Response Design Corporation:Creating the Uncommon Call Center
Kathryn's Uncommon Call Center Blog
August 5, 2008 10:51 AM
Manager Integrity Linked to Profitability

According to a study conducted by Simons, Walsh, & Sturman (2001) "employee perception of their managers' integrity - both keeping promises and demonstrating espoused values-were strongly linked to hotel profitability." In this study approximately 7500 employees at 84 hotels completed employee surveys that were then matched with the results from approximately 25,000 customer surveys and with financial records. The study showed that small changes in employee perceptions of manager integrity led to big changes in profitability (defined as EBIT divided by total revenues). According to the study if a hotel were to increase its management's integrity score by 1/8th of a point (on a 5 point scale) then the hotel could project an annual increase in revenues of 2.5 percent.

Interestingly, the researchers also found that employee commitment was more of a driver of customer satisfaction than was employee satisfaction.

The study defines "behavioral integrity" as how well a manager's deeds align (or misalign) to his words. In some ways this represents the older version of "walking the talk." When a manager's actions are not aligned to what he or she says then the employee does not consider the manager to have behavioral integrity.

While the study only involves the hotel industry, I think we can ask ourselves some important questions.

Are we, as contact center professionals, unaware of misalignments between our own words and deeds? How many of us examine whether or not we do what we say or ask how our employees perceive us? How many of us have considered how our integrity affects employee commitment and ultimately the success of our organization?

Do we teach any of these concepts to our managers or directors? Do we train our management team about integrity? Is it part of our performance appraisals?

What do you think about this link? Have you ever worked for someone with great integrity and found your commitment was better than when working for someone you perceived as lacking integrity? Or how about your commitment level when your witnessed a lack of behavioral integrity in your manager or management team? Did one infraction cause your commitment to wane or did it take multiple instances? We'd love to hear about this topic from your perspective / experience.

Simons, Walsh, Sturman (2002). Service from the heart: The relative influence of job satisfaction and affective commitment on service quality and employee turnover. Organization Science, 13(1). 18-35.

July 14, 2008 08:55 AM
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.

July 7, 2008 08:58 AM
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?

June 16, 2008 03:23 PM
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?

June 12, 2008 12:21 AM
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

June 8, 2008 02:21 PM
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.

June 3, 2008 01:41 PM
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?

May 29, 2008 01:33 PM
Enhancing interdepartmental interactions

Now that we know product quality is higher with better interdepartmental interactions what can we do to enhance those interdepartmental relationships? As you read the research results below think through your customer contact organization and how you might encourage the innovation, decentralize the decision-making and structure rewards to accomplish the desired result. Sometimes we get so caught up on the immediacy of our customer contact that we forget to reward the individuals who do take the time to sense and respond to product or service improvement opportunities. So many great opportunities stay locked up in our people because either there is no mechanism to capture the idea or else our people are frustrated. They've communicated before but no action was ever taken (at least none that they know of).

"There are a number of actions that managers can take to enhance interdepartmental interactions. Specifically, positive interdepartmental interactions appear to require a certain level of risk taking by senior managers and a willingness to accept occasional failures of new organizational processes as being a normal part of business. In the absence of such a willingness to take calculated risks, employees are likely to be reluctant to try innovative ideas and might prefer to stay within their designated task areas and not be involved in the overall process. The relationships between an organization's reward system orientation, selected structural issues (such as decentralized decision making), and interdepartmental interactions appear to be strong, suggesting that reward structures and systems should take into account the contributions of individuals in sensing and responding to innovative quality processes. Similarly, empowering employees in the lower levels of the organization by decentralizing decision making appears to help reduce conflicts and improve interdepartmental connectedness. Decision-making responsibilities seem to help employees become goal focused and develop networks necessary to achieve the stated goals" (Menon, Jaworski, Kohli, 1997).

What success have you had in enhancing your interdepartmental interactions?

Ajay Menon, Bernard J Jaworski, Ajay K Kohli. (1997). Product quality: Impact of interdepartmental interactions. Academy of Marketing Science. Journal, 25(3), 187-200. Retrieved May 28, 2008, from ABI/INFORM Global database. (Document ID: 12606198).

