A budget can be defined as “a summary of proposed or agreed upon expenditures for a given period of time, for specified purposes.” Simple enough. But the process of putting a budget together is often seen by managers as tedious, time-consuming and, some say, distracting from “more important management responsibilities.” The best managed call centers remember, however, the outcome of this least favorite activity: the funding the call center has with which to accomplish its purpose.
Call centers that get the funding they need give budgeting the care and respect it is due. In analyzing many of these organizations, we’ve noticed that seven principles are at work.
The first is that an effective budgeting process is based on a solid understanding of the call center’s importance and value. Those who are involved in proposing and approving the budget have a good sense of the call center’s importance in today’s economy (see Trait 1: They Produce High Levels of Value). When all involved agree on the call center’s contribution to customer satisfaction and loyalty, improved quality and innovation, focused marketing, efficient delivery of services and, if applicable, sales, then the requirement for funding will get the attention it deserves.
The budgeting process must also be driven by the customer access strategy. When you define who your customers are, when and how they desire to reach you, the means by which you will identify, route, handle, and track those contacts, and how you will leverage the information that comes from them, you make the customer access strategy the de facto blueprint for the budget (see Trait 2: They Have a Supporting Culture).
At a more tactical level, an effective budgeting process is a seamless extension of resource planning. Call centers are planning-intensive, and forecasting, staffing and scheduling activities are ongoing responsibilities (see Trait 5: They Have an Established, Collaborative Planning Process). While the budget must look beyond the here and now to anticipate future staffing, technology and organizational requirements, the best managed centers use the day-to-day planning activities they are already doing to take the budgeting process most of the way toward completion.An effective process also identifies resource/results tradeoffs. Good management teams ask predictable questions: What happens if you provide a better level of service? Lower the level of service? How much would you save/spend if...? Once the budget for expected workload is established, along with recommended resources, it is fairly straightforward to rerun scenarios. These illustrations will contribute enormously to good budgeting decisions (and will score points with the CFO!).
An effective budget also maximizes cross-functional resources. This powerful principle brings together objectives and budgets from across the organization. For example, corporate lawyers are increasingly going to bat for email and text message management systems, which can enable the legal team to help the call center create consistent and legally defensible responses to customer interactions. IT managers are underscoring the need for well-trained call center staff to ensure that customer relationship technologies and Web-based services are successful. And marketing managers are increasingly willing to provide budget to capture and study call center interactions for clues to consumer demands and behavior.
An effective budgeting process also builds understanding of the call center environment. Top management and other executives involved in the process make the best decisions when they understand the basics of random call arrival, occupancy, schedule adherence and other call center realities. They must also appreciate the reasons that call center budgets may need to grow, such as more channels of access, increasing complexity, elasticity in demand, and higher customer expectations.
Finally, the budgeting process must be honest, responsible and visible. It must be realistic about the recent past and whether or not the call center has been meeting its objectives. It must put that in context with customer and agent satisfaction, and with the objectives and funding being proposed. It must support the mission of the organization and dovetail with the roles and requirements of other areas. And it must be visible to those involved in the approval process as well as key managers from across the organization.
Brad Cleveland is Senior Advisor to and former President and CEO of ICMI. email@example.com