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Five New Year's Resolutions for Support Managers

by Rich Gallagher, Point of Contact Group

It is a new year - and for that matter, a new decade. A time that many of us resolve to start exercising, pay off our debts, or lose 20 pounds. But what about resolutions for your support team? Here are five of my favorites:

Make time for yourself. This sounds like standard-issue advice from some wellness magazine. But in your case, I really mean it.

Support managers live in the moment. We are propelled from crisis to crisis, yet are bound by a thick web of metrics, reports, and expectations from above. We are the walking definition of people with no time. Which means that you have to schedule time for yourself - every week - so that you can think strategically, take the long view of your current issues, and plan to accomplish great things.

Years ago, managing a support center in Los Angeles, I planned on a nice lunch at a fine hotel every week (on my nickel, of course!) to pat myself on the back for a nice job and think long-term. Later, I got into the habit of scheduling a "meeting with myself" every week that was inviolate. In both cases, nearly every great thing we accomplished as a support team sprang from ideas forged in this so-called down time. So treat yourself to the gift of time, and watch what happens.

Push more responsibility to the team level. Does your support center seem like Snow White and the 127 Dwarves? When you have a small number of decision-makers (or worse, one decision-maker) and a large number of people being told exactly what to do, your team is about as motivated as you would probably be under someone else's thumb.
This year, bring your team into the corner office with you. Open up your playbook, harness their energy to help you solve strategic issues, and give people tactical roles in areas like training, coaching, new employee orientation, and liaison with other groups. And discover that your greatest successes may not lie in what you accomplish yourself, but rather in what you delegate.

Become a coach, not a critic. Should you ever criticize your staff? Sure, go ahead, if they are stealing cartons of office supplies or slashing tires in the parking lot. Or if you want to inspire low motivation, turnover, and sabotage among your team. But when people are trying hard, and especially when they are struggling, teaching best practices in a blame-free, criticism-free environment is the only real way to reach them. Next time you monitor an agent who gets frustrated and goes off on a customer, or chronically drops the ball on case logging standards, remember to s-m-i-l-e, empathize, and seize the opportunity to teach people the mechanics of great service.

Become a learning organization. How much training does your team get? Mine got at least one and a half to two weeks per year, every year. Plus a training and coaching-intensive first month on the job for new hires. If you aren't doing the same, you are spending much more time than that anyway in turnover, poor performance, and customer crises.

Don't tell me that you don't have the time or budget for training. Did you survive the last flu outbreak or snowstorm? Then you can survive pulling people off the phones for training once in a while. And while even top trainers themselves are a surprisingly modest capital expense, there is a lot you can do in-house. There are some great books out there (ahem, I've written a few) that can give you the mechanics of a great training program, you probably have some good trainers on your team, and low-planning events such as role-playing workshops can be as valuable as formal courses. And don't overlook what you can do within the framework of a weekly team meeting.

Physician, heal thyself. Finally, let's shift into more sensitive territory. How much training or coaching do you get every year? Do you feel perfectly competent at things like negotiating with your management, coaching your team, and increasing your support center's bottom line? Well then, this is the year to improve yourself as well as your team.
There are many areas where small investments can pay large dividends in a support center, ranging from technology to training, but in my view, the single highest-payoff investment you can make in the success of your support center is you. Here's to a 2010 that is the best year yet, for you and your team!

About the Author
Rich Gallagher heads the Point of Contact Group (www.pointofcontactgroup.com), a training and development firm in Ithaca, NY. A former customer contact manager and executive, his books include the #1 customer service bestseller What to Say to a Porcupine and his latest book How to Tell Anyone Anything: Breakthrough Techniques for Handling Difficult Conversations at Work.