The Five Most Common Mistakes Made by Small Contact Center Leaders

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Make no mistake, life in the contact center is rough. It’s a volatile business that relies on a perfectly blended combination of people, processes, and technologies to ensure success every single day.  And while this is true of every contact center, it is the smallest of the bunch (think 75 seats or less) that can experience the reality of this volatility at exponentially heightened levels.

Contact Center Mangaement Mistakes

As a former small contact center leader and someone who spends a lot of time around contact centers of all shapes and sizes, I’ve gained exposure to these centers at their best and at their worst.  Here is a collection of the five most common small contact center mistakes that I’ve witnessed and some advice on how to ensure that they don’t make an appearance in your own contact center.

1.    Cancel training to cover high contact volume

We’ve all been there.  A training session was planned weeks or months in advance and when the day finally came, we were so underwater that we couldn’t let our agents attend.  This is a mistake for two reasons: One – By cancelling the training, our actions send a clear message that professional development isn’t a priority.  Our agents will give us their best work only if we invest in enabling them to work their best. Two – The chances are that the training session was important.  Let’s be honest, nobody wants to train for no reason. By cancelling the training, you could be preventing your agents from improving the efficiency, quality, or effectiveness of their work.  Even if you reschedule the session, who is to say that high volume won’t strike again?  If you’ve determined that your agents need training and scheduled for it to happen, it needs to happen.  Don’t try to sacrifice a long term benefit for a short term fix.

This brings me to the second mistake:

2.    Misunderstand the dynamics of small queue groups

The smaller the queue group, the more volatile the arrival pattern and predictability of incoming contacts and the more significant the impact if we get the forecast or staffing levels wrong.  We may all know what this “feels like” but many small contact center leaders don’t understand the science behind it all. To be completely candid for a moment, not educating myself and the other leaders in my contact center sooner in my career is one of my own personal biggest mistakes. Explaining planning theory and the dynamics of size requires a bit more than I can provide in this article but, if you recognize that this is a struggle for you, ICMI has a lot of great resources to help get you on your way.

3.    Coach only to the bad behaviors (if they coach at all!)

Most contact center leaders are rich in coaching opportunities, but poor in time to do so. The reality is that in addition to coaching, they could be assisting in times of high volume, resolving escalated customer issues, running reports, monitoring queues, answering agent questions, researching solutions and a litany of other things.  It’s easy for coaching to fall to the bottom of the bucket and gain perception as a nice to have, not a need to have.  In addition, the little time that is made available for coaching is used to address major concerns or problems.  The end product that I witness is that the “good” agents receive little to no coaching or feedback and the “problem” agents get all of the coaching time and attention.  This affects all agents in a negative way, as the good agents could feel neglected and question their importance or value, while the problem agents feel as if they only ever hear about the things that they do wrong.  Coaching is incredibly value and, when done right, can resolve many of the other issues that we experience in our contact center.  In order to get started on the right track, however, we need to spend our coaching time with all agents and use those conversations to not just address the opportunities for improvement but to also reinforce the positive and desired behaviors.

4.    Spend a majority of their time “firefighting”

Many small contact center leaders feel as if they are running toward a finish line that never gets any closer to them. It’s not uncommon for them to walk into a day with a “to-do” list that was left over from the previous day and will only increase in size by the next.  Their time is spend trying to get additional shift coverage, shuffling around breaks and queue assignments, answering questions from the endless line of agents at their desk, or throwing on a headset and helping to lower the queues themselves.  The primary reason that many small contact center leaders are making this mistake is that they know they’re understaffed but they don’t understand the real reason why. The two most common contributors that I see are incorrect internal reporting and inaccurate shrinkage calculations.  To address the first of these, small contact centers should be measuring and planning to half-hour intervals.  Essentially, this means that the forecasts for volume and schedule for staffing should be broken down to the half-hour level.  This provides an increased degree of accuracy and empowers contact center leaders with actionable opportunities for improvement.  As for the second, your shrinkage factor takes into consideration the time your agent spends off the phone (breaks, training, coaching, etc.) and also accounts for vacation time, average call offs, and other events that will impact when and how many agents are available to work.  When properly calculated and applied, contact center leaders will gain an accurate understanding of how many agents are actually needed to handle their projected forecast.

5.    Lose sight of their advantages

For as tough as it can be to lead a small contact center, it also comes with some incredible advantages and in the midst of the day to day hustle, it can be easy to forget.  Small contact center leaders are often able to build closer and stronger relationships with their team, they are able to communicate information more quickly and personally, and they are able to implement ideas and respond to a changing customer landscape more rapidly and nimbly than their larger contact center peers.  Take time to recognize and celebrate the uniqueness of your contact center and the incredible advantages that you have as a small team.

The reality is that running a contact center isn’t necessarily a glamorous job but it is a tremendously important and noble undertaking. Without us, organizations would be unable to effectively serve their customers and deliver on their needs and expectations.  Never make the mistake of believing that what you and your team doesn’t matter.  You provide value beyond what you may ever realize and make a difference to people every single day. Own your position as this valuable asset to your organization and strive to deliver excellence one interaction at a time.  If you’ve fallen victim to any or all of this mistakes, this is your opportunity to lead your team to a brighter future.


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