By Mike Aoki, President of Reflective Keynotes
In continuing the Uniphore podcast series “Day in the Life of a Contact Center Leader”, I talked with Heather Arthur, Vice-President, Customer Care Operations at Rogers Communications. She told me, “The strongest leaders are curious. They ask the best questions.” I have known Heather for years. But, when I interviewed her for a recent episode of Uniphore’s podcast Conversations that Matter, she shared a growth moment in her leadership journey. It was when she, “stopped believing I needed to have all the right answers and instead started believing my team had all the answers.” That changed Heather’s approach to leadership. She explains, “When you are curious and you ask questions, people feel valued.” They feel like they contribute. They feel important.” Heather adds, “They also look for opportunities to become the person who knows these answers and become experts in their field.”
It also motivates teammates since, “They want the emotional feeling” of being the one who has, “answers we rely on.” For instance, front-line agents already know what will reduce friction for their customers, since they are in touch with them. By leveraging her peoples’ insights, Heather said, “My confidence went up because I realized I hired the right team.”
In fact, Heather spends 50% of her day interacting with her team. She calls that, “Zooming in.” No, not Zoom as in the video conferencing service. Instead, she is, “Zooming in” like a photographer trying to get closer to their subject. She also believes in being prepared for these interactions. “When I look at my calendar, I make sure there is space for me to be present with my team.” She also ensures there is, “Space BEFORE those meetings to think about the questions I want to ask.” Her goal is to, “Have a real conversation about what they are feeling and what is going on” in their area.
“I can spend lots of time sharing the vision and how we are going to get there”, she adds. However, if leaders do not believe in themselves, if they do not believe they are important enough to be a part of that journey, “They are just going to wait until they are told what to do.” Instead of that, she wants, “Leaders that are going to be courageous and curious.” So, the questions she asks and the relationships she builds foster that attitude.
The other 50% of her day is spent, “Zooming out” to look at the big picture. One example of this is how Heather approached employee engagement and absenteeism. Rather than looking at absenteeism as strictly a performance management issue, she believes absenteeism is a symptom of something else. She explains, “If they don’t feel valued, if they don’t feel personal satisfaction or feel they matter, calling in sick might be someone’s first option.” She asked the leaders reporting to her, “What if we talk to people about what being here means to THEM?” She asked them to change their approach to say, “We really miss you. I hope everything is OK. Is there anything we can do to help you avoid future absences? I want to let you know you matter, and we really miss you.” Giving people a reason to show up. Making them feel valued, made the difference. Within 60 days her team cut absenteeism in half! Her contact center absenteeism rate is 5-8% versus an industry average of 30-35%.
Instilling Belief and Visualizing Success
One of Heather’s unique skills is being a certified Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) coach. During a typical workday, she uses NLP skills to help her team succeed. For example, she did a mental “time travel” exercise with her leadership team. She asked them to, “Imagine it is December 31.” Then, she asked, “What would we have achieved already being the amazing leaders we are?” She helped them visualize those goals. To attach a positive emotion to those goals, she asked, “If we achieved that… what would it feel like?” That activated their emotions and belief in that goal. With those feelings in place, they could discuss “how” to achieve those goals, from a position of confidence. Instilling belief, visualizing success, and making plans to achieve it, are key NLP principles that Heather uses to help her team succeed.
Heather also believes she cannot finish her day until she positively impacts at least five people. That mindset motivates her to make a difference. It guides her to help colleagues grow and develop. With her team working from home, she also recently adopted a new daily non-negotiable: “When someone pops in my head, I reach out to them. I do not wait. I will send them a video or text message.” She found every time she reaches out, she gets the same message back: “How did you know I needed to hear that?” Now other team members are also sending positive messages to colleagues, as they think about them. That helps her team stay connected, even though everyone is working from home.
“Zooming in” to ask great questions and build relationships to empower her team. “Zooming out” to look at the strategic big picture. Leveraging NLP techniques to help her team believe in themselves. Those three activities encompass a major part of a typical, “Day in the life” for Heather Arthur as an inspiring contact center leader!