Call Center Week Wishlist: 5 Customer Management Questions We Need Answered

Brian Cantor

Far more than a seminar about best contact center practices, Call Center Week has become the definitive breeding ground for customer management discourse. From exclusive case studies, to frank debates about the state of customer service, to reveals on how the center can serve as the root of business transformation, Call Center Week is an opportunity to consider the merits of putting the customer first.

Cognizant that the diverse community of attendees will have diverse objectives for the event, Call Center Week offers an all-encompassing agenda, featuring speakers of varied seniority from varied industries with varied organizational responsibilities. But at the end of the day, insofar as reaping the rewards of improved customer-centricity is a universal objective, there are fundamental questions the event must answer.

Call Center IQ, which produces the annual Vegas event, will provide readers with complete coverage from next week’s program. But as it, too, has a vested interest in achieving a better customer service process, it has a vested interest in assuring those fundamental questions are answered.

Yes, this is the world’s best opportunity for contact center and customer experience professionals to network, but it is also the world’s best chance at ending customer management ambiguity. And so as we look to the event, taking place June 10-14 in Vegas, we require discussion that brings us closer to answers on the following questions:

When is an organization truly multi-channel?

Multi-channel is far from a new topic in the contact center community, but its meaning remains in a constant state of flux. Previously used as a fancy way of saying "get a Twitter account" or as a justification for vendors to sell live chat software, multi-channel is increasingly coming to mean a mindset rather than a mechanism.

But as much progress as the customer management community has made towards adopting a channel-blind, customer-friendly mindset, the extent to which the mindset drives strategy varies greatly across organizations. Some recognize multi-channel as a directive to provide 24/7/365 service in every possible channel; others, however, simply treat it as a gentle reminder to consider non-phone options for communicating with customers.

With introductory social media discussions in its rear view, the customer management community now must unite to determine the appropriate mindset for satisfying the multi-channel customer. What creates the distinction between communicating with customers in multiple channels and actually being "multi-channel?"

What does it take to coach the 21st century contact center agent?

They might be connected to Facebook accounts rather than a phone line. They might be working from their bedroom rather than a bleak call center. They might not even be human beings.

But they are still contact center "agents," and as such, they are still the business’ truest ambassadors for engaging customers. Coaching—both to optimal internal business practices and the correct, customer-centric mindset—is still essential for avoiding the pitfalls associated with disengaged, mismanaged contact centers.

But where does leadership begin? As businesses recognize the business value of customer satisfaction and thus focus more on external, murkier definitions of excellence, how do they assure this modern class of agents is empowered to serve the customer yet accountable to what matters to the bottom line? And how do they espouse this information when the boundaries of the call center became broader, and even virtual?

What does a customer-centric culture truly entail?

Zappos has an iconic workplace culture. Its reputation for customer-centricity is similarly legendary. Shouldn’t we all just copy Zappos’ workforce design?

Not necessarily. Zappos’ environment certainly puts agents in the right mindset for Zappos’ customers, but it provides no assurance of the same impact when the customer profiles, preferences and expectations differ.

Clearly, the formulation of a customer-centric culture is about more than the superficial elements common to "happy" workplaces. It is more than pizza parties, incentive programs and attractive vacation schedules.

Though the specific materialization will differ from company to company, there are obviously fundamental tenets of corporate culture that speak more to the notion of "happy customers" than "Happy agents." What are they?

What truly drives customer satisfaction?

The desire to satisfy the customer is an irrefutably-universal business priority. But assumptions about what a customer truly wants—and thus the limitations organizations encounter when trying to achieve that satisfaction—gravely differ.

Fearing that all customers want absolutely perfect experiences at absolutely zero cost, many customer management professionals laugh at the notion of benchmarking contact center success against customer sentiment.

But is that a fair characterization of today’s customer? Is every customer truly looking to take merciless advantage of the businesses with whom he completes transactions?

As leaders determine how to staff and measure their customer service operations, they must understand the heart of what makes a customer tick. They must position their contact centers to work towards that definition of satisfaction on each and every call, avoiding the costly mishaps associated with restrictive, misaligned customer service.

What, at the end of the day, does it take to satisfy your customers? The answer to that question is the cost of successfully doing business.

Where does the contact center fit into the organization?

"Break down silos." "Operate as a profit center rather than a cost center." "Run your contact center like a business."

Cliches about aligning the contact center with the greater business are as unhelpful as they are unavoidable. Yes, it is true that a contact center cannot operate with a blind eye to the rest of the organization, but precisely what purpose should it serve in the business process?

In order for calls about contact center profitability to resonate, leadership must build more specific parameters around its customer management function. It must identify its fundamental objectives and then determine which specific ones can be best achieved by the function most closely-connected to the customer.

No one deliberately runs a business unit in opposition to the notion of profit; if a contact center is failing to deliver on business-centric expectations, it is because leadership has not determined how best to use customer management as an asset—rather than as a hindrance—to business success. By defining what a contact center can do for this business (and, just as importantly, what it cannot do), customer management leadership can create a "profit center" that exists beyond the realm of rhetoric.