Dealing with the “Crusty Ol’ Veterans” on the Front Lines

Curmudgeon. Whenever our group works with a client who is implementing a quality monitoring process, we find that the most resistant front line Customer Service Representatives (CSRs) are the ones I lovingly refer to as the "crusty ol' veterans." These stalwarts of the operation are typically the most cynical, sarcastic and least willing to modify their behaviors to meet whatever quality standards the company has set.

There are good reasons for their resistance:

  • They are fearless. They tend to be the most tenured employees with the greatest amount of knowledge. They do not fear being fired because they know they have the most know-how and the company is not going to let them go. So, they tend to feel that they can dig their heels in and say what they want.
  • They are cynical. Most veteran CSRs have seen multiple management regimes come and go. They've been through the "7 Habits" fad. They've been through the "Kaizan" fad. They've been through the "Net Promoter" fad. They've been through the "Fish" fad. When introducing a quality monitoring program, it's perfectly natural for a veteran to roll their eyes and ignore it. They've seen these things come and go.
  • They are set in their ways. Those who have been on the phones for a long time have well established habits. There is little motivation to expend the energy to changing these habits because (a) this is only a passing fad anyway and (b) it's not like the company is going to fire me.

So how do you respond?

  1. Give your veterans input in the process. Your veterans are often the ones who feel passed over in the organization. They are always doing the job while others make the decisions. At the same time, their tenure sometimes makes them the company's strongest, most loyal advocates. By giving them a voice and an ownership stake in process you may win them over before you begin.
  2. Make your quality process a part of the daily fabric of the work environment that does not change. Stick to it. Resist the urge to keep tinkering with it. Only make changes to the scale and the process on occasion and at regular intervals. Some CSRs only change when they realize that the process is not a passing fad.
  3. Provide both positive and negative reinforcement. We all would love if everyone got on the bandwagon and responded to a few positive incentives, but the reality is that there are those who will not be motivated to change unless they fear the consequences. I'm always an advocate of giving everyone a chance to respond to the positive incentives, but some habits don't chance unless there is the real possibility of negative consequences.

The road to service quality is a marathon riddled with many uphill climbs. Pace yourself.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and illumiquest

  4 comments for “Dealing with the “Crusty Ol’ Veterans” on the Front Lines

  1. September 17, 2009 at 5:03 pm

    Tom–
    You know, this could have been a really negative article, but it wasn’t. Thanks for taking a positive look at a group of folks that are valued but underappreciated. And great advice on how to deal with them–involving the negative personality type with the process is a great way to get a little personal investment from the veterans.

  2. September 17, 2009 at 5:23 pm

    Thanks, Heidi. I’m glad you didn’t think it came across as critical, because it wasn’t meant to be. I’m trying to be objective. As much as the crusty ol’ veterans sometimes frustrate an inherently positive motivator like myself, I still understand their perspective and why the often react the way they do.

  3. September 24, 2009 at 12:07 pm

    I also think that the danger is that these employees are a bit like the rotten apple in the barrel. Thye can infect the other employees.
    It could work to move them to a team of their own, or even better to move them out of the business.
    If they are mnot happy inthe business, it will probably be in their best interest as well.

  4. September 24, 2009 at 12:34 pm

    Great additional comment, Jonty. You are right. I’m a firm believer in giving a person the chance to get on board, but if a CSR can’t get with the program then the “negative consequences” I referenced should kick in. You’re correct. It’s in everyone’s best interest: the company, the CSR, and the customer.

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