All entries tagged with “Kathleen Peterson”

Featured Speaker: Rants & Raves

Are You Sure ... Your Contact Center is Valued Across the Enterprise? 
By Guest Speaker, Kathleen Peterson of PowerHouse Consulting

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 many 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 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 have real benefit in ruining us? Are they plotting the demise of the Contact Center 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 begin building 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

My Best,                                                                                                 

Kathleen

Kathleen Peterson will host a seminar on Backstage at the Customer Experience at the upcoming Contact Center Summit at the Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota on November 17-18, 2014. Kathleen is the Founder and Chief Vision Officer of PowerHouse Consulting.


Rants & Raves: Summertime & The Living Is Easy... Or Is It?

Featured Speaker Kathleen Peterson of Powerhouse Consulting speaks out on her summertime sadness when organizing her annual vacation.

The Call Center has historically been linked to "production" environments in which the dynamic is to process as many calls as possible in as short a time-scale as possible. The focus on how many calls came in and how many calls each person handled has historically caused a perceived conflict in quality. The agents on the phone are often torn between the call they are on and the
calls in queue. This is further amplified in some centers with reader boards alarming, lights
flashing and managers running around like lunatics. No wonder there is a resistance among Customer Service departments to acknowledge that they are, in many cases, Call Centers, or atleast use a Call Center as a key delivery channel.

These conditions certainly do not have to be true. Just for the record, in a well-run Call Center,
the agent is responsible for the call and the management is responsible for the queue. So what to
do to create a high performance service culture within a Call Center environment? Here are four
key areas to evaluate in your quest for Call Center mastery.

1. Make sure that the Call Center is part of the big picture.
To take on the responsibility of the queue, management must view the operation as a total process, one that is connected to the enterprise. This connection must be made in terms of the organization’s values, vision and mission. Is it clear what role the Call Center plays in the overall objectives of the company? This clarity will allow for inclusion and recognition instead of being thought of as a back-room operation. Call Centers do not generally generate their own activity (queues); these are typically a result of marketing promotions, product enhancements, billing issues, service additions, changes in policies or procedures, and so on. This being true it would follow that the parts of the organization responsible for these functions should partner in the planning and audit process. This involves acknowledging that the Call Center is part of a total process, not simply a random series of phone calls coming in and being handled by our staff.

2. Evaluate your planning process.
Queue management begins with an effective "forecast" of demand. Strive for accuracy within plus
or minus 5%. An effective forecast is tied to the other objectives we have for our center. These
include customer retention and satisfaction, sales, employee satisfaction and shareholder return.
In order to evaluate the planning process, we must determine if we have allocated the proper
resources to the task. The forecasting tasks include storing and analyzing historical data, creating
and adjusting schedules, managing the intra-day queue, reallocating staff and managing the
scheduling software system, if you use one.

The forecast person is sometimes known as the "capacity manager." This person should also be responsible for formalizing the flow of information between other departments and the Call Center. The position of capacity manager should not be shared; to be effective there needs to be a dedicated source. This person may need the support of the Call Center manager (and occasionally even more senior management) to be certain that other departments provide theinformation necessary to achieve a high level of accuracy. Historical data is only the starting point for an effective Call Center forecast.

Call Center managers must radiate credibility to their counterparts. They have to be kept "in the loop." In order for that to happen, their peers must respect them and feel confident in sharing vital information with them - information such as two million sales brochures going out in Tuesday’s mail or listing the Call Center’s toll free number as a response mechanism, for example. The Call Center manager, as well as the "capacity manager," needs to be aware of this information in order to know how many people to schedule for what is likely to be an increase in the number of calls. Sometimes, those information handoffs are never made. The result: lost revenue and frustrated customers. All the staff-forecasting software in the world cannot overcome a problem like that. To make matters worse, Call Center morale can take a nosedive when reps are faced with angry customers who know more about a sale or product launch than they do. A strong liaison with other department managers and a calendar prepared by the capacity manager or forecasting team can solve the problem.

Conversely, the Call Center can and should provide vital management information to other
departments. Inbound Call Centers are staffed, to a large extent, on the basis of the number of
inquiries and/or complaints they receive on a given number of issues. If, for example, an
automobile manufacturer’s top consumer complaint last year was that customers’ keys broke off
in the door, it is incumbent upon the Call Center to share that data with the engineering
department. Fixing that problem will mean happier customers and fewer calls to the Call Center.
Fewer calls will mean a need for fewer reps on the phones and will cut overall costs of the center.

