Today’s contact center is multichannel, multimedia, multisite, and multitasking–often creating multimeltdowns. The leaders in today’s centers must be prepared to perform at a very high level. To do this, the funding must be there. To access the funding, a case must be made in order to win the support and buy-in of senior management.
Here is a seven-step approach for putting together a budgetary case to senior management. It may also be a useful tool for evaluating the performance of your center.
1. Define your objectives.
In making the case to management, the objectives we cite will affect how we are viewed. The contact center must be aligned with the enterprise objectives. Service level is not an objective; it is a planning and measurement tool. The objectives you present to senior management must be linked to the company as a whole: cost reduction, increased market penetration, customer retention, etc.
If you are not clear on the objectives (which of course is highly unlikely), ask someone exactly what they are. If applicable, look is the annual report as well, particularly the message from the CEO to shareholders. This letter will outline the enterprise accomplishments from the previous year and highlight the objectives for the coming year. These objectives are your objectives. In any presentation to senior management, it is appropriate to quote the CEO and demonstrate how your organization is integral to the plan.
The objective of the contact center is to assist in the realization of the enterprise objective. Using this as a frame for your presentation will make your case more compelling to senior management.
2. Support your case.
How would you represent your current realities? Current conditions are supported by the current budget. So it is appropriate to illustrate what has been accomplished within that framework.
Create a view of the contact center to illustrate where you are now. Begin by showing the number of contacts that the center handles annually. How does this relate to previous years? Are calls on the rise or the decline? Have the demand patterns shifted? Show the impact of billing cycles, software upgrades, marketing campaigns, product releases—any and all dynamics that affect the center and about which you want to raise awareness.
Describe the total number of channels and the demands on each. Share the number of voice calls, IVR (integrated voice response) transactions, e-mails, Web contacts, faxes, and written correspondence. Describe the current condition, including the current number of workstations equipped and occupied. Any and all channels must be represented.
Illustrate the current technology configuration—and with it any limitations that may exist. This is key if your proposed budget includes any technology upgrade, replacement recommendations, or enhancements. It is important to set the stage for the capital investment by clearly representing the current system and its realities. You should also deliver information on channels and desktop applications.
Set the stage for capacity, particularly if one of your company’s objectives is growth. The center’s scalability model will be an important component of the presentation. Describe the current condition, including the current number of workstations equipped and occupied. Describe the current telecommunications and bandwidth capacities and how much additional demand can be handled by the current facilities.
This provides an opportunity to describe the facility’s conditions overall. Has it been 10 years since chairs have been purchased? Are the facilities ergonomically sound? Is there a growing number of worker’s compensation claims?
Supporting your case via illustrations, reports, and examples creates an understanding of current conditions and provides a context for enhancements and improvements.
3. Use an easy-to-understand format.
The format for any case to senior management must be clear and concise; executives react to clarity.
Use bullets to make major points.
Use charts and graphs to illustrate metric dynamics and tell a story. But stick to one or two chart types; don’t use multiple styles just because you can.
Include supporting data or simply point to its availability.
When preparing the case, use data to illustrate dynamics that drive the unique conditions to which contact centers must react—intraday call arrival patterns, the impact of marketing campaigns, resource utilization, etc.
Compare and contrast metrics such as service level and abandonment, experience level and handle time, channels, and costs.
In all, your case must be focused and presented formally, briefly, concisely. Practice before the presentation, and anticipate questions ahead of time.
4. Tell the truth—avoid misleading information.
It is time to tell the truth, to stop the polite lies we have become expert at creating with our metric maneuvers. Among the most common alterations we make are abandonment rates and service level achievements. We also alter data by measuring metric results and encouraging (even rewarding) behaviors that conflict with quality at the agent level. If we ask for 16 calls per hour or handle time to be exactly 120 seconds, we risk the metric that takes precedence over performance.
This is a delicate arena. We need our staff to be efficient while still providing an effective response. Hence, a quality vs. quantity argument emerges. In this case, we must first tell our staff the truth in order to provide accurate information to senior management. And the truth is we want both quality and quantity. Quality does not take longer!
If staff asks you whether you want quality or quantity, you must first determine why they are asking the question. You must seek the truth to tell the truth. Defending your position on a quality outcome will fall on deaf ears if staff believes all you care about is numbers.
