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The Contact Center Identity Crisis
You are who you talk to.
For the rest of the May 2008 issue of CRM magazine please click here
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"Am I a contact center?"

Lots of people in many work environments around the world have been asking me that lately. They are inquiring because incoming phone calls are disrupting what they consider to be their primary jobs. More often than not, my response is that if answering the phone dominates their day and occupies much of their colleagues' time, then they really are a contact center, albeit an informal one.

There are many types of informal contact centers: internal and external sales teams, order-taking departments, office receptionists, hotel front desks, bill-processing groups, travel agencies, pharmacies, medical offices, and government and university information offices -- just to mention a few. The challenge for these groups is to bring some order to the chaos of randomly arriving calls. That's what a more formalized contact center can accomplish.

Once an entity accepts its role as a contact center, the rest is relatively easy. Contact centers use technology, structure, and best practices to manage inbound and outbound calls -- plus emails, chat sessions, faxes, and any other kinds of interactions. Here is what I suggest to begin answering calls on a more timely and systematic basis, which will increase job satisfaction and improve the customer experience:

  • 1. Advise the supervisor that it is becoming a challenge for the staff to handle the increasing volume of randomly arriving calls, and that this burden is disrupting the team's ability to perform its primary tasks.
  • 2. Determine how many calls arrive every half hour of every day, the average amount of time to handle a typical call and the average after-call time needed to fulfill customer requests or process orders. (This can be calculated manually.)
  • 3. Figure out how many people are needed every half hour of every business day to handle the call volume, after-call work, and normal non-call activities. Discuss this with management and create schedules so that the right number of people are available to handle projected call volumes throughout the day.
  • 4. Speak to either the technology staff or the telephony carrier and find out if the existing phone system has any automatic call distribution capabilities. If this functionality is not included in the private business exchange (known as a PBX), it's likely that the carrier offers these services on a hosted basis.
  • 5. Provision or order the software required to operate as a small contact center.
  • 6. Explain the changes to teammates, get their buy-in, and distribute new schedules. (Make necessary adjustments to schedules to ensure that everyone is satisfied with their assigned lunch and break times.)
  • 7. Make arrangements to set up the team as a contact center group on the PBX or through the carrier service. This will ensure that all calls are handled on a timely basis and, in general, in the order in which they are received. (Depending on the type of business involved, it may be advisable to prioritize the handling of one phone line over the others.)
Many more steps are required to build a full-featured contact center, but the ones above will get the business function under control at minimum cost. It's likely that the new structure and contact center technology will decrease servicing expenses, increase customer satisfaction, and improve employee morale.

Being a contact center is not as bad as it sounds. Sure, people have to give up some freedom and agree to adhere to a predefined schedule. But with management ingenuity, this can be handled flexibly, particularly if the business has fewer than 10 people, as is the case for most informal centers. Contact center technology, combined with best practices, liberates the staff from the burdens of disruptive call handling and lets them restore their focus to their primary jobs.


Donna Fluss is founder and president of DMG Consulting LLC, a leading provider of contact center and analytics research, market analysis, and consulting. Contact her at donna.fluss@dmgconsult.com.

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