Leadership & Strategy- Delivering both through your Contact Centre

Leadership & Strategy- Delivering both through your Contact Centre

“Strategy is envisioning the improbable or impossible. Leadership is inspiring people to attain these”

Every business today has a business plan. The Business plan can range from a multiple binders built through months of off-sites, meetings, reworking and reassessments, or it may simply be scribbled on a restaurant napkin. Regardless of the detail and the format all businesses need to have a plan. Every business needs to know where it is and where it is going. Key business units further refine the Business Plan to focus on how it impacts on and is impacted by their area of responsibility. The result is a Sales Plan, Marketing Plan or similar document. It is this plan that provides the parameters for managers to operate within and to set goals to assist the organization to progress towards achieving and realizing the plan.

Now imagine managing a significant unit of the organization. And one that is a primary communication channel for interacting with the company’s customers. All you have to work from is the napkin. What would you do to ensure that the actions of your department align with the business plan?

This is a situation found in contact centres of all types, sizes and across many verticals. The common perspective is that contact centres and customer service in general is reactive: answering customer calls, contacts, and inquiries. The thinking is often that no plan is required. All the contact centre needs to do is ‘answer the phone’. Detailed plans (Sales, Marketing etc.) are perceived to only be required where proactive activities that will support the increase and/or attainment of revenues. Much less attention is devoted to maintaining the customer base in place today and protecting the existing revenue stream.

This lack of attention or understanding, lack of a plan and therefore the lack of a well thought-out and reasonable budget is the situation that many contact centres find themselves in. So what is a manager to do? Many will simply work with what they get. This is a recipe for limiting your career potential. After all what is the likelihood of success in meeting performance and budget goals without a detailed plan of how to do so? The net result is usually poor performance, missed service levels, budget overruns for labour and an unhappy workforce.
In a contact center environment leadership skills can become evident much faster than in most other departments or disciplines. This is due in part to the all too common ‘mushroom management’ approach organization take towards their call and contact centres. The contact centre manager left to their own devices and little guidance from above must define for themselves what their strategic role is within the organization.

Stated another way the manager must identify and document what the contact centres role is in supporting the Business Plan of the company. Articulating this role and defining what the role is and how it is to be achieved is the core of a contact centre strategic plan.
Like a Business plan for an organization a Sales plan for Sales or a Marketing plan for Marketing, the contact centre plan becomes the roadmap of what is expected occur over what timeline and with what specific impacts on both the center and the organization.
Understanding how to support the organizational goals and aspirations as evidenced in the Business Plan, is a critical task for any contact centre manager. Translating this understanding and appreciation into action requires leadership.

“A leader is a man who can persuade people to do what they don’t want to do, or do what they’re too lazy to do, and like it (Harry S Truman)”

Faced with big goals, small budget and limited if any detail regarding how the contact centre is to support the attainment of these goals is a recurring theme in many organizations. The manager who succeeds in achieving this will have a rosy career and opportunities for advancement. Those who fail will often find new sources of employment.

A leader when faced with such a situation will first endeavour to change or influence the goals and supporting methodology. Given a stage for their views they will ask “how many calls per customer are we expecting with the new product?”, “What level of service do we want to provide?”, “how many unique campaigns will marketing be conducting to support the launch?” and “how much does the contact centre budget increase to support these initiatives?” Being at the front of the process, in the planning stage it is possible to ensure that the organization constructs reasonable goals, objectives and perhaps more importantly budgets to deliver support for these objectives.

Of course in many organizations the Business Plan is created off-site by Nabobs with little contact or connection to the real world. This absence of context frees the senior managers from appreciating the effects of their plan on the contact centre.. When a business plan is handed down from on high, the leader in the contact center needs to struggle to the best of their abilities.

If the plan can’t change, possible they change the sequence and timing of events. For example in a contact centre it is preferable to have a million piece mailing featuring the toll free number dropped in 22 equal mailings over a month rather than all at once. If you can’t change the plan or the sequence inform the nabobs of the likely result of the plan. In a real world example we informed a client that given their plan and constraints, they would get an estimated 40,000 calls during their busiest month and likely abandon 70% of all calls. Oh and by the way since the switch isn’t partitioned then the President likely won’t be able to get dial tone over the same period.

This tactic isn’t always successful in getting a plan re-examined. But it is fun to watch the colour drain from faces around the room. If you are successful then you have met the test set out in the quote by Harry Truman above.

At the end of the day with no appeals left and no concessions or quarter given the real work of a leader comes to the fore. How do I get my staff of 40 people answer calls that really require 100?

Multitasking of course only takes you so far and quickly the leader seeks other solutions… What percentage of calls can we shift to lower cost channels: email, chat, Self Service? Can we eliminate internal processes that actual cause customer to call us? Assembling task forces to deal with these and other strategies the leader works to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.

It is critical in engaging their staff, subordinates and peers that the Leader exudes confidence. They must believe that the goal can be achieved and will be achieved. They must suspend disbelief and engender that belief in others.

“Management is like dog sledding: get the right team, give them the right equipment, the right direction and the right instructions (mush!), then hang on for dear life”

A motivated team that actually believes the impossible is possible can achieve great wonders. This is repeatedly seen in contact centres around the globe; 70% reduction in calls, increased revenues, higher satisfaction in one case, migrating 30% of calls to lower cost channels in another, redesigned processes (and elimination of dysfunctional processes and procedures that cause customer to call) resulting in a 75% reduction in calls per customer.

In a leadership role you have a choice: be a leader or wait for the organization to replace you with one. Bitching and complaining has never achieved success. Lead from within management. Act proactively to publicize your point of view and the concerns, point out flaws (albeit gently if talking up the chain of command) and if unable to influence to the plan, share the consequences and then seize the impossible, make it a personal challenge to make it attainable.

Once you have slain the dragon and overcome impossible odds will you will be recognized for you achievements. Perhaps or maybe the nabobs won’t have noticed the efforts or results and just assume that it was good plan that was well executed and why would they want to involve the contact centre in planning for next year.

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