Relationship Building Boosts Employee Retention

This week’s guest is Christian Smalls, iQor operations manager in Charleston, South Carolina. Christian oversees a team of about 100 full-time employees. Her management approach is driven by relationship building on all fronts. In this episode, we explore how she has learned the value of relationship-building throughout her career journey in the business process outsourcing (BPO) sector. We find out how she goes about building stronger employee relationships and we see the positive impacts that has on employee retention and client outcomes.

Paving the Way to Relationship Building

Today, Christian oversees a team of about 100 full-time employees across three lines of business in her role as operations manager in Charleston, South Carolina. Relationship building guides her approach to managing the agents, team leads, quality analysts, and supervisors on her team.

Christian joined iQor in 2003 as an agent and embraced all opportunities to learn the ins and outs of customer service. She took part in iQor’s mentoring program for new hires and by 2005 was promoted to supervisor supporting multiple lines of business. She took full advantage of mentoring, training, and other learning and development opportunities over the years, ultimately becoming operations manager in 2015.

In her current role, Christian’s daily responsibilities center on formulating strategies for managing performance and financials for three lines of business. She meets regularly with clients and conducts business reviews on top of managing her team’s performance. She also oversees P&L statements for her team.

The success of these day-to-day responsibilities comes from the strong foundation Christian has built for her leadership strategy. It all rests on relationship building. Her priority is building relationships with her peers, direct reports, leadership team, and clients—everything stems from her relationships.

The Impact of Relationship Building

It is critically important to Christian that she excels at relationship building in order to meet success in all other areas of her role. But, what does that look like with increasing numbers of employees working from home? How can she build relationships effectively when she can’t simply walk up to a colleague, say hello, and strike up a conversation?

Christian conducts daily morning cheQ-ins with her team leads before she and her team start their day. This is increasingly important in a work-at-home environment. Christian recognizes the importance of a healthy work-life balance and being mentally prepared each day. She and her team members use this opportunity to talk game plans, review the previous day’s performance metrics, or discuss anything else of importance in the moment.

An essential part of these conversations is Christian’s genuine concern for her team’s wellbeing—checking in on her team members, asking how they are feeling, and really listening and responding to their answers. By building meaningful connections with her team, Christian ensures her employees feel connected and supported. Building these strong relationships improves employee engagement, reduces employee turnover, and creates an environment in which employees are willing to go the extra mile.

These connections spur productivity and help everyone truly feel part of a collaborative team working towards the same end goal and enjoying the ride along the way. They make going to work a more enjoyable experience, help everyone grow and feel connected, and yield better results for the team and for clients.

In addition to the standing morning cheQ-ins, Christian also engages in a group chat with her team leads to stay connected as they support their lines of business throughout the day.

Christian strongly believes, as her experiences have proven, that people will work harder and stay longer if they feel connected and appreciated. No one wants to disappoint and everyone feels empowered and motivated to do their best when they feel valued and connected. Her commitment to building relationships produces greater job satisfaction, high employee morale, and an excellent employee experience overall.

Growing From Relationships

Relationship building and mentoring is part of iQor’s company culture. Throughout Christian’s years of experience at iQor she has grown with the support of many strong leaders. One mentor in particular stands out for recognizing the potential in Christian when she was a supervisor in ways she herself didn’t see.

Her mentor invested the time to cultivate Christian’s leadership potential, deepening her understanding of operations from the business perspective and helping her analyze different impacts on the business and financials. Her mentor guided her client relationships to help her see even more that she could do to elevate the employee and client experience. Moreover, Christian’s mentor prodded her to step outside her comfort zone, speak up, and work towards reaching the next level of leadership as she continued to learn and grow.

Christian embraced the opportunities her mentor presented her to try different strategies and learn new things. This mentoring and guidance opened doors for Christian, ultimately leading to where she is now in her own leadership journey. The confidence and trust Christian’s mentor placed in her empowered her to support iQor’s business in myriad ways and helped her realize how it really is possible to Be More With iQor.

Customers, Employees, Owners Initiative

iQor’s customers, employees, owners (CEO) initiative is one that Christian is proud to be a part of. From customers, to employees, to the “o” in owners that represents everyone at iQor having a stake in creating valuable employee experiences.

Christian’s role in this global initiative focuses on developing and retaining iQor employees. She works with global operations leaders to reduce attrition and develop strategies for retaining agents. Together they review processes and procedures and evaluate where improvements can be made, from initial contact and onboarding to nesting and production. They review data and reporting metrics to strategically reduce attrition and generate happy employees.

One way the group helps to develop and retain employees is by creating program targets. The targets (often guided by best practices) are created to enhance reporting and help identify trends and areas for improvement to boost employee retention. Better retention means higher levels of employee engagement with stronger and happier employees. This, in turn, yields deeper levels of customer service expertise and improves profit margins across the board.

The Benefits of Boosting Retention

A company culture that focuses on creating positive work environments not only benefits employees but also helps the organization and clients. Indeed, employee retention produces numerous benefits for businesses.

First, improving employee retention produces a stronger network of highly skilled workers while boosting profitability. The more we retain agents and staff, the more time we can invest in them rather than depending solely on new hires. We can vet and cultivate strong workers.

Second, retention advances client relationships and improves the ability to staff client programs. Programs with a strong tenured base of employees facilitate stronger relationships with clients with improved productivity. A lower turnover rate enables clients to know agents, not just frontline leaders, by name. This builds confidence throughout the program, from agent to management to client. These connections open the door to more business, increased growth, and stronger key performance indicators (KPIs). Employee retention deepens employee product knowledge on client programs and improves the quality of customer interactions. That, in turn, generates opportunities to hire more employees and offer career growth potential by promoting from within.

Third, employee retention improves employee morale and performance. CheQ-ins with employees build relationships that boost morale and increase retention, which ultimately creates positive professional experiences that connect back to the organization. If employees are happy they will work harder, perform better, and yield stronger results with a great attitude. Positivity spreads, whether in a work-at-home or work-in-office environment, and retention supports that.

Fourth, employee retention improves the ability to recruit skilled and loyal candidates. It boosts confidence and competition in the pursuit of excellence. High retention rates have generated a competitive staff while helping to attract more skilled candidates that are more likely to stay because it truly is a great place to work.

In sum, building strong relationships with employees and cultivating them on a daily basis has widespread benefits for everyone within the organization and the clients and customers it serves. Christian’s commitment to listening and building relationships demonstrates to her employees how much she values them and is testament to her value as a leader and mentor at iQor.

What Christian Does for Fun

Christian works hard and plays hard. For Christian, playing hard is enjoying family time. Christian loves her job and works hard during the week, committed to excellence. She also embraces her time with her family. She loves cooking and grilling using new recipes her daughters give her. She also enjoys watching a good movie and spending time doing anything with her family.

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