By Donna Fluss
It’s no longer enough to deliver an outstanding customer experience, something too few organizations do anyway. Contact centers that want to be relevant in the era of social media need to transform from slow-moving, reactive organizations into real-time, proactive departments that are a step ahead of customer needs.
Warning Signs: Here are some signs that your contact center is at risk of being marginalized:
- You provide only customer service.
- You support only calls, emails, and possibly text/chat sessions.
- Peer organizations, such as marketing and sales, as well as senior executives, refuse to meet with you to understand trends and customer sentiment.
- Your budget is cut annually, and you are asked to “do more with less.”
- It’s extremely difficult to get approval for a system upgrade or new investment.
- Your contact center has been outsourced to an offshore location, or outsourcing discussions are underway.
These are some of the warning signs, and there is little doubt that more than half of the customer service-oriented contact centers in the United States are currently at risk or will be in the next few years. Senior executives in many enterprises would gladly eliminate their support organization (despite their desire to deliver great service) if they could figure out how to do it without alienating their customers.
Changing Your Destiny: If your organization is at risk based on the criteria above, it’s time for change, and it’s up to the contact center manager to lead the charge. Sure, this may stir up trouble, but the risk of doing nothing is far greater. While customer service downsizing will reduce operating costs in the short-term, the long-term impact to a company’s bottom line will be negative, as evidenced by well-publicized examples like Dell and United. Senior executives have a fiduciary responsibility to improve the profitability of their companies, and too many have already shown a willingness to make radical changes to enhance their short-term financial position.
Getting Started: The steps for getting started with contact center transformation may vary, but the guidelines below lay the foundation for change. Each contact center should implement the changes that best position them to become relevant within their organization, so that senior management sees them as an important contributor to the company’s bottom line rather than a low-value cost center. Here are three high-value approaches to consider:
1) Transform your contact center into a revenue-generating profit center.
- Work with sales and marketing to formulate a plan to convert your contact center from a cost center into a revenue-generating organization; ask for their support in transitioning the contact center into a sales organization.
- Establish realistic departmental sales goals.
- Keep start-up costs low and prove your ability to meet them before asking for major investment dollars.
- Retrain agents so that they can identify sales opportunities and close them successfully.
2) Assume responsibility for handling social media interactions.
- Ask marketing to help you take over the responsibility for handling social media interactions.
- Draft new policies and procedures jointly with marketing and legal departments.
- Establish rules of engagement for consistently representing your brand in a professional manner.
- Define social media metrics for measuring the performance of the service organization.
- Select and retrain staff, or hire and train new agents to handle social media interactions.
- Establish social media service levels to set appropriate response time objectives for each social media channel.
3) Take on back-office processing.
- Identify back-office tasks that can be handled by contact center agents during slow periods.
- Determine the best way to identify contact center slow periods.
- Establish a process for distributing and managing the new work.
- Train agents to handle the back-office tasks.
For all three of these transformational initiatives, contact center leaders will need to modify their key performance indicators and quality assurance, agent evaluation, and rewards and recognition programs to support the new contact center mission.
Final Thoughts: Contact centers are essential to the long-term viability of most enterprises, but they must do more than deliver an outstanding customer experience in order to be considered essential corporate contributors. Contact center leaders need to take the initiative and implement the changes necessary to make their department highly relevant to their enterprise. There are many ways to achieve this essential goal, but the best one is to become a revenue-generating profit center that builds outstanding and lasting relationships with customers in their channel of choice.
Donna Fluss is the founder of DMG, a vendor-independent research and consulting firm that analyzes contact center and back-office technology and best practices. DMG uses this information to help enterprise and contact center leaders build their servicing strategies and select the right solutions for their environments. Contact Donna at email@example.com.
[From Connection Magazine – May 2013]