Steve Sullivan, Contact Centre Panel

“Never ask your employees to do something you wouldn't be willing to do yourself”.

Steve Sullivan, Head of Regulatory Compliance, Contact Centre Panel

That’s a familiar piece of advice which is credited to John T Chambers, the former boss of Cisco. It’s a comforting mantra for your boss to repeat; it combines displaying respect for staff with a degree of humility.

In the old days, most leaders in the ‘customer world’ could not only say they would be ‘willing’ to do what they asked of their contact centre employees, they could do it too. Technically they might have been a bit slow, but when it came to understanding, empathy and the resolution of customer problems or commercial opportunities they would be confident of their ability to effectively engage with consumers.

That was then. What about now?

Last week a client shared with me some analysis they had done which showed that their frontline advisors were having to use 20 different systems, applications and third-party portals. 20.

Just think about that for a moment. I’ll be honest, I’m not the world’s greatest multitasker – but even if I was, 20 applications would be about four times the number I’d be confident in using. So, in my client’s contact centre I know I couldn’t do an advisor’s job and if I was the boss I wouldn’t pretend that I’d be willing to either!

It’s a truism that contact centre agents’ jobs have steadily become more difficult over the years. The number of contact channels available and the range of activities undertaken have steadily increased. At the same time the emotional state of customers has often become more heightened either due to their frustration at failing to successfully self-serve or external environmental factors. We all know that the ‘cognitive load’ frontline staff work under seems to have steadily grown and the technology and processes they work with just make matters worse.

So, what can we do about it? 

For one, we can start to acknowledge that our people are increasingly doing technically and emotionally challenging jobs that most of us couldn’t. Recognising this fact won’t change anyone’s reality, but it does show a degree of genuine understanding and empathy.

Secondly, we can ensure that the needs of the frontline are front and centre every time new tech, propositions and channels are being planned. There’s a direct line between employee experience and customer experience, so we need to start to make reinforcing that relationship – and helping our frontline people – a priority.