Leadership's Mindset is Key!

I was recently chatting about ESat and employee engagement with a Sales Director for a Fortune 500 insurance company. Among her responsibilities, the performance of a 400 rep contact center. After making some suggestions for improving her ESat challenges, she said all of that would be great, but "I cannot get buy in from Senior leadership. They regularly say that a trained monkey could do the reps' job so if they are not happy, get new reps."  Yes, she said that to me and I could tell she was telling the truth.  Wait...What? It was a dagger in my heart to think that this mindset still exists in 2017. I cannot think of a more destructive way to view your front line, or a more telling insight into how you feel about your customers.  I'm willing to bet money that those same executives think of and say things just as horrific about their customers. I told her I would give anything for 30 minutes with those executives, short of that I felt compelled to share some facts that she might want to use to turn them around. With so many (obvious) reasons that mindset is ridiculous, I am not sure where to start,  however here are the top five (seriously basic) things those execs need to realize:

  1. First of all, come on! Even if you cannot bring yourself to look at employees as anything but a number, look at the correct numbers and get smart about how those "numbers" can increase your bottom line and harness that resource.
  2. The tangible costs of recruiting, staff time for interviewing and hiring, the training process and resources, onboarding new reps has been proven to potentially cost anywhere from two to three times their actual salaries. Depending on industry, size of company and other factors, it can be even more costly to bring a new rep to the floor. If bottom line and dollar data is all that speaks to them, this should be all they need to know.  
  3. There are intangible costs as well, and they can be even more pricey! Morale suffers tremendously in an environment that views agents in such a light. They see so many coming and going that it instinctively causes stress and a lack of job security does not foster the best performance. If you don't care if they leave, they will. There is a learning curve for new agents on the floor and every KPI will suffer during that period of time. Add in the inevitable loss of customer trust, satisfaction and revenue from dealing with less seasoned or overly stressed employees and you are senselessly shooting yourself in the foot...or P&L as the case may be. 
  4. The benefits of proprietary knowledge from a seasoned agent is a priceless resource. If you have any mindset other than that, you are missing an advantage that is right under your nose. With every interaction an agent has with your customers, their knowledge of your company, product and customers increases creating a knowledge base that can tell you more than any survey. Spend time finding a way to tap into and use the information they can share. The more you make them part of the company's mission and vision, the more loyalty and better their performance will be. 
  5. You do not need a psychology degree to grasp the fact that when you treat people well, and are sincere about it, they will perform better. In turn, when people who are treated well and given some freedom are the front facing team for your customers, your customers will organically be treated well and be more satisfied. This is not rocket science! 

I don't know if leadership with that "anyone can do it" mindset can be reformed. I firmly believe that rather than wait for that generation to fade away, we should be trying to educate them. It can be a scary undertaking, speaking up on behalf of your staff and trying to change the way they are viewed from the corner office. It may be potential career suicide to even address this with them. I was faced with that situation once. Facing execs who didn't want to see the light and needing to speak up, fearing I may lose my job or end any career path with the company. I spoke up anyway, took the chance and put the needs of the many ahead of my needs. In the end, I never got senior leadership to admit that I had a point, however I was given more autonomy to create a better environment and at least improve things for my reps. Since actions speak louder than words, I counted this as a win. I didn't win the war but winning that small battle went a long way to improving a less than perfect situation. I want to encourage anyone who faces upper management that looks down on your contact center staff as less than or easily replaced, find a way to address it respectfully and try to make a change.  If the only thing they understand is data, ROI and dollars, you can easily frame it that way. It all boils down to the simple Golden Rule and sometimes even the smartest business people just need to be reminded. 

Finally, after this conversation, I did some research. While I will not name this company, I will leave you with a little comparison to another company in their industry that I have enormous respect for and have written about in the past. Aetna has been on the front lines of Mindfulness in the workplace and pioneered many policies and initiatives that have revolutionized not only their own ESat but that of many companies that follow their lead. In comparing Aetna to this other company, I'll call XYZ, I found some very interesting and telling facts.  Aetna was founded in 1853, XYZ in 1854. Aetna has 49,000 employees, XYZ has 12,000. Yearly revenue? Aetna at more than 63 billion, XYZ at 24 billion. I could go on an on comparing these two companies in the same industry, founded at the same time, but I'll save us all the time and let you know that the company that puts employees and their wellness first, invests in their employees and appreciates the work that they do, is undeniably more successful than the one who looks at their employees as trained monkeys. Is this a coincidence? Is mindset and treatment of employees a factor in the overall success of your company? It all seems awfully obvious to me.