Take a look at any collection of business books and you’ll undoubtedly find many more volumes written on process improvement, overcoming obstacles, goal setting and strategies for achieving success than you could ever possibly hope to read in a lifetime. I know this first hand, because as I write this, I am flanked by hundreds of pounds of books on these topics, most of which I hope to read – someday. While there is great value in familiarizing oneself with works by authors like Patrick Lencioni, Ken Blanchard and Jim Collins, among a host of other exceptional writers, I have a much shorter resource (a simple list) that has served me well ever since I developed it, during my first “real” job after college – working in a contact center. Time and time again, when seemingly unique and daunting situations arise, I find myself returning to this list to help guide me to a resolution. Each time, I am reminded – all I really need to know I learned in a contact center.
What I learned in a contact center
Do not be on time – be early
In a contact center, your shift start time means the time when you need to be logged in and taking your first call, not the time when you pull into the parking lot. Everyone else in the contact center relies on adhering to a schedule to ensure service level agreements (SLA) are met. If you are late, everyone is impacted. Arriving early means you’ll be able to take care of ancillary items (put your lunch in the fridge, check your email, fill up your water bottle, etc.) before you need to be ready to take your first call.
Application in other roles: Leave early for appointments to account for traffic or getting lost; give yourself 10 minutes before a conference call to review the agenda and look over notes from prior calls; complete projects a day or two early to account for any last minute hiccups.
Set the expectation
By letting the caller know up-front what would be happening during our call, I removed a substantial amount of uncertainty from our interaction. This almost uniformly led to better outcomes, whether that meant selling something or getting positive feedback via the post-call surveys that helped determine things like bonuses and promotions.
Application in other roles: Tell your team what you’ll be covering in your meeting; create processes for dealing with both routine and unusual situations; explain to your manager how you’ll be executing on your assignment.
Manage the conversation
It can be easy to let someone else dominate a conversation, particularly if 1) they have a big personality, and 2) you are more reserved. In a contact center, this leads to high average handle times (AHT) and frequently lower sales/service scores. Letting someone else hijack a conversation is a recipe for wasted time and energy, ultimately resulting in frustration and usually a poor outcome.
Application in other roles: Always remember, if you are part of a conversation, you have implicit permission to participate, to push back, to pivot and to make your ideas known; you are empowered to redirect conversations that are straying off-topic, even with senior leaders; interject if someone misunderstands a concept, particularly if it is foundational to the project.
Resolve all issues during the first contact
First contact resolution (FCR) is a closely watched metric in a contact center. If a representative has a high FCR rate, it means the customers they’ve interacted with not only have had their issues resolved, but that they won’t be calling back and requiring more company resources for some time. Minor issues left unresolved during an initial contact can grow and evolve into major stumbling blocks later on; resolving them as quickly as possible means you can focus on the next issue that comes along, instead of focusing on the one in your rear-view mirror.
Application in other roles: If something feels unresolved, call it out and resolve it; many issues exist just below the surface, so be sure to unpack any information you think needs additional explanation; do not leave things open ended – force a decision.
Leave at the end of the day
One of the most unique things about my contact center job was that at the end of my shift, I left the office, went home, and had nothing to do with my job until I arrived (early) for work the next day. This allowed me to unwind from work and have a personal existence that wasn’t inextricably linked with my job. If I had to worry about handling hundreds of customer contacts throughout the night, I would never have survived. Disconnecting was instrumental to my success in the office.
Application in other roles: You can’t always 100% unplug from the office every day, but it is important to find time and space to disconnect – block out personal/family time where you don’t check your phone; engage in leisure activities, they are good for your health; when you go on vacation, be unreachable – studies show vacation actually increases worker productivity.
The lessons I learned in a contact center have served me well in the years since I left that position to pursue other opportunities. I hope they can help you, too.