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This is going to be a tough year. The United States economy is in a recession, and countries around the world are facing similar woes. The stock market has tanked, reducing corporate valuations and challenging many companies’ ability to execute. Banks are so tight with their funds that it’s hard for even stable companies to get financing to address short-term cash needs. The best that can be said about 2009 is that it’s going to be a historic year, one that many of us will be talking about for a long time to come.
These challenging times present contact center managers with great opportunities to improve their status within the enterprise by meeting their own objectives and helping other departments deliver on their goals. During the most recent recession—in 2001–2002—marketing and sales executives, frustrated by their own departments’ inability to generate sales, reached out to contact center managers to ask for help in achieving revenue goals.
These executives realized that the contact center is in constant touch with the company’s customers, gathering deep insights into customer needs, and were uniquely positioned to use this information to build, enhance, and extend the enterprise’s relationship with its customers. Even that simple acknowledgment reflected a major shift in senior management’s perception of the contact center’s value; historically, contact centers were only considered capable of solving low-value problems or taking orders.
Today’s contact centers, in addition to meeting all of their own departmental goals, should be prepared to assist marketing and sales organizations in retaining customers and increasing revenue.
The top 10 goals for contact centers this year are listed in the box below. The first four should take precedence over all others, as they are essential for the survival of the enterprise; the other six goals, however, are also important.
1. Improving productivity and reducing operating expenses
2. Retaining customers
3. Generating incremental revenue
4. Providing an outstanding customer experience
5. Increasing use of self-service systems
6. Reducing agent attrition
7. Identifying reasons customers call or email
8. Migrating to virtual environments
9. Improving the perception of the contact center
10. Preventing outsourcing for the wrong reasons
Source: DMG Consulting LLC, December 2008
This year will challenge the fortitude of the faint of heart. A contact center manager may be asked to make sacrifices that could have a negative short-term impact on the organization but are necessary for the good of the enterprise. These changes may come in the form of unplanned staff reductions, decreases in service levels, elimination or postponement of approved investments, or reductions in training programs.
Do what is necessary for the health of the enterprise, but look for ways to minimize any negative impact. For example, identify new uses for self-service applications in order to reduce the volume of calls or emails that require agents. This will limit the impact of staff cuts on service levels and the customer experience. Or optimize the use of workforce management applications (thereby improving staff utilization and the customer experience) or use more at-home agents (to improve flexibility and reduce staff expenses), minimizing the number of agents that may need to be cut.
Contact center managers who survive budget pressures with initiatives that automate transactions, improve productivity, generate revenue, and retain customers will be successful during the recession. Those who deliver the necessary cost savings while helping their peers in sales and marketing meet goals will elevate the contact center and its contributions to the enterprise. They will ensure that senior management realizes that contact centers can be revenue-generating profit centers and, thanks to an extensive understanding of customer needs, are well positioned to help the enterprise differentiate itself.
Donna Fluss (firstname.lastname@example.org) is founder and president of DMG Consulting LLC, the leading provider of contact center and analytics research, market analysis, and consulting.
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