May 28, 2008 11:12 AM
The link between interdepartmental interactions and product quality

A great research study shows that there is a relationship between the interdepartmental interactions and product quality. We've known this for quite some time in the customer contact arena. The call center agents talk to more customers in one day than do any other employees the rest of the year. Yet, how many of us have the sytems in place that allow these agents to communicate what the customer is telling them? Here's what the study says:

"...the results of this study suggest that the relationship between interdepartmental interactions and product quality is strong. Thus, managers should implement interventions that increase interdepartmental connectedness-particularly in turbulent environments.

For instance, managers must carefully develop programs and incentives aimed at fostering cooperations among various functional units. Allowing greater decision-making authority to the line functions and breaking down functional silos or strict departmental structures will help build cooperative environment and, in turn, improve communications between key constituents. Such improved communications will assist companies deliver high-quality goods and services" (Menon, Jaworski, Kohli, 1997).

In the competitive market we face today, can any of us afford to have our silos dictate poor product quality?

What are others doing to help facilitate this cross-functional interaction? What programs or incentives are you using to foster cooperation? Are you allowing greater decision-making authority? We'd love to hear what you are doing.

Ajay Menon, Bernard J Jaworski, Ajay K Kohli. (1997). Product quality: Impact of interdepartmental interactions. Academy of Marketing Science. Journal, 25(3), 187-200. Retrieved May 28, 2008, from ABI/INFORM Global database. (Document ID: 12606198).

May 21, 2008 12:39 PM
Satisfying the Right Customer

Customer value is a very important factor for a customer contact operation. Companies have to constantly attract and retain loyal customers thus increasing the lifetime value of their customers. In their 1995 article, Why Satisfied Customers Defect, Jones and Sasser describe how companies can increase customer loyalty by focusing on “completely satisfied customers” and targeting “right” versus “wrong” customers (Jones & Sasser, 1995). In the following quote, Jones and Sasser discuss how the “top box” satisfaction score (on a customer satisfaction survey) drives exponential loyalty. Their discussion of the “commodity” products and services is a critical one. For example, think of the consumer products in groceries. Can these customers be loyal to a higher priced brand and lured away from buying discounted “off” brands based on period coupon campaigns? According to Jones and Sasser, under certain circumstances instances, yes.

Completely loyal customers are – to a surprising degree much more loyal than satisfied customers. To put it another way, any drop from total satisfaction results in a major drop in loyalty. The same applies to commodity businesses with thin profit margins; the potential returns on initiatives to increase satisfaction in such businesses can be as high as the return on initiatives in more profitable businesses. In fact, attempts to create complete customer satisfaction in commodity industries will often raise the product or service out of the commodity category. In most instances, totally satisfying the members of the targeted customer group should be a top priority (Jones & Sasser, 1995).

The next quote challenges us to understand that it is not only satisfying a customer that is important in driving customer value. It is a matter of satisfying the right customer. Are we targeting the right customer to satisfy? Are we marketing to the customer that will bring us higher lifetime value? Jones and Sasser speak of the “expensive mistake” of retaining the wrong customer. This financial mistake is the fact that the value of the wrong customer is much lower than the value of the right customer.

Very poor service or products are not the only cause – and may not even be the main cause – of high dissatisfaction. Often the company has attracted the wrong customers or has an inadequate process for turning around the right customers when they have a bad experience. Customers typically fall into one of two categories: the right customers, or target group, whom the company should be able to serve well and profitably, and the wrong customers, whose needs it cannot profitably serve. Having the wrong customers is the result of a flawed process for attracting or obtaining customer. The company that retains difficult-to-serve, chronically unhappy customers is making an expensive long-term mistake” (Jones & Sasser, 1995).

Each of us must consider how to completely satisfy the right customer in order to drive loyalty and increase customer lifetime value.

Jones, T. O. & Sasser, W. E Jr. (2005). Why Satisfied Customers Defect, Harvard Business Review. November – December, 88-99.

May 19, 2008 12:22 PM
The Business Impact of Customer Service Values

Values that are internalized (and not just published) guide each of us through decisions and change. I just recently watched a program on PBS about the Marines During the program they continually talked about the Marine value system. One comment in particular caught my attention. The commentator said Marines are trained to evaluate their values not so much by what they do when everyone is looking but what they do when no one is around. Honor, courage, and commitment are to guide the Marine in every decision he makes no matter what the circumstances and no matter who is looking.

