From Brian's Desk

Contact Center Excellence – Stand Out From The Crowd

Complexity – the Devil in the Call Center

Complexity is one of the biggest issues I see in call centers today.  Complexity leads to all nature of problems; longer handle times and more training hours and hence higher cost, increased variability and inconsistency, decreased staff engagement and lower FCR and thus lower customer satisfaction, lower sales and thus lower revenues.  That is why I term complexity the Devil in the Call Center.

I typically see two monitors on every service agents desktop when I visit a call center.  I always ask why, and get the same answer; “we have too many applications our service agents need to reference, and we run out of real estate on a single screen”.   Before I get into all of the evils complexity brings to the call center, let me try to explain how we, as an industry, got here in the first place.

Technology was supposed to help the call center.  Indeed it has.  Call center infrastructure is out of the dark ages of proprietary hardware and software with specialized switches, specialized signaling algorithms, and a tight coupling between the switch and just about everything else in the call center.   Technology has indeed provided very good solutions – CRM for marketing operations, ERP applications, fulfillment applications, order management applications, and the list goes on.  That’s the problem.  Technology has created a large set of point solutions, great for the productivity of the department that primarily uses them, but all of them converge at the call center.  The service or sales agent is left with the task of being the grand conductor, orchestrating access to the right applications at the right time, and using them for the right purpose.  This takes quite a bit of grey matter, hence training is one component of increased costs to the call center due to all of the complexity.  Let’s examine the other effects of this complexity.

When service or sales agents must be the grand conductor, time is taken to perform the conducting and errors are made which require the agent to redo steps in their call process.  Time is taken deciding which application is the one to use, time is taken locating the application, signing into the application, and copying and pasting account numbers or other identifiers.  All of this time equates to a higher AHT for the call center, and hence higher costs.  I already mentioned the increased training costs that are driven by complexity.  So much time and effort is spent by the call center leadership team to eliminate costs for hardware, software and people.  The people costs are typically not the real issue.  All of the times that complexity introduces add up, and frequently add up to over 15%, sometimes over 20%.  The problem is, how do you measure the lost time?  Try a time and motion study in your call center, either watching live agents or voice and screen recordings.  Even if the agent is not or does not appear to be struggling with the complexity, you are still losing time to it.  Do the study.  Get a Lean consultant to assist in finding all of the activities or keystrokes that agents are performing that do not add value.  The primary culprit will be complexity, and the fact that the agent needs to be the grand conductor.   The next time you think your staff to be too expensive, hold a mirror to your agent desktop and ask if it is easy to use, easy to navigate, is efficient and effective.

The human element in any operation is the element that drives variability or inconsistency.   There are a variety of reasons variability is bad in the call center, but the principal reason is meeting customer expectations.   Significant variability in the operations equates to significant variability for the customer who has a fixed expectation.  I have a white paper that explains what variability is, why it is a problem, and how to manage it at

Think of all of the metrics and corresponding targets your agent are trying to react to and meet.  I have several posts and an entire chapter in my book Contact Center Excellence devoted to employee engagement in the call center.   Healthy levels of engagement are vital in a people-driven business.  How engaged do you believe your agents are when they are given targets but the tools they are provided do not allow them to meet the targets?  This is one of the surest ways of getting to a disengaged environment.  Needless complexity leads to frustration and the feeling that the tools you are given are second-rate and do not allow you to do your best.  Consequently you become either just disengaged, or worse yet, actively disengaged.   Actively disengaged employees further compound the problem of higher costs and lower customer satisfaction.  Again, I refer you the chapter in the book or posts in this blog for further exposition of the dangers of poor engagement.

First Call Resolution, or FCR, will suffer with increased complexity.  If the service agent needs to hunt for the right information, which may be in one of 5-10 applications, each with a different user interface and each with a different way to find an answer to a question, FCR can suffer dramatically.  The service agent needs to quickly and efficiently be able to find the correct answer to a problem or query.  Trying to work within the confines of 5-10 application simply doesn’t enable this to happen.  What call centers typically do is spend inordinate amount of time on training so that the agent can answer simple questions or resolve simple issues given their training and only reference the applications for complex problems or issues.  This rarely helps much.  There is just too much complexity for agents to retain what is needed.  Invariably the agent becomes frustrated, and so does the customer.  A symptom of this is Time On Hold.  If the agent had an efficient and effective desktop, there would be little need to put the customer on hold (usually done so the customer will not hear the agent frustration as they dig through n applications).

