A Second Chance


A Second Chance

I had the pleasure of writing a monthly article for Contact Center Pipeline for around nine years, beginning with the very first issue. And despite the fact that a deadline always seemed to be chasing after me, I truly enjoyed expressing my opinions about all things contact center, and felt fortunate to do so for a highly regarded, professional publication staffed by the very best in the industry. When Linda Harden recently asked me if I would put together an article to celebrate the fifteenth year of this publication, I jumped at the opportunity.

Our work matters, and so the everyday decisions that we make matter.

In searching for a topic, I reviewed some of my past articles for inspiration. Armed now with the gift of hindsight, that exercise proved to be both satisfying and humbling. Some of what I wrote, such as a 2015 article discussing the value of Net Promoter Scores (the hot topic of the day back then), generated interest at the time and maybe in some small but still satisfying way refined how some in the industry view customer satisfaction today. Other articles were…well…not so much on the mark. In 2014, I claimed that video chat would “fundamentally change our contact centers.” And I appeared to somewhat support that (with a little bit of backtracking) again in 2016. It’s 2024 now, so I think we can say the shelf life of that sour prediction has expired. Que sera, sera.

What stood out more to me, though, than what was said in those articles is what was not said…or maybe was not said in a strong enough voice. Those of us in contact center leadership positions from supervisors to vice-presidents have a tremendous impact not only on the day-to-day activities within our centers, but on the trajectory of the industry as a whole. Contact centers employ millions of agents and service hundreds of millions (if not billions) of customers a year. Our work matters, and so the everyday decisions that we make matter. Given the opportunity for a second chance to share my voice, I thought it would be useful to articulate a few actions we can and should take to make the most of our positions.

Too often, I run into contact centers that feel more like a weigh station than a career destination.

For starters, sharpen your skills of influence and go out and sell the contact center to the C-wing in your organization. If you think you can do this simply by meeting your service level or quality or customer satisfaction targets, then you will most certainly be disappointed. To the executive, those are minimum standards that even when met do nothing to change long-entrenched viewpoints of the contact center as a generic entry-level operation, or a necessary expense, or even worse an operational headache. We need to make sure the highest levels in our organization understand the direct connection that exists between great contact center performance and improvements in the bottom line. Find those connections that show how engagement with a contact center agent improves revenue, or wallet share, or profit margin, or customer retention, or whatever metric occupies the bullseye at the top of your organization. Once you have those connections, spend time developing the kind of visual that can generate a “Wow!” in six seconds or less. Make it eye-catching, clear, and undeniable…and be ready to explain what you would need to make even more magic. And don’t ever stop selling, because you are the one in the best position to advocate for your center.

Once you’ve improved the contact center’s standing in the organization, let’s keep the momentum by treating every position in the contact center as a profession. Yes, that means a better compensation structure (especially in the agent positions), but it is much more than that. Create job progression paths within the center, using rotational spots in training, quality assurance, workforce management, and other areas to create exceptionally well-rounded talent. Build training programs that promote continual improvement at every position, so those that like their assignments and don’t want to move can still grow, improve, and stay engaged. Yes, this means promoting the concept that it’s great to want to be “an agent for life” – because that’s exactly how people should feel when they are in a position in their chosen profession. Too often, I run into contact centers that feel more like a weigh station than a career destination. “Put in a few years in the center, and you’ll be set up nicely for more coveted positions in Marketing or Systems or Product Development.” This advice is usually delivered from someone higher up in the organization that never spent time in the contact center and therefore saw it more as a stepping stone than anything else. But you’ve been in the contact center, so you know better.

And lastly, I’ll ask you to do a personal favor for me. Get up from your chair, walk out of your office, grab a headset, sit with a rep, and listen to some calls side-by-side (revise the recipe as needed for those of you that are 100% remote). Over the course of my career, I have been amazed at how often I run into contact center executives and managers that have never done this. I can assure you that an hour listening to these calls (and chatting openly with the rep in between calls) will provide you with far more valuable information than an hour spent with ACD reports, or customer satisfaction surveys, or project status meetings, or frankly anything else. You’ll be armed with a much better understanding of customer needs, and you will have a firmer grasp on which policies and systems are working well for agents…and which ones aren’t. You will also be so thoroughly convinced about the value that agents bring to our centers that you will be fully motivated to get up to the C-wing and sell them all on how indispensable the contact center is to the organization.