A lot of people seem to think that call center internal culture is very much based on the individual and that the team structure is only there to help improve management or allocation of resources. In some ways, this view can be somewhat justified. After all, only one person in the team actually does the selling of Canon printer cartridges or spends hours on a call trying to fix a confusing, inexplicable technical issue. However, the reality is that the focus isn’t solely on the individual and that the team structure is in place as more than just an organizational tool.
One of the core purposes of the team structure is as a support system for agents. This goes beyond mere metrics. It is no secret that the industry has a very high turnover rate, that the stress gets to people sooner or later and they drift away to seek greener pastures once the pressure gets to them. It is also known that irate callers are a common occurrence, sometimes breaking even the most experienced of agents. They serve as the “shock absorbers” for the stress that builds up on a daily basis, mostly through sharing their experiences and talking about their bizarre or angry calls. It’s a way for them to cut loose that’s immediate and interactive – interpersonal contact that isn’t in a business or hostile form is important to retaining call center agent sanity.
The team structure also plays into the metrics of the agents. Yes, each individual agent is measured by their own metrics, but at the management level, this doesn’t happen. Beyond a certain level of authority, individual performance metrics just cease to matter compared to collective team metrics. While they will notice poor performance in one aspect or another, it becomes a lesser concern if the team is able to “carry” the bad agent in that one aspect. A lot of managers are willing to forgive mediocre performance from an agent so long as they’re doing their jobs and their teammates are making up for it.
Finally, the team is also the first resource an agent has for things he can’t handle or simply doesn’t know about. A lot of people in charge will point out that everyone on the team has something they’re good at or just has a knack for. These are going to be far more convenient to go to for advice on specific issues and problems than trying to find the answer on the Internet – which has a high likelihood of having a lot of sites blocked by the office network administrators.