Everything above that pertains to your service agents also pertains to your sales agents.  Complexity will lead to an inefficient call, and any hesitation or ‘break in the action’ while the sales agent switches applications becomes a point of debarkation, in other words, hang-up.  Also, longer AHT means fewer calls, and hence fewer sales opportunities.

It should be clear that, indeed according to my opening salvo, that complexity is the devil in the call center.  It leads to all sorts of consequences, from higher costs, to lower customer satisfaction, to lower sales.  It leads to disengagement and attrition, and all of their downstream effects.

A future post will examine what can be done about the complexity devil in the call center.  Can it be minimized?  How?  Stay tuned…

To Platform or Not to…..

We have witnessed an enormous level of vertical integration within the contact center platform industry over the past several years.   The PBX vendors of the 90’s moving backward into IVR, ACD and agent desktop; the knowledge management and QA vendors of the 2000’s moving forward into the agent desktop, workforce management, ACD and even CRM.  This has occurred primarily through acquisition.  Cisco is a good example of the former, KANA and NICE are good examples of the latter.   There is a general software industry belief that this single platform approach is better.  Look at Oracle, IBM, HP. Whether it’s a single SFA platform, single marketing automation platform, or a single I/T service management platform, it appears that the ‘single platform’ approach is better, because that’s where the big guys are going.  And, if you can’t buy it, then build it.  That is the approach of many as well, such as inConcert and inContact.

The theory goes that a single, integrated platform is better.  The integration work of cobbling together a number of software solutions is done once, or the platform was built from the bottom-up to ensure tight integration.  That’s the theory, what about reality?  Well, they don’t always match up.  In fact, they seldom do.  Let’s consider vertical growth through acquisition first.

There is a long history of software start-ups that are innovative, nimble, and very responsive to the market that are acquired by a large software company, and the match is not one ‘made in heaven’.  It seems the once ‘cool’ software that underwent frequent change to capture the attention of the marketplace just ins’t so any more. So, what happened?  Acquisition is not about simply integrating software.  And, this is where acquiring companies, and the marketplace, often seem to have a huge blind spot.  Acquisition is about integrating culture, processes, practices, methodologies, architectures, and platforms.  All too often, it is the acquiring company that believes they ‘do things correctly’ and the smaller company (the one that is more profitable, innovative, customer-centric, etc.) needs to adjust to the larger companies culture, processes, etc..  Moreover, this integration is not a simple and fast-moving process.  It may well take years to do all of the necessary organizational and technology integration.  In the meantime, roadmaps are confusing at best and the principal aim of marketing, sales and support is in giving customers and potential customers assurances that ‘it will all be better in the end, just wait and see’.  There is also the problem of trying to grow into a competitive marketplace.  Sure, there remain some companies that have created an innovative niche in the contact center technology space, such as SmartAction.  But, these are few and far between.  When a company makes the choice to move into a vertical space, take workforce management for example, there are a good number of very competitive products.  By choosing to acquire one of these, the company now essentially cuts itself out of the market for the contact centers that have made investments in competing workforce management products.   Does this mean growth by acquisition is necessarily suboptimal at best, and just plain bad on average? That topic will be covered in an upcoming post, but essentially it depends on where the product and the vertical is from a lifecycle standpoint.

What about those companies that integrate from the bottom up, i.e. they develop the entire vertical scope of capabilities themselves, ensuring tight integration?   Well, I have worked in a large multi-product company, and I can assure you that this is largely fantasy.  Multiple product groups, if not managed very closely with integration a key consideration every step of the way and without a strong central governance, spend an inordinate amount of time trying to line up with all of the other product groups.  The coordination of core architectural changes, release schedules, bug fixes, cross-product customer requirements and the like slows progress and nearly ensures a great number of compromises along the way to a single platform.   What typically emerges is a ‘jack of all trades, expert at none’ set of products that work well together. Is it possible for one company to be the industry leader in IVR, agent desktop optimization, multi-channel ACD and real-time management, workforce management, knowledge management and quality management?  I  have yet to find one.  For call centers that are not looking for state-of-the-art, best-of-breed and are content with a good (potentially) integrated platform from a single company, this approach may be acceptable.  If the contact center is expected to deliver competitive advantage, then it clearly is not.

