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Contact center as a ‘Strategic Asset’? – There is more to contact center processes than you think!

Contact Center as a Strategic Asset

By Turaj Seyrafiaan

Contact centers have been in operations for many years.  One of the key aspects (pillars) of contact center operation is ‘Process’.  Processes are the backbone of any contact center – every contact center has them. Some of these are directly related to how we handle customer contacts. Some are focused on back-office operations. We call these ‘Core’ processes.  The better, more streamlined these Core processes are, the more efficient the contact center operates. Let’s call it ‘Operational Excellence’.

There is no question that the efficient operation of the center is a key to the survival of the center.  For many contact centers, obtaining the required funds is an annual adventure. Budgets keep shrinking while the expectation grows.  They tell us we need to be more efficient at what we do – ‘do more with less’ or ‘magic with nothing’.  At the end of the day however, no matter how efficient the contact center operates, most executives do not see their contact center as a strategic asset for the organization.  Yes, they say it is a very important part of the organization but rarely do we see any significant investment in the contact center.  What we have seen – heavy reliance on (and investing in) technology, in order to achieve efficiency and improve those Core processes.

BUT, there is more to contact center processes!

Traditionally, contact centers are seen and operated as cost centers, hence the focus on operational efficiency and efficiency metrics such as AHT or Occupancy Rates.  Even if the center provides revenue, it may still not be considered a strategic asset for the organization!  If the center is not viewed as a strategic asset, why would organization want to invest in it?

Well let’s look at this problem from a different angle.  What if we could bring added value (outside of increased revenue or reduced costs) to our organization?  What is it that a contact center can contribute to the organization that would be considered ‘Value-Add’?  In general, companies value contributions to:

  • Customer loyalty that drives profitability
  • Company learning that leads to innovation and growth
  • Professional partnerships that build strong relationships/understanding within the company

In order to deliver these, contact centers need to focus not only on the Operational Excellence (Core processes) but also on ‘Value-Add’ processes.  These are the processes that leverage the unique position of a contact center so that it becomes a strategic asset for the organization. The goal of each process is to contribute in ways that add value to the organization. There are many processes in this category, some familiar to most and some, perhaps, less known.  Let’s take a deeper look at Value-Add processes under three banners: ‘Customer Loyalty’, ‘Learning’ and ‘Professional Partnership’.

Customer Loyalty – deals with the related drivers of customer and employee satisfaction which in turn impacts customer loyalty and retention:

  • Customer Satisfaction System – Measuring and acting on customer key satisfiers
  • Recovery – Retaining goodwill of a customer following a complaint
  • Customer Focused Culture – Guiding principles regarding desired customer experience
  • Empowerment – Increasing agent capabilities to deliver desired customer experience
  • Reward & Recognition – Programs that acknowledge agents for customer satisfaction
  • Employee Satisfaction System – Measuring and acting on employee key satisfiers

Learning – deals with leveraging information from the contact center’s unique perspective as a middleman between the customer and the company.

  • Customer Complaint System – Obtaining additional value from customer complaints
  • Employee Feedback System – Obtaining additional value from customer contacts as well as employee complaints
  • Process Management Teams – Monitoring end to end key business processes
  • Change Initiation – Replacing annual planning for call center initiatives
  • Reporting/Sharing – Data regarding customers, processes and transaction costs

Professional Partnership – deals with the call center’s relationships with the rest of the company.

  • Operational (Strategic) Assessments – Building professionalism via continuous improvement
  • Call Center Strategy – Aligning to the corporate mission, vision and strategy
  • Service Bureau Model – Acting like an outsourcer
  • Service Level Agreements – Contracts with internal clients
  • Client Services – Serving internal clients
  • Emerging – Keeping up with the latest and greatest in technology

Go ahead and take a look at your own contact center.  How many of these processes do you have in your center and to your knowledge, are they operating at best-in-class levels?  Can you see the potential for added value?  Fortunately, today we can develop models that can tell us the value of each of these processes to the organization – differing from one organization to another. Recently working with an organization who analyzed the effect of customer satisfaction, the value in dollars was calculated of each   percentage in customer satisfaction.

Value-Add processes give contact centers more tools to showcase their center while helping their organization beyond their traditional role of customer relationship.  Can you imagine being able to help your organization – replacing data gathered through traditional (and costlier) methods with data collected through various ‘Learning’ processes at a fraction of cost?  In one retail organization, we noticed that Marketing department was more than willing to supplement the contact center budget from their own budget in order to facilitate data gathering by the center!

So, where do you go from here?  Well, start by assessing your contact center to see where you are. How well you are doing in each of these processes and how does your contact center fit within the strategic direction of the organization?  Next, look for the gaps.  What processes can be improved or added and what are the potential benefits?  After ‘gap analysis’, you can start building your roadmap and business case.  Perhaps start with some of the more common, existing processes to improve. This will create ease in showing the benefits to your organization).

A very good example – ‘Complaint Management’. Majority of organizations do not have a proper process and as a result do not gain the potential benefits. Where do they come from and how are complaints captured, recorded and tracked? What happens to each complaint and how are they resolved? What about those that can’t or haven’t been resolved? Is there any person, position or function whose responsibility it is to take a broader view of complaints, with a view to reducing the volume and frequency? How thorough and complete is the reporting by type, period, trend etc.? Who benefits from knowing about the complaints? And finally who is the process owner? Many of these questions can and should be asked as the ‘Complaint Management’ process is mapped.

As the contact center industry continues to mature, it becomes more and more important to invest in and continue to improve these Value-Add processes.  Focussing solely on Core processes (Operational Excellence) is a one-way street that reduces the value of the contact center (real and/or perceived) in the eye of the executives, while Value-Add processes can turn the contact center into a true strategic asset.