By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD
I recently received an email from my friend Nancy Friedman, the Telephone Doctor. For several years Nancy had a regular column in Connections Magazine. I count twenty-eight articles in all, which are still online on ConnectionsMagazine.com for your perusal. For the most part, they are just as relevant now as they were a decade ago. She shared some great advice with us. Go check them out. Just type “By Nancy Friedman” in the search box.
In her email Nancy reminded me that Customer Service Week is coming up, October 5 through 9. I’d like to say this was a personal message from her to me, but it wasn’t. It was a mass mailing. You may have received her email, too. The important thing is that we celebrate Customer Service Week.
To have a successful call center, we need the right equipment, a robust infrastructure, great supervisors, and excellent management. But none of that matters without the right staff. Our agents are our key to success. Without them nothing else counts, and a really great team can even help overcome deficiencies in other areas of our operation, be it technology or leadership.
Yet in the day-to-day grind of running a call center, when we look at the schedule and the payroll, it’s all too easy to see agents as an expense. We can forget they are the backbone of our operation. Without their customer service skills, nothing else matters. Though we should celebrate them daily, at least we can take one week a year to make it all about them.
Consider all they do. First, they interact with customers who are too often at their worst when they call, text, or email. Agents endure a lot of abuse, usually without faltering. Of course we seldom hear about all they do right. It’s only the occasional slipup that gets attention.
Next, consider their schedule. Most people want to work nine to five, Monday through Friday. Call center staff seldom enjoy that luxury. We schedule them at odd times throughout the morning, afternoon, or evening. And there’s weekend work, third shift, and, of course, holidays. There are also short-shifts, split-shifts, unplanned overtime, and an occasional unavoidable double shift. While we try to avoid these inconveniences, sometimes we can’t. We ask much from our loyal staff.
Of course we give them lunch and supper breaks, but these must be staggered because the customers’ needs come first. As a result, few agents can eat lunch at noon or dinner at six. At some centers they never get to eat when the rest of us do because that is often the precise time we need everyone working.
Sometimes we fail to develop the ideal schedule. If we overstaff they’re bored, and their shift drags. When we understaff, they work nonstop with frenzied vigor. They leave work exhausted. If this happens too often, we risk burning them out.
For all this, we pay them as much as we can, and we wish it was more, but we also must balance their compensation with the need to remain viable as a business. We try to do extra things for them when possible, such as provide birthday treats, holiday celebrations, themed events, rewards and special recognition, parties, and food – lots of food. Though we may do these on an ongoing basis, we could likely do more for our staff, the agents who keep everything flowing and our businesses humming.
Let’s make an extra effort this Customer Service Week. Let’s thank our agents and celebrate them. Let’s show our appreciation by words and through actions. We may not say “thank you” often enough, but at least we can attempt to make up for it one week. Nancy Friedman suggests we consider making the week “negative free,” with “no negative words, thoughts, or deeds to anyone.” I like that.
Let’s celebrate our staff during Customer Service Week – and all year long.
[From Connection Magazine – Sep/Oct 2015]
Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Connections Magazine, covering the call center teleservices industry.