Sarah Stealey Reed
Published: August 22, 2013 | Comments
“Small is the new big only when the person running the small thinks big.” – Seth Godin
Throughout my career I’ve been involved with contact centers of all sizes. I’ve managed start-ups with only a handful of agents and I’ve juggled global sites with thousands of people who handle every channel, language, and product imaginable.
I am most asked though, to be the voice of the smaller contact center. Every day ICMI receives queries from centers needing to look bigger and do more with less. Leaders of small contact centers are perpetually asking for techniques to compete with those that have more money, more resources, and more technology.
Does this sound like your contact center? Do you feel like you are fighting the uphill battle of limited resources and limited results? What is the small call center to do? Well, there are in fact LOTS of BIG things that smaller centers can do to gain a competitive advantage. With the right processes, a little creativity, and the desire to try new things and take some risks, the small can achieve big results.
Because the Customer
Last weekend my husband and I were trying out restaurants in our new neighborhood and we dined one rainy evening at Jessy’s Taqueria. It’s a small hole-in-the-wall Mexican restaurant inside a dark and unexceptional strip mall. Sounds enticing, right? Well, we gave it a go because everyone we encountered recommended it. I mean as soon as someone heard where we lived, they directed us immediately to Jessy’s.
Inside it was bright, colorful and loud. We were greeted immediately and ushered to one of perhaps a dozen tables. Ours sat directly in front of the open kitchen and gave us a perfect visual into the preparation, cooking, and clean-up. As I was watching the buzz inside this small place, I noticed a sign behind plastic tacked up on a pole. It was arguably in the most prominent area of the restaurant. Every employee walked past it as they moved from the kitchen to the dining room and every patron stood near it as they paid their tab.
In my curiosity I approached for a closer read.
Because The Customer
Because the customer has a need, we have a job to do.
Because the customer has a choice, we must be the better choice.
Because the customer has sensibilities, we must be considerate.
Because the customer has urgency, we must be quick.
Because the customer is unique, we must be flexible
Because the customer has high expectations, we must excel.
Because the customer has influence, we have the hope of more customers.
Because of the customer we exist.
Achieve Big Success in Your Small Contact Center
Just like any small business, there is an often painful reality that every small contact center must come to terms with – the customer doesn’t care what your limitations are; they care about the service and the product they get. That isn’t to say though, that the small contact center shouldn’t be aware of the key limitations that affect almost all:
- Limited resources
- Smaller budgets
- Higher volatility
It is absolutely true that smaller centers usually don’t have dedicated telecom or IT support. They often have agents that are asked to be all things to all customers, and are staffed solely to meet the base. Most have little time for necessary coaching and QA, and all seem pretty strapped when it comes to investigating or implementing new things.
It is also a reality that the budgets are much smaller and very limited in scope. They usually are enough for base staff and basic needs, but rarely include the bells and whistles. In fact, according to a study conducted by PELORUS, only 40% of small call centers have true QA systems, and less than 20% use workforce management. And they certainly don’t have advanced tools like speech analytics or performance management systems!
Finally, small contact centers are faced with the key reality challenge of higher volatility. We all know that attrition, absenteeism, tardiness and schedule fluctuations can seriously impact service levels. Call patterns are less predictable and high swings are usually followed by painful lulls. When marketing, product, or the industry does something unexpected, it can radically affect workload; which in turn hits the small pool of agents harder.
There is a Bright Side!
There is a bright side to all of this! Being a small contact center is awesome! It’s the fastest growing segment of call centers, and sites with less than 150 agents actually comprise 95% of all US centers. And people are taking notice. Experts are building training programs and operational plans specifically for smaller sites. More and more vendors are rolling out technology solutions that are both cost effective and more flexible. And even centers that are unable to take advantage of these things have reason to rejoice, as intrinsically they have more cohesive staffs, and have a greater ability to be more creative and quicker to roll out new initiatives.
Use Your Limitations to Your Advantage
ICMI has identified 10 Best Practices for small call centers that will help them achieve big success, no matter what the technology, people, or money limitations are.
1. Increase Your Labor Flexibility
2. Fight for, Beg for, and Accept Your Technology
3. Partner with Your Expert Network
4. Make it Easy on your Agents
5. Make it Easy on Your Customers
6. Use Social Media to your Customer Advantage
7. …and to your Employee Advantage
8. Use Analytics to Improve Service
9. Have Fun with Occupancy
10. Have LOTS of Fun with Your Team!
You can learn more about these 10 Best Practices and get real-life examples on how to implement them in your own contact center by watching Achieve Big Success in Your Small Contact Center. ICMI also holds a Small Contact Center Workshop several times a year at training symposiums around the country. Finally, there are great virtual training courses on Forecasting and Scheduling and Measuring and Improving Performance that are both specific to the smaller center.
How Was Dinner?
And yes, the hype was worth it. Jessy’s small establishment did indeed produce big results. The food was fantastic, the service was impeccable, and our expectations were exceeded at every turn. Jessy’s staff understands very well that in their case, size does not matter. They know WHY the customer matters! They know they can beat larger competitors by overcoming limited resources, smaller budgets and higher volatility. Trust me; they are knocking the candy out of their competitor’s piñata.