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.
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.
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.
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?