Managing Associate and Supervisor Confrontation in a Call Center

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Confrontation in the work place is going to happen. How we manage it is a trained skill that all managers must have. Since I have run call centers for most of my life this is the example that I will use. These are some of the tactics that we cover in our management trainee program at my company Expivia Interaction Marketing. These can be very easily transferred to any manager who leads a team.

Every customer service contact center deals with people. Some come into work in good moods and unfortunately some do not. To make sure that your customers are being serviced in the right way we have to make sure our middle management is armed with the tools to handle an associate that is having a difficult day and seems to be confrontational. Sometimes these situations may turn into the worse case scenario of having some sort of argument on the call center floor. These little spats will happen. Arming your management with the tools to deal with them as they happen is very important in developing a great working and customer care culture.

There are many ways to handle confrontation between supervisors and associates in a call center environment. I want to give you four basic ways that supervisors can limit difficult situations on their teams.

1) SUPERVISOR RESPECT: The supervisor needs to be respected. This is not something that is just given it must be earned. If you are not arming your supervision with the tools they need to succeed than whose fault is it when there are issues in the center? If there is a lack of supervisor respect then you will have unneeded situations arise. They must be the first one to show up on the team, dress properly, they must have the most amount of program knowledge and most importantly they must have a want to help each team member succeed… in short they must be great leaders. You need put the most amount of your day in constantly working with my middle management team. If they are world-class the sky is the limit. If they are average how can we expect our reps to be more than that?
Ask yourself, have I done all I can my make stars out of my middle management?

2) UNDERSTANDING OF EXPECTATIONS AND CONSEQUENCES: Make sure everyone knows what is tolerated and what is not tolerated in writing. You can give a quick quiz on dress code, attendance issues, how to address management and things of this nature in their initial training. Having a company handbook online for each associate to look at had what was expected and if those expectations were not met what the consequences were is a must have. There is nothing worse than having HR, your supervisors, or yourself try to be a judge and jury when it comes to inappropriate behavior. When you leave consequences to be dealt with in a subjective way more issues arise. If these things are in writing than consequences are known and are not up in the air depending on who is handing them out.

3) DON’T LET THE SITUATION LINGER: If there is an issue on a team the supervisor must take care of it immediately and they must do this off the floor. If an associate has a blowup on a supervisor then we immediately take both of them off the floor and deal with the situation. If you are not sure who was at “fault” then what I suggest is you send your associate home for the day after getting a statement from them and tell them that the incident is under investigation. If it was a little blow up and we document the incident and hopefully move on after both are talked to. I am talking though about bigger issues that happen on a team. I have made SOOOOO many bad mistakes on spur of the moment judgments. Take a deep breath, get an associate statement, and send the associate home. Then get a supervisor statement. Because how well I believe my supervisors are trained I can tell you I normally have their back unless they admit they were wrong (which is OK!!!) and we deal with it from there. I try to call the associate and have them come in for their shift tomorrow for a quick meeting if we think the situation has calmed down. If it’s a big deal and the associate was wrong we will tell them of their consequences over the phone (1-3 day suspension… or whatever your penalties are)

4) KNOW YOUR ASSOCIATES: If every supervisor takes the time to know their associates on a professional level then a lot of this can be avoided. Supervisors need to know what motivates certain individuals. Humor may work for Suzie, Rah Rahs for Janie, and tough love for Jeff are all tools that your supervisors need to be trained on and know how to deploy. Also know strengths and weaknesses of each team member individually. Knowing shows your supervision have bought into their team members.

5) MANAGE PEERS: ( Meaning do they understand how to handle relationships with those they do not have authority over): This gets overlooked so much but we must watch and train the proper way for supervisors to handle those that they do not have “authority” over. How do they handle business relationships with peers, those above them and with those in other departments? Do they handle these with respect and understand the positive example they are setting for their associates or are they handling these improperly which will actually make it much harder for them to manage their team.

This is not talked about very much and is such an important part of managing in the contact center world where your associates are with you all the time. Trust me they see everything their supervisor does good and bad. They can’t fake these relationships.

Moral of the story:
Properly trained middle management will cut down on a ton of confrontational issues. If you are promoting reps to become supervisor without training you are doing your organization and more importantly your supervisor a disservice. Training for middle management never ends, if you reach for perfection you will hit excellent. Keep moving the bar!

Thomas Laird is a customer service and contact center consultant and operations professional with over 25 year of experience. Thomas is currently the CEO of Expivia Interaction Marketing Group, Inc. A 100% onshore multichannel contact center.

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