Despite a downward curve in the economy, and perhaps spurred by recent legislation to reward companies that outsource onshore versus offshore, the US contact center industry continued to grow in 2012. New technology and customer channels continue to dominate the contact center landscape. Traditional channels like phone, chat and email continue to grow; and new channels like social media are becoming increasingly relevant. At the same time, customers have become more demanding, expecting an even higher level of personal service. Many companies are responding by placing a greater emphasis on their contact centers as a cost-effective and productive vehicle to service their global customers.
Communicating With Customers
With the advent of social media, there are more ways than ever to communicate with customers. The contact center is often the first point of contact, but companies learn quickly that tight integration with other parts of the organization is also required to allow for a consistent customer experience.
Typically, an organization’s business model puts priority on external sales and marketing, while the contact center is viewed as a service necessity (and in many cases is seen as only a cost center). However, with the right amount of planning and focus, the contact center can actually become a profit center—through up-sell opportunities, customer retention programs, and improved customer loyalty.
To be competitive in the marketplace, companies must begin to view their contact centers as an opportunity to drive sales, market new products, gather information and improve customer relationships. There is a lot of noise today about customer service becoming the new marketing—which is another way to say that the data that runs through the contact center is now the best way to understand customer needs and expectations.
More Access, More Questions
As customers are given access to more self-service options and online support, they become better informed. At the same time, the support provided by the contact center begins to shift to more in-depth questions and resolutions. Call volumes may actually increase and talk-time may rise as a result of the new access that the Internet provides. Without access to a strong knowledge-base system and detailed training curriculums, contact center employees become even more challenged as they attempt to resolve customer issues. As customers continue to evolve, so too must the customer contact channels.
Customer Relationship Management (CRM) initiatives are being developed and implemented in most large and medium-sized companies. The initiatives often bring changes in technology, but fail to address the larger needs in the areas of process reengineering and organizational improvements. That’s likely why 52% of CRM software customers are willing to switch applications within the first six months of their deployment, according to a recent Nucleus report.
As companies seek to transform their contact centers from mediocre to exceptional, many questions need to be considered. Consider using this list as a catalyst for understanding where your organization stands in transforming your center into a loyalty-driven customer experience. As we look to 2013 and beyond, perhaps this is an excellent time to schedule a trip to Starbucks on a Thursday afternoon for a time of true self-evaluation. It is also a good idea to ask the same questions to members of your management team. The answers may surprise you.
Key Questions to Consider:
- Does the contact center organization have a clear vision and mission statement that supports your company’s sales and service strategies? Consider testing your supervisors and agents to understand if they really know the “why” of what they do.
- Do all employees who support the customer touch-points have access to the same customer data (a 360-degree view of the customer)?
- Does the contact center have a culture where employees feel important and understand their value to the company?
- Does the contact center have a recognition program in place that supports the culture?
- Does the call center have “fun” included in their objectives?
- Is turnover in the contact center tracked and managed?
- Is there a comprehensive quality program in place that recognizes superior customer service?
- Do all employees who support customer touch-points have access to information about every product or promotion offered by the company (including special offers unique to certain geographical areas or customer segments?)
- Do you have a robust knowledge management program that supports the contact center and other parts of the organization?
- Are there processes in place to allow the company to constantly evaluate how problems are being resolved, re-prioritized and adjusted in real-time so that agents are always using the quickest and most relevant resolution paths?
- Do customers receive the same level of service and information whether by telephone, chat, e-mail, Web, mail, social media, etc?
- When answering a call, can the agent determine the value of the customer and their loyalty level in order to provide the right experience based on the “value” of the customer?
- Can all employees who interact with customers see real-time history so that immediate recommendations or solutions are provided without requiring the customer to “re-tell” what has already happened?
- Do you have a communications process that ensures that all customer communications make it to the agent-level so they can address questions without confusion (e.g. advertisements, changes on websites, direct mail, e-mail, bill-tags, etc)?
