August 14, 2012

Agent Appropriate - The ABC's For Contact Center Employees

"OMG, did you see what Olga is wearing today!?"

Contact Centers are generally not venues of high fashion, but sometimes they are the sites of some pretty eye-opening sights. Skirts that go too high and blouses that go too low; jeans that look painted on and sweatshirts that could fit three people.

Not all of the fashion statements are problematic. However, those that state too much (or too little) can take away from the professional atmosphere which managers want to promote in their workplace. Beyond clothing, there are codes of conduct that should be adhered to for all of the right legal and managerial reasons. Let's face it - the media sets a terrible example of workplace employee conduct. As managers we work to set high standards, standards that are not reflected in "The Office," "30 Rock" or many other workplace-based shows that permeate and pollute our popular culture.

When teaching call center managers, I frequently hear complaints on these topics and have developed what I call "The ABC's" for contact center employees.

"A" is for "Apparel." If your center has a specific or stringent dress code (e.g., uniforms, business casual or coat and tie) then make sure that people know what it is from the first phone interview. You don't want to waste the time of people who do not want to meet the dress code on the one hand, and you want to begin acculturating people to your standards on the other.

New hire training should indicate whatever detail is necessary to describe your standards. Also, the company handbook should be clear on what is and what is not acceptable.

In most call centers, a fairly wide range of apparel will be acceptable. However, the following areas should be highlighted in your training and in your handbook:

Health and Safety. Jewelry and accessories which have the appearance of weapons should be strictly forbidden. Other elements that affect health and safety in different climates and cultures should be taken into appropriate account.

Business Appropriate Garb. Describe what is appropriate and what is not. Good example should be modeled by management so that employees can see for themselves what appropriate apparel looks like.

If you hand out prizes for performance and these include shirts, then the shirts should be what you would like to see around the office. Pay a little more for a classy golf shirt or good looking collar shirt, perhaps with your logo on it.

"B" is for "Behavior." This reflects the right attitude for which you should be hiring and which you should nurture in all of your employees. You can teach content and technique, but you should screen and hire for people who naturally fit the proper mold for cheerful customer service.

"C" is for "Conduct." This is for the specifics of workplace interaction and needs to be carefully monitored for legal reasons as well as managerial and morale reasons. Some of the key elements include:

Language. This is where the media have really affected (or better, infected) our culture, by making the offensive seem "normal." As a manager you may not be able to single-handedly reverse the "crudification" of the popular culture, but you can set a good example and require that others follow.

Proselytizing. On the opposite side of the profane is the sacred. In many contact center settings references by individual employees to their faith and their faith communities is normal and accepted. However, if it crosses the line to evangelizing and becomes an annoyance to other employees, it must be dealt with in a sensitive but clear way.

Political shrillness. My advice to managers has always been to keep their political views to themselves when it comes to the workplace - for all the right reasons. One of the right reasons is that you can intervene with more impartial authority should one of your employees spend too much time on his or her soapbox. Agents should know that the center is a place of work and not a radio talk show or a polling station.

Sexual innuendo / sexual harassment. These are, of course, verboten. Your company may already have a well-developed program to address this issue. If so, follow the program. If it does not, you need to work with HR and senior management to develop one, or to acquire a program that is available from a vendor specialist. Anyone who crosses the line is out. Anyone who is getting near the line should be given a warning plus sexual harassment training.

As indicated above, the ABC's should be made clear in initial training and in the company handbook. When you need to call someone into your office for an ABC transgression, be sure and follow your company's procedures (you may need to have a second management person, or someone from HR, sitting with you) and be clear. Document what happened. Keep in mind that most agents want to do the right thing, but they may need some mentoring from you to learn their ABC's and apply them in the future.

Bruce Belfiore

1 comment:

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