In this episode, Jason Davis is joined by Joe Rothbauer, Vice President of Operations at HeatlhIQ, as they discuss job complexity and its impact on employee engagement and retention.
Joe discusses his experience using management systems (Continuous Improvement, Lean Manufacturing, Six Sigma, etc.) as a tool to decrease job complexity. Joe also provides tips for managers that want to try using systems with their employees. This is a great episode and you don’t want to miss a second of it. An edited version of their conversation follows.
Jason Davis 0:10
Welcome to Lead Smarter Not Harder, your stop for how to stand out as a leader. I'm your host, Jason Davis. In this episode, I'm joined by Joe Rothbauer, Vice President of Operations at HealthIQ. We discuss job complexity and the impact that it has on employee engagement and retention. Joe talks about how he's used management systems like continuous improvement and lean manufacturing as a tool to decrease job complexity and provides tips for managers, that want to try using these types of systems with their employees. This is a great episode and you don't want to miss a second of it. Please remember to rate the show five stars, like it, and subscribe, wherever you're listening. I greatly appreciate the support and it helps to grow the show. On that note, let's go.
Alright, I wanted to introduce my guest today, Joe Rothbauer, who is Vice President of Operations at Health IQ, brought him so we can dig deeper into some of these issues that we are seeing in the call center/contact center space, especially as it pertains to retention and employee engagement. But first off just a little bit about Joe. Joe's professional journey started with a degree in sociology from the University of Wisconsin Stevens Point. And then, later on, Joe completed some graduate coursework in data science from the University of Wisconsin Eau Claire. Before his role at HealthIQ, Joe was a part of some great organizations such as United Health Group, Target, and LTCG, which is a business process outsourcing company for the insurance industry. Joe, welcome to the show, and fill us in on anything that I may have missed.
Joe Rothbauer 1:54
I think you hit the highlights pretty well there. I think the one thing I'd like to point out is from an educational perspective, there's always career development type coursework that doesn't show up necessarily on a resume or doesn't come from a university. I think as you mentioned, some great organizations I've been in UnitedHealth, group and target, in particular, I've been fortunate enough to be able to take advantage of a lot of career development coursework, Six Sigma, Lean, and other types of process improvement process development type coursework, advanced Six Sigma analytics at Target, I think was probably one of the most valuable learning experiences I've had outside of formal university-based education. So a lot of different things a lot of different ways to, to improve your skillset, working in some of these large corporations.
Jason Davis 2:50
That's great. And I'm really happy you brought that up. And something we get into here a little bit is, you know, taking advantage of the things that your employers offer to you or can help support, you know if it's in form of reimbursement or cost-share or something like that. But taking advantage of those things, and putting the use and finding ways to use it in your daily work is beneficial, really beneficial. So thanks for throwing that out there.
Joe Rothbauer 3:15
Yep, absolutely. All right. Let's dive into it. You got it.
Employee Engagement & Retention Challenges in Call Centers
Jason Davis 3:20
All right. Well, let's dive in here a little bit. Want to talk a little bit, you know, started the show, really getting into or talking about some challenges that contact centers call centers are seeing? So from your perspective, what are some of the biggest challenges that you're seeing these centers encounter as it relates to employee engagement and retention?
Joe Rothbauer 3:43
I think one of the first things to realize about a call center contact center is that it's one of the toughest jobs in any organization. People are calling in, they have questions. A lot of times they're upset, they're confused. And your contact center employees are some of the first people are going to talk to you within your organization. So there can be questions that have a broad range of the knowledge needed within your organization. So at any point that something may fail within an organization, or require customer input, the contact center needs to know them that area of your business. And they need to be able to quickly find the answers and be able to confidently share that information with the callers coming in. So when you're bringing new folks into your organization, it's often difficult to help them feel like they're competent in their job. It's very difficult to come into an organization and be able to understand it from end to end. I think if you think about it from a leadership perspective, how often do we have a little leader who comes into an organization, and can understand what's happening throughout the company within a few weeks, which is what we expect a lot of times for our contact center folks, we bring them in, we give them a couple of weeks of training, sometimes less, and then we throw on a phone, and we expect him to be able to talk competently about what's going on throughout the organization. So I think that's one of the biggest challenges to having a satisfied employee who's engaged, and who is going to stay with your organization for a long time, in several of my stops along the way, along with my career, United Health Group, in particular, and LTCG. And even at Target working with some of the internal context centers, we found that fairly consistently, if you got a contact center agent to six months, they would be a long-term employee. That was that seemed to be a consistent marker within our contact centers, the different contact centers, I've worked with that if you can get them to six months, you're going to see them for two years or three years within your organization. So that first six months is really important to help them feel like they're competent in their job, and they can do the job.