It is important for companies to have well-defined and internalized values. When all the citizens of an organization hold the same values, decisions and behavior are consistent even when the circumstances are not.

Two companies’ very different customer value systems were exposed recently by the national press.

The first was a casino in Philadelphia. A man walks into the casino, plays the slots, and wins over $100,000. However when he goes to collect his winnings, casino management informs him that they are not going to pay him because his “win” is the mistake of their computer system. There was a public outcry and ultimately the casino paid.

The second incident was the customer service debacle of Jet Blue, the airline differentiating itself from the competition based on how customer friendly it is. In contrast to the casino response, Jet Blue immediately apologized, admitted fault, started a change process, and proactively documented a customer bill of rights. In the bill of rights, Jet Blue promises compensation for poor service. Jet Blue went so far as to retroactively award all the customers inconvenienced the previous week (prior to the bill of rights documentation).

It is obvious that the two companies mentioned above had very different values concerning how they treat customers, especially in “non-standard” situations. Although currently unreported, we can assume that the long-term impact of their differing values will be very different as well.

July 16, 2007 11:03 AM
Stock up those good feelings

Do you know how to build rapport between your customers and your agents? Organizations create rapport when their agents know how to:
1.allow customers to vent;
2.engage in active listening;
3.demonstrate a sense of urgency in problem resolution; and
4.convey a helpful, willing attitude.

Don’t downplay these soft skills thinking they do not have a lasting affect on lifetime value. Psychologists tell us that when people have rapport they are more forgiving of mistakes. And everyone makes mistakes.

July 9, 2007 11:01 AM
Knowledge is great, but action based on knowledge better

Most centers interact with hundreds or thousands of customers each day—but what do they do with the intelligence they capture? They brag about their reams of data, but if they do not have a use for them, they have no business collecting them. They listen to an avalanche of customer noises, but their ears are not finely tuned to hear the voice of the customer.

If you have codified intelligence so that others can use it, we salute you. If you share usable intelligence with other departments and track the impact that your center has on customers, you are rare in this field.

I know there are not many like you because service level remains a dominant customer satisfaction metric even though a specific customer satisfaction research proves other performance elements may have a far greater impact on satisfaction.

If you are just beginning to listen to customers with the intention of capturing actionable data, remember to use all customer channels to gather data including the IVR, the Web, and e-mail messages. Hearing does not occur only through the telephone.

June 4, 2007 10:53 AM
Rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic

I like this quote:

“We trained hard, ...but it seemed that every time we were beginning to form up into teams, we would be reorganized. I was to learn late in life that we tend to meet any new situation by reorganizing; and a wonderful method it can be for creating the illusion of progress while producing confusion, inefficiency and demoralization.”

I’ve seen managers who have used a reorganization strategy to attack problems such as a low first contact resolution. However, before you go there, explore how far comprehensive targeted training will take you in increasing this important metric.

Our studies show that successful organizations engage in extensive new-hire training followed by a period of time in which the new employees receive special mentoring (one company calls the area of increased supervision “The Nest”). Best-practice companies also cross-train employees so they are prepared to handle as many calls as possible and support the training with an efficient system of skill-based routing.

If you do find reorganization is necessary to increase first contact resolution, manage the change well so that the confusion, inefficiency, and demoralization are minimized.

By the way, the words in the quote predate customer contact management by approximately 2,200 years; they were uttered by Petronius Arbiter in 210 BC. I guess that was before the science of change management, too.

January 22, 2007 12:20 PM
One, Two, or All Party Consent

Whenever I work with call centers who want to tape calls for their agent quality monitoring program I always ask, "Are you in compliance with Federal and State regulations when you monitor calls?" Often the answer is, "I don't know."

If you're not sure, take a look at the following informative link from Morrison and Foerster.

The following site defines what kind of notification is required:

Take this information to your corporate attorney to figure out the best way to ensure you are in compliance in ALL applicable regulations.

A first step is to get employee consent to tape (preferably in writing), putting the practice into your employee handbook, and even possibly labeling the phones that may be monitored. After that, if you are regulated by two- or all-party consent rules, you will need to inform the customer each time they call that their call may be monitored / taped.

