You can’t get anywhere unless you’re willing to take a risk. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. “This idiom dates back to Chaucer (c. 1374) and is similar to the late 14th century French proverb, Qui onques rien n’enprist riens n’achieva (“He who never undertook anything never achieved anything”). The proverb was included in John Heyword’s collection of proverbs in 1546 (from “The Phrase Finder” website).
The condition of taking or not taking action has been part of the human makeup for centuries. How does this apply to today’s contact centers? Management of today’s centers are challenged by many factors, with some to the point of exhaustion. As we begin a new year, it is important to take a long and hard look at the previous year. We need to ask: What did we do? What have we accomplished?
Reflecting on the last year provides a framework for future accomplishments. It is important to inventory activities, investments and actions taken to move toward a goal. What are the goals for this year? What are the key focus areas? It may be time to map out a plan of action for the coming months to avoid tumbling into the safety zone of “nothing ventured, nothing gained.” Sometimes it feels safer to discuss, evaluate and delay rather than decide, act and move forward.
Consider conducting a contact center assessment to gain a “big picture” context for all activities under consideration to improve performance, readiness for growth/mergers, etc. Imagine yourself as a consultant going into your contact center to run a “health check.” Here are five areas that will provide a targeted and focused review: Contact Center Strategic Value, Customer Experience Elements, Process and Technology Status, Workforce Management, and Human Factors.
Contact Center Strategic Value
The entire contact center team must understand the center’s strategic value. There is often a huge gap in this understanding. Knowing and grasping the strategic value of the contact center provides, among other things, the best context for coaching. The contact center has changed from a back-room operation to a key strategic element. The amount of time the contact center spends with customers is greater than most other parts of the enterprise. The entire team needs the hymnal that allows all to sing from the same song sheet. The front line must understand that the brand promise is fulfilled here, actionable information is collected here, and product issues are identified here. It is important to map this all out and integrate the strategy for all quality sessions, business announcements, changes, etc., and deliberately find and share accomplishments with the team.
Assessing your strategic messaging is the No. 1 activity in conducting a contact center assessment. Seek counsel from executive sponsors to craft appropriate messaging and assure that supervisors, coaches and leaders at all levels keep this in mind at all times. Figure out where you are and where you want to be. Map out the plan and stick with it. The cost here is only time and interest!
Customer Experience Elements
The key elements of the customer experience must be clearly identified. What is most important when engaging with customers? Here are some sample elements:
- Consumers get what they need
- Multimedia channels access
- Agent knows/sees consumer history
- First-contact completion
- Agents knows and offers alternative solutions
- Focus is on the experience as well as the solution
- Ongoing education based on unique consumer needs
- Quick and accurate responses
If you haven’t documented the customer experience elements most important to your strategic role, you risk having little or no gains in key areas. Coaches need more than a quality form to develop the appropriate set of skills for managing the 21st century consumer.
Process and Technology Status
Once you have identified strategic objectives and desired customer experience elements, it is time to assess your processes and technology. Are they sufficient? In all likelihood there are areas to be improved upon. Many folks struggle with lengthy handle times and are inclined to look to the agents for improvements. However, once you have taken a good look at your work processes and associated technology, you may begin to realize that some of the factors are beyond the control of the front line. For example, when network latency causes systems to slow down, call handle time goes UP, and there is literally nothing the front line can do about it.
The assessment will identify these conditions and provide solid evidence of the consequences of poorly provisioned systems. Findings may also include “human integration” conditions that force calls to be transferred to another party to complete the transaction. This causes failure in the “first-contact completion” element. Again, there is nothing the agent can do to fix this. These are conditions that leadership must take up with IT and other cross-functional partners to correct the problem. There is much to be gained by conducting this aspect of your assessment. If a process has workarounds, etc., it is ripe for improvement.
How exactly is workforce management (WFM) being handled in your contact center? Do you have a system? Do you have an analyst? Or is this another task assumed by the management team? Obviously the most efficient and best option is to have a WFM system with a professional leading the charge. The assessment objective is to document the current process and its effectiveness. It is surprising how very difficult it is to find a solid WFM professional. If you have one, treat them right so you can hang onto them! Keep your analyst up to date and included in overall management collaborations.
If you lack a dedicated resource, your ability to get the right number of people in the right place at the right time will be at risk. There are many resources available to contact center managers. However, none will matter without some kind of training and experience in actual contact center management practices.
I have seen some totally insane calculations that have been formulated by the untrained. While they are mathematically interesting, most lack the ability to answer the most important question of all: What will the caller’s experience be? The only way to assure that both caller experience and agent experience are well represented is to adopt a service level and master the use of Erlang C. In other words, the analyst must be properly trained.
Of course, to get training funded you must be able to make a case to senior management who may reject the notion of Erlang. In most of these cases, the organizations are understaffed; those who hold budget strings tightly “don’t want to know.” This is illogical when you consider the negative impact that poor staffing has on the customer experience. We often find this insanity in situations where the customer is in the “hostage” category. They have nowhere to go, for example, utilities, cable and healthcare.
WFM is a major success factor in today’s contact center. The assessment will reveal your organization’s status.
Hiring, training and retention are all critical to success in the contact center. The unemployment rate today has rendered this an employee’s market. Contact center jobs are not the most popular; the job is mostly sedentary and agents work really, really hard. It is a job with lots of oversight and visibility and must be carefully managed. If not, attracting and retaining a solid and motivated workforce will be a challenge. What are your hiring criteria? Do you have a consistent recruiting and interviewing methodology? Who does your recruiting/hiring? Do you have a healthy partnership with them? Is your contact center a place where the displaced from other departments are routed?
When conducting your assessment every avenue of entry must be evaluated. Hiring criteria must be realistic and prehire assessments targeted to assure the person will be right for the job. While the cost of recruiting, hiring and training is significant, so is the cost of a bad hire!
Standardized and scalable training for new and incumbent agents is a critical success factor in the contact center. I am often stunned by the lack of professional training skills and tools available in some centers. The laziest (and very common) training programs are those where the new-hire sits next to another agent to “learn” the job. At best, this is transactional training that teaches the “task.” What is missing is the brand, the customer experience factors, and the human qualities that make the interaction a memorable one.
The above model yields mostly a transfer of transactional tasks and provides an incomplete picture of the value of the contact center and the role of the front line. It allows the enterprise to avoid the cost of providing a professional training experience via documented training materials, a dedicated training space, and trained professionals that offer a “learner-focused” experience. Generally speaking, these environments are high-turnover, low-morale organizations, and unpleasant at best.
As well, ongoing and refresher training for current staff is almost always non-existent. Sadly, many organizations have a poorly done quality program that yields little in terms of improvements. The program is more investigation and prosecution than discovery and development.
A deeper look into your training methods will yield valuable results. Is training proactively planned with clearly defined outcomes? Is training documented and the materials consistent? Are there dedicated and qualified trainers? Are on-the-job support tools accessible and easy to read? What skills, knowledge and qualities must the agent have?
Leadership training for contact center management is also extremely important. Often it simply does not happen, leaving folks to essentially fly by the seat of their pants. Consider the gains to be made by targeted “Contact Center 101” training that focuses on the fundamental elements which underpin all successful contact centers.
Plan Your Assessment
Begin planning your 2020 contact center assessment and focus on the areas discussed. Remember… nothing ventured, nothing gained.