Jason Davis 6:20
I agree, and I saw a lot of that also, in my contact center career or call center career anyway, too, right? It's how do I make that that onboarding piece, you know, as easy as possible, you know, what's the what are the different ways that we can, you know, show them, you know, exactly what they need to do how they need to do it, but do it in an appropriate amount of time? So we're not in training for forever, either. You know, and I think that that also brings a heavy reliance on good knowledge management systems as well.
Joe Rothbauer 6:54
Agreed, I think it and I think that is where I've seen the biggest lack of investment in some of the stops in my career to is coming into some of these areas, looking at low performing contact centers, and having an inappropriate amount of technology to help serve up the appropriate answers. And I've been, I was fortunate to be part of several big projects in my last couple of stops, that helped change that went through some processes to determine what systems were needed. And then we were able to invest in the organization. So the organizations that I was involved with, were willing to invest in systems once we were able to show that employing BPM-type systems would be beneficial to our contact centers.
Jason Davis 7:58
Just for clarity, BPM means?
Joe Rothbauer 8:01
Business Process Management. So you know, Lean Six Sigma, business process management, you know, a lot of these Badla share a lot of same tools, a lot of same approaches. But this is process management specifically focuses on a cycle of, of standardizing processes, looking for improvements, putting systems in place to manage those improvements, and then doing the whole cycle of you.
Tools to Deal with These Challenges
Jason Davis 8:25
Thanks for getting into the acronym, they're always like to explore those and make sure we're on the same page. Talking about Lean and continuous improvement, I think, you know, would make a lot of sense to folks in from this audience anyway. You know, seeing that a lot in the contact center, call center space as it comes as anyway. But, you know, I think that's a good segue into really kind of thinking about, you know, from your experience, and really, what what are some of those ways? What are some of the tools you've used to deal with, you know, some of these challenges? How have you gotten into that complexity?
Joe Rothbauer 9:00
Sure. I think, you know, it's not necessarily the system that matters, there's a lot of different they'll call it BPM type systems. So a pega or open, open Tech's open? Yeah, open text, I believe it's called. There are just dozens, if you just Google BPM systems, you'll get hundreds of listings for different systems. Microsoft has some great tools now with their power suite, for building simple, simple apps that you can deploy. But, you know, from a call center perspective, the most important thing of any system that you would have would be to serve up the information that your agent needs at the time that they need it. So making that data easy for them to access to be able to answer questions as quickly as possible. So if somebody calls in and they're asking about their bill, we shouldn't have to have an agent slip through three or four different systems, click five or six menus deep, to find the information they're looking for. The system should serve up a couple of clicks at the most to say they're calling about my bill, you click on that. And then within that menu, there might be one or two other questions you might be able to answer for this system to serve up the information. So I click, it's a billing question. They want to know how much they all this system serves it up, it says right now you owe this amount of money, make it very simple and easy for them to pull that information inflow, right to look at what the customer wants to talk about. And then, you know, the biggest thing, I think, is also looking at what kind of calls are you getting? So generally, you should be able to categorize your calls into several buckets so that it's easy to navigate to the information. So is it a billing question, is that a product question? Is it something about somebody who had content contacted them and now they're calling back? So is there a section for showing all of the contacts that have been attempted or completed with that individual social and the history of all of your contacts, including emails or texts or anything else that have gone out, putting that at the fingertips of your contact center agent, so they can easily navigate to the information they need? If you have a category of questions, or a specific question, that gets asked a lot more than all the others put that right on your front page. So somebody calls in, you get into account and the information is right there at their fingertips, they don't even have to click for it. That's a starting point for putting a BPM system together. So what are the top questions that are being asked? And, and what are the categories they fall in and just creating a grouping of those are just creating a menu so it's easy to navigate and pull that information?