- Are service level agreements in place with all departments to limit surprises and hold people accountable?
Asking the tough questions is never easy. But seeking change is the first step toward success. As Abraham Lincoln said, “You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today.” Those words are at least twice as true in the contact center space.
When I speak at conferences, I always recommend a book (or three) as part of the content. It’s my belief that everyone should try to improve their skills as a leader and as a person; and there are so many good books out there to help you!
I have a system that perhaps you might want to replicate. I have categories of books in the pipeline as follows: The first category is my Amazon wish list. I have the Amazon app, and whenever someone recommends a book, I pop-open the app and add it to my wish list, allowing me to go back and find it, and to do a little more research before I hit “purchase.” The second is the stack of 3-5 books I have purchased that are on the bookshelf behind my desk—all waiting to be read. The last category is the 1-2 books that have actually made it to my backpack. I almost always have one with me, including a highlighter and a bookmark, ready to explore and learn. I learned to love reading at a young-age—perhaps the only positive of growing up in a home without a TV (yeah, I know, hard to believe).
2012 was a good year for reading, so I thought I would share my top five recommendations for service and support leaders (and everyone else):
- “Steve Jobs” by Walter Isaacson: Published in 2011, clearly I was a little late to the party. It is such a big book (think War and Peace), but I am so glad I made the commitment. The book is not written in a typical bio-timeline, but in a series of stories (think the Macintosh story or iPhone story). It is filled with great insight into how one person can change the world. It will also make you question how anyone with Steve Jobs’ leadership style could have accomplished what he did. In one chapter, you will find wisdom that you want to emulate, and, in another, you will find a reason not to be like Steve. He changed the world we live in. How can you not want to know more about him? Buy it and read it—in small doses.
- “Crucial Conversations” (2011) by Patterson, Grenny, McMillan and Switzler: This one is an update of a previous version with new research and new case studies. I had read the first version several years ago, but was writing and speaking about the subject so I wanted to get the refresh. I often tell people that being a good coach is the most important role you will ever have as a manager or leader. This book takes coaching to a deeper level and teaches you how to have the tough conversations—the ones that we are all afraid to have. I am thankful I have worked for leaders who were not afraid to have the crucial conversations with me. I want to be that kind of leader. This book will help!
- “Who’s Got Your Back” by Keith Farrazzi: This is one of my top recommendations for young managers and college kids—and really anyone that wants to be successful in life. “Who’s Got Your Back” builds on the importance of deep relationships in business and life. Ferrazzi offers a nine-step approach to building “lifeline relationships,” an inner circle of people who serve as advisors, cheerleaders, and accountability partners—a team of people that are not afraid to tell you like it really is. As a result of reading it, I am working to confirm my “team.” Before I read it, I understood the importance of personal relationships. After I read it, I understood much more of the impact they can make on every aspect of my life.
- “The Three Signs of a Miserable Job: A Fable for Managers (And Their Employees)” by Patrick Lencion: I have to admit I am a big fan of Patrick Lencion. I love his writing style of telling a story and then teaching from it. Check his name on Amazon and you will find many more books I have read. I love this one because it has a special fit for the contact center. If you Google “I hate my job,” you will find a lot of mentions of contact centers. It can be a monotonous and tough place to work. Yet, I know companies where effective leadership means employees love their jobs. Lencion will give you insight where your organization is today—and how to change it. Hint: It really is all about the frontline manager.
- “Chief Customer Officer” by Jeanne Bliss: You may look at the term “customer experience” as just another buzzword, but I have watched many companies over the past 10 years make it the description of how they isolate customer issues—and how they dramatically improve customer loyalty. Jeanne Bliss has been a leader of the customer service movement since its inception. The book is filled with client stories that outline the transformation, but it also offers detailed “how-to” in the steps required to transform a company. The sub-title is “getting past lip-service to passionate action.” There are no silver bullets—it takes hard work and a plan.
Look for my upcoming blog series around planning for your contact center in 2013!