Insights: Blogs

Euan Matthews
Euan Matthews Head of Research

I’ve always wondered: is it any surprise call centre employees aren’t motivated enough when popular culture often portrays their working lives as steeped in monotony? Like a dreadful Lowry painting of Mancunian mill workers, we see reams of books and films featuring actors as call centre agents, mouthing scripted responses, and walking in and out of call centres like matchstick men on autopilot. It’s always the last job for a TV character when they’ve reached the end of the line in terms of career prospects, or the first job for a rags-to-riches story on film.

It may be a case of art mimicking real life and societal attitudes, rather than life imitating art. But, whenever I’m flipping through TV channels, that really is the first thing that comes to mind.  Is it any wonder people derive very little value from these roles? It’s a shame because the agent role is rapidly evolving now that intelligent automated solutions and systems are replacing the chunk of the call centre function that warranted those soul-crushing scripted responses.

Don’t get me wrong. There will always be a fair bit of repetition to call centre work. But how can we get call centre employees to love what they do, boost the value they derive from their work, and ultimately provide outstanding customer service? There is a body of research out there that shows employee self-worth to be the key.

In a previous blog, my colleague spoke about giving call centre staff the gift of time so they can chisel away and really get to the core of what’s troubling their most frustrated customers. Investment in technology with the right approach and attitude can help you rejig your budget towards a core support team that’s better skilled and more motivated in delivering stellar customer service.

The first step within this two-pronged strategy would be to hire the right people with the right skills and competencies to be able to meet customer wants and expectations. Management must sit down and review in detail the recruitment processes, which would in turn quickly move in on prospects with the ideal competencies: communication and people skills and a healthy interest in customer service.

The second step would be to retrain existing staff through training programs, which would conveniently also build workplace self-worth and motivation. Investing in training would improve customer satisfaction as well as the performance of agents delivering that experience. So, how do you go about training and motivating customer service staff, which we know are often disengaged? How do you reduce the high churn in the industry? Burford Partners’ P4 model - Pay, People, Place and Purpose - could be the answer.

‘Pay’ your employees well, so they understand you place value on their contribution. However altruistic the company’s motives, at least at this point in time, the pay for a call centre employee won’t equal the salary of an investment banker but remuneration could move towards the higher end of the band if intelligent, cost-effective automation chugs away in the background and takes away the need for hiring a large call centre team.

How the ‘People’ around you treat you matters, so it’s important to have an understanding manager who isn’t just focused on meeting targets, but also recognises the value of call centre work. And this ties in well with the third corner of the quadrant – Purpose – as it’s vital for the manager or supervisor to effectively articulate the value of a call centre agent’s role and the link between their job and profitability of a company. Excelling in customer services means brand loyalty, advocacy and retention, and that can only be a good thing for revenue. Don’t ignore employees that add to your repository of intangibles that can turn your customer service from good to great.

The last one – Place – is my favourite. Call centre agents now have more authority; for example, they can give consumers a discount on their discretion or a full refund on a retail item, letting them keep those shoes or trousers as a gesture of goodwill – but it’s important for the industry to reflect inwards and have the conversation: will a call centre role ever really be self-actualising for an employee? Will it have the same sense of glamour a preppy college graduate feels in a brand management role in the City, or the sense of joy an instagrammer feels having received a first sponsorship paycheck after writing and photographing his or her passions? Sadly that’s not the case.

So, what can we do in terms of changing workplace policies and procedures to instead make the office a pleasant place that could potentially enable employees to bring in some of their passions and interests outside work to the fore. Could the offices have a media library or a book bank? Could the cafeteria food be free or sourced from lean and clean organic kitchens? Could the offices have a stunning view of the river and breakout rooms and pods where employees can unwind and take power naps? Obviously understanding the motivations and drives of your employees is key – no one centre is the same in terms of overall personality or interests. Design an office people look forward to spending time in and something they can gloat about over a pint with their friends and partners!

We’re seeing massive worker-led movements across the world shaping politics, where more and more people yearning for a different time when working on assembly lines in manufacturing was a source of immense pride. Politics aside, we really need to understand why and how something that is now perceived as monotonous like car parts assembly was such a beacon of working class pride, evidencing that it’s not only the nature of the job that affects self-worth – great people, a great office, a real sense of purpose, and a fair wage is the secret formula to employees loving their work and giving their absolute best performance every day.