Jason Davis 12:04
I like that idea a lot. And it reminds me a little of what I used to do in some of my training classes, as a facilitator, even thinking about well, hey, what are the top five calls that we get, you know, when people call in, you know, the second time maybe, or the third time and kind of getting back again, right? Let's take some complexity out, made it a scavenger hunt, you know, so it was a printed out list, but it was like, Alright, go find me this answer on this practice, you know, example, right? And then I can go in and check it and you're kind of doing that same thing. But it's more about navigation. Like I didn't care last, you know that they got it right. But it's just more about finding those screens. Because it's anytime that the screen within a screen within a screen.
Joe Rothbauer 12:47
When you first start one of these projects, you're not going to eliminate that right in until you go through a process with your first of all, with your budgeting, you know, can you afford to engineer something. But ultimately, what you want to do is eliminate that screen-to-screen navigation for your contact center, you want to serve it up to them? In a very simple manner.
Why Management Systems Are Effective
Jason Davis 13:15
So why do you feel or what do you think makes these kinds of systems or processes or, you know, management systems so effective?
Joe Rothbauer 13:27
I think the implementation is very important. So I've seen these, I've seen these systems fail, right? I mean, part of what's going on here is you're kind of you're locking processes in. So if, if you just have an open system where people need to navigate through menus and try to find the information, then it's free flow, right, people are going to have their way to get the information that might not be sufficient as it can be. Some folks are going to forget where a certain piece of information is, if it's a low volume call, you might have everybody forgetting where that information is. But when you do it, right, and you have the information and, and, and the right questions being asked to get you to that information. It takes a variation out of your process. So it's harder for somebody to make mistake. It's easier for them to sound confident in the questions they're answering, you know, the worst call in a contact center is the call you already got. So you the easiest way to make a call center more efficient is first call resolution. So if I can get that information to somebody as quickly as possible, in sound confident and doing it, they're going to feel good about the answer I gave them and they're not going to call back right after I hang up with them to talk to somebody else to see if they get the same answer. So giving them that information quickly and confidently helps them feel comfortable with the information you gave them. So by putting these systems in place, it helps your contact center agent get there easily, and do it efficiently. Confidently, I guess I got to say it again, confidently is one of the most important aspects of first call resolution in helping your customer feel great. If I'm clicking through 15 different menus and trying to go to two different systems, and it takes me a long time to get to the answer. They might not feel comfortable that I gave them the right answer.
Jason Davis 15:41
And that's a great point that the competence is a great point. You know, especially, we used to do so much around, you know, the way that your voice comes across, or just that not the things that you're not saying or the way that you're saying them necessarily. You know, and I don't know that 15 years ago, when I was teaching this, right, we were getting into the confidence piece of it, right? It was all about being nice and empathetic and stuff like that. But you know, but being confident at the same time, I think, is that extra element there where again, as you said, we didn't want to hear from anybody a second time, right? You know, we do not want you calling back, that's our goal. And to make all that happen in, 15 to 17 minutes or so.
Joe Rothbauer 16:26
So it comes back to your call center region, right? If they don't feel like they're confident, and they don't feel like they're necessarily doing a good job of getting that information to the caller, quickly and confidently, that's going to reduce their job satisfaction, they're going to have a more difficult time. Feeling good at the end of the day, if every time they have a call, they have to navigate through all of these different systems and screens, and then not necessarily feel comfortable that they did a good job of delivering the information to the caller, which will lead to turnover, which believe me. So when you think about it, you know, it's the toughest job in any organization. I will know battle anybody who argues that. But it's also one of the lowest-paid, right? I mean, when when you take a look at what you pay for a contact center, a lot of times, they can go down the street and work at Target for the same or a little more pay. And they don't have the stress of somebody calling them on the phone being upset and feeling like they're not being as competent as they can be in their job. And it's easy to walk away go get a different job. So it's important to make sure that whatever tool we have in our contact center, is giving them their best ability to be competent in their job and feel like at the end of the day, they did a good job.
