At Your Service- Servant Leadership in Call Centers

Colin Taylor
In the world of call centers, contact centers and customer service centers we are all servants to our customers. We exist to serve their needs and requirements. It is sad that some many centers do poorly at this. The attitude of the call center existing to serve our customers is foreign to some. The point of view that in our call center we are servants to our customers tends to be even more foreign and uncomfortable.

Perhaps the problem is tied to our lack of familiarity with providing service without being subservient.

We too often see those that serve as being inferior to those who are served. This is certainly not the case, ands we know this intellectually, yet our organizations often support this hierarchical, command and control, top down perspective.

The solution, well in my humble opinion it is to embrace the opportunity to serve, and to be servant leaders in our call center.

To be a servant leader, one needs the following qualities: listening, empathy, healing, awareness, persuasion, conceptualization, foresight, stewardship, growth and building community. Acquiring these qualities tend to give a person authority versus power.

This is a concept that is certainly not new. The term Servant Leadership was coined in 1970 by Robert Greenleaf and has since been supported and developed by authors such as Ken Blanchard, Stephen Covey, and Peter Block. But the ideas underlying servant leadership are far older. in the 4th century BC Chanakya wrote:
“The king [leader] shall consider as good, not what pleases himself but what pleases his subjects [followers]” “the king [leader] is a paid servant and enjoys the resources of the state together with the people.”

Lao-Tzu, who wrote the Tao Te Ching lived in China sometime between 570 B.C. and 490 B.C.:
The best type of ruler is one of whose existence the people are barely aware of. Next comes one whom they love and praise. Next comes one whom they fear. Last comes one whom they despise and defy. When you are lacking in faith, others will be unfaithful to you. The Sage is self-effacing and scanty of words. When his task is accomplished and things have been completed, all the people say, ‘We have done it ourselves!’

Regardless of the antecedence the concept of Servant leadership is ideally suited to call and contact centers. I have espoused this approach for many years and have seen it succeed time and time again.
Servant leaders often share many of the following attributes: trustworthy, self-aware, humble, caring, visionary, empowering, relational, competent, good stewards, and community builders.

Think about your center, in some ways it could be characterized as a ship on a journey. You and your staff are moving through treacherous waters towards your goal. As we know there are many types of i and crafts that could make such a journey. But for the sake of this discussion I would like you to select from the following two choices:

A galley- this ship was popular with Romans, it utilized the power of the crew rowing in unison to the beat of a drum that established the pace.

A longship- this is a vessel of the type that were employed by Vikings as the explored and plundered throughout the North Sea and North Atlantic. This craft employed its crew to paddle or row.

In the case of the longship the crew were freemen they chose to be on the ship and to participate to the goal, their common goal. The crew of the galley on the other hand were chained into place and had no choice; input of option other than rowing to the goal that was established by others.

Now which is your center more like?

Servant leadership in a call center is much more aligned with the longship as those in charge are there to assist the crew in achieving and realizing the goal rather than beating them to try to attain it. Both vessels can get to their destination, but which on would you rather be on?

Call centers are a community of people with individual perspectives, points of view, goals, ambitions and levels of commitment. This hodgepodge lends itself very well to chaos and confusion. Many respond to the challenges of this environment by creating rules, policies and protocols simply to stifle and restrict the energies of this community. These rules can make the group more manageable, but the trade off is a loss of autonomy and independence, ideas and of original thought. Rather than harnessing the unique abilities of the community in this case we have repressed those abilities and forced those who don’t comply out. This leaves with a group malleable, manageable, but uninspired people. The analogy to sheep or zombies leaps to mind.

They are great at following, but do not lead. If this is an apt description of your call or contact centers then you only have one option for sea travel and that is the galley.

A servant leader in a call center on the other hand would see themselves as a servant to the group, whose role was to help the center get to its goal in the best way possible. This creates an environment much more akin to the longship as all members can have input, share their point of view. The role of the leader is to be a part of the crew, by steering the ship, not the master of the crew beating out the drum beat.

So again, I ask which better describes your call center: a galley or a longship?

Regardless of the answer today, you can change it in the future.

Regardless of which strategy you employ, we wish you luck and a bon voyage.

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