Look at any major organisation’s vision and mission statements and you will almost certainly find the term ‘world class’ buried somewhere within these shining beacons of staff and client motivation.
When you look at the aspirations of customer contact centres within these organisations, ‘world class’ is also frequently on the check-list; yet so often the reality falls woefully short of the dream. The question is, does this need to be an aspiration at all?
Before setting aside two-thirds of your annual turnover to turn your three-person telesales team into a global phone-based marketing operation, there is one crucial question that needs to be asked. “Do we really need to be world class?”
The reality is that, for most organisations running a call centre or customer contact operation, the answer is no. However, an aspiration to be best in sector is always a positive target.
The aim for a consistently high level of service
For the majority of organisations, where their business or customer service is not directly predicated on call centre activities, the aim should be for a consistently high level of service.
Businesses which are predicated on phone-based operation such as a call centre outsourcer which is selling its own operations to other companies and handling ten or more customer contact centres simultaneously, have a requirement for world-class performance. However, for others, the call centre is generally only one part of their overall customer contact strategy. In these businesses, call centres need to service their customers at least as well as their competitors and provide a consistent quality of service across all their channels.
The decision regarding which performance level is right for the business should be made by the Head of Call Centre in conjunction with the Head of Sales and Marketing and/or the CEO.
Taking the long view will also help with determining the level of operation required. Look at where the whole organisation is going over the next three to four years and the impact this direction will have on call centre operations. This needs to be a joined-up approach between business, customer and channel strategies.
It is not always about expansion either. Sometimes organisations identify an opportunity to reduce call centre activity because a transactional, online business model has been developed requiring a smaller, more focused call centre with more highly skilled agents able to handle more complex customer transactions.
Key strategic indicators – first contact resolution and customer satisfaction
Often businesses are dreadful at measuring performance. I have seen many examples of organisations measuring what is easy and accessible but missing out on the key strategic indicators such as first contact resolution and customer satisfaction.
These are generally more difficult to assess and are viewed as “softer” numbers. However, there needs to be a balanced scorecard approach – strategic, financial, people and performance – to provide effective Management Information (MI).
Whatever the level, the critical measures are cost per call (efficiency), customer satisfaction, business value and people management. It is also vital that, even before the call centre is established, there is a clear understanding of what needs to be achieved from customer contact. Once established, this requires constant review as the business and call centre matures.
Cost per call is a good indicator of current performance levels
Cost per call doesn’t directly change call centre standards, but is a good indicator of current performance levels. It measures output and can highlight symptoms of poor function within the centre. Generally, the higher the cost, the poorer the performance; although there may be mitigating circumstances if, for example, the type of calls handled require lengthy conversations or are particularly complex but the customer retention value is high for every call.
Business value is often missed because it is the most difficult to measure, but without it, call centres will always be viewed as a cost centre to the business. This measure recognises the position and importance of the call centre within the context of the overall business. A call centre has to meet customer needs the majority of the time. In other words, it has to be ‘just good enough’ all of the time, which is generally a comfortable place to be operating at. The CEO may believe the centre has to be ‘world class’, but does it?
A strong relationship between the call centre and marketing
A strong relationship between the call centre and sales and marketing teams is also important in reducing tensions within the business and for co-ordinating resources. I witnessed a recent example of an organisation running an online promotion in the US without restricting the access to US-only ISP addresses. The result was that their UK call centre was inundated with calls for a promotion that could not be fulfilled.
Too many internal measures
Most call centre operations measure against some comparative data, but in my experience they spend 99% of the time focusing on internal measures and just 1% looking outside at the market place. Where they do look outside, it is often at the ‘world class’ operators – such as First Direct or the RBS brands.
It is surprising how few organisations seem to use comparator models for their industry sector. In many cases call centre managers will simply react to whatever internal measures are deemed important by the FD, CEO, or whoever is pulling the internal levers.
So what does all this mean? In essence, any call centre operation needs a clear direction, good organisation, and positive, well-trained managers and agents. Management Information, processes and technology underpin this and while location is dependent on the nature of the business, no one is going to perform well sitting in a cold, dingy ‘sweatshop’.
The call centre level that is optimal for your business
The goal should be to maintain the call centre level that is optimal for your business, but with managers having time to talk; agents having clear career paths; an encouraging and empowering environment and with meaningful, transparent measures in place.
Does this mean ‘world class’? Not necessarily. Is the goal ‘best in class’? Every time.
Paul Gardner is an Associate Director at Xantus Consulting – www.xantus.co.uk