The story of our brand

Twenty-two years ago this business took shape in my scrambled brain.  At the time I just returned from a 3-year travel-work experience from the USA which left me hanging between two worlds. My one foot was still in Los Angeles, California, where I worked for a year, and my other foot was back in Cape Town, on home-based South African soil. I was torn between these 2 worlds and it took me quite some time to settle back into my own body and space.  Although I settled back into clinical practise as an occupational therapist working with children with learning problems, I still had itchy feet. It did not help that my first son was born: I was entering the world of parenting for the first time as a new mom (no one tells you how bloody hard it is… ), experiencing postnatal depression and re-integrating into my old South African life. In the States, I had the best and the worst time of my life. While working in Los Angeles with a fiery, red-hair Spanish born occupational therapy guru (Erna Blanche), I was constantly pushed out of my comfort zone. I learned a hell of a lot, laughed, cried, had to learn to email reports for the first time (yes I am Gen X) and looking back… was preparing myself for the crazy journey of being an entrepreneur!

I learned 3 key things in difficult and changing work environments:

  1. Never ever be scared to try something new
  2. Hard work gets your everywhere
  3. If all else fails – run… (I started trail running at this stage and have loved it ever since)

So Sensory Intelligence® was born in my head in 2000. In 2002 we printed our first business cards (haven’t they become redundant… I haven’t even bothered to reprint mine lately), established our brand name and presented my first workshop for a group of parents. I discovered my passion for training and empowering others and it just made sense to start with the target group I’ve been working with for 15 years. Helping parents understand and manage their children better is ultimately the best gift you can give a child. I shifted my skills, knowledge and expertise from working with a single child in clinical practice to training groups of people around sensory integration (a specific term/field of expertise in occupational therapy work).

I learned 3 key things from working with parents:

  1. Mothers know their children best – listen to them and trust them but also help them to trust themselves. Mothers (and parents in general) run to Google and try to become better parents this way.  Although Google is my best friend too..… trust your gut – it will be more powerful and mostly correct.
  2. Human behaviour is so fascinating and interesting. The brain science that applies to children applies to adults too… their bodies are just bigger and there is more nonsense…
  3. Common sense for us as occupational therapists is not common practice. 

As Sensory Intelligence® unfolded as a business… my quest for learning and breaking new territories increased.  As I was seeing how my paediatric-practice knowledge was as powerful when adapted to the adult world of work, I had to learn more.  In 2005 I decided that further research is a must and I embarked on registering for a master’s degree through the University of Cape Town in South Africa. I was like a child with a new toy… if I knew what was ahead of me, I would have run away… far away.  During 2005-2006 I did research methodology and wrote my master’s degree proposal, had a second child, wrote a book “Sensory intelligence, why it matters more than IQ and EQ”, and my husband developed Stage 4 cancer. I know it is a mouthful but it was even worse than what it sounds. Luckily, my second son was a breeze as a baby, the book took me into an escape world to cope with my husband’s illness and the studying was ticking along…

I survived to tell the tale: my husband made a full recovery and is in remission, my second happy- and well-adapted son is now 16 years old and my book is still on the shelves. My studies took a turn for the worse in the short run – but ultimately a turn for the best in the long run. I was upgraded to a PhD as a result of my study being innovative and the amount of data I had to work with. I had to collect even more data (2008-2009) and was struggling to put my bum down on a chair to write the dissertation of my PhD research. Throughout all of this, I sensory assessed hundreds of people in order for them to share their “sensory stories” with me, started to do team- and corporate training and also put my foot in the call centre industry which is where my doctoral research was positioned. I talked to everyone and anyone about sensory intelligence – most of the time for free – and was absolutely adamant to do “market research”. The going got really tough when I had to sit my family down at the beginning of 2011 and negotiated time in order to write my doctoral thesis. It took 9 months of getting up at 4 am every day (except for Sundays) and writing every day.  It was absolute agony… I never cry but during this time I was in tears on a daily basis, checking in with my supervisor… God bless this woman.  She picked me up from the floor every day, motivated me, encouraged me and was my biggest supporter.  Ruth Watson, I still honour you and am so sad you passed away a few years ago. I graduated in 2012, got my PhD degree and had brain fog for 6 months (a well-known phenomenon following the submission of a dissertation).  I was not in academics full time, so doing this on a part-time basis was no joke. But I survived and another one dusted.

I learned 3 key things from juggling personal life, research and business:

  1. None of us are superhuman beings: it is OK to drop the ball – however drop the work-ball and not the family-ball
  2. Getting up at 4 am will make you more productive while your brain is still fresh
  3. Surround yourself with people who believe in you, encourage- and support you

Business continued to grow and expand:

In 2008 I started to automate our online assessments and moved them to online versions.

Senses on Call™ was the emergent product from my research helping call centres make better staff-, recruitment- and talent decisions.  It was recently updated.

The Sensory Matrix™, which was developed in 2005 and published in my book in 2007,  was the result of needing a tool with more detailed information to help people understand and manage their 7 senses and not just a big overview as Winnie Dunn’s adult assessment provided. I absolutely love Winnie Dunn’s work and also used her assessment for my research but the Sensory Matrix was a further development on being more specific and practical.  Our focus on growing online products has been an uphill battle but also a rewarding process.  We extracted loads of data and is currently doing analysis for further post-PhD work and publications.

