• July 1, 2005
  • By Coreen Bailor, (former) Associate Editor, CRM Magazine

On the Scene: From Cost Center To Cash Cow

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Contact centers are the units with the most customer interactions in many businesses, but are sometimes considered to be nothing more than cost centers by the rest of the organization. As they look to escape that stigma, they are implementing strategies in hopes of gaining recognition as a valuable unit within the enterprise. The trend seems to be catching on, as it was one of the underlying themes at Witness Systems' ninth annual user conference. Perhaps the biggest takeaway of "The Startling Impact of Strategy on Contact Center Visibility," the topic presented by Kathleen Peterson, founder and chief vision officer of PowerHouse Consulting, was her advice to refer to it not as a contact center, but rather as "a strategic business unit." Peterson urged contact centers to move from being purely tactical to blending into a strategic objective. "[It's] not so much, What does the contact center hope to accomplish, but, What does the company hope to accomplish?" she says. Nancy Treaster, senior vice president of global marketing at Witness Systems, also focused on taking the strategic approach during her presentation about a workforce optimization maturity model--a categorization of how companies at different levels are using workforce optimization technology in their contact centers. At level zero, companies rely on manual processes like spreadsheets for forecasting and scheduling. Organizations at level one and two are focused on effectiveness and efficiency. At level three, contact centers are beginning to challenge themselves to develop into a strategic asset to the organizations by engaging in practices like sharing information across departments and performing root-cause analysis. At level four, organizations are incorporating knowledge workers outside of the contact center and using their abilities to expand the level of service the organization is delivering. Contact center managers increasingly are trying to rid themselves of the cost center stigma by encouraging agents to engage in cross-selling and upselling. But the challenge of developing agents into initiators of possible revenue-generating opportunities is giving agents, who are normally focused on making the call as short as possible, more of a sales mentality to close, according to James Segil, vice president of products at Talisma KnowledgeBase Group. "You need to make sure that from an overall perspective of best practices and deployment, your agents are trained not on just how to efficiently answer questions, but also on how to understand what the big picture is when a customer is calling, and then from the tools you're giving them, how to access all of the right information." For instance, solutions like Talisma KnowledgeBase.net 5.0 help transform contact centers into revenue producers by allowing a knowledge base to present, track, and report product advertisements, opportunities, and promotions when searches are conducted. According to Denis Pombriant, managing principal of Beagle Research Group, however, training is not the only piece agents need to sell. In a recent Beagle Research report, "Adding Sales to the Call Center Agenda," 47 percent of executives reported that training and development will have the greatest impact on building a revenue culture within the call center. Thirteen percent cited compensation; 13 percent the organization; and 11 percent technology. Process, hiring, and consulting each received less than 10 percent. "The first instinct that many people have is we'll just train our agents to sell and they'll be all set...[but] while training is important it's not the only thing," Pombriant says, suggesting elements such as sales methodology and management. While the end goal for some contact centers may be closing a sale, Pombriant sees it as a broad continuum. "At one end of the continuum is pure service and at the other end is pure selling, but along the middle of the continuum you go from service through marketing into sales," he says. But before agents even begin to think about cross-selling and upselling, they must be able to diagnose and solve problems. "There are various things you can do in a sales mode that results in customer satisfaction, customer loyalty, and retention," Pombriant says. "Those things should be top of mind whenever you're dealing with the customer."
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