Finding Greater Success as a Leader in your Call Center: 5 Soft Skills Every Manager Needs to Get a Leg Up on the Competition
I graduated from college with a Bachelor of Arts as an English Major and everyone asked me, “Are you going to be a writer? A teacher? What are you going to do with an English degree anyway?”
And then I stepped immediately into the tech industry. Since I graduated, I’ve wondered how I got here. I’m working daily with software, engineers, and clients to problem solve and work through bugs in code. (Ok, and obviously still doing some writing too). The reality is, I had very little technical experience and not many hard skills in tech when I left college. In fact, I would say it was my soft skills that led me to this point.
Ok, let me backup. What are hard versus soft skills, again?
Hard skills, or technical skills, are job-specific. They’re the skills relevant to each position. An accountant needs to know how to reconcile bank statements, while a software developer doesn’t. Hard skills are often gained through education or specific training. They include competencies like how to use certain machines, software, or other tools.
The inverse of these role-specific skills are your soft skills. Soft skills are often seen as personality traits. They’re the skills formed through things like your life experiences, upbringing, and relationships. These are skills like time management and organization, oral and written communication skills, or the willingness to collaborate. If you’re gifted at confrontation, public speaking, or networking — these would be your soft skills.
To put it succinctly, hard skills are your technical knowledge whereas soft skills are your habits in the workplace.
Soft Skills give a Leg up
LinkedIn’s Emerging Job Reports from 2017, 2018, and 2020, said people with strong soft skills will only have a leg up at work as automation increases. Trends show as companies use more technology, they also rely heavily on those with strong people skills to help implement the tech.
So, where do you fit in?
As a manager of a contact center, your role is essential to the care of your customer base. You’ve got a list of call center manager responsibilities that can feel overwhelming. You’re working under immense pressure. You’re asked to meet a list of KPIs, all while coaching your team to meet high performance standards. And it’s not all tracking data and reaching goals to keep customers happy. Your job also requires you to care for and manage a whole team of individual personalities with needs and career goals.
Sheesh, that’s a lot.
Your multi-faceted role requires a long list of skills to perfect. So, as you think about how to grow professionally as a manager, what soft skills do you need to succeed in your call center manager responsibilities?
1. Strong Communication
Think for a moment about what happens when there’s a communication breakdown? Processes fall apart and things get overcomplicated or inefficient. Feelings get hurt, employees get offended, maybe customers get angry. Poor communication seeps into all other skill sets. How can you collaborate without articulating your thoughts and opinions clearly? How can you resolve conflict without using words to de-escalate emotions?
Words are powerful. And your words as a leader especially carry significant weight. Being a leader requires you to be a strong communicator — in writing and in speech.
According to a study in the International Journal of Management & Business Studies, managers spend 70 to 90% of their time each day simply communicating with their team and others at work. You have to run meetings and work cross-departmentally to make sure processes are clear. You handle escalated customer issues, offer feedback to your agents, coach and train.
All of these tasks require the ability to communicate and listen well.
Whether you’re writing or speaking, your ability to form a strong and clear argument will help pave the way for all other skills as an effective leader.
Get better at communicating by clearly defining your goals and expectations to your agents each week. Make sure to keep the lines of communication open so your whole team feels involved and aware of the decisions being made. Also, consider what medium of communication you use for different kinds of messages. Set standards for yourself for what messages should be delivered face-to-face, via email, or through a message on Slack.
I’m sure things don’t always go as planned in your contact center. Everyone faces those “all hands on deck” situations. Maybe the power goes out for a bit, a server crashes, or an employee quits out of the blue. As a manager, you have to be quick to respond to change and willing to put up with unpredictability.
Adaptability is essential as new technology evolves. Companies stuck in their old ways struggle to compete with major players in their industry. Whether you’re part of a smaller start-up company or a large corporation, the saying stays true — The only constant is change.
Business is all about change — changing technology, changing philosophies, changing processes. For innovation and growth to truly happen, your team has to embrace flexibility. And you, as the leader, must head the charge by having a positive attitude and a calming, organized presence when things take a turn.
Flexibility comes with experience. In her book The Leader as a Mensch: Become the Kind of Person Others Want to Follow, Bruna Martinuzzi describes a 2008 study conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit. The study found that the ability to facilitate change is one of the top three leadership qualities to master in years ahead. Be willing and able to not just adapt to change as it comes at you. Work to facilitate change amongst your team to become a better leader.
