How to Build Trust-Based Relationships with Contact Center Agents
Attention all contact center management: Your role matters—like, a lot.
Seems obvious, but with so much focus on agents and customers, you might not hear it enough. Contact center managers and supervisors face a myriad of daily challenges and responsibilities—from scheduling and customer meetings to leadership reports, and, most importantly, developing and coaching agents.
Most contact center managers and supervisors care deeply about their agents—and many lose sleep over agent performance, retention, and engagement. And for good reason. Your success depends on their success, and it can be a burden knowing that you are one of the leading factors in their satisfaction and performance.
According to Gallup, “70% of the variance in team engagement is determined solely by the manager.” Moreover, the same research report indicates that 52% of employees who quit said their manager could have prevented them from leaving.
So your agents’ job satisfaction and success depend heavily on you. No pressure, right?
Luckily, building trust-based relationships with your agents can save you from contributing to these painful statistics.
The starting point? More thoughtful 1:1s with each person on your team.
In this blog, we’ll explore why effective 1:1s are central to your contact center’s success and four ways to use these conversations to create coaching moments that matter.
Why are agent 1:1s so important?
Regular, productive 1:1s have always been a critical part of a supervisor’s job. But with the remote and hybrid nature of today’s modern contact center, having intentional, proactive conversations is more important then ever.
You’ll never peg what your agents need from you as a manager—or from your company as an employer—if you don’t ask the right questions to get to know them. But even moreso, they won’t ever answer those questions truthfully and candidly if they don’t trust you.
Research from the creators of Deloitte’s HX TrustIDTM shows that “trusting employees are 260% more motivated to work, have 41% lower rates of absenteeism, and are 50% less likely to look for another job.”
Trust-based relationships matter, but they don’t build themselves. You have to be purposeful about every building block you lay and how you foster relatedness and connection with your agents.
1. Create a safe space to connect
Your 1:1 conversations should foster open communication, build feedback loops, and equip you with knowledge to personalize each agent’s experience. These conversations set the bar for your agents’ development, the way you give and accept feedback, and how comfortable your agents are sharing important details of their experience with you.
During these conversations, everything from the room where you meet to your tone of voice makes a difference in building trust. To put agents at ease for these conversations, make purposeful choices about your environment and the verbal and nonverbal signals you send.
Ensure that the environment protects agent privacy and is free of distractions. If you’re meeting face-to-face, that means using a space where others won’t overhear your conversation, but that’s also close enough that the agent doesn’t feel isolated or intimidated.
If you conduct your 1:1: virtually, close all other tabs and programs on your desktop to give the agent undivided attention and ensure other people can’t eavesdrop on what you or they are saying. AKA don’t hold your 1:1 in a crowded and distracting coffee shop.
Many of our customers enjoy periodically holding their 1:1s at a park, offsite location, or even a picnic table outside the regular office. Often, leaving the contact center floor behind removes perceived barriers to openness and more transparent communication.
2. Ask your agents thoughtful questions—and LISTEN
Asking questions is foundational for steady-flowing conversations. The right questions position you as the active listener instead of the conversation leader. Asking thoughtful, open-ended questions and giving agents the time and space to respond often results in an organic conversation where agents feel comfortable sharing what’s really on their minds.
Active listening also means being slow to speak and really letting agents get all their thoughts out. It can be tempting to jump in and try to correct facts or address a specific thought shared—especially when you might not agree, or they’re providing constructive criticism on a peer, process, or even your leadership style.
But in these situations, it’s best to bite your tongue and let them completely finish before sharing your perspective. Quickly jumping in before they’re done shifts the power in the conversation, can put the agent on the defensive, or make them feel like you don’t actually care about their perspective. When this happens, not only do you lose their trust in this conversation, but in future 1:1s.
The best supervisors also ask lots of clarifying questions to ensure a full understanding of the agent’s point of view before shifting the conversation. As mentioned, ensure your environment is distraction-free, and do not multitask. Agents can tell if you’re really listening or not, and the moment they know you aren’t, their trust will go right out the window.
3. Avoid making your 1:1s a status update
Too often, 1:1s become a laundry list of tasks or projects the agent is involved in—and that could have been better shared over email or via a project management tool. Although you will undoubtedly need to cover current goals and review your agent’s progress on projects, you should deliberately introduce higher-level topics into your conversations. For example, career progression, obstacles, and questions about long-term goals.
If you’re struggling to connect with an agent on a personal level, try moving the conversation toward personal development topics.
You can ask questions like:
- Where do you want your career to go?
- In an ideal world, how would you spend your day here?
- What do you hope your next job will be— whether inside this company or not?
- How do you think this is setting you up for that goal?
- What is their favorite thing to do outside of work, and why?
Their answers will help you better understand their strengths, motivations, and factors that might affect their workplace behavior and decision-making.
These questions act as guides to jumpstart your 1:1s but don’t use them to control the conversation. Instead, pick one question to start with, then listen intently and play off your agent’s answer.
Ask follow-up questions to keep the conversation flowing. You’ll be surprised how fast the mood in the room shifts once you get your agents talking on topics important to them.
4. Be consistent
Like all things, having consistency in your 1:1s is key to establishing an agent’s trust in you and the coaching process. We’ve all been on the receiving end of our managers pushing out and rescheduling 1:1s—and that is bound to happen occasionally. Kids get sick, critical meetings get scheduled last minute, computers crash, etc.
However, when this becomes a repeated pattern, and you cancel time and again without promptly rescheduling, you send a big sign to your agents that they don’t really matter to you. And once agents feel that way, it’s very challenging to win back their trust.
Consistency also extends to what the agent can expect and how diligently you follow through on action items. A coaching template can help you use a consistent meeting structure and capture notes from one meeting to the next.
And maybe most important—follow through. If you say you will do something or send something to an agent after the 1:1 concludes, try to do that within the next 24 hours—or at minimum, before your next 1:1!
Reap the benefits of trust-based relationships
The only thing worse than not having a 1:1 is having one for the sake of having it. Bring your whole self to these conversations with your agents or risk hurting your agent relationship much more than you’re helping it.
We all know that with constant fires to put out and ever-changing leadership priorities, it can be hard to dedicate the time and energy to having regular, meaningful 1:1s. But by demonstrating genuine interest in your agent’s perspective, performance, and success, you’ll have a more engaged, higher-performing team—and the results will follow.
Meet with Sharpen today to learn how Sharpen can help you build trust-based relationships with your contact center agents.