Listen to your staff; it is possible that you are establishing conflicting criteria. Investigate the operation to uncover the absolute truth in order to provide proper incentives and collect the most accurate data. Then you won’t have to fudge the numbers to achieve the desired outcome.
The time has come to give senior management what they need, not what they want to hear. The real information required to budget and plan is in fact the real information, not the altered data.
Suppose senior management establishes an objective of 3% abandonment, and you meet that objective through altering data. When budget time comes and you request additional resources, how do you respond to the observation that you have met the objectives all year? Will you tell management that you’ve been lying for the past year? It is critical to consider the short- and long- term impact of your reporting.
5. Include quality measures; not everything is by the numbers.
Quality is one area that contact centers often have difficulty with, because it is not measured by traditional production metrics. But the fact is that quality has a significant impact on the customer experience and on the bottom line.
Many measures associated with customer relationship management include a quality component. For the most part, the “one and done” single-call resolution models come from an understanding that doing it right is more economical than doing it over. Quality measurements typically come from a database; investment in front-end applications that support quality reporting is important.
A quality monitor program often serves as an observation post for quality. To secure adequate funding for it, you must be sure that the program is well defined and its effectiveness demonstrated. Advances in recording systems with the ability to capture voice/data records provide a vehicle to measure the interaction and the transaction. This improves our ability to coach to quality at the agent level. Accuracy and skill in using the database are critical to the proper flow of information and in fulfillment of the customer request.
The ability to measure errors and rework are critical to the quality assessment. But this may take you out of the contact center. For example, if the center is handling additional contacts as a result of a failure in the product fulfillment area, your resources and your budget are hurt. To fix a problem somewhere else, you may need executive support and data to back you up.
When evaluating quality, it is not only how well you are doing what you do, but how you do it. It is the channels you use and the attention paid to what you can eliminate. Take the case of a utility company that handles millions of calls a year. The single most frequent call type is billing questions; the statements are often incorrect, cumbersome, and difficult to read. The quality team has launched an initiative to push more of the calls to the voice response unit, when in fact a better initiative may be to fix the billing system. This is an infinitely more complicated and expensive task, but it is one that will have much greater impact. Elimination will always be more powerful than automation.
Training is a huge contributor to quality. Deliver to senior management all the dynamics that create the need for a solid investment in training. You must make the case to have training in the budget, both for initial training and ongoing skill development. Use data regarding the types of transactions handled to illustrate the skills required and the training needed for new hires. In addition, show a calendar of marketing campaigns, system upgrades, etc. to make the case for ongoing training.
6. Present your budget requirements.
You’ve set the stage. Now you must deliver the request for funding. Consider these questions:
* What are the operational changes from last year?
* What are the resource requirements, both human and technical?
You should provide two or three examples showing the effect of new allocations. For example, what is the difference between a service level of 80% of calls answered within 20 seconds and 90% answered within 10 seconds? It may be a couple of full-timers or a couple of part-timers at critical intervals. The point you want to make is that key performance indicators are linked to budget. If you don’t have the requisite staff and tools, the objectives are at risk.
We must link performance indicators to enterprise objectives. If the company’s number-one objective is cost reduction, eliminating a certain percentage of customer calls by improving the process elsewhere may be the most effective means, despite up-front costs. If the objective is customer relationship management, an investment in front-end systems that allow better response to customers and increase revenue may be necessary.
The introduction of recording tools improves accuracy within the call. These tools reduce errors, thereby reducing cost and improving customer satisfaction. This is a solid argument for funding; you must spend the time to create this sort of compelling and bulletproof story.
Present the request formally. It is also important to identify an executive champion and do a bit of lobbying from time to time. The presentation to senior management is the culmination of a multitiered initiative, not a single one-hour event.
7. Establish an action plan and follow-up plan.
Present an action plan. Describe the initiatives for which you have requested funding, as well as expected outcomes and reporting mechanisms.
Include the ongoing support of senior management when creating a follow-up plan. The time has come to close the gap between the contact center and the executives. We are in an era that requires collaborative behaviors across the enterprise to create customers who are not only satisfied but also loyal.
Kathleen Peterson is founder/chief vision officer at Bedford, NH-based contact center consultancy PowerHouse Training.