3. Focus on quality.
Do you tell agents on the phone to act differently during busy periods? I have repeatedly asked
this question of Call Center managers and often get an emphatic "well, yes, of course". "Exactly
what do you tell them to do?" I ask. Some say, "We just tell them to hurry up!" Others say, "We
tell them not to cross sell." So, we sacrifice revenue opportunities in favor of calls in queue. Ask
yourself, "Does the answer to this question - what to change when it is busy - initiate a quality
conflict for the people taking the calls?" If so you are making a mistake.

We must understand that it will always take longer to do it over than it will to do it right. If we ask
front-line staff to compromise quality because we have a queue issue, we will be setting the stage
for the oft-found belief of Call Center staff that management cares more about quantity than
quality. This is not to say that our front-line staff may not be able to reorganize the workload or
make some adjustments in their behavior during peak periods, just not at the risk of quality.

4. Commit to training.
Training is the single most important investment in the Customer Service Call Center. In most
Call Centers, initial training is often lengthy and ineffective; ongoing training is often canceled and
monitor programs leave much to be desired. Training also acts as a morale booster. One of the
major contributors to turnover is when staff feels as if their growth doesn’t matter to the
organization. To improve quality, improve training.

Call Centers must also be creative about training because we simply cannot take staff off the
phone for instructor led programs, as you can with other departments. The use of the
Internet/intranets, video tapes, CD-ROM and computer-based training all lend themselves to
dynamic scheduling and self-paced learning.

When preparing your budget, plan for a minimum of ten hours per year per person for training.(This is a minimum – not a recommendation; I believe it should be much higher). Then measure
whether the training took place.

Study the error rates and types of errors in your center to adjust the training curriculum. Have
your training people do an analysis of the types of calls handled and the skills required, so they
can maintain a skills matrix and prepare individual training plans.

Finally, make your monitor program an absolute training vehicle and not necessarily a strict
performance measurement tool. The monitor program is like providing your front-line staff with a
"personal trainer". This is a very expensive program when you figure in all the supervisor hours
and in many cases, the technology investments. We must demand a performance return on this
investment. Hold your monitor scores up against other measurements. If the program is effective
(assuming your turnover rate is not in the double digits), you should see improvements in handle
time, service level and occupancy.

Naturally, the right kind of training is essential - product knowledge training, Customer Service
training and training in how to use the phones, computers and software needed to run a Call
Center enterprise. However, when training lasts eight, ten, twelve weeks, there’s a risk your
people will be overwhelmed with information. On-the-job training can go a long way toward
teaching reps the practical skills of applying product knowledge to a factual situation or learning
how to diffuse an angry customer.

The configuration of your people should also drive the type of training provided. For example,
while all staff may be trained in answering basic product inquiries and complaints, several reps
might be assigned to specialized teams which deal with technical issues, high ticket items, high
volume customers or customers with special needs. Those special needs must be addressed in
the training curriculum. Be aware, however, that productivity is a potential tradeoff though in an
environment with many small teams. Larger generalized groups of representatives can take more
calls than a consortium of smaller ones.

Many Call Centers receive training from a designated corporate training department, somewhat
disconnected from the Call Center. It is important in a Call Center for the trainers to report to the
Call Center director and to have continuous exposure to the Call Center environment.
Within that framework, trainers can take on a mentoring role during the first 90 days a trainee
spends on the floor. It is key for trainees not to feel they have been cast adrift the moment the
initial training period is over.

Kathleen Peterson is the Founder and Chief Vision Officer of PowerHouse Consulting. Kathleen Peterson is an acclaimed Contact Center consultant and industry visionary. Kathleen has emerged as one of the most sought-after experts in the field of Customer Experience and works with the world's top customer-focused companies. She is widely published in prestigious journals in the US and abroad. Kathleen is a featured speaker at conferences and Fortune 500 companies. She has shared her humour, philosophy and experience in keynotes in the US, London, Paris, Turkey, Dubai, and Hong Kong. 

Kathleen will be speaking at the Contact Center Summit in Sarasota-FL this November, covering the topic of "Backstage at the Customer Experience."


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