Is Your Customer Experience Like a “Third Rate Romance, Low Rent Rendezvous?”

Kathleen Peterson Rants & Raves by Kathleen Peterson

Sammy Kershaw released a recording in 1994 called “Third Rate Romance, Low Rent Rendezvous,” a cross-over country hit at the time. The song tells the sordid story of a couple sneaking off to the “Family Inn” for a tryst of sorts. At first glance this has little to do with Contact Centers, right? Wrong! I am hijacking this song title to sound off on a disturbing condition/situation I hear about and see in some company Contact Centers and it is not about illicit romance!

It is about culture … culture that considers the Contact Center as the underbelly of the enterprise, the poor relation, and the non-professionals. It is a culture where the Contact Center has become – what more than one manager has described to me – a “dumping ground” where entire organizations are free to send any activity, task, and “chore” to the Contact Center to be “handled.” What others don’t want to do, don’t like to do, don’t “have enough people to do” gets routed to what appears to be considered a “people farm.” The Contact Center is the department where others must imagine an endless capacity anxiously awaiting yet another responsibility.

This culture often gives a ton of lip service to the strategic objective of a “great” Customer Experience. Yet, if you go “backstage” you see an aging technology infrastructure and multiple third party “partners” handling various aspects for the customer or the operation. This amounts to a fractured operational environment. There may be a third party overflow/order taking group, some outsource quality recording and evaluation, or another party that handles processing credit cards, CRM systems, and loyalty programs. If you think of it, there’s a chance you can outsource the function or purchase a unique and disparate application to “handle” the task.  This approach often masks the fragile nature of the impact that poor systems, inadequate networks, and processes have on those charged with managing them.

When we see environments where the funnel just keeps pouring tasks into the Contact Center, one often finds a hodgepodge of third party partners and multiple applications required to execute on the promenade of tasks. These activities seem strung together by fragile threads of process and technology. One might also deduce a scary lack of investment in operational efficiency, Contact Center habitat, human resources, and business analytics. There are lots of reasons for this. Many of these environments have grown by default rather than by design. Some might say they have grown “organically;” the Contact Center emerged as the company grew.

When companies are “young” they often have a blended/team environment where “everyone does everything.” If the company is successful it soon becomes clear Marketing must focus on Marketing, Finance on Finance, etc. The Customer Service function often supports internal departments as well as the external customer. They are expected to “romance” those they serve. But as growth stretches the capacity and skills of the Contact Center, the experience begins to have tinges of a “third rate romance.” And when you see some of the environments, these poor folks must function in the “low rent rendezvous” part of the song.

I for one am concerned by some of the stories I am told and the operations I see. What concerns me is the incongruence of objectives for a spectacular five star “experience” while operating out of a “dungeon.” Anyone that has been around awhile understands that facilities/habitat is often a touchy subject; not everyone enjoys the same standards.

Recently I had a Contact Center executive tell me an unsettling story. Her center has been “emerging” for more than ten years. For the past several years she has requested new cubicles to replace the 1970’s era, worn out, high-walled, narrow strip of a “desk” boxes the staff has been living in for years. The CFO’s response to the most recent request was a swift denial based on the fact there was no ROI (Return on Investment) on new cubicles! While the request has been made before, this year’s denial was the first and only time this particularly ludicrous reason was given. I suggested that the executive be told to use the same formula used for his desk; just multiply it by 75! Seriously, ROI on furniture? It is like asking for the ROI on electricity! Geesh, hijacking ROI as a means to deny a habitat request is an abuse, or misuse, of the real purpose of ROI. (Go ahead and look it up!) It is to measure effectiveness in “investments. Furniture sir IS NOT AN INVESTMENT, but the COST of doing business.

Habitat in the Contact Center is an important consideration. You really don’t want your habitat to look like a “low rent rendezvous!”  Most of us have had the opportunity to spend a night or more in a cheap hotel/motel. There are clear indicators: old furniture, worn and smelly carpets, scratchy towels, yucky paint colors, old bleached out prints on the wall, disgruntled front desk staff, and of course cheap rates. Hence, it is a “low rent rendezvous.” You get what you pay for and don’t try to pass it off to your partner as a five star experience. Any fool can see right through the low rent factors.

How does this apply to Contact Centers? Well, when a company touts its Customer Experience as the most sacred of strategies yet avoids creating a work environment  that reflects that strategy, a disconnect emerges that may damage the Customer Experience. It may be difficult to recruit and retain the best staff and/or prevent existing staff from becoming disengaged, disgruntled, or robotic.

When evaluating your Contact Center habitat there are a couple of key factors to keep in mind. This staff often spends more time in the building than any other business unit due to extended operational hours. (The Contact Center may be open earlier in the morning, nights, weekends, and holidays). The job is a sedentary one and requires special consideration when it comes to work space (cubicles) and most importantly, chairs.

None of us would be very well equipped to provide a five star experience in a single star environment. Cubicles need to have low walls and a collaborative configuration (often allowing greater density than rows of cubes). Ideally, desks should have the option to be raised to allow agents to stand or sit. While the cost may increase, there is abundant evidence that this particular type of desk has a long list of benefits to the user: reduction in back pain, obesity, cardiovascular diseases, and some cancers as well as improvement in mood, energy, and productivity. Ergonomic chairs are also an important consideration as they help prevent and relieve pain. Without the proper support provided by an ergonomic chair, extended sitting may result in lower back pain, muscle fatigue, and exhaustion.

Habitat considerations go beyond work space, desks, and chairs. Good lighting, natural light, pleasing paint colors, and noise reduction are all major pluses in the Contact Center habitat. So if your Contact Center is charged with delivering a five star Customer Experience make sure you not really providing a “third rate romance, low rent rendezvous.”

“The internal Customer Experience determines the external Customer Experience.” ~ Shep Hyken