Fighting for Resources? Make the Contact Center a Strategic Asset

The emphasis in early call centers was efficiency. The goal was to handle the calls as inexpensively as possible while still meeting customer needs. Most of us set a fairly arbitrary speed-of-answer goal designed to balance service with cost, and we’ve been fighting the battle to get enough staff every since.

It is fair to say that most contact center agents talk to more customers in a day than many other employees talk to in a year. The contact center is where customer relationships are made or broken, so instead of focusing almost exclusively on cost and efficiency we need to put the emphasis on maximizing the value of the contact center’s contribution to the company’s future.

As a contact center manager, look at the enterprise as a whole and determine how to best position the contact center to produce the strategic results needed. For instance, don’t think of the marketing department as the enemy because it creates campaigns that increase your workload without warning. Instead, embrace marketing as an important function that the contact center must join with to exploit opportunities to grow the business. Then maximize the contact center’s ability to handle the calls so that the company as a whole gets the best return on the marketing dollars spent.

Along the same lines, help the product development team figure out ways to improve the offerings so that customers don’t need to call as often—a good first step is to share the types of product-related complaints the contact center receives. Likewise, work with billing to identify ways to make the invoices more easily understood by tracking the most frequently asked questions and discussing them in regular meeting.

In other words, become part of the solution rather than a victim.

When was the last time you analyzed your staffing needs based on the marginal cost of additional resources vs. the added revenue or value that might be attributed to the added calls that would be handled? Many centers know their cost per call, but few have any real idea of the value of a handled call. Surely every call has some value, or you wouldn’t be answering any of them. So get consensus on a value range, and take a look at the tradeoffs of various staffing levels on that value. You might find that your speed-of-answer goal is not the one that would provide the greatest profitability–and selling management on more staff to increase profitability is a lot easier than requesting more staff based on your desire to meet an arbitrary speed-of-answer goal.

Get a place on your company’s planning committees and show that the contact center is the voice of the customer and a strategic asset to the business. It will improve your life and your agent’s lives. People will aspire to work in the contact center and view your team with the respect they so richly deserve.

Maggie Klenke is a founding partner of Nashville, TN-based The Call Center School, a consulting and education company.

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