Get better at going with the flow, and ask yourself if you habitually insist on going “by the book.” What holds you back from trying new things? Think about where your team needs to grow and how your processes can be more flexible to allow for that growth..
3. Conflict Resolution
Being a strong leader takes bravery. Sure we can say, “It’s not personal, it’s just business.” But, work is incredibly personal. We invest so much of ourselves into our jobs. There’s bound to be conflict internally. As a call center manager, you’re going to face conflict within your team, and between departments.
Perhaps because of a communication breakdown, someone steps on another team member’s toes, feelings get hurt. Maybe one of your agents’ performance is lacking and your other employees are tired of picking up the slack. All it takes is for two people to have different opinions or interests in a situation, and things can turn sour.
I get it. Confrontation is awkward. You don’t want to be disliked or misunderstood. But, nothing is more problematic at work than when tensions fester due to unresolved conflict.
Poorly managed conflicts have a cost attached to them. According to a report done by CPP Global, the average employee spends 2.1 hours a week dealing with conflict. For the U.S. alone, that translates to 385 million working days spent every year as a result of conflict in the workplace. It’s important that, as a manager, you’re quick to respond to evidence of conflict in your workplace before it costs your team and builds stress.
Foster an environment of transparency. Call out gossip or complaining when you see it. You don’t want conflict management taking up all your time. Track patterns of conflict as they arise, so you can find solutions and processes that limit confusion or frustrations on your team. Hold 1:1s with all your agents to give them space to air their grievances. This will help you catch the early seeds of conflict before they grow into nastier situations.
4. Time Management
You have a lot on your plate. Your list of call center manager responsibilities is long. You track metrics, coach, train, onboard, handle escalated requests, and strategize for the future of your team. Whew! How do you even fit all of that into a 40-hour workweek?
You can’t only focus on one aspect of your job, or your call center would fall apart. Just think if you only spend your time handling conflict on your team. Or, only had your head in the metrics of your call center. Apart from maybe going a bit crazy, you’d do your customers and employees a disservice. You’d see your agents as numbers on a page instead of as humans.
Knowing how to manage your time is essential to survival and success on the job in each of your call center manager responsibilities.
You may never have all the time you need to accomplish your to-do list. But, with time management, you set the right expectations and prioritize so you can go home on Friday feeling at peace about your workweek.
Effective time management leads to effective leadership. Practice saying no to unnecessary tasks and meetings. Delegate some of your work to high performing agents to help them build their own leadership skills. Learn more about Agile management methodology and build this strategy into your day-to-day. Agile helps you get the most value out of every minute.
We often think of a good leader as someone who is self-confident, and maybe a bit proud. Sometimes, though, leaders get caught up in their success to a point where they showboat their accomplishments. The fact is, no one is inspired by showboats. Actually, bragging about your accomplishments and greatness only results in dissociation and a disconnect with your team. I mean, what a turn off.
Think of what it takes to truly be a team player. How can you collaborate or practice adaptability if you are stuck thinking your way is the best way? Your agents will feel it immediately if you’re putting your own mission and success over theirs.
Humble leaders use their skills, experience and knowledge to attract and inspire followers. Your job is not to show off your own amazing skills, but to promote and acknowledge the work and talent of your call center agents. When you lead from humility, you prepare your team for success. You set yourself aside for the sake of your employees’ and customers’ success and happiness. An exceptional leader grooms skill and talent to support the development of their employees.
The best way to practice humility in your management is to open the doors for feedback and self-evaluation. Self-assessment shows you the glaring weaknesses that hold you back from reaching your personal goals. Ask for feedback from your employees through anonymous surveys as well as in 1:1 conversations. Get into the trenches with your agents and take calls and emails with them consistently. They will learn from your example as they see you handle high-stress situations. And, you’ll be able to experience first hand the frustrations they face.
For the Sake of your Employees
Technical skills alone just won’t cut it when you are in charge of leading a team of call center agents. Your soft skills set you apart as a great manager from a mediocre one.
As a call center manager, you need the skills to attract, retain, direct, motivate, and train. As you grow, get to know your workers one-on-one so you can effectively encourage their strengths, accommodate their challenges, and support their goals. Your employees will know the difference.