How to Make the Most of Every Customer Contact

The typical contact center is an exercise in paradox. At many companies, the center is the only direct contact most customers have with the company -- and even then only a handful of times a year. Yet the emphasis in most contact centers is to keep that contact as short as possible to reduce costs -- even though it could be a chance to affirm, improve, and increase the value of the customer relationship.

For example, a few months ago I called my satellite television provider to ask why I was not receiving some high-definition channels. The agent efficiently answered my question -- the channels would not be available for three months -- and I was off the phone in under a minute. I never called back, so the agent's performance metrics on first-call resolution (FCR), in addition to average handle time (AHT), looked great, and the call was most likely rated "successful."

This success, however, could be coming at a cost. That call was only the third time I had contacted the provider in the five years I have been a customer. By focusing on traditional metrics such as AHT and FCR, the provider lost a golden opportunity. If the agent had the right tools, training, and performance metrics, he would have known that I was a perfect candidate to upgrade my two other receivers to HD. Similarly, he would have seen that I had just purchased the Major League Baseball package, which would be best viewed in high definition. Since I called to enquire about HD channels, I probably would have upgraded my other receivers if the agent had brought it up. As it is, I am still watching baseball mostly in low-cost low definition -- a significantly inferior customer experience.

Why did the agent not try to upsell me? As I mentioned, he was probably being measured on traditional contact center metrics such as AHT and FCR -- instead of sales per call. In addition, he most likely did not have the tools to identify me as a high upgrade opportunity or the sales skills or confidence to make the offer. Management sees him as a cost center, not a revenue-generation channel.

Best-in-class contact centers have successfully made the leap from stressing cost reduction to capitalizing on each and every customer interaction by providing their agents with more context, training, and the mandate to make the most of their time on the phone the customer. According to McKinsey & Co., credit card companies that have made this transformation generate up to 25 percent of new revenue through the contact center. For telecommunications providers, that figure is as high as 60 percent. This is not to say the transition is easy, however. There are a number of challenges, including:

  1. Top-down commitment -- Senior management, including the CEO, CFO, and vice presidents responsible for marketing, sales, and product development must recognize that marginally higher contact center budgets can result in significantly higher customer value.
  2. Culture change -- Contact center managers and supervisors must create a workplace culture in which agents are encouraged and empowered to initiate dialogues and listen to customers rather than just answering questions.
  3. Skills change -- Agents must be trained to empathize with customers and establish rapport to upsell and cross-sell, and be educated on their company's products and services so they can identify which customers are the best matches for which mix.
  4. Performance rating change -- Agents must be rated on a balanced scorecard that recognizes various metrics: different AHT targets, for example, for different customers. High-opportunity calls would be expected to last longer and result in a higher percentage of upsells than shorter, lower-opportunity calls would.
  5. Financial commitment -- Training, longer AHT, and other changes cost money. Senior management must be committed to making the investment and accepting this as the cost of increasing customer value in both the short and long run.

Although these challenges seem daunting, there are a number of ways to overcome them. The common denominator is an analytics-driven contact center performance management (CCPM) system that can ensure that service, quality, and sales objectives are being properly balanced by agents. Such a system highlights which agents are excelling in the new culture and which agents need coaching to meet the new expectations. By leveraging CCPM, companies not only improve selling success but also significantly reduce repeat calls and drive improvements in FCR. As a result, the improvements to call resolution can be used to cover, several times over, the longer AHT that is temporarily associated with increasing the agents' selling effectiveness. By adopting a customer-centric approach, focusing on individual agent performance, and delivering targeted coaching, companies can turn every contact into a rewarding experience.

About the author
David Stamm, president and chief executive officer of Enkata Technologies, works directly with some of the world's largest companies to transform their contact center operations and improve employee performance. Stamm has more than 25 years of experience working in the CRM space, including founding Clarify, the first public CRM company.

Please note that the Viewpoints listed in CRM magazine and appearing on destinationCRM.com represent the perspective of the authors, and not necessarily those of the magazine or its editors. If you would like to submit a Viewpoint for consideration, please email viewpoints@destinationCRM.com.

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