Article of the week 18 – 2023

The hardest job in the world: call center team leader

This week I would like to give credit to the people who, besides football coaches, have the hardest job in the world: team leaders in the call center (or team manager, supervisor, coach, …)

There are not only many terms for the position, but also an extremely wide range of possible tasks and responsibilities of the job holder. This is not a problem as long as everyone involved has the same definition and that does not change. But as soon as a change occurs, the question arises again: What is a team leader (TL) actually responsible for and what competencies does he have?

For some, he is primarily a subject matter expert, i.e. the person who is most familiar with the regulations and procedures in the project or department and is the first point of contact for employees when it comes to questions on technical topics. Some feel that a TL should spend a fair amount of their time on the telephone to cover peaks and stay on topic. In this combination, he often has the task of training his employees professionally and improving their communication.

For others, he is an administrator of the team, whose role is to create rosters, control attendance and KPIs, and ensure that other departments provide what call center staff need to work efficiently.

In many companies, the task of the TL is to ensure service quality or conversion rates and to be responsible to the internal or external client. Especially in the outsourcing area, the task of increasing revenues and reducing costs is often required even at the TL level. He is always responsible – with a management range of 10 to 50 (sic!) employees – for the motivation of the team and employee satisfaction, for which he has to answer questions after each employee satisfaction survey.

And last but not least, he is also the go-to-guy or, in the worst case, the unloading point for tasks that have to be done on top, motto: The team leaders can do that on the side.

Being a team leader means interacting with employees, supervisors, customers, clients and other specialist departments, depending on the degree of flexibility within the organization. Of course, there is no one correct definition of a team leader that covers all tasks. Depending on many factors, there are various reasons why this solution is better in one company and that solution in another. You have to deal with it in each individual case and set out clearly what is required in the TL role.

In my experience, it is far too often the case that the role of „team leader“ is not adequately defined by job description and, even more often not clearly communicated. This leads to misunderstandings as expectations are not met, competencies overlap, and priorities are set incorrectly. It is important to keep every interested party in mind when it comes to defining the tasks of the TL and also to making sufficient resources available and agreeing on realistic goals. It is just as important to decide which things the TL should not do (himself), delineating his role from others‘. Then the organization must ensure that these things are still done reliably. The classic is the team leader who has to (or thinks he has to) revise the roster because the one supplied by Workforce Management does not fit.

It is advisable to create a task matrix that clearly regulates the tasks and responsibilities of the TL. A non-exhaustive example could look like this:

This example matrix may be right for an organization, or it would have to be adapted in detail – in any case, it can help to avoid the problems mentioned above.

Thus, it cannot happen to fill a TL position with a person who in general is suitable and who has already proven himself as a team leader in another company, but who assumes different conditions. This can happen if the tasks are not clearly communicated in the job interview and the new team leader realizes after two months that the job in the new company is interpreted completely differently than in his old company – an expensive misunderstanding.

Lars Scheffen – Senior Consultant


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