Response Design Corporation:Creating the Uncommon Call Center
Kathryn's Uncommon Call Center Blog
June 23, 2008 02:01 PM
Categories: Measurement 
Business Analytics - Paralysis by Analysis or More?

As little as a few years ago I heard executives tout the great numbers being presented after data mining. The result of the mining was the end. However, now, managers are looking to the analytical result as the beginning. Business users use the analytics to answer two critical questions. They want to know how they turn the information into action and what effect each action will have. It is not enough to simply know the results of the analytical process. Data mining used to discover an interesting group of customers. Now we need to move to action and measurement by saying, “Here are a group of people that should be presented with product X when they call inquiring about product Y. By following this course of action we project a 20% lift in call center revenues over the next 3 months.”

Our industry is excited about business analytics (i.e., the gathering and analyzing of business data in order to make better informed business decisions). However, in most companies there is a division of labor between the analytics (business) user and the analyst. Although the business user is an expert in his area it is most unlikely that the he is an expert in data analysis and statistics. The needs of both players need to be aligned. This is not an easy job.

For example, Kohavi, Rothleder, and Simoudis (2002) highlight the following challenges most organizations face as they try to create relevant, accurate, and timely analytics.

1. The time to crunch the numbers and analyze the data is never fast enough. But then, will it ever be? Will we just keep demanding faster and faster answers? When should we redefine “real-time” to “right time?”

2. Business users want to be a little more self sufficient. They want user-friendly interfaces that will allow them to rely less on other people to get the answers when they want them.

3. Data collection and analysis isn’t targeted. We want it all whenever we want it. We don’t take the time to define clear business goals and metrics. In the past, unrealistic expectations about data mining “magic” led to misguided efforts without clear goals and metrics.

4. We want analyze data that must be integrated from multiple sources. Most of the time we don’t have an efficient and cost effective manner to do this. The extract-transform-load (ETL) process is usually complex and when it is considered, the cost and difficulty are usually underestimated.

Most every company I work with is creating on some type of dashboard and/or scorecard. Both of these are delivered through some type of business analytics. It is a grueling process and I run up against each of the challenges mentioned above. I find that the biggest hurdle is to get the business user to define the business goals and metrics. When most people go down this path they believe, “If I can measure it, it must be important.” Many people become fascinated with “quantity” rather than quality. The “fun” side of seeing all these correlations and neat analysis paralyzes them. Rather than thinking of what action they will take and what effect that action will have, they enter into the common analytic stupor of “paralysis by analysis.”

Kohavi, R., Rothleder, N.J., Simoudis, E. (2002). Emerging trends in business analytics. Communications of the ACM, 45(8), 45-48. Retrieved June 22, 2008, from

Entry logged at 02:01 PM
June 16, 2008 03:23 PM
Categories: Management 
Improving the Odds for a Successful IT Project

Information technology is critical to the success of customer contact. However, according to The Standish Group “only 29 percent of IT projects conducted in 2004 were completed successfully.” Add to that a warning from Phillips (2007) in his article “ABC: An Introduction to IT Project Management" (Retrieved June 16, 2008, from

“Managing an IT project is like juggling chunks of Jell-O: It's neither easy nor pretty. Information technology is especially slippery because it's always moving, changing, adapting and challenging business as we know it.”

Most companies struggle to “get it right” and as a result experience a less than successful conclusion for most IT projects. So, what can we do to improve our odds? What’s your experience when it comes to IT project management?

• What IT justification methodology exists in your organization? What kind of input does the call center have when acquiring and designing IT solutions?
• How do you help make IT project decisions? How does the contact center help make IT project decisions?
• How are IT projects managed in your organization to improve success? What role does the contact center user play in project management?
• Does your organization include a post project implementation audit to determine how you fared against projected results? Does the call center take part in this?
• What other lessons have you learned from successful (or not so successful) IT projects?

Entry logged at 03:23 PM
June 12, 2008 12:21 AM
Categories: Management 
Should You Pursue Becoming a Digital Firm?

Defining the Digital Firm
Laudon and Laudon (2007, p. 7) define the digital firm as:

"A digital firm is one in which nearly all of the organization’s significant business relationships with customers, suppliers, and employees are digitally enabled and mediated. Core business processes are accomplished through digital networks spanning the entire organization or linking multiple organizations.

Digital firms sense and respond to their environment far more rapidly than traditional firms, giving them more flexibility to survive in turbulent times."

