People Skills a Benchmark Standard

In any organization, getting the job done right involves process and attitude. An organization could have the best process yet fail to satisfy customers if attention is not paid to nurturing and managing the attitude of employees.  I see the construct of attitude as a catch all term for phrases such as commitment to, honesty about, respect for, and dignity of. During my practice as a relationship management trainer, I have found that organizations strive to document their process in order to provide employees with an objective standard of practice. It’s more difficult to nail down the “how-to” people skills, but not impossible.

Is it necessary to document best practice in the area of people skills? Yes! Managers, supervisors, and team leads don’t come hard wired with the techniques for getting the best out of people. Documenting what works has the potential to not only drive behavior, but also serve as a conversation starter, and a base for reflection. Managing people is an art, and every art has its best practices. Search the web.

Over the next few postings in February and March, I am going to present the skeleton of a people skills document. Its title is Rapport Building in the Workplace. As you think about improving your process, let me encourage you to give thought to nurturing and managing attitude.

Reconsidering Call Centres

by C. Laven

Last Christmas, I visited my sister in Moncton, New Brunswick. She told me that her son’s fiancée had begun working at a call centre. My nephew is an engineer and I asked my sister whether her son’s girlfriend liked her work. She replied that the young woman had little choice in the matter as employment was scarce and the call centre was the community’s foremost employer. Recently, I heard a CBC commentator discuss the high turnover at call centres and the need, as he saw it, to give workers more control over their scripts. I agreed with him that call centre employees should be managed more capably.

In the late nineties, I‘d met a Greek woman who had emigrated to Canada a few years earlier. Anna, who was in her early fifties, had worked as an engineer in her native country. She could not get a position in her field but, at long last, found work at a Toronto call-centre. Using up most of her savings, Ana purchased a small house near the downtown core. Even though she worked many hours at the centre, Anna earned barely enough to keep up with her mortgage payments. She told me that she detested her work which she found tedious. Months after we first met, Anna admitted that she was entangled in a seemingly never-ending conflict with a co-worker. I’d visited Anna at her workplace and, as each person worked in isolation in his or her cubicle, interaction was limited. I suspected that Anna was succumbing to stress.

Like Anna, I have also worked in a call centre. My scripts, whose intent was to obtain feedback on a variety of products and services, varied little from week to week. The work seemed meaningless and I felt isolated. This sentiment was intensified by the repetitive nature of the work. Occasionally, over a brief lunch, I talked to co-workers. I learned that another person, like myself, was between jobs and we were both determined to find “real work”. I also spoke to a middle-aged woman who was saving a “little extra” for a trip she and her husband were planning to take. A third person, a part-time university student, looked forward to commencing full-time studies. He left shortly before I did.

Would it not be to a corporation’s benefit to reduce turnover and raise productivity by dealing with employee discontent? Three issues spring to mind. The first, palpably, is the boredom employees frequently feel as they mouth the same scripts over and over again. The second concern is the sense of isolation employees chronically experience as they work in their cubicles for the characteristically anonymous organization that employs them. The third is the oftentimes low pay which, as well as being resented, leave employees feeling that their work is not valued. Lets consider how each of the three issues might be dealt with.

Inviting call centre employees to be more creative is one solution to avoid boredom. During the hiring process, a manager not only provides information about the company and explains the position, but asks the interviewee to collaborate on a short script. Interviewer and interviewee might even compare a ‘traditional script’ with the newly created one! If I were the manager, I’d try to instill a sense of control in employees by encouraging them to come up with scripts of their own and suggesting that these could be varied. An added advantage is that this strategy enables the employee to respond in a more nuanced way to the countless clients spoken to over the phone. Employees might slip-up from time to time, but missteps could be points of departure for improvement; in any case, calls are monitored, thus reducing the risk of verbal gaffes. It is expected that employees who are willing to seize the initiative would do well with the new approach.

The second concern is isolation. Supplying employees with updated company narratives enables them to appreciate the larger context in which their work takes place. Providing a bulletin board, or blog, to solicit feedback and general communications could improve morale. Acknowledging job performance and, occasionally, inviting individuals to convene for social events results in a pleasanter workplace.

The third issue is poor pay. If it is within the financial means of the company, then improving wages should be considered. For instance, it may be cost-efficient, in the longer-term, to offer a small raise to individuals who performed well enough to be retained past a traditional three-month probation period. Of this group of employees, those who proved consistently top-notch could be offered merit pay. In time, the manager might discover individuals whose business savvy could be used to good advantage inside the organization.

I’ve mentioned a few simple ways to improve the morale and performance of call-centre employees. An inventive manager can doubtless come up with more sophisticated strategies. The benefit to all is that finding ways to increase job satisfaction will result in more motivated employees, reduced turnover and greater productivity.

C. Laven is a freelance writer at LavenWrites. She can be contacted at lleahcc@gmail.com.