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Get Your Call Center a Seat at the Corporate Table

In a recent ICMI QuickPoll, 35% of call center professionals responding said their call centers don't have robust lines of communication to executives and other divisions. Frankly, I’m not surprised the number's that high. The question is, what can you do about it?

As chairman of ICMI's Global Call Center of the Year Awards I see the best of the best: Finalists and title holders, especially, are charged with and evaluated on their ability to continually strive to strengthen the call center's role within and strategic value to the larger organization. But, as a journalist, researcher and information traffic handler (if you've never asked me something, you should) or someone who may be sitting next to you in ICMI's Essential Skills and Knowledge course or on the bus on the way to one of our site tours, I talk with call center professionals every week who say their centers are struggling with this very problem.

I’m going to share here what I see among the leaders and the laggards.

Understand the Organization's Needs

Leaders know and understand the organization's strategic goals and work to support them through the call center. This allows leading call centers to prioritize their goals and projects so that they align with the organization's overall strategy. It breeds success so that business cases (including budget for resources and tools) are better received by executives and business leaders outside the call center.

Laggards are focused on the minutiae of the daily call center operations and manage in a vacuum. If you feel like your center's simply facing a wall of demands from organization leaders, you're likely failing to truly understand the corporate strategies and goals that are driving those demands (see Be a Partner below).

Be a Partner in the Organization

Leaders build relationships between the call center and other business divisions, as well as top executives. It's true that top executives sometimes (perhaps often) neglect to share strategic goals and priorities with the call center, but leading call centers are proactive in gathering and understanding this information. Building relationships with sales, marketing, finance and technology divisions creates a strong path to learning and allows the call center to join the conversation. Not only does this allow the call center to help other divisions, it also builds support for the call center from other important teams in the organization. Leading centers ask what information their daily work can provide to partners and vice-versa.

Laggards see other business divisions as alien or adversarial. It's true that it's hard to see the marketing and promotions division as a partner when they launch campaign after campaign without alerting the center, which can wreck service level and other critical goals around customer satisfaction. If your center's suffering from this, there's no better time to open that partner's door and start talking – not yelling. Try creating a scenario for success that focuses on benefits to the partner: It's not just that "surprise" campaigns create havoc in the center, but they also don't allow the center to offer the most effective customer interaction that will achieve the campaign's goals.

Treat the Organization as a Client

One of the best ways for the center to start being a partner is to recognize the center's role as a service provider. This step encompasses both partnerships and understanding of strategic goals, but it is a good starting point for centers that are starting from scratch or trying to dig themselves out of a hole.

Leaders can articulate that the call center is serving the organization. As a customer, you can probably tell when a service provider's treating you like you're the client or like you're a bother – so can top executives and business partners. Leading centers not only treat internal customers like clients, they make sure that the client is aware of this effort.

Laggards serve passively, missing spotlight opportunities. Of course, it's a rarity that a call center has a true adversarial relationship with internal customers, but many do forget that they're supporting internal clients (or they miss the opportunity to show that they're already doing so).