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April 2003
Empowerment is key to call center efficiency, team goal attainment and agents' peace of mind.
By Robert Ruby
Call Center Magazine

The contact center in today's corporation (circa Year 2002) is a totally new proposition as contrasted with yesterday's call center. New technology has radically changed most companies' methods for acquiring and retaining customers. The contact center's tools, mission, vision and position in the corporate hierarchy has evolved dramatically in a short period of time. And centers will continue to evolve, in both importance to the organization, and sophistication in their own infrastructure and people, for the predictable future.

As centers have changed, so have the profiles of the people needed to staff them. Today's contact center professional must possess well-rounded skills; must have high technical aptitudes; and must combine those with that amorphous "spirit of service" necessary to keeping clients. He/she will also be higher paid than his/her predecessors. And it will take a much greater investment of time, energy and resources to recruit, train and retain him/her.

Contact center staff must be well organized. They must be motivated to perform. Therefore, recruiting, hiring, educating and retaining staff of the highest caliber is one of the top two challenges recognized and faced by call center managers, worldwide. Latest figures show that as much as 66% of a contact center's staff "turns over" every year - a drain of millions of dollars on corporate coffers, annually. And there is no easy answer to this #2 issue in sight.

Issue #2 worsens issue #1, which is relatively constant - the quandary of how to use current (and often constrained) human resources to achieve the highest possible levels of service. Overwhelming empirical evidence attests that highly empowered teams and individuals, in any given situation, best deliver high levels of service. The contact center is no different, in that respect.

Tools to Empower the Team

Key to team empowerment are common goals, and blueprints to achieve them. To that end, every modern contact center should have a mission statement. And the statement, and its underlying strategy, should be "owned" by everyone.

The mission statement consists of a few lines or a brief paragraph that describes the operation, where it fits in the corporate hierarchy, its long-term and short-term goals, and what it does. It also answers the following strategic and tactical questions:

  • What is the overall organization's and the contact center's market segment/industry focus?
  • What are the center's defining characteristics?
  • What are the center's priorities?
  • How does the organization and the center want to be recognized by its customers?

Well-written mission statements are easily comprehensible, meaningful and enduring. They can be quickly summed up by anyone on the center staff. Ideally, they become a well-accepted and understood diagram, outlining executable plans and becoming the foundation of everyday behavior.

The mission statement is also based on an articulated strategy for the team. The best-devised call center strategies are based on research derived from four key viewpoints: the customer/client, the contact center staff, the contact center manager, and the organization as a whole.

A customer contact strategy defines the desired customer experience and how the contact center fits within the organization's overall process of serving customers. The strategy document acknowledges the current state of the center, and also identifies its probable future state. In addition to answering the previous questions, it explains the products and services available from the center and the access methods to reach the center. A good strategy may also touch on feasible technology directions for the center, current and planned organizational structure, as well as current and planned operations and processes. Most importantly, it clearly spells out the team's top priorities and overall values.

Workforce Management, Forecasting and Scheduling

After agreeing to a collective mission and strategy, a contact center team must then work within the plan's constraints (like a well-oiled machine) to feel truly empowered. That "oiling" involves the meticulous management of details that -- unless well formulated -- can bring the machine to a grinding halt.

Control of one's hours, and the hours of one's staff, is one of those details. Efficient scheduling and forecasting is essential for the peace of mind and optimal efficiency of both contact center management, and staff. In addition, correct shift scheduling (the placement of the correct number of representatives in the right place at the right time) is critical for both maximum revenue generation by a contact center; and the prevention of unnecessary expenses.

Research shows, for example, that scheduling non-phone time may seem inconsequential, but inefficient placement of breaks may waste up to 15% of a call center's total budget.

The whole area of workforce management is particularly important for small to mid-size call centers. Centers with less than 100 agents encounter tremendous difficulties in today's competitive markets. Larger call centers benefit from the same economies of scale that place the small call center at considerable disadvantage. If you have 100 call center agents or fewer, you face the difficult task of providing a "world-class" center that executes its mission statement in a cost-effective manner. Small to mid-size call centers share some common challenges: high capital expenditures, low occupancies, shortage of technical knowledge and high training costs. Each of those challenges can be measurably addressed by a number of technology solutions, most particularly workforce management/forecasting and scheduling tools.

Tools to Empower the Individual

After buying into the mission and strategy of a center, its staff must work on an individual basis, of course. Stellar workplace performers, in any role, often have one key characteristic in common: they require a measure of control over their working environments to perform at an efficient peak.

This is particularly true of contact center professionals, given the reactive nature of call centers. External and internal corporate circumstances often dictate "today's challenge" for the contact center agent and manager. Has a new product launched? Has there been a particular external occurrence, which has caused an unforeseen flood of incoming calls? Is there a corporate directive that has created more market demand or more customer reactions?

The contact center professional must deal with a wide variety of sudden circumstances, and still feel a degree of control to maintain professional focus. One real challenge in today's center is providing managers and agents with the tools they need to respond appropriately to clients, regardless of the way the client's inquiry comes into the center.

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Sunday, June 29, 2003
Location :: c_corporate/news