The Turnaround Factor: Digging Deeper

One of the most important leadership lessons of my life happened five minutes after I stepped off that stage. I’d been giving out recognition awards on my massive “road trip,” a 27 states in 45 days kind of tour of motivational kick off meetings in Verizon Wireless’ outsourced call centers.

I was the “client”–read that “scary exec”–who was doing everything in my capacity to have my team viewed as developers, not auditors.

As I made my way to the back of the room from the makeshift stage, I felt a gentle tap on my shoulder. I turned around to find a small, gray-haired women with eyes gleeming with pride. It was Lisa, the service rep who had swept the recognition awards. Lisa was one of the heroines in this call center’s turnaround story, I was delighted to talk to her to understand the secret to her success.

“Lisa, congratulations! You’ve got to tell me, what’s the secret?”

What she said next was so utterly simple and yet totally profound.

“Last year I was almost fired.  My metrics were a disaster.

Everyone kept telling me that I needed to be more confident, to be the expert for our customers. But the problem was I just wasn’t FEELING confident. And I didn’t THINK of myself as an expert.

And then one day, my team leader gave me an opportunity to re-record my opening greeting. I decided this was my big chance to sound absolutely energetic, confident, and convey my expertise. I recorded it again and again until it sounded just right.

And then a miraculous thing happened. The customers heard that greeting. They began to greet me with comments like, “Wow, you sure sound cheerful for so early in the morning.” Or, “I am glad that I got the expert, I should be in good hands.” Well, after that I just had to stay cheerful, and began feeling more confident. And you know what, I had to be an expert. Turns out, I am one.

After thousands of calls, only once have I had a customer respond to this in a negative way. My customers are getting a great experience because I know I can deliver it.

And now, here I am.”

That’s what we SHOULD have been celebrating… her story… that’s what the others needed to hear. Why hadn’t I heard the back story BEFORE I’d taken the stage? Why had I wasted that recognition moment?

I vowed to no longer be the executive hand-shaker without getting the details. (See also:  why your recognition is backfiring).

Full of confident-humility, she was poised to teach me what mattered most.

You Can Too

Even if it seems impossible to go that deep, it’s worth it.

Take time to understand the turnarounds. Hear the whole story. Ensure others know it too. Know matter how many layers fall between, as a leader, it’s always your job to know the good stuff.

I promise. It’s worth it.

How To Be A Better Team Leader: A Case Study

I used to be one of those disengaged reps, you’re talking about.” We were all a bit shocked by Mike’s response. After all this was a recognition focus group for the top reps in this enormous call center. Several of whom were on the short-list to become team leaders.

I smiled gently, my eyes pleading for this brave, young rep to continue. My team leader was just terrible. The rest of the high potential reps turned to him in a chorus of disgust:

  • “It shouldn’t matter what your team leader does.”
  • “You are in charge of your career.”
  • “You need to do great work and people will notice.”
  • “You should care about the customers no matter what.”
  • It’s about building a bigger network.”

Mike continued:

“It’s more complicated than that. When I first got here I was so optimistic. I worked my butt off, but my team leader didn’t notice. He never said “thank you”. I got ZERO feedback on what I was doing right or wrong. We never talked about my career. So I gradually did less and less and got the same response. So I figured, why bother?

Then they re-shuffled the shifts and I got moved to a different team leader. Everything changed. This guy cared about me. He gave me great feedback. He shared all the career options available and we made a plan to get me ready to lead a team. He helped me believe I could do it. And now I’m here being recognized.”

Silence. The others still weren’t convinced. And for some reason, a little mad. I asked softly, “How many of you want to be team leaders?” All but one raised their hand.

You End the Story

Instead of sharing what I said next, let’s play with this:

  • What would you say next?
  • What questions would you ask?
  • What teachable point of view would you go for?

Want Great Customer Service? Call A Vampire

If you need to contact a customer service call center, today would be a good day.

You will likely get great customer service. Employees will be happy, spirits will be high.

Oh, and the pictures will be fantastic.

From my experience and in talking to leaders in call centers across the industry, today the phones will be answered by vampires, zombies, clowns, and pirates. There will be joy in their voices, a skip in their steps, and their customer service will be delightful.

Why Costumes Lead to Great Customer Service

I asked a seasoned customer service leader why costumes work.

It’s the energy. My theory has always been that results on any singular day are driven by atmosphere. So costume days increase the fun and excitement, and it shows in the tone and inflection. When you are having fun and are excited, the pace of your conversation, the conviction of your voice are upped another level. The secret we all wish we could bottle is the energy and excitement on the floor. For the long-term it’s driven by effective coaching, and the only way coaching works is if you have a willing audience, you get that by how you interact daily.

Why Leaders Should Wear One Too

I have spent much of my career finding excuses to wear wigs, sing songs, and inspiring others to do the same. My “best of” pics lining the walls of my office include my entire leadership team dressed as the gang from Star Wars, Diana Ross and the Supremes, and other “you just had to be there” moments. These times create lasting memories and bring the team closer together.