Why Pursue Digital Status?
Webber (2007) describes six customer-focused reasons why firms pursue a digital strategy. Because most customer contact organizations have not achieved digital status, companies can use these characteristics to evaluate how this strategy can benefit them. Once a company is on the path to becoming a digital firm it can use these benchmarks to assess how far they’ve come.

1. Providing faster, easier, smoother customer interactions. Once a customer has experienced digital speed, he asks, "Why should I tolerate an inferior experience from a traditional supplier?" If a company is not providing this kind of experience, the customer will switch to one who does.

2. Focusing on the most profitable, digitally enabled customer segment. More and more customers are becoming digitally enabled. Customers who are willing to communicate digitally and self-serve are increasingly more profitable to companies. If organizations can’t accommodate the digitally enabled customers then that organization will end up with a customer base that typically spends the least and costs the most to serve.

3. Using “digitally enabled” connections to drive speed. Customers will expect speedy interactions and delivery because speed is infectious. Remember the quality revolution phenomenon? First customers realized they could have a quality car. Next they wanted a quality everything. Once customers know that they can get an answer today or have something delivered tomorrow, they will ask, "Why can't I have everything tomorrow?" For the digitally enabled company the answer is "You can." Or consider the email response requirement of customers five years ago versus today. The standard used to be that companies would respond to customer emails in 24 to 48 hours. Today, if the customer does not get a response within the hour or two, he is likely to re-contact the company (increasing the cost to the company. Organizations that become digitally enabled and promise speedy interactions and delivery are going to win.

4. Decreasing complexity and giving customers back their time. Customers’ lives are increasingly complex and their time is precious. Digital interaction gives them the opportunity to navigate through that complexity on their own terms. By interacting with digitally enabled companies, customers move from simply completing a transaction to finding value in each transaction they do. The result for the organization? Higher revenues. Webber says that people spend more when they sell products to themselves.

5. Utilizing “digitally enabled” analytics to revise customer segmentation schema. Soon old customer segmentation schema will not work. Digitally enabled customers are creating niches that companies never knew about. As consumers buy things faster and assume more control over the entire experience, they start displaying new and different behaviors. Their past behavior stops predicting future behavior. The challenge of the digital firm is to use its analytics to detect emerging customer segments that require new and different ways to serve them.

6. Creating valuable, real-time intelligence. Webber says, “A company that manages its business through averages is a company waiting to be hammered.” The real-time intelligence that is available through every digital connection is a competitive advantage. The challenge is to create valuable intelligence and not just information. A digitally enabled company can understand its “over” and “under” performing areas in real time. Companies that continue to manage using historical averages will fail. Webber (2007) says, “A company that can harness the output of digital information to speed up its operations is going to outperform competitors, create new standards, and make a lot of money.”

As most contact center professionals know, transitioning to a digital organization requires a tremendous investment of resources. While most organizations can gain substantial benefits from becoming totally digital other organizations may benefit most by investing in a partial transformation. Management must have a good business case before investing. To be a successful digital customer contact organization, the digital strategy must be clearly defined and eloquently implemented.

Have you decided what digital investments you are (and are not) going to make? Why or why not?

Laudon, K. C., & Laudon, J. P. (2007). Management Information systems: Managing the digital firm (10th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall. ISBN: 9780132337748.

Webber, A.M. (2007). Are You on Digital Time? Fast Company. Retrieved June 8, 2008, from

Entry logged at 12:21 AM
June 8, 2008 02:21 PM
Categories: Management 
Knowledge Management Cultural Challenges

Customer Contact and Knowledge Management
The customer contact organization is highly dependent on knowledge. And yet much of the knowledge walks out of the call center on a regular basis because the employee turnover in a call center can range from 20 to 100 percent annually.

This industry has been struggling with how to implement viable knowledge management (KM) solutions for years. In the early years we designated teams of people as “experts” who would handle the customer inquiries that were too complex for the first line agent. We asked people to memorize vast amounts of data so they could have any answer at a moment’s notice. We then tried to embed static FAQs and Help into the agent technology but the answers were too rigid for the ever increasing complexity of customer requests. An agent trying to find an answer took too long for a customer to wait. Knowledge management systems were built that were a little more intuitive but companies failed to assign knowledge managers and so agents found incorrect answers more often than right answers. The answer had changed (and was not updated) since its last use. Agents stopped using the systems and went back to depending on their own memorization schemes.

So how do we implement a successful knowledge management solution in the contact center today?

Knowledge Management and Culture
A knowledge management solution is not only about finding the right information and technology – it is also about creating the right culture. Hurley and Green (2005) state:

“A broader view looks at KM requirements from three perspectives: a) Information-based; b) technology-based; and c) culture-based. The last of these perspectives highlights the importance of organizational culture in the KM process. Not all KM processes require high investment in technology. More importantly, successful use of the technology is often dependent on the incorporation of KM behavior into the organizational culture.”

