Ten States, Six Weeks: What I Learned by Going Cross-Country for Front Line Leaders
If someone asked me to think back to what I had first envisioned in January 2019 when, along with the rest of the Enablement team at Cogito, we started planning a country-wide tour to train front line leaders, lots of things would come to mind.
Of all the scenarios, I considered the necessary training materials we’d need, obligatory booking of travel and the endless rehearsal sessions in front of my bathroom mirror. In fact, I did one particularly successful presentation to some of my son’s stuffed animals…they were a very captive audience. These aspects of my cross-country adventure were a given; it’s what I discovered between the planes, trains and rental cars that was the real surprise.
Strange, but true: I get the same rush of excitement every time I set foot in a call center, no matter where it is. Although the phones don’t ring out loud like when I was a rep, there is a definite hustle and bustle that gets my blood pumping. The constant sound of voices coming together in a symphony of chatter, everyone looking to check call queues, supervisors walking the floors…as strange as it might sound, this flurry of human communication gives me a thrill. However, the truth of the matter is, this same feeling of excitement is also felt by representatives and supervisors, but in a way that is much more stressful. Let’s face it – agents take calls all day with highly emotional customers. These conditions increase stress and burnout, partially contributing to the high turnover rate of call center professionals.
As consumers, we often forget that the person on the other end of the line is just that: a person. They have their own emotions and a life outside of the call center. Emotion and empathy fatigue are real and can hit very close to home for agents; this is why our training programs include sessions about emotional intelligence and how to inject the right amount of emotion during conversations.
How Agents Are Trained
When we think of how contact center agents are trained, we automatically think of them learning how to use their own internal systems. We imagine them sitting in a training room being taught to use the internal CRM software or knowledge bases on computers, all before being allowed to handle real calls. But what about learning the soft skills that actually make those conversations great? How to control pitch, tone and pace? How to show empathy, rather than sympathy, at just the right time? Soft skills don’t come overnight, and coaching to them is even more difficult.
Coaches and team supervisors often struggle to find real examples of calls that demonstrate these behaviors. Cogito’s training sessions have often brought along many “Ah Ha!” moments for team leaders; the need for a solution that can help coach agents on these conversational soft skills is real. Cogito provides the opportunity for supervisors to lend an ear across all conversations and have real-time feedback on what their representatives are doing well and where they might need a helping hand. Seeing team leaders link the behaviors highlighted by Cogito to their own training initiatives and organizational goals is definitely a gratifying moment in any training session!
I must admit, I would be doing Cogito’s blog a grave injustice if I didn’t mention the biggest lesson learned in these six weeks of intense travel – the human connections I made with the people I spent time training. This was the real surprise of my journey.
As a child, I never had the opportunity to travel around America, and most of my adult life was spent living abroad – a privilege in itself as some would see it. My weeks of travel over these past months have taken me to Texas, Indiana, Arizona, Colorado, Florida and so many places in between. I discovered diversity beyond my imagination. I discovered the real faces of our country, and am so much richer for it. I learned that the human interactions I spend so much time teaching our new Cogicians about, are also taking place right in front of me.
The biggest advice I can offer, based on my experience, is to take time and enjoy these interactions before they slip away. It’s far too easy in our modern lives to avoid speaking with others…just think of the obvious role that social media plays in allowing us to be connected, all while being disconnected. Taking the time to see this country has opened my eyes to the diversity of our communication styles as a nation; from Southern accents to Midwest slang, and the influence that foreign languages have on our own daily vernacular. It’s this last lesson learned for which I’m most thankful; it’s one that will leave a lasting mark on me. Human connections and communication are rich and valuable, and I have thrived on experiencing them over the last few weeks.