Management

Words of Wisdom From the Contact Center Leader of the Year

‘My primary goal is to be a servant leader and to serve from my heart.’

December 01, 2011
KEYWORDS leadership , service , team
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Who: Linda Sue Rodriguez
What: Assistant VP, Member Contact Center
Where: Firstmark CU, San Antonio

Our CU recently received two awards from San Antonio’s Professional Teleservice Management Association: Winning the award of Contact Center of the Year wasn’t surprising, and our contact center team deserved it. When I received the honor of the Contact Center Leader of the Year, I was surprised, honored, and humbled to be elected among my peers within the contact center industry.

The combination of the two awards validated the strength of our team and my goals and work as their leader. Other nominees placed us in the same league as Nationwide Insurance, Kinetic Concepts, and San Antonio Water Systems.

What this award means to the CU and to me personally: Any time Firstmark receives recognition like this, it’s validation for our entire staff. Our corporate goal is to provide the best products and services to our member-owners. The Firstmark brand is “Great With People; Great With Money.” This award shows we’re doing a superior job with both.

For me, personally, it was rewarding to look back on my career, the many opportunities I’ve had, and my great mentors. They’ve all been very valuable and guided me in my development. My primary goal is to be a servant leader and to serve from my heart. This award reminds me I’ve been successful.

To help my staff do likewise: I strive to lead by example. I encourage my team to find within them the same positive attitude on every call. Every day the team shares opportunities they’ve had to help members.

We learn from each other how to improve for the next time or the next call. Contact centers don’t exist only to take calls and complaints, but to help people who encounter difficulties or have simple questions about their money.

Our contact center is located: In our main office. Working closely with other departments, including our technology and marketing departments, has always been an advantage in providing high-level service to members. Through these relationships, we can share the pulse of the membership quickly with other departments.

To establish and maintain a rewarding work environment: My team and I have created an environment of fun and celebration. This often helps us laugh instead of a scream at the end of a call. The department usually is decorated from ceiling to floor and toys are ever-present. Knowing each employee’s personality allows the leadership team to individually tailor motivation. This might mean a high-five or a cookie to take the edge off before the next call. Candy, especially chocolate, is a call center staple. Celebrations, too, are important in maintaining the team—whether it’s a birthday, a holiday, or even simply a busy Friday.

Staff rewards are critical: In the middle of a hectic day, it can be challenging to remember to stop and give a “pat on the back.” So if I know I have a full calendar, I take time in the morning to share a few moments with the entire call center team. During this time, I encourage, recognize, share a motivational quote, and share the day’s agenda.Some leaders tend to put too much thought into how to reward or recognize team members. Kindness and personal acknowledgement are the greatest tools. At Firstmark, our leaders consistently express their appreciation and recognition, so I pass that on to my own team members as often as I can.

CU member service really is superior to service at many other financial institutions: We are a member-owned financial institution, so our members are the reason we exist in the marketplace. Their calls are most important to us. The level of service we provide is superior, in my opinion, because of this unique position.

Other financial institutions are in business to provide profit to shareholders. Firstmark focuses on members, and our calls help them find success in their financial business. Whether as simple as a balance call or as important as a closing date on a home loan, all member contact is a chance to make a difference to our owners.

My first experience with CUs: When I joined the Firstmark team in 2002. I immediately noticed the overall culture of credit unions was different. It became even more apparent when I attended a Credit Union Call Center Conference and everyone was willing to share best practices and ideas, and help each other succeed.

I realized at this point that working in a credit union environment would provide a good match with my own personal philosophies. This realization came as a breath of fresh air and helped me see my department as beyond the usual role of a call center.

To recharge and reinvigorate: My peak professional performance comes from within and from a daily passion for what I do. My weekly recharge and reinvigoration comes from experiences with my family, friends, and faith. I tend to be as busy away from work as I am during the week.

During my off hours, I often think about the next team idea, the next strategy to handle call volume, and the training needed to make us all better in our positions. Often these thoughts come from unrelated places and I can use them in other areas of my life. My passion for what I do and the fact that I truly enjoy serving others, is what encourages me every day.

My first job: I worked at a local newspaper in the customer service complaint department. Since then, I’ve worked in call centers ranging from 20 agents to 300-plus agents.

Each call center I’ve worked in has provided an opportunity to strengthen my knowledge of the industry and operation. When I joined Firstmark, these experiences and our supportive management team helped develop our contact center into an award-winner.

My personal strengths: Empathy, arranger, developer, belief, and communication. I focus on these strengths to help me “do what I do best every day.”

I also try to maintain a positive attitude when dealing with member problems and complaints. It’s a trait I encourage others to develop. When serving a member, I don’t see his or her concern as a problem or a complaint, but as an opportunity to help and have the call end on a positive note for the member.

I’m a fan of: The Dallas Cowboys. I cheer them on from my sofa nearly every Sunday of the football season.

Also, as a San Antonio native, I could never support another basketball team over the Spurs. As past championship winners, the Spurs have brought a sense of pride and huge celebration to the city. I participate in the celebration each time. Love that silver and black!

When I was a child: I never thought I’d be in a call center. I used to say I wanted eight kids, but I stopped at two. I bounced around from wanting to be a teacher to becoming a beautician/hair stylist.

I was a call center trainer for a short period of my career, which fulfilled a desire to teach. I still teach in some shape or form every day. I might not be in a formal classroom but as a leader, those teaching skills are critical.

Favorite actress: Julia Roberts, a chameleon who’s played parts in movie genres from romance to action and comedy. She seems to have a real sense of humor, in addition to being outspoken and witty. Each time I see her in a new role, I think how exciting it would be to walk in her shoes.

Favorite music: Texas is in my heart, and so is country music. The notes and words speak to the everyday lives and successes of real people. Whether old country like Merle Haggard or the newer tunes of George Strait—I love it all!

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Great article! Unfortunately, most employees don’t feel valued or appreciated by their supervisors or employers. In fact, research has shown that the predominant reason team members quit their jobs is because they don’t feel valued. This is in spite of the fact that employee recognition programs have proliferated in the workplace – over 90% of all organizations in the U.S. has some form of employee recognition activities in place. But most employee recognition programs are viewed with skepticism and cynicism – because they aren’t viewed as being genuine in their communication of appreciation. Getting the “employee of the month” award, receiving a certificate of recognition, or a “Way to go, team!” email just don’t get the job done. How do you communicate authentic appreciation? We have found people have different ways that they want to be shown appreciation, and if you don’t communicate in the language of appreciation important to them, you essentially “miss the mark”. Additionally, employees need to receive recognition more than once a year at their performance review. Otherwise, they view the praise as “going through the motions”. A third component of authentic appreciation is that the communication has to be about them personally – not the department, not their group, but something they did. Finally, they have to believe that you mean what you say. How you treat them has to match the words you use. If you are not sure how your team members want to be shown appreciation, the Motivating By Appreciation Inventory (www.appreciationatwork.com/assess) will identify the language of appreciation and specific actions preferred by each employee. You then can create a group profile for your team, so everyone knows how to encourage one another. Remember, employees want to know that they are valued for what they contribute to the success of the organization. And communicating authentic appreciation in the ways they desire it can make the difference between keeping your quality team members or having a negative work environment that everyone wants to leave. Paul White, Ph.D., is the co-author of The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace with Dr. Gary Chapman.

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