The COVID-19 pandemic has forced companies to make previously unthinkable decisions. T-Mobile, for instance, had to send home thousands of its support agents. Individual contract centers were broken apart and a new kit and home office tools were distributed to over 12,000 houses and apartments. Agents were now serving customers from their homes.
But far from disrupting the quality of support, the new work environment has led to an increase in NPS score. T-Mobile’s agents adjusted well to the transition. Their supervisors, like those in many other companies, were going through a much more turbulent transformation.
From cheerleaders to therapists, successful supervisors have to play multiple roles
Floor walks, one-to-ones, and other management tools have become a thing of the past. Supervisors are now forced to turn to different practices to manage teams spread across hundreds or thousands of miles. They also have to assume many different roles, from cheerleaders and enforcers to therapists and coaches. Their job has become a “role of roles”.
This might feel like an overwhelming problem. But for those supervisors willing to embrace the challenge, the new situation can also be a chance to evolve to the next level. They can support direct reports as people instead of focusing solely on hard data, enabling contact centers to improve the quality of their service.
Let’s examine more closely each role today’s supervisors have to play:
CHEERLEADERS – Keeping agents happy
Supervisors have to motivate people, create excitement, and keep agents engaged. When things go well, acting as a cheerleader is easy. You inform your team that it succeeded in achieving a record-setting NPS score or a high first-call-resolution rate, and then celebrate this achievement.
Finding reasons to celebrate in tough times, however, is anything but easy. Since the pandemic, agents are dealing with ever more “difficult” calls and need support. One way to help them, says Michelle Dennis, Chair of Department of Leadership and Applied Psychology at Adler University, is to “acknowledge efforts with praise wherever possible.” This approach nurtures the confidence needed to thrive in tumultuous times.
Positive feedback will also help agents not to feel isolated. Working alone in their homes, employees might feel disconnected from their team members. But reaching out to them and delivering accolades during meetings can go a long way in cultivating feelings of inclusion.
ENFORCER – Driving standards
Managers use a set of metrics – customer satisfaction, service level, quality scores, and so on – to judge contact center performance. If performance dips, supervisors have to play the role of enforcer.
But driving standards takes a great deal of nuance and subtlety. Shaming agents for failure to meet deadlines will demoralize the entire team. Instead, supervisors are advised to use one-on-one meetings to not only identify problems but also provide direction and encouragement. Agents will improve their performance faster when supervisors tell them how to overcome various issues.
There are other ways to drive the performance of teams as well. From setting the tone with a morning kickoff call to dropping in on calls throughout the day, supervisors have various tools at their disposal. But all of these tactics require the support of advanced technologies.
Supervisors need a contact center platform equipped with collaboration tools. Such capability allows them to stay connected with employees. From a single platform, they get to check performance data, send team-wide messages, and drop in with agents via video meetings.
THERAPIST – Providing sage advice
Supervisors have to help employees deal with stress and other mental health problems caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Agents are under health and economic shock. And remote work means that they have to overcome this feeling of uncertainty on their own.
Great supervisors will step into the role of therapist. They’ll use one-on-one meetings to learn more about their employees and their support needs. If their interest is “perceived as genuine and transparent,” says Dennis, “most employees will share their support needs.”
Taking an interest in employees as people is vital for contact center performance. Working shoulder-to-shoulder in the office made it easy to pick up on problems. But remote working makes it harder to decide on who might need support to deal with isolation or disengagement.
COACH – Support professional development
A heated debate or a dose of office politics happens in many companies. These small moments of friction usually get resolved quickly through in-person conversations. But the rapid transition to remote work means that diffusing tensions is a much more difficult task.
That’s where supervisors step in. Their facilitation skills and regular feedback help agents resolve conflicts and deliver outstanding work. Supervisors also need to set a positive example on how employees are to behave.
When that’s not enough, supervisors should act as coaches and treat every moment of conflict as an opportunity for improvement. Ideally, agents will eventually be provided with the tools needed to solve conflicts on their own.
Acting different roles from a single platform
Running distributed organizations requires a new leadership approach. Supervisors need to embrace their ‘role of roles’ if they’re to succeed in uniting a remote team and aligning agents behind a single goal.
Fortunately, technology makes this process possible. At RingCentral, we built a system that unites distributed agents into a cohesive unit. Supervisors are given an array of tools that enable them to act as cheerleaders, coaches, therapists, and enforcers – all from a single platform.
Originally published Nov 30, 2020, updated Dec 30, 2022