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Call Center Success: People Process THEN Technology

ICMI's team of call center experts frequently travels to industry events to hold marathon sessions of advisory meetings (called Ask the Experts) with conference delegates. In these sessions, we often share stories recollecting many of the humorous anecdotes that stem from conversation starters repeated year after year, such as “My call center is not like most call centers,”  or one of the favorites “What is the industry standard service level?”
We've noticed a strong trend toward technology and systems changes. Many organizations are exploring full overhauls of their contact center systems, such as unified communications, quality monitoring and workforce management systems. What’s driving the angst with yesterday’s technology? Based on conversations with contact center managers, directors and executives, we see that there is a general sense of flying blind, no macro-level visibility of the customer experience, employee experience and overall operational performance. 
With so many customer management system options to choose from -- best in breed; SaaS versus premise; including performance management or not; carving out one’s stake in an enterprise CRM platform -- simply shopping around with vendor demos and then issuing an RFP is a fast track to confusion, project stagnation and ultimately lower-than-projected returns on your investment. For most, the tough but critical part begins in defining the strategy that the systems will enable.
It's certainly not unusual to want the latest thing on the market (think video games and gaming systems). When the system hits the market that performs automated first contact resolution, listens to calls and creates skills, coaches agents and supervisors, cleans the break room mid-day, measures CSAT in multiple channels and even wakes up sleeping agents in time to make their shift, we're likely to be the first in line saying “Hey I want that!” However, as professionals, with integrity and reputations to uphold, we contact center folk need to exercise a bit of restraint in the face of the latest and greatest to ensure broad support for our needed initiatives. The wise founders of ICMI (Brad Cleveland and Gordon MacPherson) passed on the following progressive core tenets as a guideline:
The beauty and efficiency of this simple model can be explained in the context of what happens when you do not improve your contact center harmoniously across each category based on actual cases:
  • A 40-seat contact center in the medical industry narrowly averts spending an extra $900k by accepting the vendor recommended solution before thoroughly reviewing its processes.
  • A large company purchased best-in-breed routing, then implemented more skills than it could support in reporting or forecasting. Today the company is using about 25% of a system that costs over $4 million annually. 
  • A large financial organization purchased advanced speech analytics systems without having staff trained or developed or a voice-of-the-customer (VOC) program: They’re currently under-utilizing the system.
Put simply, technology alone will not solve our problems. When we look at things from the customer’s perspective  leveraging thought-leading research like the 2009 Contact Center Satisfaction Index, Published by CFI Group, we find that customer satisfaction with contact centers is broken into three broad categories:
  • People: meaning our customer service representatives.
  • Processes: defined as the business and service processes used in the service encounter.
  • Technology: in this case IVR, the automated systems we have our customers interface with.
It is not surprising that of the thousands of customers surveyed in this research, the category bearing the greatest impact on satisfaction (and ultimately loyalty) as well as likelihood to recommend was, of course, service processes. This was followed by the people (CSRs), with the technology coming in last with less than half the weighting of processes.
It is for these reasons and others that we advise contact center leaders to put the people and processes in front of the technology when developing a customer-centric strategy for your contact center. 
Just so that we have it clear before your next vendor demo, stand at attention and repeat...
I pledge to:
First - develop my people and empower our service culture. 
Second -  optimize my business processes leveraging my developed people.
Third – (and only after the first and second steps) I will seek technologies to enable sound, effective business processes that lead to greater satisfaction/loyalty and efficiency.
By taking the ICMI Oath of Progressive Improvement, you too will realize the great benefit of customer operations harmony.