Response Design Corporation:Creating the Uncommon Call Center
Kathryn's Uncommon Call Center Blog
July 22, 2008 01:28 PM
Ensuring Data Quality in the Contact Center

When was the last time you opened up a customer record to handle an inquiry only to find the comment field populated with abbreviations and codes that made the documentation unintelligible? Or, as you are quality checking the data side of a call, you find entries into fields that “are not allowed” according to procedures but certainly are allowed by the database? If you have, then you probably agree with Howard (2007) “Data quality isn’t just a data management problem, it’s a company problem.” And, certainly it is a customer contact problem we have to address sooner rather than later.

In his article, Howard describes how he was in the process of integrating three new data sources into his enterprise customer database when he discovered the sad truth to the lack of data quality management. The first two files had the state code field correctly defined as a two-byte field however file number one had 64 values defined for state codes and the second file had 67 distinct values defined. The third file had the state field defined as 18 bytes with 260 distinct state codes defined. At this point he begins to ask, “whose problem is data quality anyway?”

To try to figure out his dilemma, Howard first looks to the data modeler who could have defined a domain table of state and commonwealth codes that would force anyone using the database to enter a common code set. He then considered the application development team whose “application edit checks failed to recognize the 50 valid state codes or provide any text standardization conversions.” He states that whether or not a company has a quality assurance team is largely dependent on the size of the company but goes on to say that data quality with these teams may not be better. In his example, the fact that the state code should be only two bytes in length and conform to the USPS standard was overlooked. Because there was no specific requirement to test, these data sources passed QA with flying colors. Howard says, “More than likely, someone assumed everyone knew the 50 state codes and that writing validation code was a waste of time. After all, everyone knows the state abbreviations for Michigan, Minnesota and Missouri. (Don't feel bad if you have to check - I did.)” Finally, he turns to the business users. An executive at one of Mr. Howard’s clients told him that data quality at their company was an afterthought. “Bad information was captured and passed on to the next application that assumed the first application had done its job. Bad data is persistently stored in multiple data stores.”

Mr. Howard’s article presents a valid question: Because data integrity is critical to the success in today’s corporations, who is responsible? Enterprise systems contain critical product, customer, and employee data. This data is integrated into management reports including dashboards and scorecards. Managers and executives use this data to make both tactical and strategic decisions. If someone does not take the responsibility to manage the quality of data quality, critical data elements / metrics may be incorrect or unusable thus jeopardizing the success of an organization. We all know what happens when a customer contact agent inputs undefined abbreviations and nonsense data into customer interaction fields. What can we do as customer contact professionals to ensure the quality of this precious data?

Howard, W. (2007). Data Quality Isn't Just a Data Management Problem. DM Review, 17(10), 16. Retrieved July 19, 2008, from ProQuest Computing database. (Document ID: 1413058121).

Entry logged at 01:28 PM
July 14, 2008 08:55 AM
Categories: Management 
Ideas to Boost Employee Morale

What happens when we aren’t diligent about ethical behavior? I don’t mean only the great lapses in judgment. I’m also talking about the “little nods” that happen on a daily basis because we are too busy to address them. Did you know that studies show employees have four ways of dealing with these confusing expedient nods? When employees watch us act contrary to our defined ethical standards (e.g., code of conduct), they often begin to demonstrate:

1. lowered productivity,
2. reduced quality of output,
3. increased absenteeism, and
4. voluntary resignation

I’ve posted a whole chapter of our customer contact book “The Ten Most (un)Wanted Villains” to what I like to call “Expedient Nods” at under the discussion group "Villains that steal customer contact success."

So how can customer contact leaders encourage their companies to act ethically? In addition to the advice we give in our The Ten Most (un)Wanted Villains chapter, consider what Miller and Jentz (2008, pp. 48-49) have to say. They indicate that there are four factors that define a leader committed to ethical leadership.

Have the right attitude: According to a survey quoted by Miller and Jentz the attitude and behaviour of a leader “sets the ethical tone” for the rest of the enterprise. A business leader must first examine his own attitude toward ethical behaviour, monitor his behaviour at all times, and correct any misalignment to ethical behaviour promptly. This will encourage the rest of the workforce to do the same.

Don’t look the other way: “Managers must show that they will not tolerate unethical business behaviour.”. As soon as a leader sees an ethical infraction it is critical that the leader address it immediately and effectively. The rest of the employees will understand from these honest and swift actions that a leader means what he says.