Our 3-day practitioner’s course was also initiated as early as 2012 to empower other professionals to use our tools.  I just could not cope with the demand for individual work and this became a great option to be able to refer to a selected group of associates.  They were traditionally run as a 3-day face to face course in South Africa and London but moved to a fully online 12 module version since COVID-19.  Admittedly I was quite verbal and opinionated about online training and said we will never do online training. Well… COVID pushed us into it, we had no choice. And what an interesting journey that has been too. Against all my personal and preconceived ideas, online training works, and it works extremely well. We now have a global audience, work across time zones and can empower a lot more people in sensory intelligence®.

We grew our team of licensed users/associates,  got new clients, projects and speaker events;  got new team members;  lost team members;  got new IT service providers for our online platform;  lost IT service providers for our online platform… The ebb and flow of business are remarkable, tough, interesting, stimulating and definitely not for sissies…

I learned 3 key things from the ongoing business expansion:

  1. It is a jungle out there and your business goal and strategy should be clear
  2. Good service providers are very, very  hard to find because a lot of people talk a lot of rubbish
  3. You will always need a good, reliable, excellent team of people (not robots) behind you. And if you think service providers are hard to find, think again when it comes to teams…

As we enter the next phase of our business, year 22 since its inception,  year 20 part-time and year 17 full time… I am just extremely humbled and blessed by my experiences and learning.  There are no mistakes in life, only lessons to learn. While the COVID-19 pandemic pushed the world into crisis mode, we had our crisis too when all our work stopped in early 2020, it unlocked a deeper level of resilience. It was either sink or swim and chose to do the latter. We are now stronger, embraced the online world, have a global audience, and continue to improve the quality of life for people around the globe.

Please connect with us if you want to know more about how Sensory Intelligence® can help you.

 

 

 

 

Contact centres: A scary workplace?

I was looking for the craziest, wildest, busiest, most sensory overloaded and insane work environment to do my research … I clearly found it in the contact centre industry!  The first time I walked into a contact centre I was blown away. Although absolutely electrifying for me, and certainly switching on an extra few brain wires, I immediately knew with certainty that this environment would be a recipe for disaster for about 20% of the population.

Local and international research shows that 20% of the population are highly sensory sensitive to information derived from the environment. This means that their DNA and brain circuits have an over-intake of sensory (see, hear, touch, smell, taste, move) information. Sensory overload is of utmost relevance to them as they experience the world as too loud, too bright, too fast, too tight … plainly just too much. Needless to say, the contact centre environment is completely overwhelming for them and results in stress, absenteeism, performance issues and ultimately attrition. Even though they often manage to put effort into tolerating this environment, it often works for only a short period of time. Ever thought about why the critical period for losing agents is usually within the first 90 days of employment?

Although our sensory processing takes place in the unconscious parts of our brain functioning, it is critical for species survival. Intuitively we learn what works for us and whatnot, but mostly – and too often – through trial and error. Your sensory-sensitive contact centre agents will only realise this after being recruited, trained and positioned on the contact centre seat. And, suffice to say, thousands of rands later the realisation hits: “I hate this job.” Research also clearly corroborates the prevalence of high levels of stress within the industry.

When placed in data capturing, e-mail support, or quality assurance, these same individuals would however most often perform at very high levels. Traditionally, these processes, are usually performed in more contained, less sensory overloaded sections and require awareness, attention to detail and rigid processing. Your 20% unsuitable front office callers are well suited for these roles.

My quest as an occupational therapist has been to prove that sensory processing does correlate with the work performance, absenteeism and attrition of contact centre agents. Correlation results through my doctoral research clearly indicate that your 20% of highly sensitive agents spend longer time on after-call work, have longer holding times and lower quality assurance ratings.

The four main pillars in the call centre industry are:

  • People;
  • premises;
  • processes; and
  • technology.

They are obviously all crucial for sustainability and efficiency, but human resource allocation is the biggest hurdle. Your contact centre agent is the key to delivering service, sales or collections, utilising your business process and operations to capture the essence of your client audience.

How can we solve this?

Occupational science is a body of knowledge about how we analyse work environments and the people functioning within them. Goodness of fit is the vital key to supporting the fact that matching your talent and workforce to the job description and work environment will ensure productive, less stressed, and sustainable employees. It just makes plain business sense to ensure a best-fit match for the contact centre industry in particular. The industry is known for high training and operational costs, with agent attrition and absenteeism a common problems. This impacts the bottom line for the company but also depletes corporate wellness for the individual.

Sensory Intelligence® Consulting has two main objectives for the contact centre industry:

  • Firstly, to ensure return on investments for companies. If you are spending R17 264.00 (average industry figure South Africa 2007) on training an agent, shouldn’t you ensure up-front that they are suited for the position?
  • Secondly, a mismatch in the industry impacts the wellness of the agents. Unsuitable agents end up with a high degree of stress and anxiety which have detrimental effects on health and wellness and result in inflated healthcare costs. As many agents are young and often find themselves in contact centres as an entry-level job, the degree of failure and difficulty to manage has a far-reaching impact on their personal self-esteem and confidence. Therefore, ensure you, select agents, with more care, and consider their sensory processing styles to ensure sustainability in the environment.  Senses on Call™ is a selection tool designed exclusively for the contact centre industry based on my research results.

Another consideration to ensure workspace optimisation is also to ensure you have a well set-up contact centre including:

  • Good equipment
  • Enough space
  • Air
  • Ventilation
  • Chill rooms (not glorified tea rooms)
  • Leadership that thinks and acts laterally
  • Ongoing coaching and development.

The contact centre business model works, locally and abroad, with unprecedented growth and has huge job creation opportunities for South Africa.