Team Building - Support Team Example

This team works within a large public utility company that was originally set up to provide water services. The company was originally owned by the state but has been privatized and now operates as a commercial organization.

The Water Services Regulator is responsible for ensuring that it continues to provide a quality service to all its customers and offers 'value for money.' This body ensures also that the water company adheres to all the required legislative regulations.

In the past, the company has operated with a traditional authoritarian management style, but it is endeavoring to alter this to a more commercial and empowered style of management through its change management program. All managers are expected to develop, coach, and mentor their staff so that they adopt the competencies required by the new commercial organization.

Customer Support is one area of the Customer Services department, which is managed by the Customer Services Director who has been with the organization for over twenty years. His role has two main objectives relating to customer service:

1. To ensure customer complaints are resolved quickly and to both parties' satisfaction.
2. To ensure the number of complaints referred to the regulator are minimized.

Customer Support Manager
In this scenario, you have been working in the customer support area for three years and have recently been promoted to Customer Support Manager. You are responsible for ensuring that:

• Calls received by the support desk wait no longer than five minutes to be answered.
• 90% of issues are resolved on the first call.

Composition of Team
Your team is a group of 22 permanent members of staff who all report to you. The age of your team ranges from 16 to 28 years, with 18 of the staff being under 24 years. Ten members of the team are graduates and only seven members of the team have been with the organization for six months or more.

Composition of the support team

The team members have virtually no autonomy over their work because their workflow is handled by an automated telephone system, which routes queued calls to the first available team member.

The average time it takes to deal with a call is ten minutes and the average number of incoming calls per day is one thousand, which means that the team needs around 20 members to handle demand.

Support team size is pre-determined by workload

This explains why your team is large, much larger than the ideal of six people. You could look at splitting the team into two groups of eleven. This could be done through specialization - for example, billing queries and payment problems.

This type of split might be relatively easy to implement using the existing call handling system as customers already pre-select the reason for their call before getting through to the support desk. Splitting the group into two teams would also enable you to offer more focused training to each team.

Allowing for contingency

You would have to give careful consideration to how this would impact on your management time, as you would need to duplicate certain activities like team meetings.

Creating smaller groups within your team could also reduce areas of conflict that you have identified within the team; for example some team members are prone to antagonize each other for 'entertainment' in their otherwise mundane and repetitive day.

Challenges you are most likely to encounter
Unlike the project team, your team has not been selected on the basis of their individual skills. You have been given this team to manage and you will have to work with the team members you have and do your best to meet your objective.

Define Success Criteria
The success criteria for the customer support team are visible to the team as a 'mission statement' pinned to the office notice board.

• Calls received by the support desk wait no longer than five minutes to be answered.
• 90% of issues to be resolved on the first call.

There are two problems with these criteria, which have been set by someone in the company who has no idea of the day-to-day workings of the team.

Firstly, at peak times, the number of incoming calls is such that even if all of them are dealt with as quickly as possible, some callers will still be waiting for more than five minutes before their call is answered. In fact it would be necessary to double the size of the team to achieve this target at peak times - something that is totally unrealistic.

Secondly, whilst over 95% of the billing queries are resolved on the first call, only 60% of the payment problems are. This is because the payment problems often require the team member to obtain information from banks and the state welfare department. When this happens, they agree to call the customer back later - something that the customers prefer, rather than being kept waiting. Since payment problems make up around 30% of the incoming calls, this makes the 90% target impossible to achieve.

The implications of this for you as a manager are that the success criteria are inappropriate for your team and you need to take action on this straightaway. No one likes being set targets that are unrealistic or impossible and it is quite likely that the consistent failure to hit these targets is badly affecting team morale. This is something you will need to take up with your director, once you have developed some success criteria that would be motivational for your team as well as acceptable to him.

You could also try to boost motivation by having some 'unofficial' success criteria of your own. For example, you could use the call statistics output by the call management system to post a league table showing the team performance every week. This would give the team some targets to beat (i.e. last week's figures) and allow you to give them some feedback about their performance that was both meaningful and fair. This Team Briefing Checklist walks you through the process of preparing a team briefing.