Jason Davis 17:49
It's a great point, and especially right now with you know, just the increased turnover that everybody is seeing. You know, I know so that some of my clients and prospects are seeing this as well, even beyond what they normally are seeing in the contact center space. And it's, you know, one thing that a lot of times people don't necessarily recognize or think about is that it's it outside of that space anyway, is that the employees, the ones that you'd like to talk about, that'll go down the street for, you know, a quarter 50 cents, $1 more an hour. Most people are not in that space, or they're not career-driven. Or, you know, they're driven to continue to provide for their family and do the things that they want to do personally, you know, but they're just not in a space for whatever reason or another, that they're not career-driven, right, where it's like, Okay, I'm going to go get an entry-level job at this company, I'm going to grow into a leader and I'm going to go find a way to you know, to get there, you have some it's not like you don't have any, but for the most part, people taking on that role are not that way.
Joe Rothbauer 18:56
Yeah, in and who wants to lead even if it's great, who wants to go home at the end of the day feeling like you weren't as productive or as successful as you can be that day? Nobody has nobody.
Jason Davis 19:12
Exactly, and if I can find a way to do that, in an easier, less stressful way, then then you're exactly right. I'm gonna turn around and leave. So
Joe Rothbauer 19:21
So it comes down to providing a tool that is as useful as possible. You know, this isn't different than then other roles in the company. You know, if your or other roles in other industries, even if you are a manufacturer, you're not going to build an assembly line that is not providing the product to somebody that they need to do their job at any given time. You're going to have an assembly line that has the widgets coming down the line, the tool that is needed to change that widget to whatever you need to change it to When you need it, a call center should be the same thing I should be delivering the information that's needed at the right time.
Ideas for Managers to Try with Their Teams
Jason Davis 20:10
Exactly. I agree. So let's segue into kind of the next question here. And really, you know, so the goal of this whole show and in all the episodes that I do is to try to make sure I'm giving listeners and managers that listened to the show things that they can walk away with and could implement on their own. So, you know, we talked to kind of a high level here around some of those problems, some of the systems and things that might be ways that organizations can solve for complexity in jobs, employee engagement, retention, things like that. Let's say there's, you know, managers in situations where their organization is a little slow or hasn't bought into these, this type of management systems, or BPM, or anything like that, what are two or three things that an individual manager or leader could do or start to do to take to get at these types of things that we've talked about today?
Joe Rothbauer 21:03
I think one of the most important things is giving a tool to your team. So a cool doesn't have to be a PPM system, it can be as simple as a PDF, or a confluence page, or a SharePoint page, it can be a simple guide to them to help them with answering the questions navigating to the right information, and how to provide that information to individuals that are calling it. So where I would start, or where I have started in the past, is just looking at what is my high volume, most high volume call types? So what are the two or three most common questions that we get? And what are the variations within that? So without fail, in every call center that I've worked at, there has been a system where you would categorize your calls. So in the end, you'd say this was a call about “A” and with a sub-category “B”. But when you look at that data, you would see that you know, a C, D, and M, might all mean the same thing. And then the variation underneath that, there might be only two or three. So really breaking down your data that you have, about what kind of calls you're getting and, and categorizing those in a way where you can see what kind of calls those are. Now, if you're working someplace, and you don't have that kind of data, it's going to take a little bit longer, maybe. But you need to listen to the calls, you need to create your data out by listening to those calls, and categorizing the most common questions. So let's go back to the earlier example, let's say the most common question that I get is how much money do I owe right now? And I'm creating a clear flow in a document for your call center agents, whether they've been there forever, or are brand new? And on how they get to the data to answer that question and how they should answer it. So here are the three things you click on to get to that answer. Or maybe you can add a URL that you can click on, depending upon the type of system you have, if it's a web-based system, it might be as easy as being able to click on a click on a link that takes you the five layers deep within your menu versus having to put those clicks but have a very clear standard process for even starting with your top two or three calls and getting that in the hands of your agents. So when a new individual comes in, and you're trying to get them up to speed and have them feel comfortable in their job quickly, train them on those first couple of calls, train them on how do I answer? How do I? How much do I owe on that bill? How do I change my address? How do I whatever those calls are that people are calling in? Or I've got a product problem? Can you help me with it? Give them very clear instructions on your level of choice, again, PDF, confluence, whatever tool you're using, on how to answer that question. So if they're in the midst of the call, they can look right at that tool and they can say here are the three things I'm going to do to answer this question and they can feel confident now. That could lead to you being able to convince your leadership and your IT department that'd be pm system would be effective because now you can show I'm being more effective in these calls. I'm onboarding people easier. We need to systemize systematize this so that we can go deeper, we can take even more time off our call. So we can have an even better first call resolution. So the first step is, I like to call it guerrilla facilitating. So you guerrilla facilitate process optimization. So do as much as you possibly can on your own without bringing in the full army, right? So creating these simple tools to make it easier. What is, first of all, it's going to improve your operation, it's going to make people feel more satisfied in their job, but then you can also prove the proof that the ROI on the system implementation is going to be useful.
