The Frustration of Finding a Good Call Center Manager

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, Ph.D.

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

“I need to find a good manager.”

This statement is simple, and its occurrence is common. I’ve heard it many times over the years, including when I worked in call centers, when I consulted for call centers, and now that I write about call centers. Despite the straightforward nature of this basic and common need, its successful culmination is anything but easy. Quite simply, if you make the wrong selection now, the future of your operation is in jeopardy. It only takes a few months of bad management to undo years of work spent building a smoothly functioning machine.

The problem is that the downward spiral goes unnoticed until after the damage is done – and is irreparable. By then, good employees have left. Sometimes these are the best agents, the ones who care most about their job and who service customers with excellence. The remaining staff is demoralized. They feel they’re on a sinking ship. Some will stay out of loyalty with the hope things will improve. Others remain due to inertia, lacking the motivation to take action. In the process, you may also lose some long-time clients. And, certainly, callers are fuming.

Despite the careful vetting process, employment screens, interviews, background checks, and personal references, your handpicked manager – the golden child who you were sure would solve all the problems – has failed to meet expectations. And, once again, the pressure of finding a good manager confronts you.

The options are deceptively simple – there are but two: you can promote from within or hire from the outside.

Promote from Within: When you promote existing call center employees into management positions, there are several items working in your favor. First, you know them and their work ethic; they have a record of accomplishment, having proven themselves in other areas in the organization. Next, they have already demonstrated their skills and abilities, perhaps as a shift supervisor, a trainer, a lead agent, or maybe all three. Third, they know your operation; they won’t require training in how your organization operates. Finally, they know the industry; they understand call center work and comprehend the challenges of being an agent.

The downside is that they seldom have management experience. That means management training will be required, followed by close supervision as they grow into their job. This will not happen quickly – and if you move too fast, turning them loose before they are ready, disaster is the likely outcome. Along the way, they will make mistakes. You hope the mistakes will be minor and the successes will greatly outweigh the errors. Of course, you can never know this in advance.

Hire from the Outside: The alternate approach is to hire an experienced manager. This solves all the issues surrounding management training. Yes, the new manager will still require some oversight in the beginning, but the timeframe shouldn’t be nearly as long as for someone with no managerial experience. The new manager will also need training specific to your organization and call center operation, but these areas are much easier to teach than general management skills.

The disadvantage of hiring from the outside is that you have no history together; you don’t know their work ethic, their drive, or their ability to function in your call center. Plus, they don’t know your business or operation. They will likely lack call center experience, and they won’t understand the industry. And, if they do have a call center background, you might need to retrain them to fit into your operation.

There’s no easy answer when hiring a call center manager. Finding a great manager is more art than science, but that’s what makes the call center fun. After all, if anyone could do it, then everyone would!

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of AnswerStat. He’s a passionate wordsmith whose goal is to change the world one word at a time.

[From the April/May 2013 issue of AnswerStat magazine]