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Can you build a meaningful culture in a virtual contact center?

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Companies often treat contact centers as a necessary evil. They cut costs whenever possible while expecting agents to deliver ever-better performance. Supervisors micromanage unhappy employees and criticize them for failing to meet unachievable targets. Such behavior usually reflects poor organizational culture.

But things have started to change. Investments in technology, systems, and people enabled some companies to improve their culture. By doing so, they also improved service standards and gained a competitive edge. And cloud-based platforms play a vital role in these efforts as they make it possible to maintain inspiring culture even in virtual contact centers.

Understanding culture and crafting values

Defining an organizational culture is a challenging task. Foosball tables and regular bonuses are great, but they’re only half the equation. Culture extends into more substantial stuff. Employees want a clear career path and an overall mission they can relate to. They also want to connect with other employees. And to make this happen, companies need to define their values and behaviors.

The first step on that road is creating mission statements and purpose documents. Those resources guide agents in their work. Take, for example, some of the following mission statements as an inspiration:

  • Tesla: “To accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy.”
  • TED: “Spread ideas.”
  • Asana: “To help humanity thrive by enabling all teams to work together, effortlessly.”

And while these slogans inspire, they don’t instruct employees on how to act on a daily basis. For that, you need to specify the company’s values. For example, Tile, an item-tracking startup, has come up with five values that guide its employees:

  1. Start with Trust
  2. Bring It
  3. Build What Matters
  4. Better Together
  5. Power What’s Next

The company’s management further explained what those values mean. Tile’s VP of Engineering Steve Klinkner wrote that “Power What’s Next” means that the business is “data-driven, iterates, and reacts quickly. We stretch our comfort zones to continuously learn and raise the bar.” Such explanation is specific enough to drive a tangible behavioral change among employees.

Contact center managers are advised to follow the same logic. Their focus on ideals such as quality, responsibility, trust, and so on is commendable, but they’ll drive real change only when they clearly define those values and show how to practice them.

Spotlight on the Supervisor

Showing agents their work matters

Equally important is ensuring that agents grasp the rationale behind their work. Wharton management professor, Adam Grant, saw first-hand just how important this really is. In 2007, he was tasked with improving the performance of a team of student fundraisers. Unengaged agents were quitting frequently and neither pay increases nor improved breaks made any difference.

Then, Grant decided to try something different. He brought a scholarship recipient to give a presentation on how scholarship improved his life and answer any questions. In the weeks after, agents doubled their calls per hour and increased the amount raised by 400%. A simple trick of showing them the why behind their work made all the difference.

And the same principle applies to agents that troubleshoot tech challenges of solve product returns. If they’re aware of the impact they make, then they’re far more likely to enjoy their work and perform well.

Employees want to interact with colleagues

Lack of interaction between agents can also hurt the organizational culture. No matter how well your values and mission statements are defined, agents that don’t engage their colleagues will be unhappy and unproductive.

Ollie Smith, the founder of ExpertSure, a B2B technology comparison business, is well aware of how important it is to cultivate interactions between remote employees. Founded in 2016, his company was performing well in the first few years. But once-close-knit team began to drift apart over time and arguments over trivialities became common. In an all-hands meeting, employees revealed that they feel like a group of strangers despite working together for years. They were alone and isolated.

Smith then introduced a number of changes. Among other things, every Thursday his employees would log onto a video call and spend time together, playing games or just talking about random things. The productivity improved over time and employees felt closer to each other.

Use technology to build a thriving culture in remote teams

ExpertSure was well-versed in running a distributed team. And yet, the company faced many challenges in ensuring its remote employees remain productive and satisfied.

Businesses that rapidly transitioned into work-from-home settings because of the pandemic had little time to prepare for what lies ahead. Many lacked the tools and technologies needed to cultivate remote interactions. Without team messaging, video calls, and other communication channels, no remote team can function properly and foster organizational culture.

But remote working need not be a devastating problem. RingCentral offers a collaborative contact center platform that connects team members scattered across hundreds or thousands of micro-offices. Instead of siloed departments and broken workflows, your agents can enjoy a platform where culture can blossom and everyone provides its finest service.

Spotlight on the Supervisor
How to better manage teams of remote contact center agents

Prefer to watch instead of reading? Check out the full Spotlight on the Supervisor Masterclass series.

Originally published Nov 18, 2020, updated Dec 30, 2022

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