You know, and I think the this, the second recommendation, I would have, besides that tool is probably a one A, as you're doing this, bringing your best call center agents, ask them what they need, you know, if we could change something, what would it be, or, Hey, I'm putting together this little guide for everybody what needs to be on there, you have people who are every single day taking these calls, who know what the frustrations are, they know the system limitations they're dealing with. And they can often tell you, things that you don't know, just by looking over their shoulders or listening to calls or watching you know, the screen captures of them going through the call process, or looking at the data, the people who are doing the job are going to be to tell you what their frustrations are. And then as a little aside on that, too, if you got somebody who's leaving, so I think exit interviews, oftentimes, you know, once you get past the 15 minutes of complaining about management or, you know, PE or whatever it is, you can get a lot of good information from people who you've already lost on what it is that frustrates them about the job day-to-day. I think you got to kind of wade through a lot of muck when you're using that information, but tell you what I think they're going to tell you, they're going to tell you about your system problems, they're going to tell you about things that frustrated on their job day today, and what was lacking in your training and, and what made it difficult for them to feel successful. I mean, ask the question. So what was it that made you feel like you weren't successful? Or couldn't be successful? They'll tell you?
Jason Davis 27:33
I love that approach of, you know, going down the path of oh, hey, what's the most difficult part about your job? Or, you know, again, what, what made you successful? What made you not successful in exactly what you're getting out there? I think, you know, and we talked about, we talked earlier, right, you know, improving employee engagement, I love the aspect of bringing in your best agents, you know, to help you solve that problem. I think that's a great engagement tool as well, right? You know, because, you know, these folks are saying, right, well, hey, well, at least somebody is listening, let's see if something happens to it. But at least somebody is opening up their ear and listening to me now. So that's cool. Let me take that platform. And I found that when you give people that space, whether it's, you know, best employee, let me get your insight or exit interview or anything like that, they will be honest, and they will tell you what you're missing and what's wrong. And, you know, hoping that you can find ways to fix that.
Joe Rothbauer 28:30
Absolutely. I think desktop tools coming out of those conversations are a great first step for any context or any process. But context center, especially if you can give Here's to us the couple of things you need to do to answer those questions. And that's, that's going to, that's going to be a great first step for any contact center that's, that that's struggling and doesn't have a budget to put a BPM system in place. And also, you know, a BPM system can take months and years to fully implement. So you don't want to wait for a system anyway. You know, starting with the first few questions, and putting desktop tools in place, while you're building a BPM system if you are, is a great step way to test what you're trying to build into a system anyway. So whether you're getting a system or improving a system, you're going to want to start with something like a desktop tool. And, you know, or even just, you know, a printout that team from the bottom of the monitor for that matter. With the standard process.
Jason Davis 29:39
And as leaders, it's a great way to buy some of your time back, right. If you can answer some questions, you know, before somebody gets up off the phone or put somebody on hold or you know, comes to your desk or brings that to you. That's a great way to get some of your own time back to complete a lot of the things that you need to do on the regular anyway because there's a lot of admin work in that space anyway. So
Joe Rothbauer 30:02
what you want to find out where the difficulties lie, spend the week on the phone. So any supervisor or manager in a contact center should spend a week on the phone doing the job. I think it's easy for us to be critical of our team or say we should be more efficient or, you know, why are you picking this up, go do the job yourself and see what it's like. And then you're going to know the difficulties that they're facing. You know, some people just don’t have the competence or the I wouldn't say the competence, the correct skillset, to be able to navigate a call center, it's a tough job, I, if I had to be a contact center agent, I bet it probably would be the I probably be one of the worst contexts that are agents out there. It's just not something that I have the demeanor for. It's a hard job. But to sit and do the job, I sat for a week when I worked at Target, sitting in a contact center is an internal contact center for stores and distributes distribution centers to call in when they were having maintenance issues. And so it wasn't like we were talking to external customers, we're talking to store managers and distribution center managers and leaders throughout the, you know, 2000 stores and 40 or 50 distribution centers. And to be able to answer their questions, or it was just, it was probably one of the most difficult weeks of my entire career, just because there's so much complexity, even in a contact center was such a narrow scope. And I've done other ride alongs and worked in other contexts that are some other organizations that I've worked through as well. It's just it's a stressful environment, people are calling up, they expect you to have the answers. And so it shouldn't be a surprise to us that people who are not onboarded and give it properly and giving the appropriate tools and training. Don't stick around.