Do you know of any other Web sites that may help call center professionals figure out this complex topic? Please take a moment and post them here.

Also, let me know if I can help. I have helped a lot of companies figure out how to be compliant after the attorney designates the rules you have to follow.

August 29, 2006 12:18 AM
Do you respond to trends more like a chicken or a pig?

I am working with a company that has decided to become involved in telecommuting. In fact, its executives wrote their entire annual strategic plan around it. Their research says they will save a lot of money and increase productivity exponentially. They read, learned, benchmarked, and interviewed people from companies who were already successful in telecommuting. Becoming involved with telecommuting is a “no-brainer” for them. However, to date, my clients have not stepped one little toe into the huge telecommuting ocean. They’re having trouble making a commitment.

An unknown author described the difference between being “involved” and “committed.” He or she says that, regarding an eggs-and-ham breakfast, the chicken is “involved,” and the pig is “committed.” Many times, it is more comfortable to stay in the role of the chicken, but capitalizing on trends requires commitment.

The ability to perceive trends quickly, or even to make sense of them, will not automatically guarantee success. Understanding and implementing a trend responsibly is altogether different. Determining how (or whether) you will turn that trend into something good takes creativity and persistence. Your success depends on a disciplined approach to envisioning the changes, defining required change actions, and implementing the plan.

Think back on your history with contact center trends. For the ones you deemed relevant, did your actions more resemble the involvement of the chicken or the commitment of the pig?

August 21, 2006 12:13 AM
Are you overwhelmed by trends?

The other day when I came home from a trip, I plugged my computer in and nothing worked. The keyboard and mouse acted like they belonged to some other computer sitting in some faraway place (and I think that place was Greece because what was showing up on the screen was Greek to me).

It was late at night, I was tired, and now I was frazzled. I needed to update and e-mail one or two documents before I could go to bed. I was at my wit’s end and certainly didn’t need one more thing to add to my stress.

Ever feel that way? Perhaps you are overwhelmed by the complexities of your customer contact operation and you keep adding to that stress by taking on more projects.

How do you feel when someone proposes a new contact center trend project? Do you break into a cold sweat? Does everyone on your team, at first, see the value of “diving in,” while you immediately realize that taking on another project is just too much? You have the feeling that it just might be the initiative that finally sinks the entire organization, drowning all employees with it.

Trends involve resource-hungry projects. And, if your resources (knowledge, time, people, or funds) are already taxed or lacking, you should put trend-implementation on hold. Keep that hold on until you know the relevancy, value, and cost of each program you are attacking. After you do your assessment, you may find that some trendy projects are outdated, some too costly, and others irrelevant in light of your organizational strategy. If so, clean house – stop spending your limited resources on projects that don’t make sense.

Don’t let any of these trend challenges keep you from success. There are nuggets of gold in that heap of projects you are about to assess that will provide ongoing success for your organization.

Have you presented a new idea to your organization recently? What was it? What did others say about it?

August 14, 2006 12:11 AM
Be a trend watcher

The more trends you track, the more you are able to put them into context, and the more wisdom you'll have when deciding which to adapt and implement.

As I listened to a vendor presentation the other day, the alphabet soup of acronyms caused me to think, “Huh? I don’t know what that means!” I quickly lost interest in the intent of the presentation. As I looked around the room, I saw similar “glazed over” expressions. Why weren’t we asking our questions? Did we think that everyone else in the room knew the answers and we would look stupid if we asked for clarification?

It taught me a lesson. Someone in the room had to step up and take the risk – ask the question. And, if the answer didn’t help, we had to keep asking.

Contact center trends are like that meeting. They can be full of special concepts, words, and acronyms. Heaven knows our industry makes up at least one new word a day. Therefore, if you don’t understand a trend, or if you feel even more confused after asking about it, don’t stop asking! I know people who, after making several attempts at understanding, give up. Some of them begin to believe they will never understand, and others are too embarrassed to keep asking. Don’t be like these folks, keep seeking. Ask “huh?” out loud. It’s not your fault that people can’t explain something in a way you can understand.

