Expanding Your Peer Mentoring Program Beyond the Contact Center’s Walls
When selecting strong candidates for your contact center’s peer mentoring program, don’t overlook your agents who aren’t wearing any pants.
Home agents, despite their general affinity for pajamas and an aversion to bathing or shaving, are typically among the most skilled and experienced frontline workers a contact center has. Failing to include your at-home crew in peer mentoring initiatives is a waste of highly valuable resources. Sending top agents home and not allowing them to serve as mentors is like tossing tons of coaching and training arsenal in the dumpster.
With modern communication technologies making it so easy for humans to stay connected despite geographical divides, there’s simply no excuse for not tapping the teaching power of your talented virtual staff. If fully accredited online colleges and universities can thrive without the benefit of a physical classroom, certainly your contact center’s mentoring program can, too.
Make sure each home agent wants to participate before enlisting them in the peer mentoring program. Just because an agent is skilled at helping customers doesn’t mean they’re interested in helping co-workers. In fact, some of your home agents likely jumped at the chance to work remotely just so they could get away from their peers. This is not to suggest that all home agents are sociopathic when it comes to work relationships, but don’t automatically assume they are not. When selecting which home agents to include in your peer mentoring program, choose those who eagerly want to participate over those who begin to sweat or cry – or both – at the very mention of mentoring a colleague.
Take time to make good mentor-protégé matches. There may be some added challenge matching up home agents and protégés since the two individuals in question may not have had much interaction before due to the former’s off-premise location. In such cases, take a good look at the core personality traits and communication styles of each person to help ensure they’ll spend most of their time collaborating rather than colliding. Involve the agents themselves in the selection process by giving them a couple of people to choose from. That way they won’t be able to blame you entirely if their mentoring relationship ends in a nasty divorce.
Schedule mentoring sessions without sacrificing service levels. Once your mentors (both virtual and on-premise) and protégés are paired up, it’s important to make sure that: a) they interact on a regular basis; and b) they’re not all offline at once. You want the protégés to benefit as much as possible from the skills and wisdom of their mentor, but you don’t want these partnerships to come at the expense of customer accessibility and satisfaction. By taking the time to schedule mentoring time around heavy call loads, and by staggering who’s offline at what times, the mentoring program can bloom without customer relationships wilting.
Have mentors and protégés take advantage of all the communication tools available to them. While traditional mentoring involves plenty of face-to-face interaction (without the use of Skype), virtual mentoring requires partners to take advantage of various communications devices and channels to sustain a fruitful relationship. Phone, email, chat (and/or SMS), and video are invaluable in virtual mentoring. Protégés with pressing questions can initiate a quick chat session with their mentor. When in need of more in-depth coaching or assistance, a chat session or a phone call – with screen-sharing – can be very effective, as can video calls, which add a nice face-to-face element to help foster a sense of connectedness and camaraderie. And email can come in handy for less urgent or in-depth matters, or whenever the virtual mentor wants to attach a photo of their dog wearing their headset.
Monitor mentor-protégé interactions (occasionally) to ensure effectiveness and compatibility. While peer mentoring programs are all about agent empowerment and trust, supervisors and managers still need to help ensure that the mentoring relationship is compatible – and that actual progress is being made (i.e., the protégé’s performance doesn’t stink as much as before). To that end, it’s a good idea for supervisors to drop in on virtual mentors’ phone calls and chat interactions with protégés once in a while, and to provide necessary coaching (as well as deserved praise) via the same channels afterward.
NOTE: Just be sure to let agents know that occasional monitoring/coaching will be a part of the mentoring initiative before the actual initiative gets off the ground. This will eliminate accusations of spying or micromanagement and keep agents’ strong sense of empowerment and autonomy in tact.
Having virtual mentors share progress with protégé’s supervisor. Supervisor monitoring of mentor-protégé interactions isn’t the only – or even the best – way to ensure mentoring effectiveness. Supervisors should also schedule “meetings” with virtual mentors to give the latter a chance to share what they feel their protégé is doing well and where he or she could stand to improve. This not only keeps supervisors abreast of their newer agents’ performance from another perspective, it helps the virtual mentor develop important supervisory skills (evaluation and reporting). In addition, having virtual mentors share their insights with supervisors makes them feeling like a highly valuable member of the contact center team despite their distance from the actual contact center, and despite the fact that they work each day in nothing but their underwear.