Set realistic goals: Leaders must understand what an enterprise is capable of attaining without succumbing to unethical behaviour. Should goals be set too high, employees may be tempted to achieve the goals by unethical means. It is the work of the leader to know the capabilities and the limitations of his team and to set expectations that are reasonable.

Provide periodic evaluation: Leaders can encourage ethical behaviour by periodically reviewing an employee’s behaviour. This can be accomplished through face-to-face interviews with the supervisor. Or, a company may prefer to have a standard ethical checklist that can be filled out by the supervisor or self-reported.

Are you experiencing any of the four factors in your organization? Could it be because of expedient nods? How do you keep your organization aligned to your code of conduct? How do you assess if there are any expedient nods happening in your organization?

Miller, R., & Jentz, G. (2008). Business law today: The essentials (8th ed.). Mason, OH: West Legal Studies in Business, an imprint of Thomson/South-Western, a part of the Thompson Corporation.

Entry logged at 08:55 AM
July 7, 2008 08:58 AM
Categories: Management 
Driving Consistent Contact Center Decisions

How many times have we heard it? One day a contact center manager is asked to make a decision that seems counter to the request asked yesterday. “We need to cut personnel costs…but, let’s not forget to keep our service level performance high.” I’m not saying that cutting costs and keeping service level are always competing actions but there are times when some decisions run counter to others.

Most of the time I run across this is when there is a poor understanding of the organization’s strategy and how that affects contact center strategy and decisions. In particular, how organization competitive strategy drives the strategy of the contact center that then defines the competencies of the agents the contact center team hires, trains, and manages. Contact center management can spend needless time and money if the organization strategy is not defined or poorly communicated.

To illustrate, consider the different competencies of agents supporting an operational excellent versus a customer intimate competitive strategy.

Operational Excellence
If a company’s competitive strategy is to gain market share and profitability through operational excellence, then the contact center’s mission is to deliver decent service while containing costs. Agents provide customers with service that is par with other companies while maintaining an efficient, low cost operation. The goal of an operationally excellent company is customer satisfaction.

Customer Contact Agents in an Operationally Excellent Contact Center
The organization in an operationally excellent company is more regimented and agents are counted on to maximize efficiency for standardized service. While the work is relatively routine, the agents must contribute to continual improvement of process efficiencies. Agent training is oriented mainly to ensuring job proficiency. An agent’s career opportunities are typically limited, and there is considerable emphasis on schedule flexibility (i.e., adjusting agent numbers and working hours to changes in demand).

Teams are not extensively used and if a team is formed, management controls it. Agents are expected to spend much more of their time interacting with customers than with colleagues.

Agent rewards are typically aimed at individual performance.

The agents in an operationally efficient organization use technology tools to manage customer satisfaction in a cost efficient manner. While interacting with customers, agents depend on technology to provide the company’s standardize solution for each customer issue. In an operationally excellent company, the goal of this agent-technology interface is to ensure consistent and hassle-free service for the customer.

Customer Intimacy
When a company decides that its differentiation is to pursue customer intimacy, the contact center holds a strategic position on the competitive front line. In a customer intimate company, the mission is to provide customers with service that is exemplary when compared to other companies. The goal of technology in this scenario goes beyond simple customer satisfaction to true customer intimacy.

Customer-facing People
This customer contact environment most resembles the highly advertised “empowered work organization.” Workers are given discretion to negotiate sales and service. These agents maintain control of their work solving complex problems within agreed-upon timelines and on budget while maintaining stringent professional standards.

When interacting with customers, these agents have considerable discretion within policies and procedures, maintaining a type of fluidity that ensures customer intimacy.

These empowered agents typically relate to both external and internal customers and, in each case, the relationships are complex, endure over relatively long periods, and involve the continuous exchange of information and knowledge.

The complexity of this type of work encourages greater reliance on other team members in executing work, for learning and support. This means more teamwork. Therefore, there are more rewards that are team-based.

These highly empowered agents use technology tools to continually learn about individual customers such that a tailored sales or service solution can be delivered. An agent developing customer intimacy must initiate an ongoing, meaningful dialogue with each customer. Technology enables the agent to develop and maintain that kind of dialogue.

Do you know the competitive strategy of your organization? Do you continually align your strategy to that of the organization? Do your personnel decisions support the goals of the organization or do you feel like you are continually asked to implement competing objectives? If so, what can you do about it? If not, what advice do you have for others who are struggling with this?

Entry logged at 08:58 AM
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