Your job as a contact center manager is to map out a viable path for your executive management team: spotting business opportunities and risks, identifying contextual changes (e.g., social, economic, technology), and steering your contact center and company towards its highest potential. An understanding of contact center trends provides valuable insights regarding how to do your job.

You may read about a trend and not really understand what people are so excited about, or you may not understand the trend at all. You may not know whether it applies to you. Be willing to seek help in understanding trends, and have perseverance. If you don’t truly understand a trend, then find a source that can help. Remember, is here for you.

August 7, 2006 12:10 AM
Contact center trend disclaimer

Industry literature is full of call center “trends;” writers use the term to entice us. We all want to be in the know. We don’t want to be left behind. If we are to pursue “good” contact center trends that result in positive improvement, then we can’t focus on being “trendy,” running with the crowd chasing the latest fad. What is good for one contact center may not be good for another.

We should also be careful about being a “trendsetter.” A trendsetter initiates or popularizes a trend. My hope is that any vendor or “best practice” contact center initiating or popularizing a trend would keep the good of the whole in mind. After all, there is no “one size fits all” trend. Trends should come with disclaimers, “without serious consideration, this trend could cause harm.”

Remember, just as fashion trends come, go, and recycle back (think miniskirts), call center trends often follow that same pattern. A good example is how companies started their calls centers with multiple sites, then for technology and cost reasons went through a big consolidation phase only to move back to a more distributed configuration (for the same cost and technology reasons).

As an observer and implementer of contact center trends, be vigilant as you evaluate them. Will this trend be good for you? If so, how will you adapt it to fit the uniqueness of your organization?

When we talk about customer contact trends, what comes to mind? We’d not only enjoy hearing about the trends that most often capture your attention, but also what you think about them.

July 31, 2006 12:03 AM
Surfing call center trends

I live a couple of blocks from the ocean. I watch surfers and the surf throughout the year. A strong surf means few surfers, and those who brave the waves are pummeled by the white water. During times of normal surf, I can pick out the novice surfers; they have a tough time figuring out which wave to catch. They often end up trying most any wave. Expert surfers are picky. They are able to discern the productive wave because they have enough experience to know when they are going to have a good ride.

This analogy holds true when we surf contact center trends. We all have various reactions to trends. Some of us dive right in, only to find the white water or rip currents too much to handle. Others of us spend time honing our “surfing” skills and only paddle with the wave when we know that the force of the trend is going to take us in a positive direction.

Outsourcing, for example, can be an intimidating trend. However, if you are expert in selecting, partnering with, and managing outsource providers, then you are ready for the challenge. And you can even help your employees handle the outsourcing trend by increasing their skill levels, and positioning your center to take on more roles that are not easily outsourced.

How do you feel about trends? Are you afraid to face them, or exhilarated when you hear about something new? How do you prepare yourself and determine which trends are right for you? Let us know your reaction to some of the trends that have caught your attention, and how you intend to handle them.

July 25, 2006 12:01 AM
Contact center trends

Would you agree that the contact center industry is constantly moving? Often, I notice, it moves in multiple directions at once. We are in an industry that cannot sit still; we follow trends.

I spend much of my time just trying to keep track of trends. We have “people” and technology trends, and also process, knowledge, customer, measurement, and sourcing trends. As if our contact center lives aren’t hectic enough! Deciding what trends to follow can drive us crazy.

I have defined a “trend” as “an investment strategy resulting in a long-term, significant change in enterprise and/or contact center performance.” Notice that the definition is neutral; the “change” described can be positive or negative. A trend can take us to new heights or correspondingly low depths. Most trends are positive, but even the ones that begin positively can go awry. In 1969, Sir Alec Cairncross wrote a short lyric that illustrates that a trend is what we make it:

A trend is a trend is a trend
But the question is, will it bend?
Will it alter its course
Through some unforeseen force
And come to a premature end?

Have you achieved positive results from following a trend? Have you seen others latch onto a call center trend that did not last? Tell us about it; and, if you would like, change the names of those involved to protect the unwary trendsetter.

June 12, 2006 12:52 AM
The Value of the Call Center

Recently, a vice president of a financial institution said to me, “(Our company) looks at the contact center as a mirror image of the rest of the organization - virtually everything that goes on in the rest of the organization, in some way, shape, or form can be tracked to an interaction that we have in the call center.”

