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The Power Of Connection: The New Imperative For CX Executives

May 30, 2023

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Long ago, I was a telesales agent for a large CX outsourcer (known as a call center in that early post-wheel era). My team made outbound cold calls selling credit card-related services for a global bank. I was equipped with a small cubicle and chair, a push-button phone, a script and sheets of self-adhesive rectangular labels containing prospect names and telephone numbers. All together now … Smile and Dial!

That's right. Day after day, I dual-hand dialed prospects as fast as possible and hoped to connect with someone who hadn't been contacted mere minutes ago by another agent and tried to sell them something they didn't know they needed until encountering me. Our customer contact team was a rich tapestry of backgrounds and ambitions, embodying the full spectrum from the ambitious to the indifferent, full-timers to part-timers, and extroverts to introverts. A sense of camaraderie and connection was woven into the fabric of our team and tenure was far above average for the contact center overall. The linchpin of our performance, tenacity and morale was an extraordinary supervisor. To maintain his anonymity, I'll withhold his name, but let it suffice to say that our paths converged again nearly 25 years later.

I found him at the helm of a major CX outsourcing firm, having evolved into a thought leader and the mastermind behind the influential 7-T Success System. The progression was remarkable yet unsurprising, affirming his enduring influence and leadership acumen. Our supervisor embodied the quintessential traits of exceptional leaders. He demonstrated curiosity, empathy, confidence and a results-driven mindset. His desire for others' success and commitment to their growth highlighted his understanding that his own accomplishments hinged on the triumphs of his team. We occasionally coerced him to jump into the trenches with us, face the pressure and make calls. It wasn't easy, but he was always game and even scored an occasional sale (I can still picture the pride on that then-young man's face—priceless!). He was committed and engaged and trusted his front line. He was all in, and we were consequently more connected, happy and prosperous. The Blue Team, as we were known, was exceptional—always No. 1.

All those years later, having ascended to a higher position, his engagement with front-line staff remained as robust as ever. I had the privilege of observing his hands-on approach, marked by playful pranks, tailgate parties, competitive contests, insightful guidance and well-deserved recognition. Despite managing numerous locations and thousands of employees, he orchestrated a personal touch, enhanced by technology, that echoed the fondly remembered engagement of decades past.

Workplace connectedness represents the depth to which employees experience a sense of belonging and camaraderie with peers and engage in significant relationships and collaborations. It's fostered by a culture of open communication, mutual respect, trust and a shared sense of purpose and values. Connected employees tend to be more engaged, driven and committed to shared objectives.

Research from BetterUp indicates a prevalent connection crisis among U.S. workers. Their study reveals that 60% of workers believe their employers aren't adequately fostering social connection. Just 31% are content with their workplace's social connectivity level, and a meager 26% are highly satisfied with the focus on employee well-being and success. Furthermore, the U.S. faces an escalating mental health crisis, with suicide rates on the rise and roughly 20% of adults experiencing mental illness annually. It's not surprising to see the impact on retention, morale and overall performance.

There's a crisis that requires executive leadership to intervene. CX executives have numerous methods for fostering connections with contact center agents and other front-line staff. Activities such as mentoring, recognition, games, polls, book clubs, volunteering and fitness programs can help build connections among employees who might not typically interact. The activities themselves aren't the point—anything that aligns with workforce needs and interests will do. The key is leadership's personal commitment to engage in and drive these connectedness initiatives. These programs can have transformative benefits, such as:

• Deepening understanding of organizational strengths and weaknesses.

• Gaining unique insights into employees, customers and market trends.

• Enhancing alignment between employee and leader perceptions of organizational values and behaviors.

• Boosting employee engagement to unprecedented levels.

• Showcasing the organization's core values and principles.

• Providing a timely presence when someone needs it most.

• Addressing issues like attrition, productivity, morale and other challenges.

Connection enhances employee well-being, boosts the employer brand, and improves retention, collaboration and performance.

In a world where 1 in 2 workers say they value connection more than money, 87% don't have "play opportunities" and fun events, and nearly 1 in 4 adults had a mental illness in the past year, it's crucial for CX executives and senior leaders to prioritize workforce connection. As leaders, our fundamental duty is to serve and support others, listen to their feedback and foster an environment that promotes safety, growth and well-being. Prioritizing workplace connectedness is not a barrier to business success—it's a prerequisite. Don't hesitate. Dive in and engage with your front-line teams. They need your presence now more than ever.

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