From Call Agent to CEO: Steve Bederman

Christian: We’re transitioning to a world in which people live in different parts of the country.

You now have access to talent pools in various places – whether it be in call center agents, whether it be members of your leadership and management teams.

Have you been in positions in which you’ve had to have management of a virtual organization and if so, do you have any keys to success or even challenges to managing organizations that are built that way?

In the first episode of our podcast, we are joined by Steve Bederman, President & CEO of NobelBiz. Hear him talk about his journey from being in a band to working as an agent and how his first day in management, half the sales team quit! Now there’s a story!

1. Show Up as Management

Steve: Well, my first experience with managing remote people was when I was at ChemLawn and I had people all over the country. But we really didn’t have the technology to allow for ease of management. It was really with a lot of phone calls, conference calls, a lot of airplanes, and traveling, and showing up.

To this day I really believe that management has to show up. Not be on a pedestal but show up and integrate into the environment you’re at. So, if you can get the same culture everywhere you have staff and if that culture can be based upon your core value, in my case “make a promise, keep a promise” – see yourself as a promise-keeper – and everybody can own that, you’re making a big step.

2. Use Video Conferencing

Now we have the ability to do video conferencing. We have the ability to look the other person in the eye. And I believe in the technology that allows us to communicate in a virtual environment.

You know, I’ve always believed that the whole “water cooler experience” is an important one with your staff. In other words, we just are both standing at the water cooler we get a chance to communicate and talk and just get to know each-other.

That isn’t the same when you have remote agents or remote staff in different places of the world. So, what is compensation for that, what is an alternative to that?

3. Ask People about their Lives

Just be aware that you need to ask people how their life is and what is going on. So, part of it is just culture and consistency and truly caring.

Always stay in management mode – I’m always in management mode. It’s always about make a promise and keep that promise – be a promise-keeper.

The other part is this – what is the alternative? If I can’t see you at the water cooler, there’s some great value in what happens in a video conference. I insist upon it in my businesses. It’s because you’re always looking at the person eye-to-eye.

4. Establish Intimacy and Use It as a Basis for Culture
Even when you’re standing at the water cooler, you’re not always looking at the person. When you’re on video, you have to. If you don’t, it’s apparent. It’s apparent you’re emailing when you’re on the call.

Unless you want to look like you don’t care, you better look at the other person eye-to-eye and that can establish a great intimacy. And that intimacy, if used, and if you insist that your management uses it and works in that environment – that becomes the basis with which you can build your culture – in our case promise-keeping.

Christian: So, it sounds like – what’s been successful in this is obviously to still have in-person time but fill in some of the gaps that you inevitably have by not visiting someone (always traveling via plane and showing up via train) is having video calls. To have them as a supplement to that interaction, but to make those interactions less transactional and more personal, right?

It sounds like you’re going to actually get to know people even through looking and talking to them via video, looking and talking to them when you see them in person. But, make that remote situation and interaction still part of the culture as you say “promise-keeping”.

This seems to be a big driver here for you, being able to have your leadership and staff leverage that throughout an organization. Because of course – you’re not everywhere at all times. So, my guess is you would have to have that culture really in every space of where you have your organization for it to continue.

5. Don’t Control Because You’re Powerful

Steve: Absolutely. And listen, it’s about investment. It’s about owning it. And it’s about recognizing. And this is everyone in the organization, not just management, but it certainly can begin with management. Which is control everything you can control and then do something with it.

In other words, don’t control because you’re powerful, control because the value pieces that come from being as aware as you can allow you to make appropriate and good decisions. That relates back to the agent, to the individual and all the way to me sitting in the presidency.

6. Be a Part of the Culture
If the agent doesn’t feel connected to me, they will not necessarily own the same culture. And without the culture, you get a mixed review of outcomes. With culture you have a specific piece that allows you to control the message of culture, of promise, or whatever that core value is for you.

So, to me, it’s a layered thing, it’s a basis, it’s an investment, it’s “know everything you can, know all the time, and do something with it – all the time”. And If I do that, and you do that Christian, as a manager, and if every manager does it as holistically as I’m doing it, then you take that to your people and you give them tools and remove obstacles for your agents to be able to make phone calls the way they need to make phone calls, and own outcomes.

7. Give Responsibility and Allow People to Make Decisions

In other words, allow them to make decisions, give them some parameters for those decisions, but don’t take responsibility away. Give responsibility.

And if you can do that over and over and over and not punish for bad decisions, but learn from those. Unless they’re really excessive, you should be able to learn from those. And then keep doing it, every day, 365, every day, every minute, over and over and over.

8. Try and Make It a Passion Play

I have seen the outcome of it with my own past company TouchStar and it became a passion play of hundreds of employees living the passion of the culture and the gift that we got to go to work every day. And that – you can do it in a contact center, you can do it anywhere.

– Conclusion –

Keep an active role when managing a virtual workplace!

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