Contact center management is a difficult job. Even as an outsider, if you’ve spent any time at all working alongside a call center or contact center you’ve probably seen the same mistakes being made by management over and over regardless of the company, the market, the product or customer base.
Many management mistakes come about from an effort to do the right thing and with the right intentions, but they either were not carried through correctly, or they were incorrectly implemented right from the beginning.
In other cases, unfortunately, problems occur due to pure mismanagement and lack of knowledge.
In an effort to help address some of these gaps, I have prepared a list of some of the common issues I’ve come across over my years in the industry, as well as some best practice tips and suggestions on how to resolve these problems.
Therefore, in a throwback to the days of David Letterman, in reverse order, here are my Top 10 Contact Center Management Mistakes that should be avoided.
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The standard definition of a silo mentality is “when several departments or groups do not share information or knowledge”. While this could occur in any organization, I have often seen it happen in companies that have grown through acquisitions and mergers, creating new challenges for effective communication and processes that aren’t joined up.
In these instances, teams are often separated by location, training or technology. This mentality often impacts corporate cultures and also reduces organizational efficiency due to teams working at cross-purposes.
Silo mentalities are endemic in organizations of all types, and they are often epitomized by phrases and terms that focus on “us vs. them”. A 2012 study by Beyond Philosophy, called out “silo mentality” as the biggest organizational hurdle in improving the customer experience. Recent studies show the problem still exists with 83% of executives indicating that silos exist in their companies.
Silo mentalities are often top-down infractions. It’s incumbent on you as a call center manager or leader to interact with your peers and colleagues, both internally and across organizational boundaries, and to ensure that lines of communication between these groups are clear.
Focus on shared goals and targets. Address knowledge gaps early and try to enforce a shared vision and toolset across teams with a similar function. This could include shared process training (ITIL, Six Sigma etc.), project management training (Prince2) or even training in programming languages (PHP, C++ etc.)
Give your teams an opportunity to interact with each other in both social and business settings. Share information on projects in progress as well as projects on internal roadmaps, and solicit membership from other teams.
Outsourcing by itself is not always a bad idea. But the early days of outsourcing were plagued with low quality calls to staff who simply did not have the knowledge or skills to handle them. Now, companies have learned some valuable lessons and outsourcing is now a much more mature industry with millions of jobs being outsourced annually.
The biggest problem with outsourcing is that when executives outsource their calls, they are often expecting the outsourcer to fix the reason for the calls.
If you think about it, that is extremely flawed logic. Internal contact centers are in the business of solving problems so that the customer does not have to call in the first place. This can be through the introduction of self-help modules, changes to customer literature, changes to the product itself or via a host of other actions.
Outsourcers, on the other hand, are in the business of handling those calls. They will add additional resources to ensure that your customers no longer complain about hold times and they will also make every effort to ensure that they are providing the right answer to the customer. They will not however focus on ensuring those customers STOP calling.
Before you start outsourcing, you need to know WHY you need to start outsourcing.
If it’s a simple matter of not having enough resources to handle the calls and you need an overflow team, that’s one thing. If however you get monthly spikes because of specific customer behavior, perhaps you need to look at what that behavior is and why the spikes are coming. Is there something you could do to reduce the spikes, for example, by improving self-help resources?
What seals the decision of whether or not you should outsource is a matter of value. Are you able to provide more value to your customers by outsourcing vs. doing the activity in house?
Outsourcing should not be a simple decision made purely on financials – it needs to account for the benefits to the customer and where those benefits will best be realized. Studies have in fact shown that half the organizations that shift processes offshore, have failed to generate the expected financial benefits, so it is very important to know what you are expecting to achieve up front and if necessary, pull the plug.
I hope you already have a Quality Improvement Process in place within your organization – or if not, have plans to implement one?
Part of that program should include the evaluation of your employees based on at least two of these three factors – Knowledge, Attitude, and Process Adherence. Companies could have additional criteria based on their requirements, of course.
Companies often fall foul of measuring employees, but then not providing them with feedback (or giving feedback far too late, when it is no longer relevant or useful). Even those companies who provide good feedback to their employees can often fail to measure improvement on the points raised, causing well-intentioned quality programs to fail.
As a contact center manager, part of your program should include feedback to your employees based on their performance against the criteria that are important to you and your business, and this feedback should be provided on a fixed and regular schedule. A performance improvement plan should be implemented for each point raised, so your employee is clear on where they need to focus their efforts and what success looks like.
Employee feedback meetings have a whole host of other benefits. They are crucial to building rapport within your teams, opening up the lines of communication between employees and management. Done the right way, they are crucial in helping to build development plans to motivate your employees and help you grow your team leaders of the future.
Additionally, not only are they a great place to provide feedback on goals and targets – they are the best way to give you peace of mind that your employee is actually doing the job that you expect them to!
Many frontline employees have little understanding of what their overall value to the organization is and what they need to do aside from taking that next call. Management can often fail to communicate the longer-term picture – how contact center communications need to develop over time to keep customers happy and keep the business growing.
Sadly, the corollary is often true also with many executives thinking of the contact center as nothing more than a “cost center” and a necessary evil to the business. This often leads to tight budgets and unrealistic expectations on call center managers, as companies continue to try and “do more, with less”.
Creating and setting goals needs to be a two-pronged strategy. With your team, it is important to set clear SMART (Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic and Timely) goals. Feedback should be provided on these goals during your regularly scheduled coaching sessions and the goals themselves need to tie back to your corporate objectives.