Is there an alternative?  I contend that contact center software products that are strong in a particular capability or set of capabilities and have, as their chief design point, the ability to easily integrate, are more attractive then the single-platform product sets.  As a contact center technology leader, I should have the ability to choose a set of industry-leading products that can easily integrate which provide me competitive advantage in my particular industry or market.  If these products easily integrate, I should be able to replace products when my situation, market or industry changes to allow me to keep or grow my competitive advantage.  So, how is the contact center software industry doing in terms of integration as a key differentiator?  In my view, not very well.  Is this because they can bring a high-priced services team to bear to enable integration?

I would like to hear from my readers.  What frustrates you currently about your contact center solution?  Have you been in integration purgatory for too long,, believing the promises of the vendor sales team that ‘it is just a simple matter of integration’ is not really simple?  Are you stuck with a platform vendor confused by the product roadmaps that sometime in the future get you to where you want to be?  I want to hear from you.

Why People Follow

When considering leadership, it is a good idea to understand why people follow, for if you think you are leading but no one is following, you are out for a nice walk.  So, why do we follow?

That is a very interesting question.  Another very interesting question is; why do we follow someone?  After all, the nature of the object of our following can take on many guises. We can follow an idea such as a religion or political affiliation, we can follow rules because there are penalties assessed if we do not.  We can follow directions, because I certainly know that the entertainment unit I bought at IKEA last week will turn out very different from the picture on the box if I don’t follow the directions.  Or, if I don’t follow the directions given by my oftentimes annoying GPS app, it will be very unlikely that I will reach my destination.
I brought up following ideas and directions to illustrate a point; there is a variety of reasons why we follow.  Consider the following list (feel free to replace what with who):
I follow because…
  1. If I don’t I will experience pain or loss
  2. If I don’t I will not fulfill my desired outcome
  3. I believe that what I am following is correct
  4. I believe that what I am following is good
  5. I believe that what I am following is greater than I
  6. My beliefs, morals and goals are aligned with what I am following
  7. I can learn from what I am following and it will make me better

There are probably dozens of similar statements one can make as to why they follow.  Look at the list above and notice three very distinct groups or reasons.

