Getting Top-Level Support for the Contact Center
By Susan Hash
Over the years, I've had the chance to speak with many companies that are recognized as leading service providers within their industries. These companies stand out by putting their customers and frontline staff at the forefront of their processes and policies through demonstrated practices (think deeds, not words). One thing that all of these customer-centric companies have in common is top-level support for the contact center—that, and happy contact center leaders.

You'd think that it would be fairly easy to get senior-level support for initiatives that enhance service delivery these days, given the tremendous amount of attention on customer experience. But industry research shows that, when it comes to improving the customer experience, it is still "words, not deeds" that is common practice. According to a study by Forrester Research, 86% of companies claimed that customer experience was a top strategic priority, and 76% of executives wanted to use their customer experience to differentiate their organizations. Yet barely half said that they measure and monitor the companywide customer experience, and only 35% said that customers' needs are incorporated into the decision-making process.

"Despite mission statements and core values that inevitably mention the organization's total commitment to serving the customer, contact center leaders still find themselves waging an uphill battle for respect," says Jay Minnucci, president of Service Agility. "We struggle to get the budgets passed, tools approved and initiatives supported that are required to fulfill our commitments and truly differentiate our service from the competition. While the economy is certainly a factor, the problem has been around for much longer than the current recession. The main reason for the disconnect between the vision of customer service and the actual investment in it is quite a bit closer to home—enterprise leadership does not fully buy into the value of service.

"We do not typically think of service as a concept that needs to be 'sold,' but it is, and contact center leaders are the ones who own the responsibility," he says. "In contact centers, we spend most of our time convincing people that we do the job well, but we spend precious little time convincing internal decision makers that great service is a great investment. Convincing someone that you can do something better is relatively pointless until you can convince the person that the value of what you do is substantial."

So how do you change the CEO's perception of the contact center? Where do you start? C-level execs have a lot of competition for their time. Before reaching out to your CEO, there are a couple of ways to ensure that you're fully prepared for the conversation.

1. Speak the right language. Senior execs are more likely to relate to you if you know how to speak their language. This requires a firm grasp of financial terms. Avoid using call center-related acronyms and jargon when speaking with the CEO. Think in terms of the company's pain points and solutions that you can provide.

Practical Pointer: Tim Montgomery, CEO of CSG (Culture. Service. Growth.), suggests that, the next time you're in your senior exec's office, take note of which newspapers, magazines and books are lying around—and then get copies for yourself. "Many times, senior executives' ideas and strategies are derived from popular business books and non-call center periodicals," he says. "You'd be surprised at how many ideas and theories from mainstream articles and books can be applied to the call center environment. The best part is, you can use it as point of reference the next time you have an opportunity to 'talk call centers' with the boss."

2. Adopt top-down thinking. Contact center leaders traditionally have operated using bottom-up thinking in which tools and resources are positioned in isolation—for instance, "I need a workforce management system to build a better schedule" or "I need to hire more agents so that we can meet our service level."

Bottom-up thinking leads to bad technology choices, poor process design and inefficient crossfunctional relationships, says Kathleen Peterson, founder and chief vision officer of PowerHouse Consulting. You're not likely to have much success getting executive support for your cause by relying solely on traditional contact center metrics, such as service level or abandonment rates, to make your case.

While you shouldn't stop reporting on classic contact center metrics, "you need to contextualize those in formats that the senior level will understand," Peterson says. "Start thinking the way that executives think—in terms of revenue, margins, market share and the customer experience. Every time you make a recommendation for process improvement, an investment in systems, training or staff, relate it to a senior-level category, such as the impact on the overall vision, financial growth and efficiency, and the customer experience. Adopting top-down thinking will allow you to build a relationship of mutual respect."

Practical Pointer: To deliver a message with impact via your analytical reports, Minnucci suggests keeping the following in mind: 1) The most accessible data is not necessarily the best data; 2) analysis is what transforms a report from information into knowledge; and 3) every audience is different.

SNAPSHOT: Employees Retirement System (ERS) of Texas
Managers of successful work-at-home programs agree that constant communication is the key to making it work. Supervisors at the customer service center for the Employees Retirement System (ERS) of Texas help to combat the isolation of working at home by reaching out to their home-based agents multiple times per day. For instance, in the center, information and updates about process or policy changes, or knowledge that needs to be communicated quickly can be sent via email or posted on a signboard. However, supervisors convey updates to work-at-home staff through phone conversations. ERS also helps its home-based agents maintain a connection to the center through a live video camera that can be accessed via the center's intranet site. The agents—both onsite and at home—enjoy having a real-time visual connection to their colleagues and what's happening on the call center floor.

Read the full story here.


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