I was sitting at my desk looking at my Outlook calendar. Four meetings, two of them overlapping, and literally only a break of about 15 minutes for a bite to eat. On my desk, stacks of papers, notes and folders reminded me of the two major projects I was running behind on. And I still needed to sit down with Jim to talk about issues with his recent tone with a customer. The thing is, this day wasn’t unusual. This was pretty much everyday life for me. I was overwhelmed.
Looking at the two meetings that overlapped, I thought, “What if I sent someone to the second meeting in my place?” The second meeting was a task force to look for ways to increase customer loyalty. I needed to be there, yes, but my budget meeting took priority.
I called George into my office. George was a bright, energetic, proactive frontline customer service representative. “George, I have an opportunity for you,” I said. “ At 2:30 I have a customer loyalty task force meeting. I can’t attend due to a budget meeting and I’d like you to stand in for me.” George jumped at the chance to get out of the call center and sit in on a meeting with managers and directors.
The next day George came to my office to brief me on the meeting. He was beaming with excitement. He had so many creative ideas for how to help our company build and strengthen customer relationships. I knew he added more value to that meeting than I would have, especially given that my priority was on the budget meeting. George offered to continue going to the task force meetings in my place going forward. I didn’t even have to think about it, “Yes, George, you will be great at this!”
Delegating a meeting to an employee lightened my load and empowered him to exercise untapped skills. Months later I could see George beginning to blossom in the areas of leadership, public speaking and championing ideas. I had truly motivated him in a very unique way. What if, I wondered, I could give all of my employees a similar experience? I began to seek out tasks for delegation, opportunities that would not only make life easier for me, but would truly empower and motivate my employees. I found the opportunities and in the process, I relieved my stress and created a culture of empowered and motivated employees. Here are 3 things being an overwhelmed manager taught me about motivating my call center employees.
1. When All Else Fails, Go to Your Employees for Solutions
When I first took over the call center at this company, I inherited big problems – with everything from employee morale to delivering a quality customer experience. New to the position and still very much learning as a young manager, I really didn’t know how to tackle the myriad challenges. Fresh out of graduate school, I turned to one of my textbooks for help. In my Human Relations textbook I found something known as the “Quality Circle.”
In a Quality Circle, managers go to employees for solutions to problems. Following the text to the letter, I assembled a group of call center employees who volunteered to be part of the quality circle. We met once weekly for about 10 weeks. The first week I put a problem on the table and said, “Here’s the deal. This is a problem that we must fix and I have no idea how to do that. You guys are the experts. What ideas do you have?”
We brainstormed, argued, struggled, and ultimately found paths to pursue. Some problems took weeks to figure out and others were resolved in a matter of hours. In 10 weeks my team came up with solutions to a half dozen large-scale problems – like, how to reduce case-closing time, how to better proof emails before sending them out, how to reduce call escalations, etc. Buy-in to solutions was easy because the ideas all came from the team. I gave my team credit for the work and we all ended up looking like rock stars.
2. If They Can Do It For Themselves, Don’t Do It For Them
I held monthly staff meetings with my call center. (I had a small group of 15 and our large call center could handle calls while we had meetings.) I scheduled the conference room, handled the lunch catering, put together the agenda and facilitated the meeting. Why was I doing all of the busy work? This was a staff meeting, after all. Why not have staff handle the logistics of reserving the room and ordering food?
I decided to turn this function over to my employees. Each month I assigned an employee as the Meeting Facilitator. As the Meeting Facilitator, the employee was responsible for booking the room, coordinating food, typing up the agenda – and literally facilitating the meeting. After a few months, employees began to volunteer for this role rather than waiting to be assigned the task. They loved the break from their normal routine. This delegation empowered my employees with opportunities for planning, leadership and public speaking. And it freed up my schedule.
3. When Empowerment Leads to Improved Processes
One of the biggest challenges facing my team was getting franchisees to be responsive to calls and emails so that we could deliver faster resolutions to customers. Franchisees didn’t realize their impact on customers when they didn’t respond to us with a sense of urgency. My team didn’t truly understand the hectic day-to-day challenges of the franchise owner. This disconnect led to widespread customer dis-satisfaction and it literally kept me up at night. So, I turned to a unique form of empowerment.
I had each of my customer service team members fly out to a franchisee’s location to spend a week in the field. My objective was to facilitate a relationship between corporate customer service and the field so that we could work together to serve customers. The results of this little exercise were profound. For most of my employees, this was their first ever business trip. They were thrilled to have a new and different experience. My objective of building relationships with the field was met. Each of my employees returned to the corporate office with empathy for the challenges of the field team. Franchise owners and their employees began to work more cooperatively with us so we could respond to customers faster, which was the initial goal. The best part of this experience is a major problem was solved and my employees were empowered to take the lead in resolving the problem. And I didn’t have to travel or even work very hard to find the solution myself.
Seek out opportunities to delegate and empower your employees. When you do, you’ll help bring out their potential for problem solving, creativity and leadership- and you’ll likely lesson your load in the process. Most importantly, you’ll truly motivate your team.
Now you can get even more ideas for motivating employees, specifically how to motivate employees working in customer service. View or download for my high energy video, How to Motivate Customer Service Employees. It’s loaded with practical ideas to resist burnout and fire-up customer service employees.
Myra Golden is a consultant and keynote speaker who has been helping companies for over twenty years to improve employee relations through her work with Human Resource Departments. Myra has a master’s degree in human relations and a bachelor’s degree in psychology, helping her to understand the challenges of Human Resources as it relates to the psychology of the employees. She is also a veteran customer service expert who specializes in engaging employees through live training and online learning.