Contact Center Leadership

FROM THE AUGUST ISSUE

Contact Center Leadership

Game Plan was a pinball manufacturer that produced pinball tables from 1978 to 1985. It was a subsidiary of AES Technology Systems and was located in Elk Grove Village, Illinois. I find it fitting to use the idiom Game Plan (i.e., a carefully considered strategy) and its connection to a pinball table designer to discuss Contact Center leadership.

Contact Center leaders often navigate within an uphill battle full of obstacles, unpredictable outcomes, and tools that are difficult to direct and control. Sound like a Contact Center? Today, the term Game Plan has been adopted to all manner of circumstances in business. It relates to creating a Strategic Plan to achieve a specific business outcome; a worthy task of any Contact Center leadership team.

“A goal without a plan, is just a wish” —Antoine De Saint-Exupery

The Customer/Patient Experience occurs when the consumer connects, regardless of channel, to the company. The experience is the culmination of all the operational work that goes into it: planning, hiring, training, coaching, etc. Contact Centers play a vital role in shaping this experience, making it essential for leaders to understand the intricacies of their operations.

Contact Center leaders need to evaluate their role, their own effectiveness, and their operation when it comes to strategic alignment. They must identify weaknesses that tie them more closely to the 1990’s than to the 2000’s. I begin with the assumption that most leaders are aware of the need and benefits of characteristics such as emotional intelligence. This refers to the ability to communicate effectively; control emotions; and understand, consider, and learn from others.

For this article, I propose a framework as a means to plan for and “operationalize” emotional intelligence and other related skills. We will delve into a key component of effective Contact Center leadership today … developing a close relationship with your organization’s Business Strategy and how your Contact Center can contribute to it.

Who’s Who and What’s What

Strategy is defined as an “elaborate and systematic plan of action.” Contact Center leaders must understand and determine where the Contact Center fits and specifically how it contributes to the organization’s strategic objectives and plans. They must get into the business of creating a Game Plan to successfully align all activities and tasks to corporate strategic objectives.

Vision is a view of the future and executives are future focused.

When it comes to alignment to strategy clarity is requisite. The Contact Center leader will be well-served to recognize, be ready to operationalize, and report on activities within four critical perspectives present at the executive level. These are Vision, Financial Perspective, Experience, and Intangible Assets.

Vision

It all begins with the vision, for example, “Provide a great experience for our patients and our people.” Vision is a view of the future and executives are future focused. Contact Centers are often viewed as disconnected as they tend to focus and report more on the past than on preparing for the future. Historical metrics submitted to executives as indicators of performance are often viewed as evidence of production and are rarely linked to strategy. This damages visibility unless you want to be viewed as a factory-like environment of the 1990s.

Contact Center leaders need to understand growth objectives.

Consider vision as the WHY of what we do. Contextualize feedback within the realm of vision at every level: “How did your reaction in that call support our objective of a great experience?”. Use the vision to reinforce behaviors that support the vision. It is much more powerful than the “When I was a rep …” coaching framework.

Financial Perspective

The financial perspective is how executives determine the effectiveness of the Strategic Plan. Market share and margins are the indicators of success. Contact Center leaders need to understand growth objectives. What is the plan to increase market share? Will there be mergers, acquisitions, new products, or services? Any new locations? How will these initiatives impact the Contact Center?

Margins are impacted by cost. Accordingly, efficiency objectives are strategic objectives. This perspective is critical when it comes to petitioning for budget dollars to “invest” in efficiency gains. Contextualizing budget requests to meet strategic objectives indicates alignment to the plan and resonates with the executive perspective.

Experience

Keep in mind that financial objectives are achieved only when consumer needs are met. Hence, the experience is a critical success factor.

For many, Customer/Patient Experience is easy to say but difficult to define. When the vision is to “Provide a great experience for patients and people” the experience must be DEFINED. The vision definition process has multiple layers. Executives may break it down to statements such as, “Experience must be easy, personal, immediate, and responsive.”

The Contact Center’s job is to translate “easy, personal, immediate, and responsive” into operational terms. Its leadership team must come together to understand the objectives, translate them into desired outcomes, and evaluate current processes and technology to determine readiness to deliver. Weaknesses are not limited to hardware or software; make a point of understanding cross-functional dependencies and relationships. If Human Resources (HR) is hiring the wrong folks and training dollars are being squandered, that’s a weakness! When weaknesses are identified, a Game Plan must be prepared to close any gaps that create friction for the agent or the consumer.

It is critical to identify needs to meet objectives and to create a plan. This is the very definition of developing a strategic mindset and enables Contact Center leaders to align their operation with organizational goals and to deliver on the strategic experience objectives.

Intangible Assets – Human Capital, Information Currency, and Culture

Intangible assets create VALUABLE internal processes to support strategic outcomes. There are three critical components of intangible assets. Human capital identifies jobs that must be done; information currency identifies technology, systems, processes, and collaboration needs; and culture relates to the organization and to the employee experience.

According to Kaplan and Norton (Robert Kaplan, David Norton, Strategy Maps, Boston, MA, Harvard Business School Publishing Corporation, p. 30.), “intangible assets seldom create value by themselves … The value from intangible assets arises when they are combined effectively with other assets, both tangible and intangible.” This is one way to enlighten the executive level when making a case to improve elements of the Employee Experience. Few can argue against the “optimizing of intangible assets” concept once they get it.

The Contact Center is a CAUSE-AND-EFFECT environment. Suppose you fail to get the budget necessary to hire the appropriate staff. Service Level will unlikely be met, impacting consumers. The workload will increase due to overload, impacting employees. It is cause-and-effect and must be noted when making a case.

The executive level is responsible for the future, the vision, and the strategy. However, they are not the same folks responsible for crafting and executing an “elaborate and systematic plan of action.” These fall to the operational level across the enterprise. It is critical to know WHO’s WHO and WHAT’s WHAT at each and every perspective, both internally and cross-functionally.

The Contact Center’s job is to translate “easy, personal, immediate, and responsive” into operational terms.

If your Contact Center doesn’t have an Executive Champion or Executive Governance find a way to build relationships at all levels and deliberately seek out executive support. That is what your information currency provides. Report on more than metrics. Report on what works, what doesn’t, and what causes delays and frustrations, what are your consumers happy with and troubled by. Include a recommendation to identify and review solutions. Build the Contact Center’s value proposition … a tool to deliver on strategic objectives!


Contact Centers historically occupy an undervalued and sometimes invisible space within the enterprise. This makes it easy to ignore or diminish their needs and value. An understanding of various perspectives, especially those of executives and cross-functional partners, yields a stronger mutual understanding. It reveals the great power of reporting together on a process that streamlines the consumer’s experience, saves money, and improves the Employee Experience … yikes!

Your Game Plan will make you look good and gain status. That is the benefit of adopting a strategic mindset by which to lead.

SOURCEContact Center Pipeline August 2023
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.