The first two reasons are me-focused, in a negative sense.  In other words, if I don’t follow, some punitive action will result.  Whatever is leading is doing so by coercion.  How does this manifest in the workplace?  In a word, management.  I am pretty sure you have heard or read about the differences between managing and leading.  Management exists to utilize resources most efficiently while achieving or exceeding goals.  The tools of management are measurements, targets and performance evaluations.  Employees do not follow managers.  They are told what to do and they follow the rules and directions of managers, and they know their performance in terms of how well they follow rules and directions will be evaluated.  To net, managers lead by coercion.  There is no ‘buy-in’ from the employee, no emotional attachment to the rules and directions imposed by the manager.  The manager does not have a vision, does not have strategy, does not have a plan.  The manager has rules and directions to follow, a way to measure if the rules and directions are being followed, and a way to evaluate that performance against a standard.  Now, before I continue, and to make all those reading this article who are in a management position not feel so bad, let me make the distinction between the position of manager and the role of management.  The picture above of the role of management is based on the theory of management, and describes a pure command-and-control environment.  Those in the position of management, post-1900, partly play the role of manager and partly play the role of leader.
The next three reasons are leader-focused, whether that leader is a person, and idea or an organization.  At the root of leader-focused reasons is trust.  Any reason that you can add to the list that begins with the phrase “I believe that what/who I am following is…” is based on trust.  You have imbued the leader with a quality you see as positive.  You follow because you have placed value on the leader, and that value is based on trust.  The leader has some type of charisma.  As long as the leader exhibits this quality, you will follow.  As soon as the leader takes an action that does not follow this quality, you will cease to follow.  This falls into what I call ‘crowd-following’.  The role of the leader is to show that he or she has a quality they believe important to as large a group as possible.  But, is this authentic leadership?  Clearly an example of this type of leader is the elected government official.  They view their job is to craft a set of qualities into their ‘brand’, a set of qualities that appeals to the largest number of their electorate.  One could argue, assuming the leader takes that set of qualities fully into their role of governing, that this is the bedrock of democratic principals.  I’ll leave to the reader to decide and comment on how the ‘takes that set of qualities fully into their role of governing’ applies to their elected leaders.  Now, I am not stating that this type of leadership is bad.  The problem comes in when things go too far and the trust is measured and coerced, in essence trust becomes managed.  I just love the questions on the dreaded annual employee satisfaction survey that ask about trust.  We have all seen what happens when the ‘trust score’ comes in too low.  Managers try to manage it, try to coercively improve it.  This leads to a downward spiral, and not a slow one.
The final two reasons turn the focus again to ‘me’, but this me-focus is now a positive focus.  It is a ‘what I want from a leader’ instead of ‘how I am being measured to perform’.  The focus is not so much as trust in the leader to do the right thing for the organization and for me, but specifically ‘this is what I expect from you as leader’.  However, there must be some level of trust in a leader.  It says ‘what I believe in is aligned with what the leader believes in’.  This is different than a single quality or set of qualities a leader takes on to appeal to as large a group as possible.  This is personal, or me-focused.  The focus is on my interests, my beliefs, my morals, my goals.  This focus and the last reason, learning, places the leader in a position of servant and teacher.
What should we, as leaders, make of all of this?  First, recognize that although management is quite different from leadership, both really are needed.  Any organization that operates solely in just one of these three groups is deficient and will not excel.  Leadership is difficult, which is why there are so many books devoted to it.  It is also very personal to a given organization.  The right balance between leadership by coercion, charisma or by being servant and teacher is often difficult to find.  And, leadership is dynamic.  Just because you think you found the right mix for today doesn’t mean it will be the right mix for tomorrow.  Forces both internal and external to the organization are always present.  These forces will dictate the right balance point.  The insight and recommendations from others will certainly help the leader find his or her way to the right point, but leaders should take comfort knowing that there in no prescription, no single book that will fit their particular set of circumstances.  A quote I frequently use, that seems appropriate for this subject comes from H.L. Menken; “For every complex problem there is a solution that is simple, elegant, …..and wrong”.

What IS customer service really?

I typically like to boil a complex thought down to it’s respective “essence”.  However, I am very mindful of Menken’s “for every complex problem there is a solution that is simple, elegant…and wrong”.  I recently pondered the thought ‘customer service’.  What IS customer service anyway?  What does it really mean?  We say we supply services and have a service portfolio that we manage based on customer feedback.  I’ll buy that, but why do you have services for your customer to begin with?

With Menken’s quote firmly in mind, I see customer service as nothing more than moving a customer through a process.

A service can be something I pay for, in which case the provider of the service has added some sort of value to the process.  An example is paying for an expedited passport.  I pay a service provider to take my application to a passport office and stand in line for me to get my passport expedited.  I can do it myself, but the provider adds value to me because it would cost more in time and money for me to travel to the passport office and stand in line.  The provider is moving a customer (me) through a process (passport expediting).    Clearly, if the value the provider is adding to the process does not outweigh the cost of doing it myself, I won’t need the provider.  Another similar example is customs processing, where I pay for a provider with expertise in customs laws, regulations and processes to move me through the customs process. The principle value add being to make the process simpler for me, the customer.  An extreme example is shipping, whether through FedEx, UPS, DHL or through USPS.  I could put the package in my car and drive it to its destination.  Depending on where the package is going, it could be much more costly for me to get the package to its destination than to let a provider do it for me.  They provide value by saving me time and money.  Therefore, whether through proximity to a passport office, access to expertise, or economies of scale, providers add value while they move a customer through a process, and the value needs to exceed the cost.