Karlsen & Gottschalk (2004) view culture as important because it shapes assumptions about what knowledge is worth exchanging; it defines relationships between individual and organizational knowledge; it creates the context for social interaction that determines how knowledge will be shared in particular situations; and it shapes the processes by which new knowledge is created, legitimated, and distributed in organizations.

Hurley and Green (2005) believe that “Traditionally, KM has been perceived as a theory that is derived from and relies on high levels of technology. However, in most instances, the necessary cultural shift is more difficult to accomplish and often overlooked.”

Investing in Knowledge Management Culture
Agent Jobs
To create a KM culture in the customer contact organization we must take a look at the agent’s job and redefine it in terms of characteristics that encourage and simplify the creation and transfer of knowledge. We must recognize that agents gain tacit knowledge when interacting with customers (i.e. learning-by-doing) and as they gain experience they internalize that knowledge so that it becomes explicit (i.e., so they can share it with others). Once this knowledge is ready, the stage is set for the agent to share this knowledge through structured systems.

Organization Structure
We have to rethink how we structure our contact center organization to encourage and simplify the creation and transfer of knowledge. While we have been slow to adopt a decentralized approach, it is this very organizational structure that facilitates the sharing of explicit knowledge. The fact that a decentralized organization structure emphasizes empowerment and information sharing allows agents to more readily give their knowledge to other employees.

Agents must also be rewarded. The reward must be structured such that it effectively influences the agents’ decision about investing in knowledge creation and transfer (versus knowledge hoarding). Hall (2001) identifies intrinsic rewards as important in motivating knowledge management activity. These include rewards like access to information and knowledge, reputation enhancement, and personal satisfaction. Therefore, rewards should focus on intrinsic rewards and individual motivation. Through the individual's motivation to create and transfer knowledge, a KM culture can be established.

Technology can enhance a KM culture in the call center by facilitating the creation and transfer of knowledge. Alavi and Leidner (2001) identify three common applications of IT to organizational knowledge management initiatives the:
1. coding and sharing of best practices,
2. creation of corporate knowledge directories, and
3. creation of knowledge networks.

Examples of IT tools that can facilitate these functions are e-mail, corporate intranets, databases, document management, electronic bulletin boards, and discussion groups (Alavi & Leidner, 2001).

The customer contact organization is perfectly positioned to prove that the successful implementation of a knowledge management system requires an investment in creating a KM culture.

Alavi, M., & Leidner, D. E. (2001). Review: Knowledge Management and Knowledge Management Systems: Conceptual Foundations and Research Issues. MIS Quarterly, 25(1), 107-136.

Hall, H. (2001). Input-friendliness: Motivating Knowledge Sharing Across Intranets. Journal of Information Science, 27(2), 139-146.

Hurley, T.A., Green, C.W. (2005). Creating a knowledge management culture: the role of task, structure, technology and people in encouraging knowledge creation and transfer [Electronic Version]. Retrieve June 8, 2008, from Mid West Academy Web site:

Karlsen, J. T. & Gottschalk, P. (2004). Factors Affecting Knowledge Transfer in IT Projects. Engineering Management Journal, 16(1), 3-10.

Entry logged at 02:21 PM
June 3, 2008 01:41 PM
Categories: Management 
Information Security and Call Centers - Noteworthy Similarity

I was reading "The Global State of Information Security 2005" (retrieved from on June 1, 2008) when I came across the following quote:

"When you spend all that time fighting fires, you don't even have time to come up with the new ways to build things so they don't burn down. Right now, there's hardly a fire code."

It struck me how similar this is to what we go through in contact center management.

Fire-fighting has long been the daily norm of most contact center professionals. We get so involved in the daily fires that we don't have time to look at the big picture. Building processes and systems that aren't suseptible to flame outs is a luxury rather than than the norm. For the most part, I think many of us still spend more time on the tactical rather than the strategic.

In order to become customer experience managers and provide real value to the rest of the corporation we have to figure out how to balance the tactical with the strategic. It is not one or the other. Both are important.

What do you do to ensure your customer contact strategy aligns with and enhances your organization's strategy? Do you have a leader (or leaders) that focuses solely on strategy? What percentage of your planning time is spent on coming up with fireproof strategies? Are you predominantly reactive or proactive in your approach to contact center management? What can you do today to become more balanced?

Entry logged at 01:41 PM
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