Creating Spirit in Your Call Center: Montefiore’s CMO Leads the Way

  “I don't know but I've been told. The CMO is made of gold.” 

Imagine having your call center agents, every day at 3:00, put down their phones to clap and say this chant.

Welcome to the Care Management Organization (CMO) in Yonkers, New York, a branch of the Montefiore Medical Center that handles billing questions for a network of two hospitals and 23 medical clinics. Each day at 3:00 all customers are put on hold for 30 seconds and 80 people clap in unison and chant this army song.

So, what's this chant all about? Spirit. These representatives, their managers and supervisors have created a customer service culture that has spirit.

This spirit is born before an employee even starts at the CMO. The CMO is careful to hire only those people who love to serve others. They look for people who are quick learners and have a remarkable ability to apply new information. The result is a team of hard workers who focus 100% on the customer and, at any moment, can be found helping out a fellow team member.

To keep the spirit alive, managers and supervisors make every effort to show the associates that they are appreciated for what they do. The leaders at the CMO find concrete ways to show they listen and value each associate. This helps to create an intangible spirit within the organization that keeps associates motivated and passionate about their work.

Three Steps to Creating Spirit

The following are three steps that the CMO uses to create and maintain spirit.

Step #1:  Appreciate that Associates Have a Life Outside of Work

The CMO recognizes that associates have a life outside of work and they appreciate this fact. To support a work-life balance, the CMO offers associates:

  • The possibility to continue their formal education

  • Interpersonal skill development workshops that focus on relationship building both with customers and outside of work 

  • Critical thinking workshops that increase their awareness and help develop strategies for personal and professional problem solving

  • Recognition workshops where associates are recognized by their peers for their unique talents. Colleagues create recognition certificates that are works of art and describe, in the handwriting of each team member, “the small things that you do that have made a difference for us.”

  • Career development workshops that encourage associates to look at their career possibilities and develop a plan including supportive peer follow-up. Participants are challenged to identify and break through the most significant obstacle to moving forward in his or her career.

As unique as the above offerings are, they take place because of a combination of factors: Associates who want to keep learning and improving themselves and leaders who listen to them and create opportunities for development.

Step #2:  Management Actively Listens to the Associates

Management at the CMO actively listens to associates, values their input, and regularly makes changes based on associates' suggestions.

On my many visits to the CMO, time after time I heard appreciation for one specific Senior Manager, Steve Kulovits.
One associate told me, “I raised a concern about the way we are expected to say our greeting on incoming calls. The next thing I hear is that the supervisors had a meeting and decided to make a change based on my ideas.”

Another associate said, “I feel like he is our advocate. He's had to work hard to get the money for additional training for us.  And, he's always telling us stories about how he promotes the CMO as a model of customer service for the rest of the hospital.”

Steve's approach sets the tone for the other managers and supervisors. They are rarely seen in their offices. They are walking the floor, sitting with the associates, and taking calls when necessary.

To ensure all managers and supervisors listen to and appreciate associates, the CMO offers the following:

  • Customer relations workshops for managers and supervisors to improve the way they communicate with the associates - their internal customers

  • Coaching skills workshops and ongoing practice sessions where managers and supervisors are recorded and given feedback

  • Manager meetings with time dedicated to focusing on coaching success stories and coaching challenges

  • Forum for associates to give feedback to managers and supervisors

Step #3:  Provide Frequent and Consistent Monitoring and Coaching

A manager and a supervisor are designated to monitor and coach each associate on his or her phone calls. This is part of their job description and time is allotted for it. They are evaluated, in part, by the number of coaching sessions they have and by evidence of consistent improvement by associates.

Here's how the CMO supports this initiative:
  • A coaching workshop is offered to help all managers and supervisors develop their ability to listen to and draw out associates.
  • When giving feedback to an associate they follow a model that includes:
      - Giving specific examples of what he or she is doing well
      - Asking the associate to identify one or two areas for improvement
      - Agreeing on one goal to focus on
      - Developing a follow-up plan
  • The CMO has adapted the 33 points of MAGIC as a measurement tool to evaluate the calls. They developed a coaching form that provides a numerical score for the call and plenty of space for specific examples from the customer interaction.
  • The evaluation of customer relation skills is one criteria used to determine if an associate is ready to move up a level. 

Maintaining the Spirit on Tough Days


The CMO is just like any other organization and faces its fair share of challenges. Differences in learning styles and personalities occasionally become obstacles to working together. When the work volume increases, associates can feel overwhelmed. Changes in processes and policies can cause frustration. 

From the manager's perspective, sometimes there isn't enough time to give detailed feedback to the associates. And, manager meetings can get crowded with other agenda items.

What helps the CMO push through some of these difficult issues is recognizing that they have built a support structure and a learning system that will still be there in the middle of a storm. There are forums for dealing with the issues, there are opportunities for giving and receiving feedback, and there is always someone who will listen to you and value what you are saying.

These support systems bond the spirits of the individuals and are as dependable as clockwork. And, in the middle of the most difficult days, just like clockwork, at 3:00 you will hear 80 people clapping and chanting together:

“I don't know, but I've been told. The CMO is made of gold.”

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