What about non-fee services, services provided to customers of a firm?  The same basic definition holds; the customer service function is there to move a customer through the firm’s processes.  Keep in mind, this could be self-service as the definition still holds.  Next, think about value-add.  What value is your customer service function adding while moving a customer through your process?  Are you making a complex process or set of processes easier for the customer?  Are you saving them time or money?  You need to be able answer this question, or your customer service is of questionable (or no) value.

Once you are able to answer the question, take the next step.  Why do you need to add this value to move a customer through YOUR process?  Are your processes too complex?  Do you require expertise from your customer to be able to move through your process?  What exactly is the value you are adding, and why do you NEED to add it?  Do this for all of your services in your ‘service portfolio’.  You might be surprised at what you find.

Engagement Affects Not Only The Contact Center

We call center leaders and practitioners frequently talk about engagement, or the lack of it, and the effects on the contact center; higher attrition, lower FCR, lower customer satisfaction scores, etc..  However, the impacts to the business far outweigh those to the contact center.  Consider your average revenue per contact, and then consider how many poor interactions your actively disengaged agents are having, and the resulting loss in revenue.  Or, consider the number of purchased product questions you receive in your contact center, and how many poor interactions your actively disengaged agents are having, resulting in product returns or lifetime loss of revenue in your retail outlets.  Consider all of the calls escalated by your actively disengaged agents, resulting in higher back-office costs.

It shouldn’t be only the contact center leadership that is concerned with the level of engagement in your contact center.  We can easily measure the impacts to the contact center; higher attrition, higher shrinkage, lower FCR, lower NPS or sat scores.  But all of this really pales compared to the lost revenue, lost loyalty, lost customers and higher product returns that result from engagement issues in the contact center.

I devote an entire chapter in my book, Contact Center Excellence (available on Amazon and other outlets), to engagement; what it is, why it is important, and how to improve it.

Engagement and Values

The following is an excerpt from my book Contact Center Excellence, available on

Engaging employees cannot be done by simply proceeding through a checklist of actions. Actions to increase engagement deemed by employees to be disingenuous are often met with worse outcomes than doing nothing as the actively disengaged employees will quickly point at leadership as being part of the problem.  Engagement begins with the leader of the organization. The leader must show unwavering belief in the organizational values, mission, and measures of success.  Furthermore, the leader must communicate to the point of over-communicating.  Every employee must see commitment in their leader, commitment to the organization and commitment to the individual.  Developing a world-class organization with 8 engaged employees for every actively disengaged employee is a goal that can be reached.  However, change is not easy, and the actively disengaged will find every reason to fight the change.  So, line up your engaged employees and garner their help with one or more of the following recommendations.

First and foremost, and this is more of an imperative than a recommendation, your organization needs to have a documented set of values, and one of the values needs to read something like “our people are the most important asset in our organization”.  There is a wealth of material available on building organizational values, but I have found the focus on three principles most important; employees, customers, and continuous improvement.  Furthermore, your statement of values needs to come from the leader.  These are not democratically developed by committee or you will end up with a set of values to which nobody is committed.  If you are going to take away one recommendation, you absolutely need a statement of values that includes your employees.

Closely connected to the statement of value for the organization is the statement of the value of the organization.  This is typically referred to as the mission statement, but I prefer to label it the organization’s value statement.  The statement should be clear and concise and address the value of the organization to its stakeholders and to its customers.  For those familiar with Kaplan and Norton Strategy Maps, this is the external view of the organization, comprised of the financial view and the customer view. The value statement drives objectives in these two areas and objectives drive measurements.  The key external measurements become the value measurements, which must be translatable to the lowest level of the organization if each employee is to understand their contribution to organizational value.  Furthermore, ensure the larger organization or company understands and agrees with the value statement and the measurements of value.  Broader organization or company communications such as quarterly meetings and newsletters should communicate positive value associated with the contact center.  Bring in a company executive for town hall meetings on a quarterly or annual basis to talk about the value being provided by the contact center.  Recognition from senior executives, and communications from the broader organization or company recognizing the value contribution that can be understood by every employee in the contact center will drive an increased level of engagement.

