Friday, October 13, 2017

Welcome to the Contact Center

By Sean Hawkins

This is an exciting time to be in the contact center! Each day brings new challenges to overcome, new technology to learn, and new innovations to set you apart from your competitor. The call center of old, is vastly different than today's contact center.

These changes provide opportunity for staff to learn new skills, grow, and advance. New insights are discovered, and new methods of service delivery are implemented, all of which have elevated the importance of the contact center to overall growth and profitability of the modern business.

Perceptions about the contact center
Ask the average person, and they are likely to have a negative opinion of the contact center. While some of this may be well deserved, most are based on a few bad experiences, or a stereotype from times past. Sadly, that stereotype often suggests the support staff is less educated, entry level, and unfriendly.

I also believe there is lack of understanding which helps drives this unflattering perception. Very few are aware of the people, infrastructure, strategy, and technology involved to build a high performing center. I must confess, my own family and friends have a flawed opinion of what I do.

Thanks to social media, the industry is in the spotlight. At times, it does not garner acclaim from the masses. Are there failures? Yes! Are there embarrassments? Yes! However, we are discovering people are becoming fan's of great service and experiences, to the point it has become a differentiator when the evaluate competing brands.

Managing a call center is anything but easy. You’re tasked with providing superior service while juggling a number of business priorities. From adhering to pre-set business metrics and key performance indicators, to servicing customers across multiple channels, each priority adds to the complexity that inherent in contact centers.

Internally, our perception of the center is different from the public’s perception. Yet, it is their perception that matters. We must analyze their feedback and see what improvements should be made, to ensure we are providing a better experience. With CSAT, NPS and other satisfaction KPI's, we can gauge our performance based on the customer's perception. We also can use it to improve through training and development and begin to change those perceptions in a positive way.

Changing the narrative
Allow me to quote my friend Sarah Stealey Reed. “I think customer service and contact center management should be taught in college. People have such a misconception that this job is easy. But, if it were easy, you’d ALWAYS get good customer service, right?  The truth is, that all of us ‘fall into’ contact centers and no one actually chooses this as their career. And that’s a shame. This is such a dynamic and exciting industry and brilliant people bypass it because they don’t know what it’s about, don’t appreciate the complexities that we manage, or realize that this is an exceptionally rewarding career. Why not teach them?”

Each year, I review job descriptions and qualifications for each job. I do this to ensure they are receiving the training necessary to perform their job at the highest level. If they aren't, as Sarah says, I have to "teach them!"

Many years ago when I started in this industry, most considered customer support roles as entry level positions. Still today, I must remind people not to refer to contact center roles as entry level. Times have changed! Customer service has a huge impact on the success of a company. Therefore, the workforce must match the impact. A highly skilled (EQ and IQ) team will improve every facet of the customer's experience.

The people
I would be willing to match the skills and education of support staff with those in other departments of an organization. In fact, I would dare say those in the contact center match or exceed that of the others. Here are just a few of the many skills sets one will find in the contact center:
  • IT Skills
  • People Skills
  • Risk Management
  • Communication
  • Time Management
  • Problem Solving
  • Decision Making
  • Negotiation
  • Leadership
  • Change Management
So much for the less educated, entry level misconception.

Beyond the front lines
Sadly, many people agents in the contact centers aren’t aware of, or developed by leadership for the many possibilities that are available to them. Many will lose hope of advancement, and fall into a state of apathy and lethargy. Performance suffers; attrition increases and frustration will set in because they are not exposed to growth and opportunities.

This is where leadership comes into play. There is a wonderful quote that says “being a leader is not about you. It’s about the people that are on your team and how can help them be successful”.  Leaders must develop staff in the many disciplines of the contact center.

While individual job titles may be specific to a company, there are several categories that are common regardless of company. Some of them are:
  • Leadership/Management
  • Operations
  • Quality Assurance
  • Analytics
  • Work Force Management
  • Learning & Development
Again, so much for the less educated, entry level misconception. 

Contact centers are complex, as many specialized teams and roles are being created to better serve customers, and create competitive advantage. As it does, many are choosing to remain in the contact and advance their careers. Some are choosing to make it a career. We've come a long way!

I have over 15 years of progressive call center leadership and experience in the public, private and government sectors.

I have led or consulted contact centers of various sizes across numerous industries. Additionally, I’ve implemented new technology and products, while maintaining award-winning contact centers.

Connect with me on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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