Costumes work because…

  • Costumes are silly, and silly is fun. We all need that
  • Fun makes us real. Real creates connections. Connections inspire awesome customer experiences
  • Teams long for a leader to show they are vulnerable. Nothing says exposed like a blue wig.
  • Risk taking is an important leadership competency, it’s a bit gutsy to ask your team to follow you into a costume, maybe it will make the next risk easier to take
  • Silly creates lasting team experiences which draw the team together. “Remember the time she had us all.”(they may complain, but I guarantee the guy who resisted the most has a picture of that day in his office)
  • It says fun is good. Let’s make more. And send me your pics.

Small Gestures of Trust Build Great Results

I was attending a breakout session on social media strategy at the International Customer Service Association conference, when the presenter asked, “who allows their reps to have Facebook on their work computers?” This is not the norm in the call center space, but one guy raised his hand. I knew immediately whose table I wanted to sit at for lunch. Where there’s one gesture of trust, there’s generally others and I wanted to learn everything he had to share.

Lunch was great, the conversation even better and just as I suspected Klaus Buellesbach, Director of Ace Hardware Care Centers, has an amazing track record of results.

His quality results and other metrics are quite strong, and despite substantial organizational change, his center has had no turnover for two years (with the exception of one retirement). Trust leads to engagement which leads to low-turnover, which builds competence and confidence, which creates great customer experiences, which inspires customer loyalty. Amen.

Here’s his secret for building trust

Build from Within

“When I get into a new situation, I build a high-performance team with the people that are there. I never bring people from the last job along. I look for the gifts the current team has and build on it in a unique way. What this creates is big trust and some very different teams. You could never put all the teams I have led side by side and say, of course, ”this is the team that Klaus built.”

It’s not his fingerprints on the team or is it? It’s his unleashing of the talent he discovers to create a unique masterpiece. My guess, if you put these teams “side by side” they would really enjoy that conversation.

Get Everyone Involved in the Big Picture

He asks big questions to create larger context for the work. He has trust in the team to inspire the vision.

“Besides running a contact center, what is it that we really need to accomplish this year?

“What does a care center really stand for?”

When the employee surveys come back, he empowers a team to discuss them over a 7 week period, so there is time to go deep. ”We can’t implement all of their suggestions, but we usually can do most of them.” That matters.

Be Humble

Klaus is a great example of confident humility. It’s all about the people and how he can involve and support them.

“I want to know before I speak; and understand before I act. I ensure I understand the whole situation first.”

Know Your People

Start every day on the floor really talking to people about things that matter to them. People need to know you care about them and their interests. This is where the Facebook thing came in.

“We have a number of parents in our center. We found that the school systems are starting to communicate through websites as well as via phone. Parents want to be able to check in. Most phones have data plans so pulling up Facebook is part of the routine. We support corporate social media inquiries in our center. It is a small step from there to allowing our team to keep up with their personal lives. As long as their quality and productivity metrics are good, we treat them as adults and let them take care of their lives.”

Look Beyond the Numbers

To build a world-class customer service organization you have to focus on the intangibles. There are lots of ways to measure customer loyalty none of which are perfect. He focuses on ensuring every customer is completely satisfied every time, and doesn’t get overly excited about small changes to the numbers. In the long run great service wins and the numbers work out.

The Turnaround Factor: Digging Deeper

One of the most important leadership lessons of my life happened 5 minutes after I stepped off that stage. I’d been giving awards on my massive “road trip,” a 27 states in 45 day kind of tour of motivational kick off meetings in Verizon Wireless’ outsourced call centers.

I was the “client,” read that “scary” who was doing everything in my capacity to have my team viewed as helpers, not auditors.

But here I was on her home stage recognizing outcomes. Lisa, with beaming confident-humility, was ready to teach me about process.

 

The service rep that had swept the recognition awards at this particular center tapped me on the shoulder.

Last year I was almost fired.  My metrics were a disaster.

Everyone kept telling me that I needed to be more confident, to be the expert for our customers. But the problem was I just wasn’t FEELING confident. And I didn’t THINK of myself as an expert.

And then one day, my team leader gave me an opportunity to re-record my opening greeting. I decided this was my big chance to sound absolutely energetic, confident, and convey my expertise. I recorded it again and again until it sounded just right.

And then a miraculous thing happened. The customers heard that greeting. They began to greet me with comments like, “wow you sure sound cheerful for so early in the morning.” Or, “I am glad that I got the expert, I should be in good hands.” Well, after that I just had to stay cheerful, and began feeling more confident. And you know what, I had to be an expert. Turns out, I am one.

After thousands of calls, only once have I had a customer respond to this in a negative way. My customers are getting a great experience because I know I can deliver it. And now, here I am.

That’s what SHOULD have been celebrating… the story. I’m embarrassed to say. I didn’t know it. That was the last time I gave out an award without knowing the backstory (see also: why your recognition is backfiring).

Even if it seems impossible to go that deep, it’s worth it.

Know who the whole stories, not matter how many layers fall between.

I promise. It’s worth it.