Desiging Contact Center Services to "Walk the Talk"

Tripp Babbitt

Brian Cantor’s recent article, "Oops, 5 Things Your Call Center Leader Meant to Say" offers us up some food for thought. The biggest takeaway is quite simply – how do you make agents relevant. What is frightening is that service organizations the world over seem to discount the individual agent by treating them as pawns to be sacrificed in the game of business strategy and profit.

Can organizations really afford this? Isn’t the strength of the service organization with the people that interface with our customers on a daily basis?

The executive perspective is that the customer experience is a zero-sum game . . . at best. The cost of good service outweighs the benefit. This is a faulty perspective and it is damaging service organizations by losing customers and revenue while increasing costs.

Management fails to even talk the talk because they don’t see the opportunity. The collective faith of management lies with technology, focus on costs, control and an internal view. The service design that results gives agents little room to provide good service or be creative in finding new revenue streams or solving customer problems in such a manner that customers want to stay. The service design dictates performance of the agent and, therefore, the outcomes delivered to the customer.

Technology shouldn’t be a problem, but it doesn’t absorb the variety of calls that customers place on your organization. Agents are forced to adjust their work to myriad IT systems that entrap them rather than enable them – frustration ensues from both the agent and customer.

Technology can be bad enough, but coupled with the self-absorbed service organization it is devastating. The self-absorbed service organization is always taking an internal view that is typically focused on costs and control. The focus on costs leads to increased costs - more bureaucracy is embraced to "control" the agents through measures that are important to management and not the customer. Management talks about how many calls, how long to deal with them (AHT), how may people do I need (budget and service levels) - while the customer wants answers to their problems and hassle-free service. The multiple calls customers have to make to resolve problems and get decent service is where the costs are buried.

Peter Scholtes implored management to take a "customer-in" approach to understanding and designing services. The evidence shows that designing services this way increases revenue, decreases costs and creates an environment that agents want to work in. Think about it, giving customers no reason to hate your company is always profitable and creates more value calls to your organization. The more value calls the less anxiety producing problem calls (that stress agents) have to be rectified. Conversely, when customers know they are being dealt with fairly they naturally want to provide your organization with more business.

If your service design is restricting your agents you are losing the profit and revenue game. If you don’t know . . . you might want to find out.