Jason Davis 32:01
If they're not getting the support they need, you know, through training and then as they're going through the floor from a leadership standpoint, you're exactly right. You know, why? Why would I do this every day go home, feeling deflated, that I didn't help people in the way that I wanted to? Or felt that I could rather than go find something else that you know, a lot of other people are hiring, it's not hard to find, you know, jobs at that, you know, in that space right now. So, yeah, why would I say,
Joe Rothbauer 32:28
The good news is, is that it's easy to put some tactical steps in place to make it easier. I think we've touched on a lot of them here, and it's just a matter of it takes some effort to teach us to take a step back, stop fighting the fires every day, and spend a little bit of time planning out how you're going to make it easier for your team, I think, as listening to your continuous improvement episode, and that's one of the points that was made on that one. You can keep fighting fires every day if you want. But it's not going to get any better, you got to kind of clean the brush out of the forest. So the fire, the fire doesn't start in the first place. And it takes time to do that. And so but it doesn't have to be time-consuming. If you start chunk by chunk, take your top calls out and work your way down the list. It doesn't have to be overwhelming or consuming and, and you'll see the improvement very quickly.
Jason Davis 33:27
Exactly, I agree. And I think that's a kind of a great way to, to close out here a little bit, really just kind of thinking about that. And I appreciate, again, just getting back to the simplicity of art, if my organization's not supporting something like this, and I'm listening to this episode, what is something I can go do tomorrow? And I like that guerrilla approach, right, like doing as much as you can without having to bring in other people. And that's, you know, what are the most common calls that you're getting? What are the most common questions that you might be getting from your folks listening to the calls that are going on? And, and I think observing trends come up here too, right? Because you might have different things happening or going on that you might pick up in a phone call before you see at a management desk or in a leadership meeting. You know, if you're listening to calls in the mornings, say, Hey, I got five calls about XYZ and a half an hour, right? What's going on? You know, I mean, it allows for just another element of problem-solving anyway,
Joe Rothbauer 34:25
Absolutely. I'm gonna put this out there too, you don't have to be the manager of the call center to do this. You can be a team lead with five people, you can be a supervisor with 15 people, and is an organization of 5000 people, you know, you can do this to help your team no matter what level you are in, within the organization. And, you know, if if you do this and you make an improvement, it can spread throughout your whole organization. So don't feel like you have to, you know, be the person who's running the call center to make this to make Nice improvements.
Jason Davis 35:01
Now that's perfect. That's perfect. Alright, Joe, any final thoughts plugs? Or where can people find you have any questions?
Joe Rothbauer 35:08
The easiest place to find me is on LinkedIn. Okay, so just Google a giraffe power on there or search shore power on there. And, you know, find me and hit me up and I'll connect with you. answer any other questions you might have.
Jason Davis 35:30
Joe, I thank you very much for your time today. I think what you've been able to provide and some of the information on systems and just processes things that leaders team leads managers, you know, can do on their own would be great will be greatly, greatly helpful. Alright, a mouthful there. And I think, again, another great way if their organizations are not doing these things where leaders have another way to stand out. I think that's some great information and I appreciate your insights today.
Joe Rothbauer 36:00
All right. Thanks for having me.
Connect w/ Jason on LinkedIn: https://bit.ly/3wr61c6
Connect w/ Joe on LinkedIn: https://bit.ly/3bXLMuQ
Subscribe on all major podcast platforms:
"Iron Bacon" Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com) Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/