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Industry Watch the Brad Cleveland: 5 Lessons in Boosting Your Contact Center's Value

After wrapping up some work in California one morning, I flew to Maryland—a 4.5-hour flight—and decided to drop into a clothing store on the way to my destination in Annapolis, Maryland. I selected a few things and handed my credit card to the person at the register. He swiped it, paused, swiped it again, and informed me the card was not active. That's odd, I thought.

I made my way to a relatively quiet corner of the store, dialed the number on the back of the card, and entered the account information prompted by the system. When I reached an agent, the first thing he requested was ... yep ... the account number. I repeated the same information to him, and he pulled up the file and could see that the card had been suspended because it was used earlier that day in a different part of the country. (It’s worth noting that this credit card is affiliated with an airline—they must run into this sort of thing often!) He apologized, explained what had happened and immediately turned on the card. He thanked me for being a loyal customer, and I think he did a great job.

This was a snapshot of a common theme—customers often rate agents more highly than they do the overall experience. And it underscores an important principle: delivering great service requires more than empowered employees. To be effective, you must align all aspects of the customer experience, including people, processes and technologies, around the right objectives. That demands an approach that encompasses the interrelated roles of each component, and enables you to align resources across the organization.

One of the most fundamental traits of organizations that have the highest levels of customer satisfaction and loyalty is a distinct mindset: Customer experience is not a program… or a prescription… or a contact center, self service capability, or IT thing… it’s much more. It’s a commitment, a “way of doing business,” that spans the entire organization and its key suppliers and partners. When customer service is seen through that lens, it both takes the misplaced pressure off – and underscores the responsibility of – every functional area.

And the role of the contact center? Working with other business units is where you can really leverage the center’s potential to deliver services that can differentiate in a tough market. Customer after customer, day after day, your contact center has immediate visibility on the effectiveness of the organization’s products, services and processes. When captured and shared, this intelligence helps other areas improve quality, further development efforts, find ways to improve the clarity of customer communications, learn how to improve self-service systems, and identify ways to cut unnecessary costs and contacts.

How do you leverage the potential of your contact center in this effort? A number of key lessons have emerged:

1. Build an understanding of the contact center’s role and potential in giving the organization cross-functional visibility into what’s working and what’s not.

2. Ensure that quality at the point of customer contact is given the broadest possible definition — e.g., that coaching, monitoring and objectives at the agent level support major strategic opportunities (e.g., that they know how to look for and capture relevant intelligence).

3. Develop good working relationships with the individuals who run other areas of the organization. Learn about their goals and objectives and how the contact center might best support their needs.

4. Build a team (or in a small center, assign a person) that is focused on capturing, analyzing, sharing and using value-added information across the organization.

5. Focus on success not perfection—and stay with it. Instead of trying to ensure that everything that may be valuable is shared, concentrate on providing just the information that is likely to be most useful.

The most essential ingredient to a great customer experience is an understanding from top to bottom that it stems from an organizationwide commitment and focus, a way of doing business.

Please drop me a note with your stories, comments, feedback… I’d love to hear from you.

Brad Cleveland
[email protected]

Brad Cleveland was one of two initial partners in and former longtime President and CEO of ICMI; he currently serves as Senior Advisor. A sought after speaker and consultant, he has worked in over 60 countries, and is author/editor of eight books, including Call Center Management on Fast Forward (new edition released May 2012). He can be reached at [email protected].