Proactive Service

GONE ARE THE DAYS when running call centers — as they were known back then — was mostly a matter of policing order entries and making sure agents met productivity yardsticks. Now that call centers have morphed into “contact centers” that handle a plethora of customer transactions, it’s time to generate real revenue from agents, according to the research firm AberdeenGroup.

Aberdeen’s report, “Proactive Service: The Next-Generation Contact Center,” presents the results of a survey of more than 130 companies in 27 industries. As is usually the case with an Aberdeen report, the findings are couched in a variety of confusing frameworks, formats, and jargon, but there’s no mistaking the main conclusion — that few contact centers have figured out how to make contact centers make money. (No, it isn’t by forcing agents to sell — attempts to do this largely fail.) One tactic that may work, say the Aberdeen researchers, is to deliver “proactive” service: Instead of being “reactive” by merely responding to situations as they occur, take the initiative to offer solutions before customers bombard you with problems. Most contact centers, however, cite lack of proper training and technology as obstacles to building an operation that takes a proactive approach (and, presumably, generates extra revenue as a result).

The Aberdeen analysts suggest a rather circuitous way to deal with the problem. Their argument is that through effective management of people and technology, companies should enable their contact centers to enhance long-term customer loyalty and value; this, in turn, boosts direct and indirect revenue growth.

Sound like a stretch? We think so. But while you’re agonizing over how to balance that contact center budget, it can’t hurt to try some of the report’s recommendations:

  • Determine proactive performance indicators Set up clear measures of what you consider proactive service and reward agents who meet or exceed those standards.

  • Measure indirect contributions Your contact center may be boosting the bottom line more than you think, so monitor the revenue picture carefully. It may be that sales opportunities are being handed off to the sales or marketing divisions rather than pursued directly.

  • Focus on overall performance Don’t fixate on a single measure or group of measures. Assess all aspects of your contact center operation and manage it as the multifaceted business that it is.

  • Be cautious about outsourcing Self-service and auto-response technologies are useful, but the best-in-class contact centers aren’t greatly in favor of outsourcing human agents, according to Aberdeen, which recommends an “augmentation rather than a replacement” strategy. The idea is to supplement or replace labor with technology rather than use outsourced labor.

  • Ignore industry norms Don’t just copy what the leading contact centers are doing; instead, try to top what they do and to differentiate your operation from theirs.

  • Establish cross-functional processes As customer service becomes increasingly important to business survival, sales, marketing, and other divisions often get more involved in contact center operations. It is vital to set up procedures to work harmoniously with these departments.

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