Loaning out your employees to the rest of the business gives them fresh perspectives on career paths and spreads your knowledge to the rest of the organization – but it also brings knowledge back.
I once led customer experience for a division of a Fortune 25 company. Knowing that the call center was where the real action was, I immediately asked to visit in order to hear what was really happening with our customers. Sure enough, what I heard there was very different from the simplistic and sanitized version I learned in orientation. So I returned whenever I could, bringing along as many people as possible.
As I brought our teams to the contact center, a number of constructive things happened. The corporate teams had their beliefs and assumptions about our customer experience challenged. As the company had a very inside-out culture, product and marketing teams led with their gut – “We’re customers, too. We know what customers want.” They unconsciously expected customers to be able to maneuver the systems and policies as easily as they themselves did. Learning first-hand about the challenges our customers faced in logging into the website or understanding our product’s tax benefits gave them a new appreciation for the complexity they unwittingly had a hand in creating.
You know this story. That’s why you continually try to get your fellow executives to visit your contact centers. But there’s another side to the story.
While our corporate teams had their assumptions and beliefs challenged, so did the call center reps. Being separated from the rest of the company led to the creation of mythologies about how our products worked and the best way to use them that simply weren’t true. Only when the call center teams spoke directly with the product teams did they learn about some aspects of how our products truly functioned.
These misunderstandings weren’t the result of outright bad training. But any training has white spaces that aren’t directly addressed, and this is where these mythologies developed. I’ve seen similar situations in other companies. No matter how well you train your teams, there’s always more to learn. So, since they’re not learning from the company, they fill the void the only way they can – by learning from customers. The same customers who couldn’t log in to the account or understand the tax benefits.
So, what do you do? You can’t have your product team live in the call center. What else is there?
You can loan your employees out to them.
I had a mentee once who worked in a call center. His company had a program that loaned employees to other departments, and my mentee joined. Before they could join, candidates had to be in the contact center for a year and have high quality scores.
This was exactly the type of candidate who was in danger of leaving. Rather than lose them to other companies, this company found short-term opportunities for them in other departments. Employees were loaned out for 3 to 6 month assignments. This led them to learn more about the core business, and see how marketing, finance or product management worked. At the same time, employees shared customer feedback gained from their time in the call center.
It’s a good plan. But only if done right.
What this company didn’t do – and I recommend you consider – is to have the loaned-out employees come back monthly. Bring them back for a few days each month to share what they’re learning, so your entire team can benefit. Schedule phone time, too – keep them sharp and re-infuse them with the voice of the customer. Then use your scheduling system to to block out time for their training – but this time, have them teach the class.
Set the expectation that they’ll return at the end of their assignment. Some will be hired by the department where they worked – and that’s okay. You probably would have lost them anyway, and now you have a contact center advocate in another department.
Some will realize that the call center is a better fit. Welcome them back with open arms! Now you have a more-informed employee who’s energized and looking forward to helping customers again.
Others, though, are ready for more. With a broader understanding of your company and its strategy, they’re an ideal fit to become a trainer or supervisor. In fact, they’ll be far more prepared than they were with just the call center experience.
Disconnects between the call center and the rest of the business are natural, but it doesn’t have to be so pronounced. Look for ways to loan your employees out to your partners. Not only will it help the rest of the business learn more about your customers and your call center – your teams will also end up increasing their understanding about the rest of the business.