Garbage In, Garbage Out… Makes Contact Center Managers Want to Shout!

FROM THE JUNE 2014 ISSUE

Tips to improve attitude of your Contact Center Staff
Illustration by Ilya Lestov

Remember Oscar the Grouch on “Sesame Street”? For some reason, he was our son Brendan’s favorite character. He even had an Oscar the Grouch Halloween costume! During that period, I would sometimes borrow the mask to alert the family to an emerging “grouchy” condition. The funny thing was that, once I actually put on the mask, the mood dissipated like steam!

We all get “grouchy” and often it has to do with garbage—“garbage in, garbage out.” This idiom often pertains to our experience with computers. And it most certainly holds true for other aspects of life, as Oscar the Grouch so beautifully highlights on “Sesame Street.” Garbage in, garbage out is of U.S. origin and most often is associated with data. It also fits very nicely with food, people, products, etc. In this case, let’s focus on garbage in, garbage out in the contact center.

Garbage in can apply to so many aspects of contact center life that I hardly know where to begin. So I will begin with people. This may seem harsh, but there are people who are not well-suited to working in a contact center. They are the equivalent of garbage in, not because of whom they are, but for what they bring and don’t bring to the contact center. These staff can cause a lot of trouble.

How is it possible to actually have ill-suited staff in the contact center? Here are some factors that contribute to the situation: lack of documented competency requirements, poorly architected job descriptions, and no pretesting for transactional skills or human qualities prior to hiring. Why this occurs varies by situation. The reason can be anything from human resources simply trying to fill a class to being forced to take resources that are “redundant” in other departments. There are times during downsizing, mergers, acquisitions or consolidations in which some staff become “redundant” in their existing role while, at the same time, the contact center continues to grow. In this circumstance, well-intentioned HR teams decide to reassign the redundant workers to the contact center. The results are almost always disastrous.

Take the case of a utility company that moved all customer service functions into a centralized operation. In most cases, moving field staff into the contact center simply did not work. The job previously held in the field had many more interactions with field personnel. Customer service staff were torn between taking care of customers and taking care of tasks outside of their job description (which was one of the reasons to centralize). This move forced some folks who were poorly suited to the job to take it simply so that they would have a job.

I am certainly not insinuating that these folks were “garbage,” per se. But people who are poorly suited for a job often get “grouchy” and even disruptive. This jeopardizes performance, morale and ultimately the customer experience—and we see garbage out!

There is a very simple and clean way to avoid having the contact center become the dumping ground for redundant workers. The contact center must equip itself with a set of consistent competency requirements and standardized evaluation tools to determine that the candidate has the skills and the disposition to be successful. If these requirements/tools exist for ALL candidates, applying them to redundant workers will not be a targeted activity, but a requirement for success. It is best to carefully build the recruiting and selection process, and apply it consistently to all candidates—before the redundancies occur.

Let’s look at what makes contact center leaders “grouchy.” We cannot ignore processes! Processes have been the subject of hundreds of books, articles, initiatives, business school papers and even consulting engagements—and with good reason! Far too often, processes exist by default and NOT by design. Additional steps in critical processes are often the result of a need or crisis—garbage in. In many cases, the “fix” may work to divert a crisis. But it sets the stage for garbage out, even if it works in the short-term!

The garbage out often comes later when someone else in the enterprise is looking for information or a report on a particular function. Take the case of the online retailer that decided to handle damaged goods by having customers return them to the contact center rather than to the warehouse. This was done because the warehouse had fallen behind in handling issues; customers were becoming “grouchy” and made negative comments via social media. The contact center was quickly overwhelmed by the many boxes of shoes, handbags, etc., that littered the contact center’s aisles. The attempt to keep up with the demand was a daunting exercise. It focused primarily on getting a resolution for the customer; the product would be fixed, replaced or returned. Under normal circumstances, these options would have seemed reasonable. But the piles kept stacking up and many items simply got “lost” in the mess.

The product issue had its origin in a bad manufacturing deal with a foreign provider. Once the reality hit the executive level, business leaders asked for data on what products were coming back, etc. Well, guess what? Garbage in—poor process; and garbage out—no tracking! The process was not only a poor one, but also a poor reflection on the contact center’s ability to deliver. This resulted in hundreds of hours to reconstruct the data so that actionable information could be sent to the executive level. And yes, some people were very “grouchy” over the whole “avoidable” situation!

What also comes to mind is technology. The contact center is a complex technological environment. That is why so many companies mistakenly have the contact center reporting to a COO rather than to a marketing executive where they actually belong. Contact center technology is the single most risky arena for garbage in, garbage out. I tend to be a bit harsh when it comes to the provisioning strategy that far too many companies use to outfit the contact center. I say, with all due respect, rarely does your IT or IS department know very much about contact center management principles. These principles ought to be the guiding force by which investments in technology are made.

Sadly, in far too many cases, contact center business leaders are not even consulted when new systems are being considered. “Domain experts” are critical to today’s technology design and acquisition. Without the inclusion of contact center management, we will once again see garbage in, taking on the form of inadequate requirements, and garbage out—technology features and functionality that simply do not meet contact center needs!

We all know the story of garbage in, garbage out from a data perspective. In the contact center, there are also other key areas to consider, as this article has addressed. Rise up! Take control of your environment! Think beyond the immediate crisis and plan, plan, plan! Then maybe we can reduce the number of “grouchy” days on the job… for everyone.

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FROMContact Center Pipeline June 2014
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Kathleen Peterson

Kathleen M. Peterson is the Founder and Chief Vision Officer of PowerHouse Consulting, Kathleen is an acclaimed Contact Center consultant and recognized industry visionary. She offers a refreshing and sometimes challenging philosophy to positioning the Contact Center as the true lifeline of the enterprise—believing that vision, brand, leadership and execution combine to deliver a powerful customer experience. Kathleen has emerged as one of the most sought-after experts and consulting partner in the field of customer experience working with the world’s top customer-focused companies, and is published widely in the most prestigious industry journals in the U.S. and abroad. As a featured speaker at conferences and Fortune 500 companies, she has shared her humor, knowledge, and experience across four continents, including Contact Center conference keynotes in the United States, London, Paris, Turkey, Dubai, and Hong Kong. Kathleen also served as Conference Chair for the North American Conference on Customer Service Management.