By Howard Lee
In the contact center industry, each client has a set of strategic objectives that it wishes to achieve in its operations. Too often organizations take a tactical, cost-focused approach to customer service, instead of developing a holistic strategy that serves to build satisfaction and sales opportunities while keeping costs in check. Whether the objectives involve efficiency or growth, they are more readily achieved when contact centers have stronger capabilities.
Historically, call center operations have been focused on process, software, training, and management that creates call throughput and cost efficiencies. However, companies are starting to recognize that the contact center can’t only be about answering the call and providing responses in the quickest way possible. A constantly shrinking world fueled by technical innovation has given rise to increased competition and tipped the scales dramatically in favor of the customer. Their options have grown exponentially and they are constantly bombarded with messages encouraging them to test these options. This atmosphere is giving contact centers a new level of respect and responsibility within companies of all kinds.
The importance of customer satisfaction, lifetime customer value, customer loyalty, and exceptions to rules on call time limits has long been understood by savvy contact center managers. This understanding is now beginning to find its way into the spreadsheets, budgets, and priorities of senior executives. Marketing data is playing a key role in identifying specific metrics regarding customer value that provide justification for increased operating costs in return for creating and retaining high-value customers. Contact centers are recognized as strategic business units influencing customer behavior, instead of just a necessary cost of doing business.
This past year marked a dynamic one for the call center industry. There was rapid deployment of technology, continued growth opportunities from an increasingly global economy, and an emphasis on third party organizations to provide call center assistance.
Technology is Everywhere: 2005 was the year contact centers became full adopters of technology to support a more cost-effective environment. For example, workforce management tools are being utilized to ensure productivity; IVR (Interactive Voice Response) systems and VRUs (Voice Response Units) are being utilized to not only direct traffic, but to conduct customer satisfaction surveys; digital recording solutions are being utilized to ensure compliance; and e-training is being rapidly adopted.
The Impact of Globalization: The same trends that have increased the power of customers provide businesses with resources to cost-effectively improve customer service. Globalization has provided a significant reduction in the cost of staffing contact centers with highly educated employees using state-of-the-art technology to meet customer requirements. Offshore contact centers cost only a fraction (from 30 percent to 50 percent) of onshore costs. As a result, companies can grow customer service resources and infrastructure, even when they are faced with shrinking budgets.
Many companies have taken advantage of the cost reductions made possible by outsourcing. However, they are finding that more customer service representatives at a lower cost have not solved their biggest challenge – creating quality customer experiences.
Third-Party Quality Evaluations: Great quality can best be determined through a neutral, objective, unbiased lens. Companies are turning to outside firms to prevent biased quality evaluations. Humans have a natural desire to be liked and this will forever affect the ability for internal call center management to achieve results in quality with the data integrity desired. Across all industries, internal sources struggle to maintain tight calibration. Many companies promote their “call center stars” to do the quality monitoring and evaluations. These best-in-class agents are typically great at listening to customers, being empathetic, and making exceptions – which are exactly the opposite of what you need in a quality evaluator.
The contact center has evolved over the past decade from an expense center to a customer loyalty profit center and the focus on service and efficiency has also shifted from important to critical. Everyone wants and needs to feel special. The quality of the customer experience is directly related to the quality of people who are providing it. Companies must take advantage of the depth of knowledge available from the contact center. The contact center is the focal point that provides the organization with real-time data directly from the customers. This is where the voice of the customer can be heard, heard often, and reported quickly and accurately to all parts of the organization. The actionable customer intelligence that the contact center collects can be leveraged by all parts of the organization.
But you can’t measure quality five times a month. In fact, companies are realizing that if quality is as important as quantity, then they should be measuring a much larger sample size in order to have statistically valid results. Now organizations are paying their agents based on quality performance and they are realizing that the quality scores need to be accurate.
Broader access to information by customers and prospects combined with worldwide manufacturing and distribution channels has blurred corporate differentiation. To compete in our evolving e-commerce world, customer-facing organizations must be deliberate in how they balance transactional efficiency and the human touch. At stake is what the business is all about –the meaning of the brand, the pace of business growth, and the bottom line.
Howard Lee is CEO of HyperQuality, an independent auditor of call center communications.
[From Connection Magazine – Jan/Feb 2006]