Make a long story short
Illustration by Mourad Mokrane
Challenges and Priorities Survey

Contact center leaders with the ability to embrace change and align functions across the enterprise play a key role in driving customer-centric change. But, no matter how strong your change strategy seems to start out of the gates, you need to incorporate it into ongoing events and procedures to ensure that it doesn’t lose momentum—and does not get relegated to the “flavor of the month” file of failed initiatives.

According to Prosci, a provider of change management research, products and training, there are several common mistakes that project sponsors make that can quickly defeat a change initiative.

The following are the top five:

  1. Sponsor fails to personally engage in the project;
  2. Sponsor avoided direct communication with employees;
  3. Sponsor abdicated or delegated his or her role;
  4. Sponsor wavered in his or her support of the initiative; and
  5. Sponsor failed to build a coalition of key leaders in the organization.

Contact center leaders—as a key stakeholder in driving customer initiatives—can directly influence the outcome by keeping the organization focused on clear-cut customer-centric objectives and providing insights and data that supports those objectives.

As customer experience expert Janet LeBlanc points out, “The lack of clear and compelling objectives, such as the business case and rationale for change, as well as reasons for employee engagement at all levels, can seriously hinder the success of a customer-focused initiative. The most successful change initiatives are those that clearly articulate the rationale for change, benefits of the program change, and how the change will impact customers, employees and the organization overall.”

The following are additional obstacles that can prevent your change management efforts from achieving their goals, and recommendations on how to avoid them.

The initiative is viewed as “just another program” by staff and/or leaders. “Customer-focused initiatives need to be built into how people feel, care, empathize and have conversations with customers,” says one senior director at a large property and casualty insurer. “Leaders often become too involved in the day-to-day operation or process and forget about the customer on the other end of the phone. Leaders need to reinforce the interaction with the customer by listening to the customer—and letting the customer drive the conversation rather than letting the process drive the conversation. At the end of the call, satisfaction is measured by what the customer thinks, not by the outcome of your process.”

Leaders move the dial. When initiatives are launched, the change initiative leaders will lay out the vision and key objectives. “Then, very subtly, through a series of meetings and objectives set at high levels, things change,” says Tom Calvert, owner and founder of call center consultancy mtb5, LLC (mastering the big 5), and author of “Call Center Leadership: mastering the big 5.” “All of a sudden, you’re driving objectives at the executive level that are different from what has been communicated and launched at the frontline level.” To keep your operation on target, he recommends conducting frequent “process checks” to review what agents are doing and why, and what the senior execs have communicated as important to driving the organization’s key objectives.

Setting too many priorities. Complex initiatives with numerous priorities create confusion on the front lines. “If you have confusion, you’re not going to be executing well,” Calvert says. Once the overall initiative has been determined, it’s up to contact center leaders to simplify it by identifying three to five “can’t miss” objectives for their staff. “There may be other things that we want to do well along the way, but these are the few objectives that we can’t miss. Keep things as focused and as simple as possible,” he says.

Failing to set the expectation that customer-focused initiatives and productivity goals are not mutually exclusive. “They’re one and the same,” says mtb5 co-owner Dawn Willging. For example, customers want to have their calls answered promptly, so when driving AHT improvements, make sure that staff understand that it isn’t just about efficiency and productivity, it’s about meeting a customer expectation.

Holding staff meetings where productivity is discussed, but not the customer. Even if you’re discussing productivity issues, you can change the focus to highlight the customer experience. For instance, “We have 100 calls in queue,” can be presented to your agents as, “We have 100 customers waiting to have their questions answered,” Willging explains.

“It’s the same content, different context,” she says. “Build the customer into everything that is done. Your productivity goals can usually be tied to customer expectations. Business goals and customer goals are two sides of the same coin—it’s not either/or, it’s and.”