RANTS & RAVES!
Randomly Timed Musings
Are You Taking Care of Business?
By Kathleen M. Peterson
Chief Vision Officer, PowerHouse Consulting, Inc.
Each one of us has been tasked with “taking care of business” in whatever role we have played. For many, the rules have changed, depending on the business climates they have experienced. So now is the time to play your very best hand. It is a time to grow, learn, and focus on what needs to be done and what you and your team can do to improve the business.
Some folks think, “What can I do? I’m only an agent” or “There’s nothing I can do. I don’t make the decisions around here.” If you are someone voicing or experiencing these thoughts, you will likely learn sooner rather than later that you are absolutely right! Since you believe there is nothing you can do, you will naturally do nothing and be among the first to find yourself without a job. Of course, that will be because the business “did not do enough” for you. This is old news and an old story that just does not fly today.
Like weeding a garden, we must pull out those things that prevent healthy and robust growth. So where do we look for positive contributions? Start with overall productivity. Many people claim to be “busy,” but are they truly productive? Measuring productivity can be very tricky business for any business unit; for the Contact Center, it can be particularly challenging. Often, management looks to simple metrics as evidence of individual, team, and overall productivity performance. Is this truly accurate? The data is certainly accurate in terms of how “activity” is reported … that is, the number of calls handled, number abandoned, percentage of log on time in various states, etc. But is this enough? Hardly! Anyone in the business of managing a Contact Center for any period of time knows all too well the challenge of getting to meaningful metrics when assessing performance. The ability and willingness to “manipulate” systems and data is a widespread practice.
Data manipulation is found most frequently in environments that set specific target objectives - 20 calls per hour, handle times that don’t exceed 120 seconds, little or no after-call work, etc., etc. Even abandon rates can be distorted by carefully “selecting” some data to be excluded to make the “number” more palatable. Unfortunately, some managers focus more on these types of production measurements. While the intent of improving productivity is likely good, these metric objectives may produce poor performance. They prompt behaviors such as agents hanging up on callers or being less than thorough during the call to manipulate duration. (Trust me; these are two of many ways agents can manipulate reports.) When we introduce such measures, we need to identify actual productivity to improve rather than simply improving metrics. These types of measures often deliver results that are disappointing in terms of real and long lasting productivity.
One challenge with targets is that you generally get what you ask for. Those that report to you will deliver the 20 calls or the requested handle time. But at what cost? I shudder when a Contact Center Manager delights in the discovery of agents actually hanging up on callers (such a widespread practice by the way, that most ACD vendors have “short call reports” to identify such actions), and they subsequently make a big deal of disciplining or firing them! Why do you suppose they are doing this? In my experience, the agents are taking these actions purely to satisfy the achievement of the desired metric.
It is time to raise the bar on performance and time to think BIG PICTURE. Productivity matters when taking care of business. But does it make sense to improve Contact Center metrics alone? What about the need to evaluate the impact of processes, cross-functional relationships, and technology on the load? One thing is for sure. It’s not very exciting to report on productivity improvements when you don’t even know whether the contacts being handled could be avoided in the first place.
It is time to ask key questions. “Are we comfortable that the necessary analysis of the current load has been properly analyzed and validated?” “Are we sure we are not handling contacts due to poor processes, training, response time, or other issues?”
It is time to ask BIG PICTURE questions. “Are we deepening the relationship we have with our customers?” “Are we contributing to the brand promise?” “Are we properly aligned with the company’s strategy?” “Are we able to identify contact types that other parts of the enterprise need to know about?” “Are we able to share that information quickly and easily?” “Are we enjoying an ever increasing share of wallet?” “Are we retaining the right customers?”
The Contact Center is a rich repository of information of much higher value to the enterprise than how many calls someone took or how long that call lasted. If leaders studied process and the associated technologies as much as they studied individual agent performance, gains in overall performance would be magnificent! And at the same time, the Contact Center would be positioned as a strategic asset rather than as a backroom, factory-like operation.
This is not to say that the other elements of productivity and performance don’t matter. They do, but need to be positioned within a bigger picture. Only then will Contact Centers enjoy better visibility across the enterprise and frontline agents perform more efficiently. They will reside within an environment that encourages curiosity (Why do we do it this way?), participation (Here’s an idea on how we could do this better), and collaboration (We’ll need the support of X department to fix this). These are more advanced elements that yield more and better results for productivity and the Customer Experience than any amount of the traditional “how many and how long” measures.
This is taking care of business rather than simply taking care of contacts.
PowerHouse Consulting, Inc.
360 Route 101, Suite 6, Bedford, NH 03110
(Are You Taking Care of Business?, November 2018)