Leaders need to have a very good understanding of these two types of ‘value’, and how to develop and promote the value throughout the organization.

Contact Center Big Data

Big Data seems to be running in a pretty tight race on the media-scope with virtualization, right behind Cloud (my previous post).   What is Big Data?   Put rather simply, it’s a collection of data that is too large and too complex to be housed in or processed by a data base management system.   Typically, Big Data is a combination of existing data sources that are somehow related.  The task of analytically processing the Big Data is to discover latent or unobvious relationships  between sets of data, to discover ‘business truths’ if you will.

Big Data is not only structured, record-like data, but unstructured data as well.  Consider all of a company’s emails in it’s email management system.  There may well be important relationships and suppositions one can make if all of the emails could be read and understood.  Fortunately, tools are now available that allow an enterprise to consider such a task. Without software tools, the task could take untold resources and time in a large enterprise, and the return on the intelligence gained is likely to pale in comparison to the cost.

We clearly have a large amount of unstructured data generated within the contact center.  Chat transcripts, emails, ticket documentation, and voice recordings.  Data and voice analytics software is now available to allow the contact center organization to discover much more about the company’s customers than nearly any other organization within the company, probably the only exception being POS (point-of-sale) data.  But even POS data does not capture product likes and dislikes, and brand sentiment like contact center data.  And, powerful as these sources are by themselves, bringing together the POS and contact center data can lead to further discoveries, ‘business truths’ and ‘customer truths’.

I made the case in an earlier post ( that instead of call or contact shedding to cut costs, the contact center should be encouraging customers and potential customers to call or make contact via chat, email, SMS text or otherwise.  Where are we shedding to?  An IVR?  Self-service on the web or a self-service mobile app?  How much valuable data is being lost when we do so?  Let’s consider that the contact center agents are frequently one of the least paid groups of staff you have;  how much more expensive is it for marketing to have these customer conversations?  I contend the more data you have from your customer, the more intelligence you have about the customer, the more ‘truths’ you can discover.  An IVR is mostly a one-way conversation, and how many call centers are recording the IVR interactions?  Web self-service can give you clicks and potentially point out shortcomings in the self-service process and information.  However, you are left guessing about sentiment, likes and dislikes.

Big Data right now is a key competitive differentiator as few know what it is and how to use it to best discover ‘truths’.  Are you going to be a leader or a follower?

Is Cloud-Based For You?

The weather report for the contact center industry is – mostly Cloudy.   The promises from the vendors are all there; let us manage your call center hardware and software so you can focus on managing your business, it’s lower cost and faster to implement, you get on-demand capability, you get automatic failover.   In general the promises are valid.  IF your cloud vendor has a full contact center solution or sharply delineated functional boundaries and IF you don’t need to integrate with your back-office applications, then Cloud might just be appropriate.

A full contact center solution entails everything; the phone switch or PBX, the IVR, the ACD, the agent desktop, the eMail system, the chat application, call and screen recording, knowledge base, real-time monitoring, and workforce management.  Anything less is not a Cloud contact center solution, it is a point solution.  A Cloud solution that delivers a call into the center is a point solution.  To the extent it is functionally complete and has few integration points it could be useful.  If your center is an integrated multi-channel contact center, the point solution needs to not only deliver calls, but chats, eMails, and any other inbound channel you have.  That point solution also needs to handle your outbound channels.  I call this a contact management solution.   Integration is the enemy of Cloud solutions.  If you are looking at a Cloud-based contact management solution and it doesn’t have all of the functionality mentioned above, you are left with integration that is potentially expensive to develop and implement, and potential run-time latency problems.

Desktop Cloud puts the agent desktop or CRM application in the Cloud.  As previously stated, integration being the enemy of a Cloud solution, the desktop Cloud has little practical advantage for the contact center.  It needs to integrate with the contact management solution, it needs to integrate with a screen/voice recording solution, with the WFM solution, potentially the company’s eMail application and chat application in addition to back-office applications and databases.

For the same reason the Desktop Cloud has little practical value, other solutions sometimes disguised as Software-As-A-Service, or SAAS, that provide point WFM, KB or QA solutions also provide little or no value.  There is simply too much integration work required.

