Category: Motivating Employees

3 Ideas to Help Customer Service Employees Work Through Burnout

Stressful day at work

The twentieth of May marks 16 years that I’ve been in business for myself, doing the things I’ve dreamt about, the things I love – training, writing, designing curriculum. I love where I am and what I do; yet recently I have experienced burnout.

Guilt was my first response to burnout. How dare I feel bored, disinterested and un-creative. So many people would be happy to be where I am; I should be grateful. I’m my own boss. A typical workday for me includes dining at a highly recommended local restaurant, perhaps a walking tour of a historic city in the south, shopping for shoes in Toronto’s fashion district or meeting beautiful spirited Native Americans in Milbank, South Dakota. All this is after a well-received training session or keynote.

I am grateful, actually, and yet, I was experiencing burnout. I wonder if your employees have ever been where I am just now emerging from – the brink of burnout. Maybe you, too, have felt unmotivated at work. I’ve addressed, really still addressing, my burnout by doing 3 things. These 3 things, I believe, can help your employees (or you), out of a rut when they feel burned out or simply un-motivated.

1. Don’t allow customer service employees to spend more than 80% of their time on the phones

3 Things Being an Overwhelmed Call Center Manager Taught Me About Motivating Employees

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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?”

What My Grandfather Taught Me About Unleashing Employee Creativity

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My Dad sitting on his Italian convertible in front of his plane – the plane he bought in his early 20s.

One Sunday in July of 1949, my grandfather took my dad, 10 years old at the time, to a small regional airport. My grandfather knew the owner of the airport and he had arranged for his son, a boy who wanted to fly more than anything else, to have his very first flight.

That 10-year-old boy was euphoric! As if he’d had any doubts at all, after that flight, he knew for sure that he would one day fly a plane! When recalling the Big Day, my dad told me that it was that day that he also knew he would own his own plane.

When he was around 16 years old, my dad ordered a blueprint from Popular Mechanics magazine for building an airplane, not a model airplane, but a real passenger airplane. “How did he build the engine?” I asked my grandmother the first time she told me the story of my young dad building his own plane. “He never got around to the engine. He went off to college before finishing,” she said, “but his plan was to use an old lawnmower motor.”

My dad told me,

“I actually thought I’d get the plane to fly, but Daddy knew I never would. He let me spend money on the plane, dream about flying the plane and spend countless hours on the plane, because this dream of building and the actual work of building my own plane that would never fly, fueled my dreams of flying. He knew that this passion would indeed lead to me flying and ultimately, owning my own plane.” 

When my dad turned 26, after earning his bachelor’s degree and then getting his private pilot license, he bought his own plane. His father’s support, belief and enthusiasm helped him achieve his dream. When leaders give employees support, belief and enthusiasm, they help employees unleash creativity, which can lead to a more productive and happy workplace.

Here are 3 ways – lessons from my grandfather – that you can unleash employee creativity for a happier and more productive workplace.

Motivate Your Employees Like Fans Motivate Their Sports Teams

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Managers can learn much about praise from the sports industry. Critical to the success of any sports or corporate team is praise. Here’s how coaches and fans motivate athletes and (and what you can learn from them!):

Cheer your team.

Perhaps professional athletes would play simply for the money, but can you imagine a basketball game with no fans and no roaring cheers? It wouldn’t be the same without the fans. The cheering of fans energizes athletes. Fans cheer to motivate, encourage and show support for their teams.  Athletes, like your employees, are motivated by both money and praise. Never assume money alone is going to motivate and keep employees.

Praise progress, not just results.