Making a Budgetary Case For Your Contact Center, Part Two

Nov 27, 2007 7:37 PM  By

Multichannel contact centers must be prepared to perform at a high level, which requires funding. But you need the support and buy-in of senior management to make your case to get the funding. In the last edition we looked at the beginning steps for putting together a budgetary case, including defining your objectives and supporting your case. To read part one, click here. This week we’ll focus on assembling the plan and preparing the follow-up.

• Clear it up
When putting together your case to for contact center funding, use an easy-to-understand format. In fact, the format for any case to senior management must be clear and concise; executives react to clarity.

You should also use bullets to make major points, and employ charts and graphs to illustrate metric dynamics and tell a story.

Stick to one to two chart types, and 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 call centers must react – intra-day call arrival patterns, impact of marketing campaigns, resource utilization, etc. Compare and contrast metrics 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.

• Tell the truth
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 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, subtract, add, recalculate, until you achieve the desired outcome.

The real information required to budget and plan is in fact the real information, not the altered data. For example, 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.

• Include quality measures
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. The program must be well defined and its effectiveness demonstrated in order to secure adequate funding. 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 is critical to the quality assessment. But this may take you out of the call center. For example – if the center is handling contacts as a result of a failure somewhere else in the enterprise, your resources and your budget are negatively affected. To fix a problem somewhere else, you may need executive support and data to back you up.

Training is a huge contributor to quality. Deliver to senior management all the dynamics that create the need for a solid investment in training. The case must be made to have training in the budget, both for initial training and ongoing skill development.

Use types of transaction data to illustrate the skills required and the training needed to have those skills available for new hires.

Show a calendar of marketing campaigns, system upgrades, etc. to make the case for ongoing training. Illustrate the addition of new channels, Web, and e-mail to create the need for additional training. And remember – when reporting on quality, report on the impact of process, training, and tools as well as individual performance.

• What will it cost?
The stage has been set – 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 to three examples showing the impact of new allocations. For example, what is the difference between a service level of 80% of calls answered in 20 seconds and 90% answered in 10 seconds?

It may be a couple of full-timers or a few 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 our No. 1 objective is cost reduction, it may mean that eliminating calls by process improvement meets the need, despite up-front costs. If the objective is customer relationship management, it may mean an investment in front-end systems that allow better response to customers and increase revenue.

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; we must spend the time to create a 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.

• Establish an action 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 top management executives. We are in an era that requires collaborative behaviors across the enterprise in order to create customers who are not only satisfied, but also loyal.

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