Culture Shift: Contact Center Management in the Age of Experience

Culture Shift: Contact Center Management in the Age of Experience

/ Operations, Strategy, Customer Experience
Culture Shift: Contact Center Management in the Age of Experience

How to move from cost- and task-based to value- and experienced-based operations.

Here we are in the “Age of Experience.” This is, according to Simplicable, the “designation for the present age that is defined by the importance of intangible things to economic production, society, and culture.”

The very word “intangible” refers to “hard to pin down.” This indicates that managing the intangible elements requires a very keen eye.

Contact centers fit into Simplicable’s definition of Age of Experience perfectly; they are a key factor in providing the “intangible things” that contribute to economic value.

For better or worse, contact centers are part of the intangible corporate society because their culture (another intangible) is distinct and unique from other parts of the enterprise.

Economic Value

Contact centers make a massive contribution to any organization’s economic value when operated properly.

Sadly, many of them continue to operate with a 20th century management model, even though we are decades into the 21st century. The 20th century model is generally cost/productivity based versus value/experience based.

Cost/productivity models often lead management to focus on the tangibles to produce results—tasks, production, and utilization—instead of the intangibles such as people, knowledge, and culture. But they often result in a task-based management approach that puts the customer experience (CX) and the contact center’s economic value at risk.

Contact centers have an impact on economic value as they generally have more customer contact than any other single entity in the enterprise.

21st century contact centers are increasingly becoming problem solvers. They have rich and valuable information about customer satisfaction; when this information is shared and acted upon the results are positive outcomes for all concerned. While cost is a factor in any organization, value is what matters in the Age of Experience.

Task Versus Experienced Operations

In determining whether your contact center yields economic value, you must assess whether the operation is task- or experience-based.

First and foremost, open your mind to the fact that you may be stuck in that 20th century management model.

And it is not just people that have been around for decades who adopt this model. Many new managers also find themselves chasing seconds and people around the queue all day because that is how they were taught.

So, an open mind is a high-value asset you can control; those with closed minds resent change and are addicted to the status quo.

Next, take a good long look around your contact center to evaluate areas that may need an upgrade to meet the needs of 21st century consumers in the Age of Experience.

1. Watch Those Qualifications! Look at your hiring process. Make sure that key job descriptions are accurate and be careful not to demand over-qualifications.

For example, is it absolutely necessary to require that a frontline agent fielding calls in a healthcare contact center possess a bachelor’s degree?

Also, do you really need five recommendations? Human Resources (HR) must understand your specific needs and timelines to help to hire the right people.

2. Is Training That Important? The converse side of the hiring process is training and retention: critical success factors in creating economic value. Training evaluation is a good place to start as it is generally a great indicator of a task versus experience focus.

Cost-based operations often provide a meager allowance for training and rely on frontline supervisors or managers to “train” staff.

Cost-based operations often provide a meager allowance for training and rely on frontline supervisors or managers to “train” staff.

This is a tall order for folks without any formal professional development in the disciplines of training adults. The approach often leads to a focus on the obvious: the tasks, the systems, the rules, and the errors. While this is necessary it is not sufficient to meet the needs of the consumer (and the agent) in the Age of Experience.

Contact center agents require more than training on the transaction (i.e., the job task you perform). Agents need as much if not more training on handling the interaction (how you do the task).

Moreover, today’s young agents may have little experience in conducting effective business communication as they have been brought up in a world where text experience supersedes conversational experience.

3. Focus on the CX. Agents need to be educated on the elements of the customer experience. These must be identified and woven into the fabric of the everyday and into the essence of the training messages across all instruction.

As well, the organization’s business strategy, the contact center’s mission, and the brand’s promise all need to become part of the training narrative.

More than ever, today’s frontline agents must be able to think critically, build rapport, deescalate, and negotiate.

Where potential sales are involved, agents need to recognize buying signals, overcome objections, and close the sale. The human concepts I am speaking of here are largely intangible. They are often difficult to teach, and contact center management may be sorely lacking in instructional approaches.

Training is where contact center business leaders can see and evaluate the effectiveness of work processes. Are they smooth and seamless or so convoluted as to distract from the interaction?

When agents must navigate multiple applications: cutting, pasting, or rekeying information, and simultaneously worrying about call duration and adherence, the CX is threatened and potentially compromised by the sheer distraction of process complexity.

Ultimately it is training that makes good agents great. These are the folks you want to retain within the contact center and continue to build upon their transactional and interactional skills.

“Your Call May Be Monitored or Recorded”

We’ve all heard that line. Most contact centers today have invested in quality recording equipment.

Unfortunately, not as many have invested in a quality COACHING program. Rather, they have created more of a compliance audit.

Coaching is the real benefit of recording. Coaching is intended to bring the very best out of people.

But like training, true coaching needs expertise. Nobody is born a coach. Unfortunately, many companies don’t fund proper training for coaching or quality assurance program development.

When it comes to the quality program, unskilled program developers often take sample evaluation forms from vendors or Google: instead of building a tool specifically designed to meet unique needs.

They use a compliance scoring method of evaluating each element with a “YES/NO” rating or what I like to call a “DID/DIDN’T” finding.

These folks provide “feedback” to the agent. But this is not coaching. Synonyms for “give feedback” are respond, reply, or answer while synonyms for “coach” include mentor and tutor.

Choosing coaching will improve the value of your efforts significantly, but it is harder to do and takes longer to develop. This makes coaching an unattractive option for cost-/task-based operations.

Approaching Coaching Programs

What is the objective of your quality program? Is it to have a supervisor or “quality analyst” score the call and then tell you what you did and didn’t do? If so … yuck.

Instead, a solid coaching program uses behavioral scoring with ratings such as “Change,” “Improve,” and “Continue.”

Coaching language requires more of the coach. For example, when we rate an interaction as Change, the coach discusses what that change needs to be, provides examples, and shows how to implement it.

Similarly, when an agent is asked to Improve, the coach helps the agent define what the improvement looks like. Continue informs the agent that their performance in that category should be continued. Consequently, coaching sessions become part of ongoing resource development.

Conversely, compliance audit programs are among the first to adopt robot feedback. Imagine an agent handling a company’s value proposition and receiving messages from a bot regarding the quality of their performance. I’m not sure I would take that feedback seriously.

Coaching programs do not delete or ignore compliance. They are simply approached within a more contemporary staff development program rather than within a compliance audit.

The same is true for all key performance indicators (KPIs) in the contact center. I (and many others) have written volumes on the impact of KPIs on morale, retention, and staff development. The overall employee experience is mightily impacted by KPIs that may be out-of-date or create conflicting messages around quality versus quantity.

How to Deliver on Value

Managing in the Age of Experience means taking a long hard look at your contact center’s overall approach to delivering on the experience for all concerned: the customer, the agent, and the enterprise.

Delivering on value is really a blend of excellence in both the transaction and the interaction. Both need to be supported by developing an obsession with the “intangibles.” This means evaluating your processes from the user’s (i.e., agent’s/customer’s) perspective as well at taking a good look at your training, quality, and development programs.

“Experience is one thing you can’t get for nothing.” —OSCAR WILDE

The Age of Experience requires meaningful engagement with the front line to assure that the CX needs are being met.

If you have been trapped in a cost-based operation it is time to make a case for investment in key elements that will produce honest results and a good place to work. With these elements, your contact center will be poised to glow in this Age of Experience.

Kathleen Peterson

Kathleen Peterson

Kathleen M. Peterson is the Chief Vision Officer of PowerHouse Consulting, a call center and telecommunications consulting firm.
Twitter: @PowerHouse603

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