Expert's Angle: The People in Your Neighborhood: IT
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Expert's Angle: The People in Your Neighborhood: IT

Welcome back to our series, "Who are the People in Your Neighborhood?" These articles profile the people that make up the cast of characters that every contact center needs. They say it takes a village to raise a child. It takes almost as many folks to deliver excellent customer service!

In previous entries we looked at the Customer and the Agent and the IVR. Those first three are probably the most high profile "people" in the neighborhood, but who really makes it all possible? In this article, we're going to look at the superheroes who keep everything running. Yes, we're talking about the IT team.

The IT team is critical to the successful operation of the contact center. The modern Contact Center can’t exist without IT. While the Contact Center manager is nominally in charge, they can’t do all the things that need to be done, and appropriately they rely on staff.

I’m now picturing Captain Kirk from the old Star Trek shows. He’s in charge, right? But it’s Mr. Scott, the engineer who has to solve the problem and give Kirk "more power!" And when Scotty says, "I’m givin’ it all I got, Cap’n!" or offers some other protest that Kirk’s request is impossible, that response is ignored. Always.

Scott is expected to get that power somehow…magically if need be. Many of us who’ve worked with (and depended upon) IT departments will find this example lives on. What is ignored in Star Trek, and perhaps in many a modern business, is the awful stress associated with living in constant crisis mode. IT people don’t deserve that. Things can be better.

Points of View

For the contact center manager, the focus is on the customer as it should be. The technology that supports the communication between the customer and the organization should be transparent. That is, when dealing with customers, technology extends our reach and our capability. If the technology fails in some way, suddenly it becomes visible. When that happens, the Contact Center Manager calls IT. The message will be clear: "Fix it yesterday, if not sooner!"

For IT, the focus is on the technology and the application. Let’s take a look at things from the IT Manager’s point of view. IT supports many different systems. IT supports a network, desktops, and maybe also a help desk. IT supports a data center. Perhaps IT supports customized tools specific to the company’s business only. Oh, and IT also supports the phone system.

If there's a problem with the phone system, IT gets a call, and IT staff makes the change or repair requested, and then goes back to fighting the other fires of the day. If this is a typical shop, that's where the phone system sits ‐ low on the priority list. The phone system is critical of course, but it's not glamorous. In most cases, the primary responsibility is to keep the system UP. If it's UP, the users use it to do their jobs. The IT role is a support role.

How Does IT Support the System?

What does IT do?
  • Manage the servers
  • Manager the Telco connection (and vendor)
  • Manage the IVR system (and vendor)
  • Manage the agent desktop hardware and software (and vendor)

IT is generally NOT focused on the Customer Access Strategy or the greater strategic vision of the company. It would help if they were, but our experience is that IT lives in the trenches and depends on other folks to set the strategic direction. We recommend inviting them out of the trenches occasionally.

IT People are concerned with the maintainability of a system. A well‐documented system is a more maintainable system. IT people also like predictability. A system that is under control is more predictable because the people supporting it know what they’re looking at. This is the difference between a white box and a black box. A white box you can see into, a black box simply has inputs and outputs, and mystery within!

For the purposes of explanation we generalize a bit, but it’s common in our experience that the relationship between IT and their customers is unnecessarily reactionary and that taking a step back and doing some basic system analysis can lead to significant reductions in cost, risk, and stress.

To recap:

Typical Contact Center/IT Relationship

1. The Contact Center manager doesn’t think much about the phone system till it breaks.
2. IT doesn’t think much about the phone system till it breaks.
3. When the phone system breaks, the Contact Center Manager calls IT and demands an immediate fix.
4. IT leaps into action and fixes the problem as quickly as possible.

This four-step process will sound familiar to many of you out there if you’ve worked in a Contact Center.

The question is how quickly can #4 happen? How quickly can IT save the day? In general, IT’s ability to respond quickly will depend on the level of Control that IT has of the system. If the system is under control (well documented, subject to change control, and supported by trained staff) the prospects for a quick resolution are good. When the system is not under control…things get exciting.

To shorten the time needed for recovery, we’ll make a few simple suggestions.

Proposed Contact Center/IT Relationship

1. Contact Center Management and IT Management meet to plan how to best fulfill the organization’s Customer Access Strategy. By bringing IT to the planning table, IT and the Business can establish common goals that will help align priorities. These discussions should also include topics like Telco vendor management and cost analysis. An inefficient Contact Center can waste a lot of money on toll charges. Someone should be measuring and monitoring.
2. Together Customer Service and IT develop requirements for the system – Documentation is critical to establishing a controlled environment. In simple terms, one cannot establish whether something (a Contact Center, for example) is any good without documented requirements that clearly state what the thing is supposed to DO. Requirements documentation is the first step to establishing quality because it paves the way to effective testing, maintenance, and support.
3. Together Customer Service and IT develop an SLA that clearly indicates in a measureable way the support IT will provide to the business. Satisfaction is directly related to expectations. With a detailed SLA between IT and the Business, the service product that IT offers (SUPPORT) to its Customer (the BUSINESS) can be empirically quantified and evaluated.
4. When selecting a vendor for contact center systems, make sure the IT team can actually support the system.
5. Establish a controlled environment – Access to the system is restricted. The system is well documented and a baseline is established. The baseline version of the system is documented such that an outside person could be convinced that on Day X the system was exactly Y. That includes call flows, menus and recordings, software versions, hardware components…the wholes shebang.
6. Maintain a controlled environment – Establishing control isn’t enough. Maintain it! Changes are formally requested, approved, tested, and implemented. Documentation is kept up to date with each change. Without formal change control eventually the system you HAVE will be different from the system you HAVE DOCUMENTED and the cycle of painful troubleshooting will resume.

Benefits

By investing in the processes and documentation supporting the contact center, everyone will benefit.

  • IT’s life will be easier because they’ll be supporting a highly maintainable system. Outages should be less frequent and more quickly remedied.
  • The Business’ life will be easier because their Contact Center will be more stable
  • The CFO will be pleased that the investment in documentation will reduce the cost of supporting the system and reduce the costs related to outages.
  • The CFO will also be pleased when, in the process of documenting the system and the call flow, inefficiencies are found and corrected. This will reduce telephone bills and improve the bottom line.
  • The Customers will be happier (on average!) because they are less likely to run into the Contact Center during an outage.

Getting IT and the Business on the same page while bringing the entire system under control will involve non‐trivial effort, but the return will be significant in reduced costs and reduced risk. Highly maintainable systems don’t happen by accident‐ they must be designed and built. This is a nontrivial effort, but the rewards are non‐trivial as well. Get the Contact Center under control and reduce risk, cost, and maybe most importantly, stress.

Chris Burgoyne, CSTE is the Quality and Delivery Manager for Vision Point Systems, a software company in southwest Virginia specializing in voice applications. www.voicevisionivr.com, @VoiceVisionIVR, Chris Burgoyne on LinkedIn.



Topics: Strategy & Planning, People Management, Learning & Development, Site Operations

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