There was a time when the Call Center was considered a backroom operation, a cost center that dealt with Customer Service issues. However, today’s Contact Center has become the focus of key enterprise initiatives. The Contact Center’s cost, the volume of contacts, the potential for revenue, the importance of customer relationships, the Customer Experience, and the changing marketplace all have played a role in altering the enterprise view of the Contact Center. Management must be prepared to respond to these changes and build value-based relationships with others across the enterprise.
The Contact Center is not a stand-alone unit. Every organization has a Customer Contact Continuum. Whether acknowledged or not, it exists. The Contact Center is really part of that continuum, impacted by many activities that reach well beyond the Center.
Consider this assignment. Conduct a brown bag – assemble managers, supervisors, and staff. Wrap the room in paper, get your markers out, and start asking questions. Where do our contacts come from? What is the cause of the call? (This exercise works for all channels.) Where does the work we do go from here? How do we impact others? What revenue generating opportunities and cost considerations exist in our relationships?
This exercise will yield a visual of the Customer Contact Continuum. Once the visual is created, take a step back and assess your current relationships and your visibility. How do others within the enterprise view the Contact Center – as a valuable asset or as a backroom and factory-like operation? Do we get what we need? What improvements would happen if our relationships improved? How would cost and revenue be impacted? What do we have to offer to others? How can we help ourselves and others improve?
The point is that Contact Centers must manage their visibility to influence their value.
Today’s Contact Centers have some genuine currency with which to barter for their visibility … information. Information is currency in this digital age and Contact Centers are a pure source of it. The number of contact hours often amounts to years of exposure to customers annually! What we learn from this and how we mine for information has the potential to assist every part of the enterprise in improving performance. The Center must begin to view data collection as part of its value proposition to others. Data about the customer, about product performance, policies, procedures, and every other conceivable aspect of the contact must be as important a focus as service level and abandon rates. Let’s face it. Contact Center-specific metrics are barely understood within the Contact Center – let alone outside of it.
If it is important to work together across the Customer Contact Continuum, it is also important to understand the value and benefit of forming strong relationships. The Contact Center possesses great knowledge regarding many aspects of the enterprise. Formalizing the sharing of this intelligence is the basis of the Contact Center’s value proposition. The more value we are perceived to possess, the more potent our visibility.
As an example, I have heard many Contact Center staff complain about how Marketing doesn’t provide needed information, etc. You’ve heard the stories and have possibly told the stories. There is an almost victim-like acceptance of these behaviors. But we must step back and think. Is this really a Marketing issue? Do they really take pride in ruining us? Are they plotting the demise of the Contact Center at this very minute? I doubt it. The reality is that other departments don’t even think about the Contact Center – it is not even on the radar screen. Marketing may simply see the Contact Center as a factory floor, a place where production takes place. And we fuel that view by proudly reporting pure production numbers.
The shift in relationship must be driven by a shift in visibility. Continuing with our Marketing example … the Contact Center has daily customer contacts that when properly analyzed help to identify effective (and non-effective) offers, campaigns, or promotions. Compiling information to deliver to other departments around product performance, a service, a price, or a procedure helps make all departments improve performance within the enterprise. This also satisfies the quid pro quo. When we want to receive information, offering valuable information provides something valuable in return.
The change must come (in part) via the data we collect – what we find important and what will add value. Acknowledging the continuum is one step. Identifying specific contact information in a manner that makes information sharing easy is another. If you have Customer Relationship Management (CRM) and Computer Telephony Integration (CTI) functionally, your task may be easier (assuming your reporting package is friendly).
Not all Contact Centers are so equipped. But if you have people, you have experience. Begin using any means necessary to capture important transaction type information to build your value proposition. As an example, many Contact Centers lacking sophisticated CRM and CTI applications have very good Call Recording and Call Monitoring systems. These systems are still grossly underutilized as data-gathering tools. Create call type and customer corner fields on your form; invest in getting your forms in a database if your system doesn’t already offer that and begin to gather information on customer responses to products and services. Believe me, shipping a couple of sound bytes to Marketing on the success or failure of an activity in your Customer’s Own Words is a true winner. While the sample size may be small, it is very compelling evidence and a great way to demonstrate the value the Contact Center can bring to partners along the Customer Contact Continuum.
Think about how the Contact Center can add value to other departments – Fulfillment, Operations, Manufacturing, Research and Development, Human Resources, Technology, Training, Finance, Legal, and Executives – any group identified within your continuum. It is likely there are improvement opportunities that can reduce cost, enhance the Customer Experience, improve revenue opportunities, reduce exposure to possible legal issues, etc. The list goes on and on, but the mining of information must be an activity of primary importance. It is the currency with which to barter for the Contact Center’s visibility and its value.
Take time to review the Customer Contact Continuum, your relationships, your data, and your visibility. Plan a course of action and begin taking steps to systematically improve the value of your Contact Center across the enterprise. It is time for a value upgrade, a method to influence how others see you and how they see their role within the continuum.
“The value of achievement lies in achieving.” Albert Einstein