If I Were a Contact Center Rep …

Kathleen Peterson Rants & Raves by Kathleen Peterson

I have spent many hours in Contact Centers of varied shapes, sizes, and purposes. At times, I have been haunted by what I would “want” if I were a frontline representative toiling away on behalf of my employer. So here are seven requests that come to mind.

1. PLEASE give me the “big picture.”

Many reps toil endlessly without ever knowing what exactly the corporation, company, or enterprise is really after from a strategic perspective. Strategy discussions are rarely held with the front line. It is almost as if the front line were simply too … well, “simple” to comprehend “lofty” goals. I vigorously disagree!

Contact Center reps are often folks that are “stopping by” in this role. They are smart, competent, and nimble resources that are able to comprehend, act on, and support the “big picture.” But first, the front line must know what that big picture is, what the strategic goals are, and what role their department plays. If these facts are known AND frontline managers reinforce alignment to strategic objectives, the environment is stronger and more visible across the enterprise as a strategic asset rather than a must-have “cost center.”

2. Tell me about OPPORTUNITIES. 

How many people leave your Contact Center annually? What many might label as “turnover” is really an indicator of dissatisfaction with the current job. Some Human Resource departments do not count within their turnover numbers any staff taking another job within the enterprise because the company has not “lost” the asset. I object to this practice for the Contact Center. Customers have lost access to an experienced, informed, and well-trained representative. They are left with a sea of new-hires trying desperately to catch up … perhaps so that they too can move on and out of the Contact Center.

This is not just an issue related to reps. I recently interviewed a supervisor within a Technical Support Help Desk team. One of his stated objectives was to get his best people “off the phone.” My question is … to do what? Move out of the department to IT or Product Development? I think about the potential effect of that supervisor’s objective on the Contact Center’s intellectual standing and its impact to the Customer Experience.

A deliberate advancement of resources out of the Contact Center abandons the objectives of excellence for the Customer Experience. We all know when we are connected to a rep with less than adequate information to resolve our inquiry. In fact, we are so familiar with this situation we even understand what to do! (We hang up, call back, and hope for another rep with more experience, or ask to be escalated to a supervisor.)

Suppose we had more opportunities WITHIN the Contact Center. Why does Product Development have to be a totally separate department? Is it hard to imagine cross-pollination with Contact Center resources, especially since the customer is right there providing unbelievable amounts of actionable information around product performance, changing needs, and preferences? The Contact Center has been maligned in so many companies that it is deemed downright insulting to imagine other groups co-locating or spending time handling customer contacts. What does that tell you?

Don’t let the only opportunities for advancement be “to leave” the Contact Center. Think boldly and creatively about how the organizational infrastructure and the customer would benefit from a complete “blow up” in terms of norms and opportunities.

3. Lead me.

Leadership is an asset in the Contact Center. Great leaders at this management level generate memorable experiences for their staff and for customers. This is not to say that they get everything they want or need. Rather, it is the fact that these leaders know WHAT they need, have the competency to fight for it, and keep senior leaders engaged in the Customer Experience via the Contact Center.

Many may disagree with this opinion … the Contact Center does not need a frontline leader that can “jump on the phone and do the rep’s job.” There are plenty of people skilled to do that. While it may seem that reps like the fact that their leaders CAN do the job, what they really need is leaders that can DO the job of making a case to senior management. For example, think about the Contact Center manager that can make a case to a director, VP, CIO, or CFO for budget dollars to staff and train properly, align cross-functionally to refine forecasts, integrate disparate systems, and on and on. This is the work leaders need to be doing in the Contact Center if they intend for people to follow.

4. Train me and I will learn.

Relevant training is the most valuable investment Contact Centers can make. Sadly, many training dollars are wasted on irrelevant topics, the wrong conferences, and public seminars that yield little more than a fun day offsite listening to general topics without the value of specific and actionable information.

Training is like vital nutrition for the front line. If reps ingest only the sugary, salty, and fatty versions of training the likelihood of learning taking place is slim to none. Training must be integrated to what the front line needs to KNOW, DO, and FEEL. It must be organized around frequency, complexity, and criticality of information and have some kind of measureable outcome. Far too many Contact Centers today short change training and then pay for it in all manner of poor performance and low morale.

Training must not be thought of as a new-hire only event. The nature of contacts handled in the Contact Center determines what ongoing learning is required related to systems, processes, new products, or other skills. Managing training and learning is a job in and of itself. Rarely do you get lucky enough to have a manager, coach, trainer, curriculum developer, eLearning expert, information architect, etc., rolled up into one person. Whatever the size of your operation, acquire the right training skills and tools … even if you have to skip some other assets. Keep in mind that in most cases the well-trained need less management.

If your training is skillfully designed, well developed, and properly delivered (via whatever channel) you have every right to expect learners to learn. Hold them to it!

5. Coach me.

If coaching is going to happen … please, please, please make it meaningful. Few things in life are more painful than listening to an inexperienced person attempt to coach. Coaching is NOT identifying everything the rep has done wrong and letting them know as you discover it. This process of coaching is present when training is lacking or has been conducted poorly; coaching now becomes a “search for the guilty” when things go wrong. Telling staff they are wrong when they never learned what was right, is just poor management.

To provide effective coaching, it is critical to frame up requirements, assess the successes and shortfalls of current coaching practices, and provide actionable feedback contextualized within the organization’s strategic goals and objectives. As well, coaches must be proficient in the art of compelling communication; otherwise the investment is lost.

6.Make metrics matter.

Contact Centers are blessed and cursed when it comes to metrics; while many exist, only a few really matter. Far too many Contact Centers browbeat the front line with incidental data being reported, expectations being framed, and alarms going off to no good end.

Metrics about the front line come into play only AFTER the Contact Center’s metrics as a whole have been evaluated. For many years I have said, “Agents control the call; management controls the queue.” Yet, I constantly encounter managers that try to measure a rep’s service level. That is NOT possible! Service level is a Center-wide measure, a measurement of the effectiveness of the planning process rather than of the front line. There is not enough space here to expound on that premise. Suffice it to say that if you are a manager that focuses on calls per rep, on handle time targets, or on any isolated metric, you are not likely doing well at your job.

Focusing on the metric performance of frontline reps is simply a dangerous game with no winners. In fact, it is a game that will drive both reps and customers out of your Contact Center. Focus on getting the right number of people, in the right place, at the right time, doing the right things. You will find that the offending members of the front line will not be difficult to identify.

7. Please give me a decent chair.

When people are hired for a job that requires being seated all day, wouldn’t it be nice if a genuine investment were made in all ergonomic areas? Yes! And of particular importance are the chairs in the Contact Center. I have seen many operations using chairs that look like they have been circulated throughout the building for years. They often are old, nonadjustable, abused, uncomfortable, and sometimes broken. Be honest … if your chairs are awful, order some new ones. You won’t believe the morale boost you will enjoy by making an investment in your reps’ behind!


Take some time and think these about these requests. Have you asked your reps what they want? Can you guess what they would say?