The weekend before Thanksgiving, I competed in my very first body-building competition. Between stage appearances, eating hourly meals and making sure my Oompa Loompa-like tan was intact, the customer-service lessons were hard to miss.
1. Forget agent to supervisor ratios. You need expediters. If you’ve never been backstage at a body-building competition, imagine a large room filled with free-weights, (tan) spraying tents, and fans leading to numerous dressing rooms—all connected by a fine mist of spray tan, Pam oil, hairspray and spray glue, amidst the chaos of dozens of competitors pumping up in preparation for their time on stage. Part of the chaos was likely due to the fact that this was my first show. Some competitors had the process down to a science. I think I even caught one competitor on a yoga mat catching a few moments of Zen. But the clear breaks in the chaos were the expediters, like bright beacons of knowledge and organization. The sole purpose of the expediters was to keep the competitors on track with the flow of the competition, make sure they were in the staging area when needed, and on stage when scheduled. And while there were only three of them (compared to over 90 competitors, plus coaches, trainers and helpers backstage), they seemed to be everywhere and have the answers to every question. If you can’t describe your call center supervisors the same way, you need to re-examine your supervisor selection and training process.
2. It’s all about relationships. When you think about any competition that involves any degree of primping, you probably think you need to keep your finger on the record button of your flipcam so you don’t miss the impending cat fight. Instead, what you would have found were male competitors spotting each other in the pump-up room, women helping each other with make-up and glue, and competitors joking with the MC while on stage. If, as a manager, you can’t recall the last time you genuinely laughed with an agent or left working thinking, “We accomplished a lot today, but we had fun doing it!” your call center is at severe risk for agent burn-out.
3. Control your emotions. There’s nothing quite like being on stage knowing that you placed in the top five against your competitors, only to find out that you were number five, as opposed to number one or two. Likewise, in the workplace there’s nothing quite as frustrating as coaching and coaching and coaching someone on how to do their job better, only to witness them doing exactly what you instructed them not to do. In my early years in management, I would have let my anger rule the “discussion” that followed, but since then I’ve learned more effective ways to manage. All of them involve controlling your emotions, removing your ego from the equation, and directing the conversation to values held by the employee and the ways in which the employee views him or herself. If your anger level can be detected on a Richter scale as you’re about to address your employee, don’t. Postpone the conversation. Luckily, people are not like dogs, so they will remember the actions they performed that led to the conversation/reprimand.
4. As a manager you need to be the naughty and the nice. The process of training to compete was life-changing for me. I learned so much about how the body uses different types of food, and more importantly, I learned that I am far stronger mentally and physically than I’ve ever given myself credit for. But much of what was accomplished would have never happened without my trainer. To draw you a picture, he is 5’11”, 350 pounds of support and intimidation. He is a man you don’t say “no” to, and a man you do not want to disappoint; and that is what makes everything happen. If he were any nicer than he is, I wouldn’t be scared to stop mid-set. If he were any more intimidating, I would be too afraid to show up to our training sessions. That perfect balance is what every manager should aim for—it is the sweet spot of motivation and personal responsibility.
5. Don’t overlook a key customer-base. Competition day was long, starting at 4:30am for me and ending around 11pm. The evening show, the part of the competition open to the public, started at 5pm. That means that between the hours of 5pm and 11pm, the competition organizers had a second customer-base present that they needed to cater to. And by all assessments, they didn’t do a very good job. There were no concessions for the show’s audience, the signage to the competition location on the college campus was non-existent, and there was no one charged with managing the audience experience at the show. Given that audience members had to pay $25 to $30 per ticket, and most promoters are associated with dietary supplement retail stores, tanning salons or gyms/workout facilities, this was a huge lost opportunity.
6. Bring chocolate. The night before the big day, I sat my husband down with a serious look on my face and told him that if he didn’t bring chocolate with him to the event the next day, I just might burst into tears. So you know, I’d been carb-starved for 11 weeks, and couldn’t even recall the flavor and texture of my previous life’s best friend: chocolate. The fact is that everyone has small rituals that bring them joy in their life. For some, it’s the morning’s first cup of coffee, or the solitude that one gets during their pre-dawn drive to work, or solving The Times’ crossword puzzle during their lunch break. The most effective managers know what these rituals are, and find ways to acknowledge and contribute to them. As my trainer says, “It’s the small things you do every day that add up to big results.” Your agents will be more engaged in their jobs if they believe that their immediate supervisors genuinely care about them and want them to have a good day every day.