great contact centre manager will intuitively know how to navigate this aspect of their new job:
“In a contact centre there’s usually a lot of personal camaraderie amongst agents, and they often form tight personal bonds with each other. When someone is promoted to manager they have to somewhat distance themselves from the team in order to provide the type of professional supervision that’s required in the role. This can breed some resentment amongst subordinates – particularly when admonishments need to be carried out – however a good manager will know how to walk the line between friend and boss.”
The best leaders also know when to leave their egos at the door. Admitting failures and missteps can be difficult, but a capable contact centre manager understands when and why it’s required. ‘If the boss doesn’t admit his mistakes, why should I?’ should not be the default position of agents when a screw-up occurs. By hiding errors and misjudgements problems remain unresolved, possibly leading to bigger problems down the line.
In a similar vein, excellent contact centre managers welcome constructive feedback from their subordinates. The agents are the ones on the front line, every day accumulating information and knowledge about what’s working and what’s not. Contact centre managers need to be open to ideas, and even criticism, from the agents under their charge. As an added benefit, this also helps agents feel as though their voices are being heard.
Recent innovations in technology have led to big changes in the way contact centre operations are set up, carried out and measured. In this modern digital age, a phone call is just one of many ways that contact centres and customers interact. Today’s contact centre agents also work through email, chatbots, text, social media and other communication channels.
Contact centre managers need to have at least a rudimentary understanding of contact centre technology, particularly with regards to new, upgraded and emerging applications and solutions. No company or individual wants to work with outdated tools – particularly of the type that reduces competitiveness, chokes productivity or limits efficiency.
Excellent managers don’t wait for others to tell them what equipment they and their agents should be working with. Rather, they seek out what’s best for the circumstance and put forward a well-argued case as to why it should be adopted.
For agents, contact centre work can be frustrating, stressful and repetitive. Against that backdrop it’s no wonder that staff retention is an ongoing problem in the industry. The most successful centre managers are those who can cultivate a work environment that brings out the best in its agents and makes them want to stay. A good contact centre manager has a practical and intuitive sense of the day-to-day difficulties faced by agents and a desire and ability to address workers’ concerns as they arise.
To be effective in the role a contact centre manager must be personable and empathetic – all the while demonstrating unwavering professionalism. Agents need to feel comfortable going to their manager for support, feedback and guidance. The best managers are approachable and non-confrontational in nature; they know when to lend a sympathetic ear, what the right thing to say is and how best to steer people in the right direction.
At Freedom Insurance, whose customers sometimes only need to make a claim when personal tragedy strikes, agents can occasionally find themselves dealing with customers who are in a great deal of distress. This can take a toll on agents, and it’s an aspect of contact centre operations which requires delicate handling by supervisors.
“At Freedom our services include funeral insurance, life insurance and accidental death and injury cover, so it’s not uncommon for our agents to be dealing with customers who are experiencing extremely difficult and upsetting life circumstances”, says Adrian. “A good contact centre manager knows how to help agents cope with these types of calls. You can’t just say to the agent, ‘brush it off and get on to the next call’. A good manager knows that sometimes the best thing to do is to give the agent a break from the phones, or to just sit and listen as the agent expresses his or her thoughts and feelings about what they’ve just experienced. Sensitivity is key here, and the best contact centre managers possess that personal quality”.
The best type of workplace culture has strong camaraderie and a feeling amongst its workers that they are valued by management. Typically tied up on the phone most of the day in a small cubicle, it’s easy for an agent to feel isolated and less-than-important. Effective contact centre managers take the time to get to know their agents on a personal level so they don’t feel as though they’re just a small cog in a big machine. Put simply, good managers know how to communicate to their workers that they matter.
And while it may be unrealistic to try to create a workplace that is genuinely ‘fun’, that doesn’t mean it has to be mundane. A great contact centre manager recognises the need to keep worker stagnation at bay via rewards programs, social events, team building exercises and other activities that stimulate the senses or reduce stress or foster employee engagement.
Good contact centre managers are not afraid to become an agent for a day. By doing the work the agents do managers can achieve an enhanced understanding of the ups and downs that agents experience on a day-to-day basis. The insights gained can help managers fine-tune their contact centre strategy, possibly leading to improved operational performance and a more sustainable workforce.
This activity will also produce enhanced respect amongst staff. Employees don’t like to feel that the work they do is beneath the pay grade of those they report to, and stepping onto the front line is a great way to demonstrate that.
Contact centre manager is a demanding position requiring multi-tasking at a high level. The technical skills and personal qualities required to succeed in the role are many and varied. The ideal person for the job is someone with a strong grasp of human psychology, operational processes, business technology and organisational strategy. And that’s just for starters. As such, any search for the ‘ideal’ contact centre manager may well prove elusive.
However, by appointing someone to the role with the best available blend of ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ skills, any contact centre will be well placed to achieve exceptional results, both now and into the future.