How to Build a Strong Culture in the Contact Center

Culture. Values. Employee engagement. These concepts are used in abundance across most service-oriented industries where the success of the organizations rests in the hands of its employees. And the contact center is no exception.

Increasingly, contact center management is realizing that the best way to improve the customer service experience is to increase employee engagement by initiating systems of reward and recognition.

Noble? Absolutely. But when call center leadership introduces employee engagement tactics without first building the cultural foundation to support them, nobody wins, least of all the customers.

Culture impacts people, and people impact customers. Building a stronger customer experience begins with building a stronger culture, and employee engagement is just one part of that.

Human resource executives are uniquely positioned to support contact center management in the design and implementation of HR systems that build and sustain a strong culture in which employee engagement thrives and satisfied customers are the norm. Here's how:

Step 1: Hire for who, not for what.

Employees and their shared experiences are the primary drivers of organizational culture. For that reason, selecting the right team members is a critical first step toward building a strong contact center culture.

Avoid the propensity to hire for hard skills alone. While hard skills are important, so is hiring someone who is a right fit for your culture and will add dimension to and diversify your team. You can train on hard skills, such as software management or customer service basics. Training empathy and positivity is a different story.

Asking the right questions in an interview can help uncover a potential employee's values, which should align with those of the contact center. How has that person gone above and beyond to resolve a client problem? How long has he stayed on the line to ease the concern of a caller? Past behavior is the greatest predictor of future performance and can offer insight into an interviewee's values.

Step 2: Empower team members through training.

Inadequate training programs undermine employee motivation and satisfaction. The under-trained employee questions her worth to the company and, subsequently, the company's values.

A robust training program, however, empowers employees to resolve issues quickly and, most important, independently. A trained employee is confident in her ability to deliver for customers, making it more likely she will take a vested interest in her callers.

This starts with the application process and continues throughout the employee's tenure with the company. This does not end after a one- or two-week onboarding process; training has to be embedded in the culture of the company.

Cross-training, or employee rotation, also enables management to adjust staffing to meet changing work volume, ensuring appropriate staffing at all times. Meanwhile, employee cross training improves self-confidence, creates more capable customer service representatives, and provides a much-needed break for employees. Cross-training gives the employee the potential of an alternative assignment before getting on the phone, which could alleviate the proverbial bad day. The end result is a more valued employee and better customer service.

Step 3: Implement engagement activities that support corporate values.

Once you have hired the right team members and empowered them through training, select and implement engagement activities that support your company's business goals and mission. For example, instituting a health and wellness program that rewards employees for smart diet and exercise choices not only promotes the well-being of your team members, but also might reduce time off of work.

Hosting group outings or joining a club volleyball league could encourage better teamwork on the job. Providing opportunities for employees to volunteer could build empathy, helping team members better serve their customers.

Most important, regardless of the activities, a sincere thank you and acknowledgment of good work is a must.

Being smart about how you engage your employees will not only help maximize your engagement ROI but will also help strengthen your contact center culture.

Step 4: Align key performance indicators with organizational values.

The single greatest way managers can strengthen a contact center's organizational culture is to evaluate employees in a way that reinforces company values. This could mean taking a less conventional approach to KPIs. After all, you can't expect employees to display empathy and understanding if they are evaluated on the length of their calls, which will only force them to choose between resolving client issues and cutting calls short. Customer service will be sacrificed.

Instead, design evaluations around customer feedback and an employee's ability to resolve issues, regardless of call length or hold time. Find new ways to celebrate positive customer experiences and constructive ways to address challenges. Give employees room to proactively identify their own areas for improvement and put into place action plans to address opportunities.

When KPIs align with an organization's values, there is less confusion for employees and better service for customers.

A strong contact center culture is not something that can be achieved overnight. Rather, it will emerge naturally when espoused values and operations align; when employees are engaged in smart, thoughtful ways; and where leaders demonstrate the values they want to see in their team members. Human resource leaders should be advocates—champions, even—working with contact center management to direct resources toward programming that builds, sustains, and celebrates culture. Only then will employee engagement succeed and customer service thrive.

Jennifer Pristera is senior vice president of human resources at Garden City Group (GCG), a provider of legal administration solutions, where she oversees all national human resource activities for the company, including its 60,000-square-foot, in-house mail, processing, and contact center in Dublin, Ohio.