Welcome to Part Two of the serialisation of my career journey. In this installment, we delve deeper into the pivotal lessons and experiences that have shaped my understanding of the contact centre environment. Join me as we explore the enduring significance of fun, camaraderie, and resilience, and the profound impact they can have on both personal and professional growth.
The Value of Desk Buddies
Noel showed me to my desk in the contact centre. It was a hive of activity, and I was eager to learn and grow in my role. What I didn’t realise was that what I was about to learn would stay with me for the remainder of my career.
To my right was a girl stood up in animated conversation, arms gesticulating and with a big smile on her face. "So can I confirm we are your new stationary supplier?" she asked the caller. There was a pause, and her smile left her face in an instant. The customer was not proceeding, this was my first exposure to the ups and downs of sales in a contact centre. To my left was a fellow rookie called Mark, he raised his eyebrows with an awkward wide mouthed smile, a facial expression that is very British.
Lisa on my right and Mark on my left would become very important to me. Pod buddies, desk mates, the bond I would create with these two would play a crucial role in building my resilience and reducing stress. This experience instilled a lesson in me that I carried with me throughout my career. When people bond in a contact centre do not split them up with desk moves. It is your desk buddy who can be your knowledge management system, your counsellor, your motivation and your confidant.
The Power of Connection
I once had a customer screaming at me about an incorrect order. I was not able to even utter one full word such was the volume, pace and quantity of words coming my way. This tirade continued for minutes. I was using every ounce of patience, I had to remain calm. I could feel my frustration rising as the onslaught continued. Before I could even respond the customer hung up. I removed my headset, throwing it at my screen in one movement. I drained and I felt ready to walk out. Mark looked at me and said, "best call you have ever had?" In six simple words, he managed to change my outlook and take me from the brink of quitting to laughing out loud. Still laughing I put my headset back on and hit next call.
This experience taught me the importance of having a connection with someone in the contact centre. Mark's intervention allowed me to move from anger to laughter and continue with my work. If you too have ever been on the phones, I am sure you have had hundreds of moments like this. Moments where connection with someone kept you going, kept you happy. A connection that allowed for in the moment rescues like this.
As I moved into leadership positions years later, the memory of the support and camaraderie I shared with Mark stayed with me, and I knew the value of creating those connections among my team members.I made it a priority for our teams to spot and foster new friendships among new starters. I encouraged our operations managers to work with the induction team to ensure that people identified as friends were seated together.
The Importance of Fun and Friendships
As I continued to lead the team, I quickly realised the importance of fun in contact centres. It is my belief that fun can co-exist with professionalism. Organised fun can make people shudder and rightly so but what I am referring to here is that you allow fun to happen naturally.
Mark and I had a great bond, and one of the ways we kept things lighthearted in the contact centre was by playing practical jokes on each other. We were always finding ways to tease and make each other laugh throughout the day. One day, I decided to switch the M and A keys on Mark's keyboard, rendering him unable to type in his username. I sat beside him, barely containing my laughter as he struggled to log in.
As he reached out to IT for help, I continued to giggle uncontrollably, relishing the moment of a well-executed prank. The IT team member on the other end of the line struggled to understand Mark's issue, and as the conversation went on, both parties began to grow increasingly frustrated with each other. Mark became convinced that the IT member was a complete idiot, while the IT member seemed to think the same of Mark.
Mark was a creature of habit and liked to park his car in the same spot every day, which he could view through the window from our desks. One day, while Mark was on a break, I couldn't resist the opportunity to play another practical joke. I took his car keys and ran downstairs to the car park, moving his car out of sight. Then, I sent an email to reception, pretending to be a concerned employee who had noticed a car with its lights on, providing Mark's registration number.
As I watched Mark read the email, his recognition of his number plate showed on his face, and I stifled a giggle as he turned to look out of the window. "What? Wait! My car has gone!" he exclaimed, looking visibly concerned. Mark didn't suspect a thing and I now threw in a BAFTA winning performance as I empathised with Mark about his plight.
I am not cruel though and didn't leave Mark waiting too long before I started laughing - he knew instantly! "Teasdale!" he fumed.
These lighthearted moments of fun and camaraderie allowed us to build stronger relationships and helped to create a positive workplace culture and made the contact centre feel like a more welcoming and enjoyable place to be. Our playful interactions brought a sense of levity and fun to the otherwise high-pressure and stressful environment of the contact centre. In hindsight, I realise that these moments of fun were just as essential to our success as the technical skills and training we received.
Despite our playful interactions, Mark and I always maintained a high level of professionalism and delivered strong results. Our numbers were consistently good, and we never disrupted or disrespected the work of our colleagues. Some Team Leaders appreciated our sense of humor and lightheartedness, while others found it to be a distraction.
As I progressed into leadership positions later in my career, I came to realise that it was important to be a leader who is comfortable with laughter in the contact centre. A leader who is annoyed by the sound of their team laughing is missing the point. People laughing means you are doing something right. It's cultures and work environments like this that occur in most contact centres that are another reason to be proud of our industry. In fact, the absence of laughter could indicate that the team is struggling or experiencing high levels of stress. If as a leader, the sound of your team laughing annoys you then you need to lighten up and breathe.
Creating a Positive Work Culture in a Hybrid Work Environment
In the current hybrid work environment, it is essential to ensure that remote employees can still form the same connections and access the same level of ‘in the moment’ support as those in the physical contact centre. This means replicating the same kind of work culture that allows for fun, bonding, and practical jokes, but in a way that can be achieved in a remote setting. Leaders must make an effort to create a positive work environment and encourage colleagues to bond naturally. Encouraging communication and collaboration through virtual tools, setting aside time for remote team-building activities, and providing access to emotional support resources can all contribute to creating a positive remote work environment. Ultimately, creating a positive work culture in a hybrid work environment is critical to maintaining high levels of job satisfaction, productivity, and engagement among remote and in-person employees alike.