How do you Improve Customer Service? Ask the Advisor!
A Team Manager’s Perspective on the Industry
I read recently a new report conducted by the CCA on behalf of Kura into how advisors feel about their role. As a Team Manager, I found the results really interesting but not entirely surprising. The role of advisor has been misaligned for some time now both inside and outside the contact centre industry. I often hear advisors refer to themselves as being “just” an advisor, and many view it as a stop-gap role until something “better” comes along.
20 years ago, I was that person. I left university and wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, but I knew I had to get a job. I started as a Directory Enquiries assistant and although I had worked while I was at uni, nothing could have prepared me for this role. It really was exactly like the stereotypical view most people have of contact centres: rows and rows of advisors lined up like battery hens, hot desks, having to put your hand up if you needed to use the bathroom and of course the dreaded metrics, particularly average handling times. I lasted nine weeks in that role.
Thankfully, my experience since then has improved dramatically. Contact centres are not like some corporate roles, where you can join at manager level via a degree, and so like many of my peers I came up through the ranks to the role of Team Manager. Being a TM brings about a new set of challenges and you can become a little removed from what it’s like at the front. Sure, you have your team and associated workload to manage, but you’re not speaking with customers all day- every day, so you forget just how involved it can be.
As an advisor, you are never sure what type of call you are going to get or the type of person that may be calling. Advisors find out what’s needed on the call but in many organisations, they still need to juggle various systems to verify the customer and answer their query, and they need to do it in a specified time! Moreover, their call could be listened to by a manager or coach, followed by feedback and coaching sessions as a result of it. There aren’t many other jobs with this many things to consider!
At Kura, we’re out to do something very different in our industry. We believe that developing our people is key to delivering the best service for our customers. Most organisations recognise the importance of 121 meetings, feedback and coaching but this tends to be driven by the Team Manager. I suspect many advisors view this as a “must do” and a tick box exercise. We are different in that we view any investment activity as an opportunity for the advisor to think about and comment on their own development. The monthly 121 is referred to as a 2M meeting (2M = Managing Myself) and this is not just a change in language, it’s at the heart of Kura’s people-focused culture. Advisors are encouraged to speak about their performance (the what) and how they demonstrate the Kura values (the how). We appreciate that the way in which someone approaches their role is equally as important as the results they achieve. Kura people bring their true selves to work!
This approach is quite different from a Team Manager perspective. Traditionally, many of us have been in the space where you tell your advisors what they need to be doing and how they need to do it. Failure to do so was often met with dire consequences through the disciplinary process. With Kura’s “Crossing the Bridge” programme, which has been designed to help all people managers in our business, we are working towards an environment where we ask “why”. Most advisors don’t set out to do a poor job and poor performance is very rarely down to will. When performance or indeed behaviour is not where it needs to be, there is often a story behind it and we as managers need to find out what that story is. Our Team Managers are empowered and encouraged to work with their people rather than “manage” them. I find this approach much more in line with my own management style. I like to understand what makes my people tick and also tap into their strengths. I genuinely see my role as helping people be the best they can be and not beating them with a stick when they make a mistake.
The key areas of focus highlighted in the research resonated with me as I have experienced them in the past and in some cases continue to see them. From my conversations with advisors, it’s clear they want to do a good job but feel constrained by technology and systems that don’t support an efficient service. They want to have meaningful conversations and get to the root of the issue for the customer but are conflicted in doing this while maintaining targets. I encourage them to do the best they can for the customer but I am often surprised by the ideas that my advisors have thought of that might work. This shouldn’t be the case though: of course my advisors are going to know what might work; they speak to our customers day in and day out and know the challenges.
At Kura we actively encourage ideas and suggestions; we want to empower our advisors to take action. Yes, it might not be the way it’s always been done, but if it’s the right thing for the customer, they can’t go far wrong. If it’s not, then we support the advisor and help them learn from their mistakes. Learning comes from doing and advisors need to feel that they are in a safe environment and have the courage to do things differently. Recognition of when a good job has been done is important too and it doesn’t need to be a big deal. I love the look on an advisor’s face when I approach them unexpectedly to thank them for something they have done well and give them a small token of appreciation. There is a time and place for awards and accolades but regular, timely recognition goes a long way.
So, the next time you are looking at ways to improve things for your customers, will you look to your fellow leaders or will you take my suggestion and go ask an advisor?
If you’d like a copy of the research discussed in this blog, please click here.