The Power of Collaboration in the Contact Call Center
Illustration by Luis Prado

In our centers, vast amounts of useful content and ideas exist in the minds of our agents. Collaboration is, of course, hardly a new idea. Well-run organizations have always recognized the power of frontline knowledge and have actively sought ways to bring it out. What is different today, however, is the merging of three key ingredients that puts collaboration at a true tipping point:

  1. Technology makes it easier than ever for anyone to express ideas.
  2. Opportunities to provide input outside of the contact center (from Wikipedia to Trip Advisor to technical self-help forums) are encountered daily.
  3. People (especially, but not only, millennials) have come to expect and rely on insights provided by others (remember how many online reviews you read before you bought your last smartphone?).

The convergence of these three factors makes this the perfect time to ramp up collaboration efforts in our contact centers. There are three areas where this can take place: change management, knowledge/content management and idea generation.

Change Management
Most of the changes we make in our contact centers have an effect on our agents. Some, like new CRM systems, affect the ease (or difficulty) of handling every contact. Others, like schedule changes brought on by a new workforce management system, extend the impact into the quality of our agents’ personal lives. Until recently, collaboration in these types of changes typically meant getting an agent or two assigned to the project, and then keeping all the others in the loop with frequent communication.

That communication, though, is often one way. Change rarely works when people feel like it is being done to them. A much more likely route to success is to involve staff enough that the change is something that is done with them. Today, there is no reason why opinions and feedback need to be postponed until after a change is in place. Intranet sites are commonly used to present progress updates on key initiatives. It would be simple to add message boards to these topics that would address questions and concerns as they arise, rather than when it is too late. Yes, it may bring some undesired criticism… but at least you will get them in time to respond.

Knowledge/Content Management
One of the most important features of a knowledge management system is the ability to encourage and manage collaboration. It is at the point of contact that agents can evaluate how well a documented procedure works—offering a quick and easy way to provide us that feedback and suggest alternatives is the best way to ensure that our practices are always improving. Best of all, this type of engagement fosters more of the same. As changes are made, agents are motivated to continue using the system and suggesting further improvements that enhance the quality of the tool.

Idea Generation
A traditional view of leadership is that it should provide all the answers. A more modern view might state that leadership should uncover, organize and socialize all the answers. That means engaging employees in ways and at levels not experienced in the past.

Where a suggestion box might have sufficed in the past, there are a number of more elegant options today. Electronic pinboards, sticky notes and white boards are all available today at little or no cost, and they offer an excellent way to encourage and collect thoughts in an organized manner. While some may be uncomfortable with unscreened ideas being posted internally, the visual aspect of these tools provides a number of benefits:

  • Knowing that others will see them encourages people to organize their thoughts before posting (OK, that does not always work, but sometimes it does).
  • The strength of any one idea can be more readily apparent by simple checkmarks that indicate agreement from others.
  • Responses are consistent and can be seen by everyone.

These tools are easily installed and represent little to no cost—and they send a powerful message to staff: Upward communication is not simply acceptable; it is now desired.

When it comes to collaboration, the times really are changing. There is nothing wrong with open-door policies, suggestion boxes and project update memos, but they are not enough to encourage the type of collaboration that is possible today. Organizations that are serious about tapping into this power source need to focus on two changes: bringing in the right kind of technology, and viewing collaboration as something that is expected from every job role.