Author’s note: In this installment of the Lost in the Labyrinth series, I position the contact center as the enterprise “fuel” for revenue engines and the singular source of raw currency and customer intelligence in the digital age. Yet customers are impacted by the resistance to operational investment in the contact center. They are caught within a maze of return on investment rather than a return of information and, ultimately, a return on relationship.
I have said for decades that information is a form of currency in the digital age and that contact centers are a pure source of it! The contact center dominates and will continue to dominate as a remarkable enterprise resource for information and data. It is a singular source of raw currency and customer intelligence. The contact center is the peculiar place where your enterprise is as close as it can get to real customer information—actual customer dialogue and interaction.
The contact center is where (or when) at a specific point in time the enterprise can capture new, fresh and raw information directly related to its customers. Information is minted in its largest denominations when a company talks to, interacts with, and listens to its customers.
Contact centers are the fuel for revenue engines. An undisputable characteristic of the contact center is that it is the breathing apparatus of the entire enterprise. It must be thought of as the lungs and not just as the appendix. Contact centers remain the enterprise’s ideal source for information and branding.
Are Your Contact Center Systems the Right Fit?
There is a growing realization that the information revenue stream must be nurtured. The nurturing opportunity is enhanced by process excellence that is supported by proper deployment of effective systems. For example, think about the long history (yet still new to many) of customer relationship management (CRM) software, introduced to aid in collecting customer data and tracking needs, preferences and changes.
Healthcare, in particular, has become a strong adopter of CRM given the emerging significance of the patient experience. But is it enough? When the CRM application has been properly designed, configured and deployed in a way that actually works well in today’s contact center environment, the effort will be rewarded. Sadly, there are far too many cases in which CRM is deployed and the contact center is an “add-on user” with a “wish and a prayer” for proper design. So is it enough? The answer is NO. CRM tools will fall short of expectations unless they are configured for specific and effective use by contact center resources.
Take the case of a “state-of-the-art” CRM application in a healthcare contact center. Agents must complete up to four pages and multiple fields of detailed information for each physician mentioned to the prospective patient. This adds minutes to the contact without much added value. Especially true in 2018, the CRM system has the power to populate all these pages automatically if it is properly configured for the contact center! But it isn’t and agents literally limit the number of options presented to prospects in order to reduce handle time. This is not exactly the intent of CRM! While Marketing and other departments may have time to dabble in data entry, contact center demand is dependent on agent availability. Every step in every process must be evaluated against its impact on availability.
Return on Investment … What Does This Really Mean?
The resistance to operational investment in the contact center is another obstacle in the winding labyrinth. Often, enterprise leaders desire a solid report on the Return on Investment (ROI) of systems such as CRM and of the contact center itself. The actual ROI of any CRM system is really a “Return on Information” and, ultimately, a “Return on Relationship,” which becomes the paramount metric. This metric cannot be achieved if the CRM acquisition does not include requirements specific to the contact center’s need. And is CRM even needed?
Some of today’s “smart desktop” applications are intelligent enough to capture relevant information and intelligent data analytics. These applications can pick and sort data relevant to other users and automatically populate CRM master files with relevant and actionable information.
We must consistently and closely examine the impact of all additional software in the contact center. How will we realize the ROI or more importantly the ROR? Do we really believe that software alone is sufficient? No, the real value lies in the evaluation and improvement of processes, crossfunctional alignment, technology, training and all the contributing factors that build relationships with customers. It is the ability and willingness of the front line to respond to customers in a way that realizes and appreciates customer information as currency.
The Value of Information
Today, we accumulate plenty of information. Some contact center systems, although primitive compared to today’s new CRMs, have features like a “notes” section in a database of customer profiles. Very often these “notes” contain nothing because agents are not allowed the time to enter information. (Once again immediate demand takes priority over longer term gain). If information is present, but difficult to get at, the customer relationship, the experience and the company brand will not be advanced.
This is clearly demonstrated in a typical customer reaction today which many readers will recognize. If the customer does not like the answer received from the first agent, she simply hangs up and calls back. She continues this process until s/he gets the preferred answer. Time is as valuable to customers as it is to you. With rare exceptions, they wouldn’t be so persistent if they weren’t likely right about finding a different answer from a different agent.
Simple notes on a customer record can be powerfully effective if they are used. We can hear the difference between asking a customer on his second call of the day, “How can I help you?” vs. “I see you have just spoken with Greg. Did you have another question?” In this scenario, we achieve a higher level of consistency and potentially reduce the number of calls by eliminating repeat calls. It is obvious that had the time been used on the original call to do it right, subsequent calls would be unnecessary. Often this logging feature is given short shrift when designing desktop systems or when it is present, agents are conflicted/confused about actually using it. This may be due to handle time targets pulled from thin air rather than ranges identified from analysis. For the record, if you want to reduce handle time the most likely factors to look at are processes, system response time, ability to access actionable information, and ongoing agent training.
ROI in contact centers is, in my opinion, a flawed objective and another example of lifting something that may have relevance in other areas such as the acquisition of systems and tools. But when we look at the contact center’s role, I go to one of my favorite quotes on this subject: “IF internal processes are not directed at the Value Proposition (experience, brand, and vision) or financial improvements (efficiency and market share), THEN the potential value of employee capabilities and intangible assets in general will NEVER be realized.” (“Strategy Maps: Converting Intangible Assets into Tangible Outcomes,” Robert Kaplan and David Norton).
In other words, it is not enough to consolidate functions or to build a contact center without proper alignment. It is alignment to strategic goals that drive the collection of currency (information) relevant to the enterprise and investment in tools, training, systems and processes that facilitate any kind of value emerging from the contact center.
Rethink, Redefine and Reposition ROI
Those who attempt to craft an ROI on the contact center itself will struggle mightily in any labyrinth-like operational environment. We must rethink, redefine and reposition ROI in the contact center. Whether we define ROI as Return on Investment, Return on Information, or Return on Relationship we must reduce and eliminate operational silos to establish clear paths ahead for information currency to flow freely.