When it comes to contact centers, I've been on both sides of the table. Over the course of 25 years in the contact center industry, I've been on the frontlines as an agent and team lead and in management as a director overseeing operations. So that's why now, as a consultant who specializes in contact center optimization, the first thing I do is ask questions. Specifically, I ask management what they want in terms of outcomes and what they believe is happening; then I ask that same set of questions to the people in the trenches.
In almost all instances, the answers do not align. What management thinks or desires to have happen is, in fact, not happening at all. And that's where we begin to roll up our sleeves and get to work.
While the revelation that not everyone is on the same page is often surprising to management, it's not really so surprising when you consider how most businesses typically function. In many organizations, communication comes from the top down and hence, is one-directional. In those organizations where there's a disconnect, it's usually due to the fact that management has failed to institute two-way communication with contact center personnel. And since that staff is their team on the ground working with the customer, failure to include their input can result in serious damage. It is equally important for the frontline associates to understand how their actions affect the company's direction and bottom line.
One can say that in most businesses, there's always going to be some level of disconnect between management and the frontline. But the nature of the contact center environment--rife with higher than average staff turnover, a large number of entry-level employees, compliance concerns, and pressure to meet customer demands make it all the more important to get your ducks in a row.
Closing the Gap
So where do you begin? Start first at the top by getting management to understand that a disconnect exists. Use both qualitative and quantitative data to highlight specific concerns and get buy-in at the C-level to invest in change.
Next, management and frontline employees should work together to identify what the ideal customer experience should be. For instance, consider scheduling some focus groups or setting aside time for the two groups to meet. You'd be amazed at what upper management can learn and uncover when they actually talk to the people who are interacting with customers. As they together identify and define ideal customer processes, a guiding principle should be that the first point of contact (agents) need the autonomy, flexibility, and leeway to do their jobs to deliver on the expectations that the team has set. All other support processes and tools should support this objective.
Last, ensure that contact center management is modeling the behavior they want their agents to employ. Make sure your team leads and supervisors have the emotional intelligence and team training in place so they can teach by example.
Getting management and contact center staff in alignment when it comes to goals and processes is no small task. It takes commitment, honesty, and a willingness to change on the part of all employees, from the CEO down to each agent. But the outcome-engaged employees, improved service, and happy customers-make it well worth the effort.