For executives, they need to see how your teams contribute to the bottom line – not just as a function of the KPIs you are measuring but rather how those KPIs relate to revenue.
In both cases, communication is the key differentiator. Ensure that your employees get regular feedback on their performance and similarly ensure that leadership teams understand the value your group provides.
Again, this is a problem with many mature organizations that have grown through mergers and acquisitions. In some companies, customer information is distributed across 10 or more systems and frontline agents are often forced to access many of these for different reasons throughout the course of an interaction. This tends to significantly drive up the handle time required and causes frustration for your frontline agents.
It’s not easy to quickly fix the problem of having too many tools. What can be done though is to explore integrations with newer technologies. By utilizing a single consolidated platform, it is possible to pull in information from multiple different systems, saving your agents time and helping you cut down on resource costs.
Many organizations have realized the value and importance of quality measurements. A common KPI that is measured is Customer Satisfaction (CSAT), however one that should be measured but is often ignored is Employee Satisfaction (ESAT).
Measuring Employee Satisfaction is essential in determining the specific problems that are plaguing your customers – or those problems that aren’t affecting customers now, but could do in the future.
Set up an Agent Self Evaluation program within your organization. This program will allow your agents to measure themselves and their performance, but more importantly, give you important information about any failings of your organization as a whole.
An improved focus on the employee will help address churn and also focus requirements on applicable KPIs for the job and function instead of standard industry measures such as ASA (Average Speed of Answer) and AHT (Average Handle Time).
Sadly, many companies still only offer an 800# and postal address as their only means of communication. Other companies ‘hide’ their contact details on their website, forcing customers to spend time searching for ways to get in touch, only to find that many popular methods of communication are not available to them.
The world has moved on and customers have moved with it. If you do not offer your customers multiple ways of interacting with your teams, then you are blocking off communication with them, causing them to go to competitors who offer easier contact methods.
Customers use many platforms to interact in their personal life, so they want to also be able to utilize them in their business lives!
The focus here needs to be not only in offering an 800# with an integrated and useful IVR (make sure that you are NOT putting your customers into IVR Hell!), but also email, live chat and social media responsiveness.
Ideally, your tools should all integrate together and should tie back to your incident management/CRM tool to ensure that you have an ongoing record of all customer interactions.
There are web-based tools available now that give you some or all of these capabilities. Fortunately, most of these are extremely customizable so you can also address the Too Many Tools problem at the same time!
A major problem in many centers is a lack of material to test and work with – whether it’s the ability to get hands-on with a product, or receiving appropriate literature about every aspect of a new service. Often customers receive new products in the field before the staff dedicated to help them have even been trained!
This requires all parts of the organization to work together. Product Management needs to ensure that Operations is involved not only in the design of the product but also in its release.
The Release Plan for any product or service needs to include training and equipment for frontline staff, and budgets need to be appropriately configured to allow this.
Even the best organizations will be able to relate to issues with resource, causing problems not just for your team but for your customers.
One of the biggest problems experienced by customers globally is the dreaded hold music. Waiting for what can seem like hours (and sometimes is) for your “important call” to be handled is often deeply frustrating, setting your agents up to have to handle angry callers before they can even start addressing why the customer called in the first place.
This ties back to your goals and targets and ensuring that your leadership team understand the difference and value your staff provide to your organization and your customers.
One key way to do that is through data. Utilize tools like Erlang ‘C’ Calculators and conduct efficiency evaluations of your teams that truly measure what you are doing right AND wrong.
While tight budgets have been a perennial problem for call centers, there are ways to be more efficient. However, efficiency only takes you so far and after a certain point, investments in resources need to be made.
This is the big one, the big Kahuna!
Providing truly effective training is a big problem for many companies worldwide. This starts right from day one when the employee walks into the building and then are often thrown straight onto the floor to take calls. Not to mention the lack of any ongoing training or development after initial training has ended.
Lack of training on tools, products and processes cause customer frustration and pain – and end up increasing the volume of calls or interactions as customers can’t get easy answers to their issues.
As a call center manager, you absolutely need to have a training plan. Resource constraints might not allow you to have a dedicated trainer, but if you are planning to use your frontline staff to train your new recruits, you need to realistically assess the impact to your business while they are conducting this activity.
Your new recruits should not only receive complete and comprehensive training on all products, services and tools, but they should also be introduced to your quality program.
Make sure that you are testing and quizzing your new starters so that you can determine whether they have truly understood what you are trying to teach. Focus on a shadowing/mentorship program when they have finished formal training and ensure that regular and constructive feedback is provided throughout the first 6 months (at a minimum) of their tenure.
A lot of these issues are probably ones you’ve experienced as a customer yourself, and taking that perspective is really how you need to measure your organization and prevent them from occurring in the future. Imagine yourself as that customer and think about how you would feel if you were experiencing those same problems.
You might have also noticed that many of these issues are somewhat interrelated. As you work your way through these problems within your organization, I’m sure that you will find many more linkages than the simple ones I’ve already pointed out. The good news about this is that tackling one problem can often lead to improvements in others.
Over time however, if you fix these ten issues you will see a dramatic improvement in the service that you are providing, and hopefully have a happier agent and management team as a result.
What’s your experience with these issues? Are there any major ones we’ve missed? Let us know in the comments below.