Call centres a springboard for change

A happy call centre means happy customers.

That maybe an oversimplification, but it does contain a kernel of truth. Call centre expert and Compass Canada executive consultant Anton Kritzinger can draw a direct line between call centre

operator job satisfaction and customer satisfaction. “”There’s even a relationship between CSR retention and customer retention,”” he says. “”If you’re tracking employee satisfaction and you see it starting to decline, that’s a warning sign not just for the HR aspect but it’s a warning sign for your customers.””

Call centres just aren’t being tapped for their true potential, he says. They work best when they’re not only assisting customers but also feeding information back into the company to improve everything from manufacturing to inter-department communication.

Kritzinger spoke to Computing Canada about the changing role of call centres and how outsourcing them may turn out to be a huge mistake.


CC: Are enterprises failing to take into account the role a call centre can play beyond simply addressing customer questions?

AK: The information that the call centre would provide that could benefit other parts of the company is typically generated from interactions with the customer base. You can talk about a call centre being more than just a customer interface. Certainly there’s lots of opportunity for that.

CC: To improve call centre performance, do companies need to take a more holistic approach? Do companies need to start challenging notions of how a call centre should function?

AK: The first thing I think call centres need to do is manage themselves with a measurement program which reflects their specific needs. Very often what call centres will do is choose metrics for performance assessment which are common amongst other companies that they’re familiar with — certainly companies that are reporting their performance in the media. They’ll choose metrics which they hear about.

It’s a measurement program which resonates because (people recognize it), but it may not be effective because it’s not built for the needs of the call centre strategy.

The first step for call centres is to recognize clearly what their strategy is and then to identify the goals the call centre needs to achieve in order to realize that strategy. Below that, determine which metrics are really relevant to measuring progress towards achievement of those goals. Those are the ones you build your measurement program with. If we did that, we would be well on our way to having well-managed, effective call centres.

The greatest benefit to be had is influencing the performance of the enterprise. Most call centres today are not sophisticated enough in their own measurement to be able to offer assistance to the rest of the enterprise because they haven’t got their own house in order yet.

There’s no way a call centre can be expected to manage other parts of the enterprise. What a call centre can do is influence other parts and be measured on the degree to which they try to influence other parts. If you’ve got manufacturing problems being reported to you through your call centre, then that information should flow back to the manufacturing function.

CC: How do you reconcile that with more and more enterprises outsourcing their call centres?

AK: What you outsource typically is the activity, but not the strategy. You don’t leave it to the outsourcer to decide what is important. You keep that function internally and you outsource the arms and legs part of the function. There are some rare cases where outsourcers are so intimately tied to the provider that they participate in the strategy function. There are a lot of failed outsourcing relationships because the client has not expressed clearly what the expectations are. Secondly, mechanisms to govern their relationship once it’s in place haven’t been established. The two parties enter into the relationship thinking they’re going to achieve something, but they don’t have a common understanding of where they’re headed. There’s a massive need for people to assist in the outsourcing process to prevent those kinds of problems.

CC: Is that being overlooked as people rush to outsource to save money in their IT operations?

Absolutely. We see evidence of that time and time again. The criteria that are being used to make the outsourcing decisions are not fully thought through. They are sometimes founded on an inexact science: on perception rather than reality. The most common perception — although it’s changing now, to be honest — is this idea that I will save money if I outsource. The reality is that an outsourced operation can save you money if you are running a poor operation internally and if you don’t have access to the technology or best practices, but larger companies can usually achieve those themselves. The cost-saving opportunities for larger companies is not so great.

AK: There appears to be a move towards de-centralized call centres where operators work from home. Does that stifle their effectiveness?

CC: Having the agents working at a distance doesn’t materially affect the ability of a call centre to measure what they’re doing. It does have an impact on the ability of the supervisory level to interact with those people to ensure that they get the coaching that they need. That’s the real challenge. The obvious thing that’s lost is the over-the-shoulder assistance. You can’t have supervisors walking around the floor stopping in at desks to listen in on a call.

What you gain in having your CSRs work from home is possibly enough to offset that. They don’t have to travel, they’re in an environment they’re very comfortable with, they can be much more flexible with their hours. In an industry where turnover is as massive as it is in call centre, that’s a really big plus.

CC: How are companies at tying in call centre results with other CRM tools?

AK: This is a major challenge right now for call centres. The problem is not so much the introduction of the technology, because there are some well-established technology solutions. The problem is more in the modification of the company’s business practices in order to make the best use of these CRM tools. One of the major benefits of CRM tools is that the customer experiences the same sort of interaction, whether he’s dealing with a Web interface, a telephone, a sales person. Each of those needs to know the same amount of information about the customer to realize the same experience. The most difficult part of these initiatives is getting the company to change the processes so that this information is shared.

CC: Is there still resistance within the enterprise to do that, especially since changes like that in the short term can be very expensive?

AK: What we’re seeing is companies starting to question whether or not the investments are worth it, but we don’t see people backing off yet. It’s still very high on people’s lists to get CRM adopted. We’re not yet at the point where we are with Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems such as SAP, where companies have put a massive investment in place and are now retroactively wondering whether or not they did the right thing. I suspect that may happen with CRM investment, but we’re not there yet.

CC: So what do companies need to do with their CRM now so they don’t regret spending the money later?

AK: The investment has to be supported by executive desire, company commitment to changing the company’s processes. The extreme is you have to change the company culture, but at a minimum you have to change company processes to provide more sharing of information between departments.


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