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How COVID-19 Is Testing My Leadership Skills and What It Is Teaching Me Along the Way - A Weekly Update (Week Five)

By Tom Goodmanson May 05, 2020

Here at Calabrio, like many companies, we are entering our eighth week working from home. For a team where the majority are normally in an office environment, we have now passed the phase where working from home is an experimental novelty. By now, we have settled in. We have created new routines, made decisions about what is and is not possible to maintain during quarantine, and generally revolutionized the way we operate as a company.

When we eventually come back to the office, it is going to be important that we keep in mind all the things we learned during this time at home. As I have highlighted in this series, being home has brought new ways of leading, collaborating and problem-solving. So, why just try to resume “business as usual” when we go back? Instead, let’s consider what we can continue when we return to the office.

All the practices that the Calabrio team have developed over the last few weeks and plan to take forward have come from being open with each other, our customers and partners. Maybe these ideas can help you as you think about the “why” and “how” of your organization’s post-lockdown operations. Read my previous columns here.

Empathy and Listening

Across our global team, we have seen heightened employee engagement. This has come from an increased empathy between everyone, at all levels. We all have challenges with shifting our workday structure, but now, we all have similar challenges and it has given us a better understanding of each other as people.

We are more curious about each other’s lives and more empathetic and accommodating when we know a teammate is balancing work-life in a much different way. At the same time, all our team members are doing their best—shifting work hours, helping each other, and creating new ways to connect and serve our customers.

For leadership, remote working has also given us the impetus to listen more closely. We have increased the channels we have for internal communication, ensured more frequent opportunities to all connect and generally paid more attention to one another. Such listening drives understanding in our communications with each other and has enabled us to connect our employees to each other and the company.

I cannot imagine why we would not continue this culture as we shift back into physical offices. It is an integral part of a human-centric workplace and the time at home offered us a way to put our plans into practice.

Empathy and listening of course must be extended to customers, too. This not a case of us and them, but all of us together. At Calabrio, we have taken the stance of overcommunication, letting them know we are there and understand what they are going through. In addition, we have used our own interaction analytics tools on support inquiries to really see trends in customer needs and understand the customers and industries that require extra support right now.

This has allowed us to proactively offer the right support and adapt our product availability to fulfill the greatest areas of need, such as quality evaluations for a remote workforce. Having formed such a close connection with customers, we want to maintain this in the future.

Speed and Agility

When this all started, in the interest of employee safety, we did not have time to create a 10-point plan, assign transition teams or make PowerPoint decks. We picked up and moved home, then we worked out the kinks.

This mindset of taking ownership and calculated steps forward before having a 360-degree plan in place is another mindset I would like to maintain. Often, companies, teams and leaders get so bogged down in the details of planning that we forget to think creatively. We, as a community, have become averse to failure.

But some of our greatest achievements come from failure. And it is only when we are forced to make quick decisions that we are allowed to experience a positive level of risk, and even failure.

As we come back to our physical, communal spaces, leaders should help our employees understand that it is ok to move fast when speed matters—without a full-blown plan every time. We might come up with our greatest ideas if we allow ourselves this freedom.

Customer-First: Through Thick and Thin

It is speed and agility that has allowed Calabrio to surround our customers when they need us most. I have never been prouder of our employees than I was during our working from home transition. We have always been a customer-first organization. I alluded to this in my Week Three column. We show up, and we always have.

So, to see how our employees maintained the customer-first mindset was heartening. We were dealing with a whole new set of customer challenges and our employees jumped right in to help. We tried new things. We worked collaboratively with customers to brainstorm. We did not always get it right the first time. But in the end, we succeeded—and our customers succeeded.

This opportunity to connect with our customers in a way we never had before was a gift. It gave us a chance to show our customers that we can support them on a regular, plain old weekday, but we can also be a partner to them when the unexpected happens. Going forward, let us maintain this no-matter-what support for customers—because who knows when it might next be needed.

Digital Connectivity

Offering customer support and connection in a nimble way during times of crisis brings me to my final point on practices to continue: the new, digital “how.” In lieu of traditional in-person collaboration and events, the world has had to look to digital strategies to pivot operations and rethink how we connect with customers, partners and employees.

For instance, all marketing and communication efforts have become purely digital with online customer hubs, virtual events, webinars being upped to a weekly frequency, and increased website content to support existing and future customers.

Similarly, our professional services teams have been able to manage customer software implementations just as effectively using off-site practices and tools as they can when they are physically on-site at a customer. Tools like collaborative communications platforms helped achieve the same outcomes, regardless of location; the same goes for internal communication.

Digital connectivity might have been because it had to be that way, but necessity is the mother of invention. Leaders should continue to promote digital activities as an added alternative, or sometimes a complete replacement, to in-person activities. Digital capabilities empower companies to be more agile and accessible. For example, in our upcoming events, offering a partially or entirely virtual alternative means that the event becomes more inclusive to customers who previously could not travel to participate.

On the note of inclusivity, our recent transition to only virtual meetings leveled the playing field for office-based and remote workers because we’re all on the video conference, not just some. As a global company with six offices around the world, the lockdown has closed the distance between employees. We want to continue this unity, so we will look at opportunities for all meeting attendees to turn up in a virtual setting rather than the primary location always being a physical meeting room. As I said last week, keeping meetings more virtual might also be a healthy practice for ongoing distancing when we return to office life.

At Calabrio, we are documenting the changes we have gone through and looking at ways to leverage this change to create permanent improvements in our processes, and how we collaborate and deliver on our promises. This applies to both how we run our business internally and how we operate externally. I hope our experiences can inspire other leaders to think similarly. As always, reach out to me on LinkedIn if you have stories or tips you want to share. 

Edited by Erik Linask
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