Even for the full Contact Center solution, integration requirements with back-office applications and databases can sway a decision.   Dig deeply into vendor claims regarding integration.  Press them for examples and current customers.  One problem is finding a full Contact Center Cloud solution.  No software vendor does it all.  They need to partner and integrate, but this will be done in the Cloud so that a full solution can be offered.  This is typically al-a-carte and done on a customer-by-customer basis.

Primarily what I see on the market are either Call Management or Contact Management Cloud solutions.  Again, focus on clean integration and clean handoffs.  You will typically need integration with the agent desktop and with quality recording applications.  Ensure your requirements relative to response and latency are well understood by your vendor.

Cloudy is okay, just make sure the Cloud doesn’t rain on your parade.


I was at Contact Center Association’s fall conference last week and saw a presentation on gamification in the call center.  This is basically gaming for the call center agents, not the customers visiting company web sites.  As I sat and listened to the talk about tokens or tickets being handed out for every minor bit of good behavior (like showing up for work on time), I couldn’t help being a bit concerned that contact centers might turn to gaming and entertainment to mask engagement or morale issues.

In my book “Contact Center Excellence” I cite work from Gartner on engagement; in the average organization there are fewer than 2 actively engaged employees for every actively disengaged employee.  That means if you have a 1,000 seat contact center and you believe you have 400 actively engaged staff, you will also have over 200 actively disengaged staff.  The actively disengaged are doing their best to disrupt established processes and programs, and are the ones with the highest unplanned shrinkage, lowest quality scores, and lowest overall operational scores.  They typically do not like award programs, and will do what they can to subvert the programs.  Thus, gamification is not going to win over the actively disengaged and is therefore not going to correct an engagement problem within the center.

There are many approaches to improving engagement, and Gartner lists eleven such approaches, and I tailor that list in the engagement chapter in my book. Entertaining awards like gaming may help improve engagement, but the contact center would be wise to understand the current level of engagement across their center, and put a comprehensive plan in place to improve engagement.  One component is certainly awards and rewards, but putting a fancy and fun set of games in place by itself is not going to boost morale or engagement.

Following one of my posts in which I am unable to cite a quote, one of my readers assisted by referencing H.L. Menken.  I bring up the quote again, because this is another case where it applies – the topic of engagement; “for every complex problem there is a solution that is simple, elegant, and wrong.”

So, who is up for arguing with me?

Why We Don’t Want to Hear From You

For those companies that do not have a brick-and-mortar presence, why don’t you want me to call you?  With the availability of voice and data analytics, I contend a 10 minute phone call is very valuable.  We get to understand brand sentiment, we get input on customer product likes and dislikes, we get input on customer service likes and dislikes, we get to ask questions and capture responses.  How much usable and actionable information do you get when a prospect visits your web site?  Sure, you might get an understanding of how many visitors are clicking on what links, what pages are visited most often, how long the visitor stays on a page and the path visitors take through your pages.  Sure, the cost of collecting this data is low, but so is the robustness and value of the content.

So, why are customer service contact centers so maniacally focused on talk time or handle time?  Why are they so focused on cost reduction and ‘shedding’ calls?  And, where are these calls going?  To the company website where the quality and robustness of the data we can get is minuscule in comparison to what we can get in a phone call?  If a 5 minute call is valuable isn’t a 10 minute call more valuable?  Sure, maybe not twice as valuable, but you really need to ask; do we want to stop at 5 minutes?  Time for a reality check here.  If you are paying $12 per hour for your agents, 5 minutes cost you $1.  How much is your company spending on your marketing budget to get that 5 minutes of intelligence?  Oh, so you are shedding your calls to your IVR are you?  Great if you are using a voice-recognition IVR and you are recording and running voice analytics on your IVR interactions.  If not, what intelligence are you gathering?

Raise your hand if you are in marketing and would like to have more intelligence about your customer.  Keep your hands raised if you are spending a good deal of money getting the intelligence you need, and keep them raised if you are in fact getting the intelligence you need.

So, instead of focusing on cost per call, now more than ever as companies are primarily virtual, why are we not focusing on value per call?

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