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Business Journal
Four Managers and an Agent
Business Journal

Four Managers and an Agent

Call center agents need support to get from start to flourish

by Glenn Phelps

It takes four managers to run a call center effectively, and they must work together hand in glove for the center to reach its maximum value to the business. Recruiter, Trainer, Retention Manager, and Project Manager -- four different kinds of managers in four different jobs, and every one of them necessary for maximum center performance. And all four of these jobs are focused on managing the most influential variable in center financial performance: the agent workforce.

Technology is important, but every center has viable technology or it wouldn't survive. It's possible to have brilliant technology and terrible center performance as well as average technology and a center that performs brilliantly. The key to an exceptional call center is people, the agents who create or destroy company value by their performance on the job.

It follows, then, that managing a center workforce is the key to a successful center. That is the purpose of the four critical management functions. Their objectives are straightforward:

  • find the best possible people to be agents and managers

  • guide them through a steep curve to world-class performance

  • help them maintain that performance

So how does this management team achieve great center performance?


Every center should have a Recruiter. Recruiting is too valuable a function to be isolated from the rest of the center. To be effective, Recruiters need to see which agents are successful on the job and what makes them thrive. After all, the Recruiter's job is to find agents with the potential for excellent performance. That's easier to do when Recruiters are located in the center where they can stare at customer service representative (CSR) success and failure every day.

But just being located in the center is not enough. Recruiters have got to have a plan as well. People with the talent to be exceptional CSRs are hard to find. So, to be effective, a Recruiter's efforts must be well planned and broad reaching. If a Recruiter is doing a good job, there is a steady stream of talented agents arriving at the center to start work.

Training Manager

The Training Manager guides the agent's first steps up the path to outstanding performance levels. She has responsibility for transitioning new agents into the center. Success involves more than just learning how to log onto and run the system -- agents must integrate into the center culture. This happens when the agent establishes relationships with others in the center and, at this point, an agent's most important relationship is with the Training Manager. A successful Training Manager starts the agent down the road to success by creating a solid agent-manager relationship -- as the agents learn new things, this relationship is both their source of knowledge and rock of stability during a tumultuous period.

Retention Manager

The Retention Manager fills a critical gap between the training period and the fully capable agent. Three years ago, The Gallup Organization created this position in response to data that revealed high agent losses in the period between six and twelve months. Discussions with departing agents, and with those who stayed, pointed to a critical transition in an agent's career. Agents struggled post training; they had all the skills they needed to be successful, but now needed individualized support as they learned to apply those skills on specific projects. If they didn't receive it, agents became frustrated and left.

From the agent's perspective, the work world consisted of a close relationship with the Training Manager while they learned the basic skills. After training, though, they found themselves on project teams with professionals who performed at top levels. It was an intimidating and isolating experience. They missed their supportive managerial relationships, and they took the absence of such as an indication that the company didn't care about them. Clearly, agents needed more contact with a manager who could help in their development for the six to twelve months after initial training.

Thus was the Retention Manager born. This manager's job is to support agents as they climb the ladder to higher levels of performance. Retention Managers take a personal interest in every agent under their tutelage. They are resources for the agents -- they act as coaches and career guidance counselors. Like the first two crucial people in this process, Recruiter and Trainer, it's the Retention Manager's responsibility to maintain a supportive relationship with the agent. The Retention Manager brings a sense of continuity to the agent-company relationship and fills the learning gap between trainee and top performing professional.

Project Manager

The Project Manager has a more traditional role. His focus is executing a given project at the highest levels possible as measured by productivity, quality, and customer impact numbers. Great Project Managers are always tweaking parameters in an effort to increase performance. They have a lot of assistance -- the Retention Manager helps with agent development and support, while the Center Manager helps with system-level issues. But ultimately, Project Managers are held responsible for project and team performance.

Success focuses on the agent

The concept behind outstanding center performance is not complex. Focus on the agent. Put talented agents on the phone, then support them in their journey to the desired performance levels. In the best centers, agent development is characterized by an agent-company relationship that moves from close contact during the agent's early career to high independence as the agent reaches performance pinnacles. Clearly, agents don't get to high performance levels by themselves. They have partners along the way -- four managers who work together in developing and maintaining agent performance levels one agent at a time.


Glenn Phelps, Ph.D., is a Senior Consultant with Gallup.

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