Happy Employees Equal Happy Customers

Article Featured Image

HR executives and CRM strategists are rarely bedfellows. Yet getting the most out of customer contacts so patently requires competent personnel management that the disconnect is hard to justify. Tools for workforce management, call center management, and incentive management can help bridge that gulf, both by design and out of necessity. In basic terms those disciplines address the problems of making sure the right people are on hand to handle customer contacts, ensuring that the contacts are being handled properly, and setting targets and rewarding behavior that best reflect the goals of the company.

Workforce management tools typically focus around scheduling in the contact center, so along with the call center monitoring applications it is clear that much of this charge is being led at the high-volume front lines. This should not come as any surprise, since the contact center requires an enormous technological investment, but also spends roughly two thirds of its budget on people, making it an ideal place to merge CRM ambition and HR prudence. "It's not like people haven't been paying attention to customer service reps [CSRs] in the past. It's always the most important part of the business--the people--and it's obviously a large part of the cost of ownership," says Devon Shae, a Yankee Group analyst. Today, however, people are an even more important asset: a differentiator that can create a competitive advantage.

Effective coordination between HR and CRM leaders can help minimize the effects of what Gartner research director Jim Holincheck calls the valley of despair, the almost-inevitable dip in productivity and enthusiasm that comes with the CRM change process. "People start getting used to the new world if you've done things right, if they get used to what the new measures and metrics are," he says.

Before any of these approaches can work, however, HR may need to shake off the label of being a necessary, but not necessarily visionary, part of the business. From an enterprise point of view, one of the prerequisites for making HR an effective player in strategic business initiatives is to off-load many of its tactical operations to self-service Web sites, freeing up time and expertise to help guide more important decisions for the business. Success can also be determined by how clearly and concisely HR has helped the company understand the roles and reporting tree of each individual. "If an organization is not really using position control and management that determines the organizational structure and who-gets-what within an organization, it becomes difficult to implement strategic HR," says Michael Blair, chairman and CEO of Chicago-based solutions provider Cyborg Systems.

Right Skills, Right Time
Workforce management software focuses on optimizing the mix of call center resources to best meet expected call volumes. The better solutions can account not only for staffing, average resolution times, and predicted traffic, but skill levels and multiple channels as well. Having solved many of the problems of scheduling, some workforce management developers have moved to become employee life-cycle managers, offering solutions to move people from hiring to training to the floor faster, which means greater emphasis on performance and development monitoring and reporting. "It's an important thing in terms of making your people be more productive in this market where you're working with less people more often," Shae says.

That necessity has pushed some top executives to, in essence, demand that CRM and HR begin aligning their goals more closely. "Driving workforce optimization is not the HR buyer, but the line-of-business head and C-level," says Accenture partner Bill Carney.

Rather than schedule one day to look very much like that day did a year ago, workforce management systems have evolved to allow managers to study what-if scenarios. Managers can look for the potential effects of a new product introduction, a shift in expected call duration (perhaps during a cross-sell promotion) or sudden call spikes, then eliminate aberrations (such as a promotion that sent call volume skyrocketing) from the predictive model. 

Workforce management can be an interactive process for employees, allowing them to have more fine-grained input on their work and break schedules if the company chooses to offer flexibility, as well as to monitor skills development. "The idea is for employees to take some control over their careers," says Tom Aiello, senior vice president of sales and marketing for workforce management specialist RightForce, in Ft. Lauderdale, FL. 

In April 2000 Silicon Graphics Inc. (SGI), of Mountain View, CA, implemented workforce management software from Blue Pumpkin, of Sunnyvale, CA, as it converted its four disparate call centers into a unified, virtual call center. By gaining a tighter control and understanding of employee skill sets and call routing, SGI was able to eliminate its use of outsource partners for tier-one support. "We brought in about 1,000 [additional] calls per week. It was just a seven or eight percent increase in employees to do a fifty percent increase in workload," says Gary Harmon, director of SGI Americas Customer Support Center.

Although SGI did not add any new procedures for self-scheduling through Blue Pumpkin, allowing employees to see their own skill ratings and monitor the availability of team partners and escalation possibilities produced a positive response. "We were a very liberal environment for our employees [already]," Harmon says.

The system also freed managers from having to make scheduling decisions based on recent history, allowing them the flexibility to make daily adjustments as needed. SGI uses its agents both on the phones and in labs, so the Blue Pumpkin schedule suggests the number of people with each skill set necessary to fill each four-hour window of the day that should be spent on the phone.

An Ear to the Ground
Call center monitoring, at its core, is about making sure the transaction between agent and customer runs as it should. But it is much more than simply dumping calls to tape or disk. New solutions are designed not only to speed the process of evaluating calls and returning evaluations to frontline personnel, but to observe the entire audiovisual interaction, and ensure that agents know how to navigate their CRM tools as well as handle the customer's request properly. In essence, call center monitoring tools protect the enormous investment in call center technology and personnel.

"There are three things a call center manager needs to focus on to get great service: the right information, the right contact [channel], and the right person--and that's the piece people most often overlook," says Joanie Rufo, research director at AMR. Rufo believes that investment in databases and communication switching far outstrips fundamental work on ensuring employees are able and willing to answer questions in the best possible manner.