He went on to say, “So, whether a department manages a product, manages clients, or deals with finances or marketing, there is some representation of what goes on in those worlds going on in the call center each day. It could happen on any call. Each day the call center engages in interactions that are examples of that mirror. Not only do we have to run the business of the call center, but also we have to provide more and more information to the internal stakeholders wanting to know the call center's insights on their customer strategies.”

I’ve never heard a manager express the value of his contact center better. Our centers are mirror images of the rest of the enterprise; we reflect the organization. By working through the interactions and reporting on what we have discovered, we are a source of wisdom for our sister departments.

How does your contact center reflect enterprise strategies? What intelligence are you delivering to your partners in other departments? How are you delivering it? This is an exciting time for us, it’s important that we all learn from each other.

May 30, 2006 04:19 PM
Professional blindness

NASA conducted a study involving commercial airline pilots. They asked the pilots to perform routine landings in a flight simulator. During several of the landings, the researchers put an image of a large commercial airplane parked crosswise on the runway. Twenty-five percent of the pilots landed right on top of the parked airplane. Even when the researchers asked the pilots directly, “Did you notice the plane on the runway?” the pilots said, “The what?” The pilots never saw the obvious – well, they never saw what was obvious to the non-professional. They had what I call “professional blindness,” and many of us running contact centers have it as well.

“Professional blindness” means we tend to miss what we’re not expecting to see. We are conditioned by our expertise and routine to only see what we’re accustomed to seeing. Think about how this affects us. When we go about our daily routine, looking at computer screens and report printouts, we may not see the commercial aircraft sitting right in the middle of data. Because we don’t see it, we don’t do anything about it and later wonder what caused the events of day to “go south” so fast.

Maybe you are running a routine training session or facilitating a daily staff meeting. You sense something isn’t quite right; but, you see nothing obvious. Later, a participant asks you if you noticed the obstacle to success, the “airplane on the runway.” You think back and answer, “the what?”

Professional blindness happens to your agents as well. Every time they speak with a customer, they use the same computer screens to answer questions or solve problems. Routine has taught them to expect to see certain data on each screen. But whenever that unexpected “parked airplane” appears on their screens, it is highly likely that some of the agents will miss it entirely.

People who are new to a job aren’t as blind as us veterans. They haven’t been conditioned to have expectations. Research has taught us over and over that new hires are one of our best sources of innovation. They don’t have to think (or see) outside the box because they haven’t have time to build the box around them.

To hone your center’s ability to identify the obvious:
1. make the employees aware that they could have areas of blindness;
2. when possible, have teammates switch tasks;
3. take time to listen to new hires; and
4. talk with people outside the environment and ask them what they see.

Even though they may not know how to “land the plane,” they might be able to point out what may keep you from landing safely.

Have you learned something unexpected or surprising by talking to a new hire or call center observer? We would love to hear your story.

May 24, 2006 04:16 PM
Focused blindness

Have you heard about the study, “Gorillas in our Midst?” It is based on an experiment in which people are asked to watch a video of a basketball game and count the number of passes one of the teams makes. A minute or so into the tape, while the people are busy counting passes, a woman in a gorilla suit walks onto the screen, stops, faces the camera, and beats her fists on her chest. Fifty percent of the people who watch the video don’t see the gorilla. I think life in the contact center is much like this experiment.

Each day, we focus on the task of “counting the passes” in our own “basketball game.” We know what we have to do to get through the day, and we do it efficiently. But, we miss a lot by being so focused. What would someone without so much intentional focus see? Does our harried pace keep us from observing something as obvious as a gorilla in a basketball game? And, might the solution to some menacing problem be found in what we are not seeing?

A good way to check whether we are “missing the gorilla” is to ask the new people on the team what they see. These individuals haven’t been indoctrinated into our carefully orchestrated day, and therefore often observe what we miss.

Keep an open mind. You may hear some things you think are impossible. I’ll bet there were several people who didn’t believe they had missed something as obvious as a gorilla in the middle of the video. When we are hyper-focused, we become blind to everything in our peripheral vision. Believe me, that’s where those gorillas love to dwell.

In which fifty percent are you – do you see gorillas in your midst daily or have some manifestations gotten by you?

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