Are Your Call Center Supervisors Up to the Task?

A survey recently conducted by The Call Center School shows that more than 80% of supervisors and team managers in call centers today were moved into that position from frontline agent.

While this promotion from within ensures that supervisors understand the call-handling process, care should be taken that the right agents are placed into supervisory positions. Just because someone is a great performer on the phones doesn’t mean they’ll be a good supervisor. Many good performers have a need for individual achievement and recognition – a trait that serves them well on the phones, but not necessarily one that makes them a good supervisor or manager. It’s important that the same careful screening used to identify the best candidates for the frontlines is also used to determine which employees will make the best leaders.

It’s also critical that your new supervisors and team managers receive the necessary training as they move into this new leadership role. Studies show that while most new supervisors receive training through human resources on general supervisory and leadership skills, only about 20% of these supervisors receive any call-center specific supervisory training. While general supervisory classes in time management, diversity, and how to do a performance review are necessary and useful, new call center supervisors will also need some specialized knowledge and skills to be successful in this new role.

It is important to note that supervisory knowledge and skills typically fall into two categories – people management and call center operations. Here is a list of things that call center supervisors need to know, and be able to do, in ten different call center areas:

People management

1. Recruiting and hiring: Supervisors in some centers are more involved in this process than in other centers. But even with a specialized team of recruiters and staff to do screening, the supervisor will at one point get involved in at least the interview process. It’s important to have the necessary interviewing skills to ask the right questions and read responses to find the best match for the job.

Can your supervisors…
–Identify the most critical job selection criteria for open positions?
–Outline the beginning-to-end recruiting and screening process for your center?
–Describe the most effective interview questions to identify the best candidates?

2. Retention strategies: Turnover is running rampant in many centers today. Many organizations have developed a retention strategy for addressing compensation issues and improving hiring protocols. However, satisfactory compensation and job fit do not guarantee job longevity. In far too many instances, employee turnover can be directly attributed to supervisor/employee relationships. Each supervisor must understand what the key drivers are to team and individual satisfaction and strive to meet them.

Can your supervisors…
–Identify the turnover rate and resulting cost for their team?
–Pinpoint the main reasons their team members leave?
–Develop an individual retention strategy for each team member?

3. Defining performance standards: Defining realistic goals and expectations and measuring their attainment are critical to every call center’s success. These goals should be defined with corporate and business unit objectives in mind and then be defined down to the individual behaviors that you want to see demonstrated by the frontline staff.

Can your supervisors…
–Outline the steps of an overall performance management model?
–Translate corporate and call center goals into individual requirements?
–Incorporate standards and definitions into an appropriate scoring and review process?

4. Diagnosing performance problems: Once goals and standards of performance have been defined, supervisors must be well versed in comparing actual performance to the goals to identify performance gaps and diagnose the root cause of performance issues unique to the call center environment.

Can your supervisors…
–Perform a “gap analysis” to identify the most critical performance problems?
–Diagnose the root cause of an individual’s performance problem?
–Identify the most appropriate supervisory strategy to improve performance?

5. Coaching and counseling: One of the most fundamental skills needed by frontline supervisors is the ability to coach and motivate employees. There are many things about working in a call center that make it unique and coaching skills that work in another environment may need to be fine-tuned to be successfully applied to call center issues.

Can your supervisors…
–Blend listening and feedback for the most effective coaching session?
–Pinpoint scenarios where performance counseling is needed?
–Employ a system of consequences to shape employee performance?

6. Motivational techniques: There are six main types of strategies for keeping staff motivated and happy on the job. All supervisors should understand basic motivational theory and how to select the motivational techniques that are best suited for their unique staff. Understanding which techniques work best in the unique world of call centers is critical to performance success.

Can your supervisors…
–Determine the top motivators for each team member?
–Outline basic principles of providing recognition and rewards?
–Plan for ways to have fun in the center?

7. Building and managing teams: Most call center organizations are built around a team concept. In many centers these teams are no more than a group of people that happen to report to the same person, while in other centers, the team is an empowered, cohesive unit where each team member takes responsibility for the productivity and success of the group. Supervisors should know how to create and build a successful team, beginning with team charters and assignments.

Can your supervisors…
–Organize a team matrix to outline member responsibilities and roles?
–Organize and hold effective team meetings?
–Create programs that motivate the team as a whole, as well as individuals?

Call center operations

8. Staffing and scheduling: Given that call center staff are at the mercy of incoming customer calls, the issue of staffing and scheduling staff is one that every supervisor will likely have to address. While each supervisor doesn’t have to be able to forecast workload and create staff schedules, every supervisory or management person should understand the basic concepts of call center staffing and the tradeoffs with cost, service, and productivity.

Can your supervisors…
–Outline the basic forecasting and scheduling process in your call center?
–Describe the concept of the “power of one” to all team members?
–Identify the impact of schedule exceptions on call center service and productivity?

9. Key performance indicators: Managing in today’s call center means managing by the numbers. There is a vast array of numbers available from today’s call center systems and the savvy manager will understand how to assimilate the statistics to isolate performance trends and exceptions. Call center supervisors should understand what these measures are and how their team affects the overall call center’s performance success.

Can your supervisors…
–Calculate numbers associated with schedule adherence and staff shrinkage?
–Identify the impact of staff changes on service level and occupancy?
–Outline the top ten measures of performance for the team and for individuals?

10. Call center technology: While most supervisors don’t need to be able to trouble-shoot problems or program the ACD, it is important for this group to have a basic understanding of the technologies at work in their contact center. Each should understand the basic concepts of call routing and delivery and how each technology is used to support the customer interaction.

Can your supervisors…
–Describe the technology path a call takes on its way to the agent desktop?
–Identify the reports available that supervisors need to see daily.
–Outline your center’s technologies that support service and workforce efficiency.

Benjamin Franklin perhaps said it best, “An investment in knowledge pays the biggest dividends.” Implementing a comprehensive supervisory/management training curriculum for your frontline supervisors that focuses on the unique operations and issues in the call center will pay for itself many times over. A well-informed, highly skilled management team will produce measurable results in terms of increased call center operational efficiency, improved service to customers, happier staff, and decreased staff turnover.

Penny Reynolds is a founding partner of The Call Center School, a Nashville, TN-based consulting and education company.

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