Crewing a Call Center

Hiring employees for a call center is like choosing the crew of a submarine: They will be doing repetitive tasks in an enclosed environment for a very long period of time. Because of this, even small frictions can instantly flare up into major blow-outs. A key part of your role as hiring manager is not just to choose people that can do the job, but to also choose people that fit within the team like pieces in a puzzle.

If you involve existing call center employees in the hiring process, it can go a long way toward alleviating this issue. Once you have the pool of candidates whittled down to a chosen few, invite existing staff to perform the second interview. Meet with them afterward and get their honest feedback. They are likely to ask (and answer) questions that you may not have thought of. Remember: they do the job all day, and may be more qualified to determine who is or isn't a good fit for the job than you are.

Keeping a candy bowl on site, and always filled, helps a lot, too. It's amazing how much tension a little bit of chocolate can take away. Team-building helps, too. No, not trust-building exercises and blindfolds. That kind of silliness is for salespeople. This is a call center crew; they have to be bulletproof. You want to create a bond so strong that your crew will babysit each other's children, cover days off for each other, and go holiday shopping together. The only way to do that is to take work out of the equation.

Try these instead:
  • In the summer, an after-work squirt gun battle on the company grounds. 
  • Make wine together. Check online; you may find that a small local vintner or brewery allows this even for small parties. If none exist in your area, there are kits that you can order. Then, after the wine has aged 6 - 12 months, get together outside work to taste it. 
  • Picnics and themed pot lucks. (They also help break up the monotony of call center life, and give everyone something to look forward to.) 
  • Draw names for the 2 employees who will go out together - during work hours - with some of your money to restock the candy bowl. Do this weekly. 
  • Order in a buffet lunch for no particular reason. Don't make it on a holiday - those already have enough family-related angst to compete with. Make sure everyone knows at least 2 months in advance, so that they have it to look forward to. (Hmm... if these often have to be a day earlier or later than planned - especially out of the blue - do you think it might improve attendance?) 
  • Celebrate 'Pie Friday' (this one is all mine, and still my favorite): Ask each employee what their favorite kind of pie is, go out to a bakery or restaurant, and bring each employee back their own personal pie. 
  • Games. Rotate which employee chooses that month's game, and put them in charge of organizing it. (It will help them grow.) Game time can be at lunch during the slowest day of the week (especially if you buy lunch). 
  • Go to the beach together. You bring buckets of chicken, everyone else brings one item. (Some employees are funny about being seen in swim wear by other members of the team. In that case, substitute a trip to the zoo - you buy the passes, and include spouses and children, absolutely - or the movies.) 

No matter what you do, it's important that it be voluntary. The minute you make anything mandatory, it becomes work, no matter how good your intentions.

If you've had successful team-building events, I'd love to hear about (and steal) them.

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