The Unseen Force Behind Customer Experience

NEW YORK -- In the quest to provide a high quality service experience to customers, oftentimes the emphasis is placed on the relationship between the contact center agent and the consumer. According to one presenter at the destinationCRM 2008 conference being held at the New York Marriott Marquis here today, there is a third leg to the stool of customer experience -- the contact center supervisor.

Lloyd Wilky, an independent consultant drawing upon his experiences at Canadian industrial supplies manufacturer Honeywell and Whitehouse Station, N.J.-based pharmaceutical giant Merck & Co., led the session “Impact of Management on Customer Experience Creation,” and stressed that emotional engagement must start with management before it can ever reach the caller on the other end of the line. “Supervisors are really critical to employee engagement,” he said. “That connection is essential in order to foster a quality relationship with customers.”

Wilky gave an example of fostering employee engagement in a way that would help to establish an environment in which to have a better, closer relationship with callers. He cited a time in which he helped to create a contact center that did not have any dividers, or defined cubicles. “This way, people were able to roll their chairs around to help others, helping to foster a sense of community,” he recalled.

The terms “leader” and “manager” are often lumped together, but Wilky stressed there is a clear difference between the two. “Leadership is setting a vision for the future,” he said. “Management is taking the people you have [in an organization], the vision created, and helping people perform the best they can and achieve the organization’s results.”

Definitions aside, one thing is common between the two. The skills must be learned, and those striving for those positions must have the wherewithal to commit themselves to put in the time and effort. Otherwise, Wilky explained, the mediocrity and half-hearted effort will seep down to employees. The dangers of poor management harming the customer experience, according to Wilky, include:

  • poor listening;
  • unclear performance expectations and boundaries for experience creation;
  • inadequate resources, materials, and tools;
  • actions don’t match the talk;
  • work environment doesn’t support emotional connections;
  • no coaching for handling tough directives;
  • inconsistent recognition of customer experience successes; and
  • unwillingness to push up [to higher executives] when products or policies are the problem.

The last issue, the refusal of managers and supervisors to go to their own superiors when there is an issue affecting contact center employees, is extremely damaging to employee morale--and in turn, their performance. “They need to recognize and take on problems,” he said.

He concluded the session by dispensing eight critical management skills essential for any supervisor of a customer-facing organization today:

  • active listening;
  • talking “straight”—that is, to be upfront and honest with your employees, according to Wilky;
  • setting expectations;
  • conversations for action;
  • recognizing excellence;
  • coaching for improvement and growth; and
  • accommodation conversations.

The risk of not learning the skills, Wilky argued, will impact the bottom line. And in the end, he said, attendees themselves would have to return to their companies and do the heavy lifting: “I want you all to leave here today with ideas to go back to your organization and start the discussion with your first-line supervisors and managers -- people just don’t wake up being able to do this.”

Click here for more of our destinationCRM 2008 coverage.

News relevant to the customer relationship management industry is posted several times a day on destinationCRM.com, in addition to the news section Insight that appears every month in the pages of CRM magazine. You may leave a public comment regarding this article by clicking on "Comments" at the top; to contact the editors, please email editor@destinationCRM.com.

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