India: How To Support Customer Contact Centres Now
This week I worked with a team who have a large customer contact centre in India. They have experienced deaths from COVID amongst their colleagues and those off sick with COVID number in the hundreds. This is touching them deeply, not seen at a distance on a news broadcast.
The information below is based on our conversation about supporting themselves and their colleagues in this crisis affecting their lives and their business. It may be useful to others in similar circumstances. I thank them for their input.
Be personal. Ask if the person is feeling safe and feeling that they can maintain their safety. Ask how things are going in their lives, how their family are.
If someone wants to talk to you, listen. Don’t feel a need to offer advice, or to fix the unfixable. If it’s useful help them gather their own thoughts on how they are helping themselves, their loved ones, their teams in their current reality, so they can recognise and confirm their own resilience.
Manage yourself — slow down so they know you are giving them time and space for this conversation. Allow for silence. If they are silent it is a precious silence, let it happen, they will be thinking, feeling, grieving. Just be there.
If you feel guilty about talking about work, separate the personal discussion from the professional one. Have a conversation about how life is and just complete that. Or contact them for just that purpose. If they don’t wish to talk about it, accept that too — having offered is enough. Following the personal conversation, ask if it is useful to talk about work at that point or whether it would be better to talk later in the day or week. This demarcation can help people know that you care and that it is ok to discuss what they are experiencing.
In a culture where working hard, being responsive and being positive about what is being achieved is important, employees can feel uncomfortable that they are not able to meet performance indicators. If that is the off-shore culture you are experiencing it is extremely important to support the dignity of others and express appreciation for what is being achieved in such circumstances even when it does not meet usual KPIs. Normalise the fact that this may affect work and that caring for others is a value you uphold.
Most importantly give control back. Tip the balance significantly to asking rather than telling. When people have little control over what is happening around them, enabling them to find direction again and move forward is important. Rather than telling your off-shore colleagues what head office needs, start with “How should we go about work this week?” “What do you think is realistic and compassionate and how can we help?” Keeping your questions open and broad like this enables your colleagues to control where the conversation heads. As they are in the eye of the storm, they will know what’s critical for their workforce and for the business.
Discuss what can be put on the back burner or taken over by others for the moment. If you know that saying we are removing these duties will provide relief, just do so. Then use conversations to discuss what else can be done and how else to work together.
Also remember that sometimes when people feel out of control, or are in grief, they may crave the certainty of normality — enable it if that is most helpful. My client found that some teams have chosen to maintain or increase their productivity as this has been important to them. Remember things will continually change — keep checking in.
Above all the message of the senior executive at this meeting was clear, the wellbeing of colleagues is paramount at the moment.
Carey Glass is an expert in change with ease. Her work is based on the simple reality that change happens all the time and is not new to organisations or their employees. She works with individuals, teams and organisations to harness their own capacity for change rather than impose change upon them. Her coaching has been cited by Harvard University’s Institute of Coaching and is particularly effective in limiting the number of sessions required. She is co-editor of the international journal InterAction, devoted to adaptable and flexible approaches to individual, team and organisational change in complex environments.