Friday, November 17, 2017

Sometimes a Cup of Coffee and a Donut Is an Effective Strategy

By Dea Harrington


Recently I read an article by Brad Cleveland that proposed ten things that senior leaders should know about contact center operations. His message was that a basic understanding of what centers do and how they work is an absolute necessity if senior management is going to effectively support and guide this increasingly complex business unit.

When you live and breathe contact center management, it is natural to assume that everyone in your organization has a clear understanding of the intricacies of the center. Trust me, they don’t, and most likely tend to oversimplify its process, people, purpose and the person(s) who manages it. And here is a surprise - this lack of know-how can include your own team members.

Brad’s message reminded me of a solution I had utilized successfully to provide senior management with the necessary insight into the unique challenges of running a center.

The Background

Way back when I was a young vice president of operations I was responsible for a few large inbound call centers, as well as back-end processes. The organization was an established, successful, privately owned company that was totally committed to the customer relationship and, of course, to the bottom line. I reported directly to the owners and senior management, none of whom had an adequate comprehension of call center operations, nor did they want to spend a great deal of time being educated beyond service level performance and budget adherence. After all, that is why they hired call center management talent…

The Vision

It quickly became apparent that what was needed was an ‘internal ‘marketing campaign that would target our senior audience into experiencing, first-hand, the call center environment. Ideally, our audience would not feel as if they were locked in a class room being spoon-fed technical data they did not need. Instead, their senior position within the company would be highlighted by asking them to contribute to our continuing improvement process – sort of like an ‘Executive Quality Assurance’ (EQA) group.

The EQA Campaign

After inviting a small group of center employees to assist with the campaign, a proposal meeting was held with a few key senior managers to discuss the objective, possible strategies, funding and implementation steps. The results exceeded expectations and, after incorporating the group’s ideas and feedback, the following EQA Campaign Plan was implemented:

Stage 1: Initially, we invited our EQA members to a one-hour luncheon that would unveil the plan, the schedule, their role and the importance of their on-going commitment. All aspects of the proposal were reviewed and a packet of materials (including a welcoming letter from the owners, a pamphlet of introductory call center basics, our QA practices and a six-month event calendar.

Stage 2: Two weeks later our Training Manager and I offered a 2-hour course designed specifically for EQA participants that would introduce them to the basic inbound call process and QA performance expectations.

Stage 3: Each month, for the next 6 months, EQA members were invited to a continental breakfast and a half-hour presentation on ‘The Works’.  They were given an accompanying handbook that was organized into twelve parts, with each part featuring two key call center dynamics. After the presentation, they would side-by-side with an agent to hear calls, ask questions and then complete a special EQA evaluation which was then forwarded to me for review with the team. In addition, we used their questions/comments to customize the next month’s presentation.

Stage 4: At the end of the six months, our attendance record indicated that out of eleven senior managers, seven attended every breakfast. The remaining either sent a manager in their place, were put on an off-site project or requested handouts.  A detailed survey was issued to all original invitees and the owners, evaluating all aspects of the Campaign. At the following quarterly management session, the results were presented and discussed.

The Results

Happily, the results were better than I had expected (although I never shared my original projections) and produced the following benefits:
  • Most senior leaders indicated that they gained a better understanding of the center, the agents, our customers, and the previously unknown complexities in balancing resources to objectives. Six requested ‘summary presentations’ for their managers specifically highlighting ‘The Works’.
  • Although we did not request this, three participants volunteered to answer calls or QA in emergencies.
  • Agents who sat with the senior executives, reported that they were impressed that the EQA team members were friendly, respectful and asked good questions (and remembered their name when passing in the hallways).
Most importantly, did the EQA Campaign make executive budgetary and performance meetings resemble the end of a Hollywood musical? No, not quite, but it took me less time to explain specific requirements to reach contracted objectives. It also helped that I had a new level of support from attendees that had not been in the ‘glee club’ prior to the Campaign. Lastly, there was a new sense of appreciation and respect for the employees who provide the best of care to the customer relationship that compensated us all.

Dea Harrington is the founder and Chief Strategy Officer of Harrington Consulting Group, a leading provider of strategic and tactical guidance for organizations dependent upon first class contact center operations. Her blend of senior corporate management experience and consulting acumen has helped a broad range of Fortune 500 companies, non-profit organizations, and higher education institutions develop a process for planning and implementing strategies that align seamlessly with operations. She had been a leader in the development of internal marketing programs that effectively communicate organizational  goals and each employee’s role in meeting them. Follow Dea on LinkedIn.

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