I recently had the opportunity to talk about employee relations (ER) issues in the customer contact center with the Human Resources executive responsible for talent acquisition and organizational development for a Fortune 500 retailer.  Her company is in the process of growing their customer service team.

One of the more memorable ER issues in recent memory occurred supporting a Global 1000 telecom client. An Operations Manager (manager of front-line Supervisors) was overheard by numerous customer service representatives (CSR) complaining to a Supervisor about the performance of a specific CSR – even threatening to terminate the CSR. What’s more, the conversation was not even with the Supervisor of the CSR in question. As one might expect, a complaint was filed with Human Resources against the Operations Manager.

Naturally, an investigation followed, along with the necessary corrective action. Despite the corrective action, this sort of behavior had a lasting effect on the culture of the 400-seat contact center.

Of course, the real story here is prevention. How do we protect our corporate culture – and our employees – from this kind of inappropriate behavior? The reality is that for most, the CSR role is usually occupied by those early in their careers with limited professional experience. What is more, those who excel in the CSR role are often promoted to Supervisor with limited development and limited selection tools. Similarly, promotion to Operations Manager is often based on great results by the Supervisor’s team and is accompanied by limited development and limited selection tools.

I do not doubt for a moment that the CSRs who overheard that Operations Manager were impacted and delivered less-than-stellar service to their customers that evening. That rant never should have taken place. So, what are the lessons here?


Now, I have long believed that what you sow in your corporate culture you will reap in your customer experience. Leaders must be selected based on their ability to actually lead others, not simply because they have the best sales results or highest customer satisfaction. Further to the point, new leaders especially must be developed and nurtured. Here are my thoughts:

  • Take time to document job descriptions and position requirements: This may be one of the biggest misses. We are all busy and tend to hope this will take care of itself. It won’t. Spend time to think about the skills that are truly required for a role before posting the role and interviewing candidates. Consider your business’s competency model when completing this exercise (you do have a competency model, right?).
  • Improve candidate selection: Have a formalized approach to interviewing and selecting the best candidate for the job. Consider an approach like Topgrading.
  • Formalize individual development planning: Tie individual development plans (IDPs) to your performance review process. Train managers on how to focus on both strengths and weaknesses for balanced people development.
  • Don’t underestimate leadership training: You don’t have a big training department or resources? Consider your regional employers’ association. Many of these organizations have training programs that can help you deliver great results.

In my experience above, both the Operations Manager and the OM’s Director were coached. The fall-out with other employees lasted weeks. It was difficult to fully quantify the impact on customer satisfaction and employee satisfaction that the event had on our business and our culture. That’s my take.