Strategy is the Brain of the Organization, Culture is the Heart and Soul
| Published: February 24, 2015 | Comments
Culture is a fragile thing. And in the contact center it can make the difference between an exceptional customer experience and one that completely turns the customer off. The relationship between the workforce management team and the rest of the business can be the linchpin that makes that difference.
Leaders can strategize about culture but they can't delegate it's implementation. Where strategy is the logic, the brain of an organization, culture is it's heart and soul. Culture can't be forced, it has to be nurtured; and it has to be the responsibility of everyone in the organization. The expression "it only works if it all works" is infinitely appropriate when it comes to culture. From vision to recruitment to day to day operational conversations culture has to be consistently and jealously protected - and the WFM team is one of the few constant touchpoints.
The culture has to be relevant to the vision. If we wish to gain our strategic advantage through cost leadership then we need a culture that suits that; if we want our advantage to be customer experience then that requires a different culture altogether. The importance comes from how people feel, because that affects how they behave and ultimately the customers feel that behavior. For example, the motivational and trust repercussions of stressing that "the customer must always come first" while chasing average handling time targets are profound - the contact center agent will disengage and the customer will feel it.
It is not a zero sum game however, we can be customer centric but not frivolous. Similarly, if the aim is to lead on cost our people can still aim to give the best service they can within the set constraints. The key is in leaders setting their vision and then consistently live it - find the people that fit the desired culture, recruit them with honestly and lead them well.
In the contact center environment I always argue that the WFM or resource planning team are one of the most vital components of cultural fit. If we believe (and I do) that the difference between great companies and ordinary ones are the people then the intimate impact that the WFM team have on the lives of our people can have massive, and often unintended, impacts. As I travel round contact centers I find that the WFM team provides a perfect mirror image of the leadership of the company. If the leadership understand and trust their vision the WFM team normally fit in well and are a vital component of the contact center culture; if the leadership team are confused or inconsistent the WFM people are often the same. Remember, again, it only works if it all works.
So, as in integral part of the corporate culture, what metrics should the WFM team share with the rest of the organization?
COST FOCUSED CULTURE
The cost focused culture is exactly where contact centers have developed from. Branch networks were expensive so call centers became the new point of contact for customers. In a perpetual quest for efficiency we asked our agents to manage the call length, reduce the contact rate, take calls for the majority of the time that they are paid and then ultimately we offshored to get cheaper front line resource. This drive for efficiency is where the need for professional resource planners came from and where the natural skill set lends itself.
With a focus on cost and efficiency, the metrics to be shared with the business are likely to all be internally focused - handling time, utilization rate, productivity, call rate and so on - the "traditional" call center metrics. It is obviously still possible to have engaged employees in a cost focused culture but the vision, the recruitment and the leadership have to be consistent and honest.
CUSTOMER CENTRIC CULTURE
This is the new paradigm for WFM professionals - how to operate in a culture whose primary purpose is not efficiency? As ever, the WFM team rely on all the parts working - a clear vision, consistent leadership and effective recruitment to that vision. So the objective of the WFM team does not have to be micro managing adherence or handling times, it has to be customer focused.
The WFM team need to know all the traditional contact center metrics - getting the forecast variables "right" is their core purpose to ensure the contact center is adequately resourced. But these are internal matters for the WFM team - they need to learn from the traditional metrics; not use them to push the contact center for further efficiency.
The metrics that the WFM team share with the rest of the operation should be customer focused or to improve the employee experience. Service levels are obviously the most important along with measures of resolution - ultimately that is what the customer wants and what the agents have been asked to deliver. So, first contact resolution, call wait times, abandon rates and so on are essential outcomes that the rest of the contact center need to understand.
I also like to see "employee investment" metrics shared - training hours, coaching hours etc. And why not some measure of how well the WFM team integrates flexible working into it's day to day business - maybe shift swaps or slides achieved to allow work to fit into lifestyle?
As WFM goes on the journey from efficiency focus to customer centric it is important to remember that customer centricity is not inherently inefficient. No one would advocate wasteful frivolity - customer focused organizations just create profits in a different way - it is a way that requires leadership bravery, consistency and long term thinking. A study by Watermark Consulting concluded that the cumulative returns over a six year period for the leading customer experience companies are 50% higher than the S&P 500 average. Those are results worth having!
While operational numbers will always be an integral part of the WFM skill set the next generation of resource planners and forecasters will need the keenest of people skills to thrive in the new competitive playground.
Culture & Morale, Workforce Management
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