Managing an effective call center requires a focus on people over process

Prioritize Performance Over Presence Daily to Manage an Effective Call Center Team

Editor’s Note: This post is brought to you by a new contributor, Hiba Amin, from our friends over at Soapbox a solution that empowers over 100,000 managers to lead high-performing teams.

The Agile Manifesto, which is usually your engineering team’s go-to guide for management, can help leaders in every department. Yes, including your contact center. 

Agile cropped up as a methodology in the modern workforce because it’s all about putting people first. It helps leaders prioritize their people and team communication over rigid processes and tools. 

That people-first approach is what’s made so many startups successful today. Good leaders know that processes help drive better results in your contact center (and beyond), but if you don’t focus on the needs of your team first, you’ll never nail down the processes that bring accountability and growth. 

That’s why today we’re talking about how effective leaders put performance over presence when managing a call center. Performance is all about your agents (and the work they do) and presence is the set of processes and guidelines your team follows. 

In this article we’ll cover: 

Let’s get started!

The Importance of Trust in the Workplace

A recent U.S. study found that, when compared with people at low-trust companies, people at high-trust companies reported:

  • 74% less stress
  • 50% higher productivity
  • 106% more energy at work
  • 13% fewer sick days
  • 76% more engagement
  • 29% more satisfaction in their lives
  • 40% less burnout

Trust is important. And, it’s also a common trait in high-performing teams. But, like with any relationship, trust takes time (and work) to build. 

How to Build Trust

According to SHRM, leaders should focus on these eight qualities when it comes to building trust: 

  • Clarity. When expectations are clear, it’s easier for employees to see where they fit in the organization and on their team.
  • Compassion. Leaders who are empathetic and care for the wellbeing of their team inspire trust (especially in times of crisis). 
  • Character. Choosing to do what’s right instead of what’s easy, like having a tough conversation that’s needed versus brushing it under the rug for months.
  • Competency. You’re not expected to be the expert at every little thing about call centers, but you should have enough knowledge to manage your team effectively.
  • Commitment. This is especially important during times of crisis and adversity. If you stick by your team, they’ll repay the favor.
  • Connection. Get to know your agents as people first. How do they like to receive feedback? What are their goals and aspirations? What do they like doing outside of work? Ask.
  • Contribution. Being a supervisor doesn’t make you better than everyone else. Do your part to contribute to the team’s success, whether that’s in the form of taking the occasional call or coaching the team.
  • Consistency. This also works in tandem with accountability. Be consistent with managing the expectations of your team and yourself to run an effective call center.

How to Set Personal and Professional Goals That Make Measuring Performance Easy

Less than half of the working population knows their team’s goals. Without a clear understanding of what’s expected of the team, it becomes harder to measure success, performance, and help agents understand their path in the company.

So, if you’re not already setting and measuring goals with your team, here’s how to get started:

Use SMART Goals

One of the best frameworks for setting goals is to use the SMART framework. This approach to goal-setting ensures that goals are clear and attainable by making sure every goal is: 

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Time-bound

This is what a SMART goals might look like for your agents: 

  • Improve CSAT scores from 80 to 95 this quarter.
  • Reduce call abandonment rate by 5% by the end of the month.

While focusing on call center metrics is incredibly important for measuring performance, be sure to set professional goals as well.

Set Goals Collaboratively

According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, organizations with employee ownership experience a 4-5% gain in productivity. Outside of ownership of an organization through benefits like stock options, you can help employees take ownership of their work by involving them in the goal-setting process. 

During your next team meeting, share your company-wide goals and explain how your team’s goals will ladder up to them. Once you’ve set some general goals for the team, brainstorm some ideas collaboratively on how the team can achieve those goals. This can include things like:

  • Spending time updating outdated call scripts
  • Improving the feedback sharing process between customer service and other teams
  • Finding new learning opportunities for the team to level up their skills
  • Putting measures in place to stay mentally healthy when working from home

When your agents are able to take ownership of the goals they’re setting out to reach (versus just being told what to do), they’ll put in the time and effort needed to hit those goals!

If you’re unsure how to go about starting this conversation, check out this OKR goal-setting meeting agenda to kick things off effectively.

What putting performance over presence looks like

The never leave work before your boss, or in this case the always be online mentality is outdated. Instead of pushing for this type of culture at work, make a point to let your team know (and show them) that you trust them. Stop asking about the hours they put in. Stop publicly recognizing others for working long hours. Start looking at the output your agents are producing. 

For example, let’s compare these two employees: 

Employee A was online for 10 hours yesterday and experienced: 

  • Below-average service levels
  • Above-average call abandonment rate
  • An average time on hold of 5 minutes (2 minute above the team’s average)

Employee B was online for 8 hours yesterday and experienced: 

  • Above-average service levels
  • Glowing feedback from 75% of customers (25% did not share feedback)
  • An average time on hold of 1 minute (2 minutes below the team’s average)

In this case, is it better to have someone be “present” for longer than their shift and deliver a poor experience to customers, or someone who is delivering a great experience for your customers within the hours of their shift?

Measure people by how effective they are, not by what time they log out of their queue.

Let People Work When They’re Most Productive

Whether they’re productive at 8 am or at 5 pm, make sure you’re giving your team ample opportunities to work when they’re most productive. While this might be more flexible for roles outside of call-centers, you can still make this work logistically for your team. 

For example, you can set up a forum or channel for agents to request different shifts based on their schedule. You can encourage agents to swap shifts as well, that way if someone needs to focus on homeschooling in the morning they don’t have to multitask teaching their kid with providing exceptional service to your customers.

Set Clear KPIs for the Team

When it comes to setting goals for your agents, here are four call quality KPIs to measure performance

  1. Service level
  2. First contact resolution
  3. Call abandonment rate
  4. Average time on hold

Set benchmarks and measure your team on how they perform against them. Reward and recognize those who achieve or surpass your benchmarks and coach up those who don’t.

Be a Good Performance Assessor

As a manager, you’re ultimately responsible for the performance of the individuals on your team (and your own performance, too). You should go beyond knowing what good versus poor performance looks like. Focus on identifying areas of improvement across all of your agents and learn how to deliver that feedback effectively. In a perfect world, everyone on the team is hitting their numbers, growing, and the only feedback you have to share is in the realm of recognition. But, that’s not the reality. 

Being a good performance assessor means that you’re likely also going to have uncomfortable conversations, like putting someone on a performance improvement plan. On the flip slide, it also means that you’re great at identifying ways in which you can help push your team to improve and grow. 

Wrapping up

With most people working remotely right now, trust is critical to the success of managing  a productive and effective call center team. The best way to show your team that you trust them? Value performance over presence. Good luck!


Hiba Amin leads marketing at Soapbox, a solution that empowers over 100,000 managers to lead high-performing teams by combining quarterly priorities, weekly meetings, and engagement measures, all in one place. You can find Hiba on Twitter.