Managing Director Laughlin Consultancy
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How to respond to the five challenges of managing a remote CX team

How should a customer experience leader respond to managing their team remotely during the coronavirus pandemic?

4th May 2020
Managing Director Laughlin Consultancy
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How should a customer experience leader respond to managing their team remotely during this pandemic? Are there lessons to be learned from other leaders? Does the support your employees need from you right now also indicate what your customers may be needing?

As a leadership coach, I am hearing many leaders struggle with some of these challenges. The scale and speed of recent changes have left some of them questioning how they should adapt.

Much is currently being published on how to use Zoom and other tools for regular video conferencing, or Slack and other tools for team chats. However, the challenge of managing remote teams is not new and the solution is not solely found in technology. 

These days, it is accepted wisdom that a focus on employee engagement is an essential part of the alchemy required to improve your customers’ experiences. Beyond that, many have suggested that the distinction itself is somewhat artificial; that instead we should think in terms of human-to-human business.

Five Cs for remote CX leaders

Ever keen to alliterate, I’m inspired by a Five Cs model that I use when training leaders how to manage remote teams. That model includes:

  1. Challenge
  2. Compassion
  3. Clarity
  4. Communication
  5. Collaboration

I'll be dedicated a post a week to each of the 4 C's, starting here with 'recognising the challenge'. 

The first C: Recognising the challenge

It helps for you to be able to demonstrate that you recognise some what your team (and by extension, your customers) have lost as a result of the coronavirus lockdown. Take a moment now to reflect on that. Only a a month or so ago, most of them were probably busy in the office, blissfully unaware that their lives could change so much, so quickly. What do you recognise as now different for them, as they try to still help your customers from their homes?

What did you identify? At a high-level, perhaps you recognised some of these challenges:

  • Lack of face-to-face supervision (or interest?)
  • Social isolation
  • Lack of information
  • Distractions/Home environment
  • Going through the ‘change curve’

Which of those is most important for different members of your team, at different times may vary, but it is worth considering them all. People gain so much more from working together in a shared space, with regular informal interactions, than we often realise.

Understanding those five challenges

Lack of face-to-face supervision can mean anything from “the Boss isn’t on my case!” to “doesn’t anyone else really care if I do this or do it well?” Some of your team may be newer or new to some of the work you are asking them to do now.

Are you giving them sufficient time (over video if possible) to ensure they know what they are doing and perhaps offer some quality assurance? Even experienced members of your team need to feel the work they do matters. Show an interest in their work and praise quality delivery. It matters for people’s sense of purpose.

Some tech-comfortable people have suggested we aren’t really suffering from “social distancing”, just physical distancing, given the prevalence of social media and video chat. However, this fails to recognise the barriers this can still present to some less tech savvy or more introverted team members. Your team are probably not used to video chat with each other, nor working this way. They may be surprised how much they miss the office banter.

Lack of information is simply the risk of radio silence. You may feel very busy as a leader and be getting through hundreds of emails. But, take a moment to think about the experience for each of your team members. How long has it been since they have heard any updates? Do they know what is going on at management level? What might they be worried about?

The distractions of a home environment are probably obvious to you. Many have children home from school and lack any ideal workspace in their home. So, as well as the noise and interruptions from other family members, they may be sharing the dining room table. They may be disturbed by their partner’s working and so really struggle to concentrate.

Finally, I’m sure you are all familiar with the Change Curve. Be considerate that so much rapid change is also going to mean your team are on that emotional rollercoaster.

Change curve


Source: Oxford Review

Responding appropriately as a CX leader

How could you best respond to those challenges? What would work for each person on your team? What will feel an authentic response from you as a person? Helpful, but also not “putting on an act”, which is going to spook your team even more if you’re not careful.

The real secret of responding to those challenges is to think about such personal questions. That’s a fancy way of me saying that I have no ‘silver bullets’ or one-size-fits-all solutions to offer. But I will share some responses that I have found helped.

  • In response to the lack of face-to-face supervision: Ensure you have a regular video conference based one to one with each member of your team. Hold these sufficiently often to meet their need. Give more time than normal for them to tell/show you what they have been doing. Explicitly praise good work & share how what they do is helping.
  • In response to social isolation: Try the growingly popular virtual coffee/tea catch-ups. That is arranging gatherings (ideally with video conferencing) for purely social chat. A replacement for the normal, as American’s term it “watercooler moments”. I’ve also heard teams have success with team quizzes or other fun-focussed online team meetings.
  • In response to lack of information: Your focus as a leader should be the communicate more than normal. As we see role modelled by the UK government’s daily briefings, there is a need for regular updates. In a time of isolation, all sorts of concerns will become magnified and you run the risk of the online rumour mill filling the void if you do not. Keep everyone informed with what you know regularly. Instill confidence by being honest about when you “don’t know” or in admitting if something has failed.
  • In response to distractions: Be understanding and flexible. Recognise that those who are trying to work around the competing demands of home schooling and shared workspaces face an uphill struggle. Role model that the dress code is casual & you too may be interupted. Encourage a focus on outputs, with greater flexibility on when the work is done.
  • In response to going through the “change curve": Acknowledge this very human emotional journey for everyone. The classic Kubler-Ross model recognises the early stages of Shock, Denial, Frustration & then Depression. Publicly recognise that you may all feel this way as times, before you feel a desire to experiment and begin to embrace the ‘new normal’. Everyone will have good days and bad days, as a leader you can help them know that is normal & emotions will change.

CX leadership report

Address this challenge, prepare for the future

I hope those reflections on how CX leaders can help their (now) remote teams has helped you. Over the 15 years I’ve led remote teams, I’ve seen the importance of really focussing on this. It is too easy for “out of sight” to mean “out of mind” if we are not careful.

Plus, given the ethics I have found in so many CX leaders, I’m sure you want to be in the vanguard of helping your people through this crisis. What better way to prepare for helping your customers now & in the future, than learning what the people on your team need from you right now.

I wish you well on your journey as empathic and supportive leaders. In my next column, I’ll turn my attention to the next C of my model: Compassion.

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