Lead by Example
Your first challenge as team leader is to change the perceptions of any of your team members who you have previously worked alongside on the customer support desk from seeing you as a co-worker to seeing you as a manager. You need to demonstrate the competencies of a manager through your behaviors. For example, coach and mentor team members how best to deal with difficult calls instead of taking over the call and resolving the problem for them.

From your knowledge of working on the support desk you will be able to empathize with your team. Your three years of industry knowledge will benefit the team considerably as two-thirds of your team will have less than six months' experience.

Whilst your team has no autonomy over their work, as their manager you can help them to feel they have some control by letting the team members organize lunch and break covers themselves. You will need to set the parameters they must adhere to - for example, at least twelve members must be available to answer calls between 12pm and 2pm.

Value all Contributions
You need to demonstrate that you welcome their feedback from customer calls. Very often, the first sign that the organization has done something to confuse or annoy customers is an increase in the frequency of incoming customer calls.

For example, the new design of bill may be misleading, or it is unclear to the customer what action to take if they have problems paying. Both of these issues would result in the support desk receiving additional calls. Being sensitive to any changes in the nature or frequency of customer problems would be an important part of your job. In this scenario, feeding back this type of information to the relevant manager or director so that the company can reword the information and the bills would represent an improvement in customer service and also reduce the number of incoming calls that your team needs to deal with.

Often issues raised will not be so easily solved, but if you show that you are fair and consistent in your dealings with your staff they will feel valued and more willing to express their views when asked.

Team Recognition and Reward
In this type of team your most difficult task is to keep your team motivated and committed to the organization. The transient nature of the team is reflected in the high turnover of staff, with two-thirds of your team having been in the job for less than six months. It may also reflect the high levels of stress that the team members are under as they deal with irate and agitated customers all day.

You may decide to negotiate with your director to split the annual bonus for your team over the four quarters so that the team get more regular incentives, rewards, and recognition. If this is not a possibility then you may want to discuss other ways to recognize your team's achievements - for example through meal vouchers, theater or club tickets, go-karting or paintball vouchers, etc.

Recognition can also be given for highlighting a certain type of call that requires specialist resources to resolve. An example could be bringing to your attention the rising number of calls due to communication problems, e.g. callers needing special assistance, elderly or those who speak little English.

As manager you will have access to numerous statistics, which will highlight to you any team member who is having problems with high absenteeism or lack of motivation. It is important that you have regular contact with each member so that you can discuss such issues, understand the reasons behind them, and seek a resolution.

One of your greatest challenges as a manager of this type of team will be your ability to motivate and reward the individual team members sufficiently to retain them. You will need to look at ways to counter the lack of career opportunities, perceived low pay, and the endless stream of difficult calls.

Looking at all the ways your organization allows you to reward your staff will help to a degree, but it is likely you will need to be creative in offering non-financial rewards. You could allow a dress-down or theme dressing day to raise money for charity. In fact, anything that would improve team spirit whilst maintaining a high level of customer service. For the individual you may be able to gain tickets to a corporate sponsored event, e.g. a sporting or cultural event.

You may also be interested in:
Team Building in the Workplace | Team Building Principles | Different Types of Teams | Project Team Example | Steering Team Example.

Key Points

  • As Customer Support Manager you will have little flexibility or choice over who is in your team, but you can organize the individuals you have in the way that best achieves your objectives. It is important to:
  • Exhibit your own personal commitment to your work and actively listen to team members' comments and feedback to gauge the mood of the team.
  • Look at ways to ensure sub-groups within your large team are operating as close to the ideal group size as practical.
  • Utilize your organization's reward structure and source creative ways to offer additional team and individual incentives, e.g. tickets to corporate sponsored events
  • Use formal and informal means of communication to identify, defuse, and address issues of motivation or conflict.
  • Create a thorough induction pack to handle staff turnover issues and bring new team members up to speed quickly.
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