Principles to Stand On

Organizations must rest upon a solid foundation, one that drives management practices, technology acquisitions, and customer relationships. Without a foundation, contact centers will crumble due to increasing costs and decreasing customer and employee satisfaction.

Perceptions of solid ground can be deceiving. Many managers who declare a solid foundation and embrace a feeling of certainty are simply complacent and unwilling to challenge the status quo. We must give the cold shoulder to that feeling of indisputable truth. Uncertainty must be your constant management companion.

Every management guru from Tom Peters to John Kotter has written about organizational foundation. Its elements–vision, mission, brand, purpose, principles, values–are the same spouted by personal self-help coaches from Oprah to Tony Robbins. Do you know your contact center’s vision? Forward-thinking people identify and measure desired behaviors and performance; they don’t count the number of plaques posted in hallways. They’re also not cynical. If you are skeptical of talk about vision, the likelihood is that 1) your center doesn’t have one; 2) you’ve seen one too many programs unaccompanied by appropriate action; 3) you will not be able to lead an initiative success fully; 4) your organization is unstable; or 5) you are sure that “vision” won’t help your contact center.

Vision and other guiding principles are key to leading the contact center from cost center to valued organizational asset. Contact centers that have adopted these drivers distinguish themselves from competitors by their professionalism, high expectations, and constant questioning. These centers have a near-obsessive intolerance for poor performance. And their managers are able to make effective cases for budget dollars.

Contact centers that fail to construct a solid foundation linking them to the enterprise lose the visibility needed to win budget dollars and collaboration. Sadder still is that many managers continue to be sure that it wouldn’t matter if colleagues in other departments better understood them. I recently spoke to a group of contact center leaders with years of management experience. When I asked about collaboration, the collective groan over marketing “not giving us the information we need” illustrated to me the ineptitude of the contact centers’ leadership, not that of the marketing departments. Curiously, so many managers don’t see collaboration as an issue. They have adopted victim mentalities that perpetuate poor relationships.

How big a role does your contact center play in branding? The contact center must have a clearly defined and supported branded experience, one that managers manage to, coaches coach to, and analysts report upon. Branding powerfully links your foundation to the organization and facilitates a collective and collaborative spirit. Branding does not change from one department to another. Only the roles of the departments and the contributions of each to the organization change.

Assessing your contact center’s state is your job. You must do this by measuring vision (where is the company headed?), mission (what does the contact center live for?), business goals (what are the tangible measurements of success?), and brand (how do we want to be perceived?).

Don’t get hung up on the terms; many people describe the same drivers using different terminology. Get to the essence: Is your contact center on stable ground? Are you sure that you are looking honestly? That you have identified the gaps? That you know how much value the contact center offers to the rest of the enterprise?

Then take what you have learned. Take the truth to the employees who report to you and to those to whom you report. Ask for help in firming up your foundation. This is not a “just add boiling water” recipe; this takes more time than money and more passion than polish. The rewards are the things legacies and leaders are made of.

Are you sure you have what it takes?

Kathleen Peterson is president of Bedford, NH-based contact center consultancy PowerHouse Consulting (www.powerhouse1.com).

Other articles by Kathleen Peterson:

What Is a Quality Call and How Do We Know When We Have One?

Don’t Let Emotion Overrule Intellect

Seven Steps for Making Your Case to Senior Management

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