Monitoring can be as much about discouraging improper use of time (such as waste time leading to inflated after-call work figures) as it is about helping employees work better and trying to understand their pain. Monitoring tools are also being used to improve downtime efficiency, automatically launch training sessions for agents idle beyond a management-defined threshold. "Training in the call center has always been difficult, because eighty to ninety percent of the agent's time is being utilized...but if your agent is idle for four minutes, we can deliver training automatically. That's time the company is paying for their agent, so if I can, I'll provide the training for 'free,'" says David Pennington, senior product manager at Seattle, WA--based Envision Telephony.

Call center management can also help companies discover why their call centers do not necessarily all meet the same performance standards even when there is not an obvious customer satisfaction problem. Envision worked with an airline client with a lagging call center that finally discovered the problem with that center through careful monitoring. There was not a customer satisfaction or agent competency problem, but the center had not come into compliance with the carrier's new policy to push for direct ticket sales to inquiring customers. Instead, the agents (being perfectly helpful) pushed customers out to make arrangements with a travel agency--at a $40 cost to the airline. Correcting that behavior "meant millions of dollars to the organization," Pennington says.

Making the Right Money
The bonus, the cut, the spiff...call it what you will, it's what employee incentive management (EIM) software looks after. In short, it is appropriate for companies looking to get more specific than offering a share of maximized revenue back to the workforce. In particular, sophisticated EIM systems aim to allow firms to make nimble, complex decisions about how employees should be paid back for meeting and exceeding targets, which can key off of timing, profitability, satisfaction, and a number of other metrics, without creating a nightmare of paperwork and change management.

"One company I talked to was trying to pay its people on 1,200 Excel spreadsheets," says Geoff Roach, vice president of marketing for incentive management developer Callidus, in San Jose, CA. With constant pressure to improve quarterly performance and make the most of existing products and customer relationships, being able to make a change to a single, centrally managed incentive system can be a powerful step in the right direction.

The other problem with inefficiently managed incentive programs is that they keep the company's true goals opaque to the people who are supposed to execute on them. "Upwards of seventy percent of staff and management, all the way up to the management suite, don't understand how their companies make money," says Peter Djokovich, CEO of Strategix Performance of Costa Mesa, CA. In his view, although various cultural and technological projects are often blamed for failing to deliver a real return to the business, more often the failure to deliver a return is actually because people in an organization are not properly motivated to do what makes the company truly more successful on the bottom line.

The right EIM approach can make a shift in the nature of how products and services are offered much more digestible to the sales staff, such as a shift from an immediate revenue focus to a life-cycle relationship. "We want to be a customer-intimate organization, and know a lot about the customer... [but] you don't change culture overnight," says Jim Lazarz, assistant vice president of field compensation for Madison, WI--based financial services firm CUNA Mutual Group.

CUNA moved from mainframe-based incentive management to a Callidus implementation so that new motivational directives could be implemented with far less administrative and IT hassle. "We've made some movements toward ensuring that our field staff are exhibiting [different] behavior, and are trying in addition to look at revenue success and revenue growth to add to that, to evolve our customer development process," Lazarz says.

EIM is meant to improve the communication and sophistication of how employees can be rewarded for making the "right deal," not about finding ways to trap and punish those employees who have maximized their own return in the past through comp plan loopholes. "You don't try to prevent people from working the system," says Kit Robinson, vice president of corporate marketing for Pleasanton, CA--based EIM vendor Motiva. "But if salespeople are working the system in a way that's adverse to the benefits of the company, there's something wrong with the system." Being able to implement and adjust a fresh design that can work from more complicated metrics without becoming bogged down in paperwork is the real advantage.

Beyond the Pieces
Lurking beyond these point solutions is the broader goal of HR/CRM harmony, employee relationship management (ERM). ERM can be defined as a front end to manage HR interaction with employees in a "customer-friendly" fashion, encompassing personal tasks like time-off and benefits management with learning, advancement, and intracompany communications.

Although some analysts have pegged the ERM market as worth hundreds of millions in revenue, there is some question as to just how many ERM implementations have been sold, let alone implemented and adopted. "Obviously, the market [vendors] went into could not have been a worse market for this kind of thing," says Gresham Brebach, vice chairman of consulting outfit Seurat, in Boulder, CO. He blames an IT spending climate that currently disdains any sort of major-project, packaged-product approach.

There has been idle chatter about making ERM reflect the use of the same customer-centric approach as CRM, but so far little has come of such discussions. "If I were to hear an employer say 'I use the same techniques I use in CRM for human capital management,' I would be very suspicious," says Monica Barron, an AMR Research senior analyst. 

The real benefit of an integrated ERM approach, for now, is establishing common process, language, and measurements for all employees to use to evaluate their relationship with the firm. "For the employee, it's all about your home page--what you're going to do today, what you're going to do tomorrow, and how people are going to know you did what you did," Brebach says. "You're integrating an operating system for the company down to the lowest line employee."

It is also about productivity. "ERM allows companies to truly create a pay-for-performance culture," says Stacey Lawson, vice president and general manager, Siebel ERM.

All of these applications make a fundamental assumption: that HR, operational, and sales executives can all agree on a common set of measures and data about the way the company operates. Whether the problem is tweaking compensation or retooling how call center agents should be deployed to support a new product launch, "it is important that there is enough common information from a single platform to allow someone to make a decision," says Brad Wilson, vice president of product marketing for PeopleSoft's CRM unit. "Before, we would get a number from the sales guys and another number from the call center guys, and never the twain shall meet." Without that shared understanding, asking CRM and HR to collaborate to better solve work-force issues will be a frustrating exercise with incompatible measurements and tools.

CRM Covers
for qualified subscribers
Subscribe Now Current Issue Past Issues