Monday, February 21, 2011

Building a Strategic Plan for your Contact Center

Building a Strategic Plan for your Contact Center

Colin Taylor

In our call center consulting engagements one recommendation comes up time and again and it is often the first one we tackle when working with our call center clients; the Strategic Call Center Plan. In a previous post we examined if a call center, contact center or customer service operation required a Strategic Plan and concluded that it is one of the most powerful tools to ensure alignment between what a company or organization is working to achieve and the support provided by the call center to realize these goals and objectives.

Of course if the company has defined their strategy then the exercise can be straightforward and can be completed as set out in our earlier post Is A Strategy For The Contact Center Necessary?

But what if no corporate strategy exists? Can we develop a call center strategic plan? The answer is that in some organizations you can and in others you likely cannot. In order to define the existing strategy you will access and active participation from the senior management and the company leadership team. Depending upon the size, industry and structure of the organization this may or may not be achievable. If the company however is of a size, structure, culture that could allow for the required participation and there is a willingness upon the senior management group to engage in this exercise then it is in fact possible to construct a call center strategic plan in the absence of a corporate strategic plan.

Of course, each organization is different as are the members of the leadership teams at any organization. Their individual experience with developing strategic plans will also vary, so our approach has been to employ pre-work for all of the participants and to set up facilitated meeting to work through the biggest strategic questions upon which the corporate and call center strategies depend. In these meetings we establish and gain agreement on a strategic framework upon which the call center strategic plan can be built.

So what are these questions? In our experience the answers to the following questions have been critical to establish that strategic framework:

1. Who is the Primary Customer? This question focuses the attention and efforts of the center against the customers deem most important to the business.

2. Who Comes First? The answer to this question establishes the hierarchy or priorities between Customers, Employees and Shareholders.

3. What are our Core Competencies? This question eliminates ambiguity surrounding what we are good at which provides and competitive advantage and what we may or may not be good at, without a competitive advantage.

4. What are our Core Values? Defining what we value and prize as an organization can help to prioritize call center and customer service decisions within the call center.

5. What will we not do? Establishing what we will not do as an organization is as important as what we will do. Strategic limits ensure that cycles and efforts are not wasted in areas that the organization has no interest in pursuing.

These five questions when combined with knowledgeable a facilitator with deep understanding of both strategic planning and call center operations can deliver a highly focused, and aligned call center strategic plan which better enables the call center operation to support the company and the brand.

For more information regarding Call Center Strategic Planning or The Taylor Reach Group call center consulting services, please contact the Colin Taylor.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

IQPC Call Center Summit – Review

Colin Taylor

I spent last week at the IQPC Call Center Summit in Orlando Florida. The venue was quite nice, though there was some distance to travel to find the lundcheon rooms. The speakers convered the gamut for such events and the topic of Social Media was once again prominent. The presentation by Michael Biondo from Thumbplay was suggested by a number of other attendees as one of the best as was the one by Steve Riddell of

The number of delegates was up from last year as were the number of exhibitors in the trade show and both of these points bode well for the burgeoning recovery. There seemed to be a lot more managers and line staff in attendance this year, however. So while the number of attendees increased it appears the quality and seniority of the attendees declined.

I had a number of great meetings during the event and and also completed a couple of interesting interviews: one with Barb Bleiler of WPS who was speaking at the event, she and I sat down to discuss self service in call centers in general and the WPS call center in particular. My second interview was with Michael Biondo of Thumbplay, we discussed social media and the opporunities of call centers to use these channels to get closer to their customers. Both of these videos are availab on our YouTube Call Center Channel .

I also enjoyed my tour of the CCA (Call Centers of America) facility in Orlando, it was both interesting and informative.

Overall I would rate the event a 6 out of 10 and look forward to the next IQPC event ‘Call Center Week’ in Las Vegas this June.

How Easy is Your Call Center to Deal With?

How Easy is Your Call Center to Deal With?

Colin Taylor

There is growing debate in call center and customer service circles as most organizations (89% in a recent study) strive to exceed customer expectations, that this has little value in increasing customer loyalty. Instead loyalty is more generally derived from ‘ease’ of interaction, that is to say making it easy and simple to interact with the company call center. This can mean offering more channels of communication, (57% of customers found the need to switch from the web to the phone to be an obstacle, that the presence of robust chat might have eliminated), offering extended service hours, accurately capturing customer information and nature of the problem or challenge (56% had to re-explain their issue), and resolving the inquiry on the first contact (FCR) opportunity (62% of customers had to repeatedly contact the company to resolve an issue).

“Simplify, simplify”, said David Thoreau and that is good advice for today’s call center and contact center operator. In our call center consulting practice we have seen many organizations that added too much complexity into the process that created barriers and obstacles for customers to overcome. These obstacles can include:

* Overly complicated IVR systems – remember humans cannot remember more than 7 things and 4 or 5 is really ideal,

* Limited hours of call center operation that force customers to contact us when it is convenient for us and not them,

* Not offering multiple communication channels. We want to be available to interact with our customers in whatever channel is convenient to them…not to us. So add chat, so customers don’t have to leave the web to phone us. Offer email from the website to allow this channel of communication.

* Ensure that the call flow is logical from a customer perspective (related to the IVR point above). Don’t mix sales and service options and queues unless this is what your customers want. If it is not logical you will drive transfers and dissatisfaction.

* Offer easy to use self service. Many customers would prefer to get the answer themselves than to sit in queue to speak to an agent.

* Ensure that your systems are integrated or at minimum that the caller information can be viewed by anyone who the customer has to speak to. There is little that is more frustrating than having to repeat yourself and explain a situation for the second or third time.

* Be proactive if there is a high correlation between a stated customer issue and a follow on issue occurring, share this with the customer, give them guidance or tell them where they can find. This can eliminate the ‘next’ call and preserve satisfaction.

Being easy to do business with is a key metric when examining overall customer satisfaction with and organization and it is critical when viewed from a customer service or contact center perspective. Never lose sight of the fact that once a customer is ‘sold’ and has to contact the call center the role of the center is to protect that customer from attrition. The call center protects the revenue stream that has already been secured, making it easy and effective to get what they need seem obvious, but as with common sense, it can be very uncommon.