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Top 3 Questions to Ask in 2015

Got a lot on your plate in 2015? Here’s my list of top questions to ask, to give your efforts focus.

This is a time of unprecedented change in contact centers, with new channels, increasing customer expectations, and a daunting list of systems and process initiatives defining the months ahead for many organizations. The sheer magnitude of it all has some leaders wanting to hang onto 2014 as long as possible.

But with the right focus, 2015 can be a banner year—one in which you move your contact center strongly in the right direction and position it for success in the years ahead. Of the strategy-level questions I’m hearing successful leaders ask, here’s my list of the “Top 3”—my vote for those that will best enable you to hone in on the right priorities.

1. “Are we rolling out the right channels?”

If you walk into the GM contact center focused on social, you’re more likely to hear the clickity-clack of keys than voices—this group engages with customers through over 120 automotive forums, and via 15 twitter handles. Drop into an Amazon contact center, and you may see desks turned sideways so that Mayday support agents have a neutral background for their video conversations (one way, agent-to-customer) with customers. And visit Moen, and you’ll see job-site pictures coming in from contractors who need on-the-spot assistance with specs and installations.

There are lots of ways to interact with customers these days! And the channel mix that is right for other organizations isn’t necessarily the one that’s best for yours. Here’s a simple framework to guide this discussion. Think through your channel presence in four key areas, including traditional (phone and email are not going away anytime soon), self-service (web-based, mobile, online videos, et al.), social (where your customers would most likely be), and mobile (the logical ways your customers would reach service through mobile devices). That will get the conversation moving in the right direction.

2. “Are we hiring the right people?”

The job of a contact center agent is—no surprise here—becoming more complex all the time. Customers are diverse in their needs and wants; they access services on demand and expect quick response. They’ve most likely tried other alternatives before contacting the organization, e.g., through search, the Web, social channels, or mobile apps, so questions tend to be complex. Agents must be proficient in a wide range of systems internally, and be able to help customers with the channels and technologies they use. Products, content and policies change continually. And when all is said and done, customers share how well things went through ratings, social channels and various surveys (much of this input is readily available and commonly used by other customers and prospects).

Easy jobs? No way. Important to customers and the organization? Yes, more than ever. Many of these jobs are completely different than they were even a few years ago, and it’s essential for many organizations to rethink the approach they’ve been taking to recruiting, hiring, and onboarding. Start with one simple overarching step:  defining and characterizing these positions accurately. That will lend guidance to everything that follows—defining the skills and knowledge you’re after, recruiting sources, approaches to screening, and onboarding practices. (This isn’t as daunting as some make it out to be. I know of an insurance company that has struggled greatly with their recruiting and hiring efforts. They finally said enough, and put their focus on redefining the requirements for these jobs. That led to a case to senior management for higher caliber recruits, and the other steps have fallen nicely into place.)

3. “Are we leveraging our organization effectively?”

One of the most noticeable traits of organizations that have the highest levels of customer satisfaction and loyalty is a distinct mindset: Customer experience is 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.

Working with other business units is where you can really harness the center’s potential to deliver services that can differentiate. 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, shared and acted on, this insight can propel the quality of products, services and processes; further innovation; help drive clarity on customer communications; and identify ways to improve self-service systems and reduce costs. The number one step here: build a cross-functional team tasked with capturing, sharing and using the information captured in interacting with customers.

So ... that’s my list. I hope it’s helpful and remember the overall message: give the plethora of choices and priorities you face some focus. Your list might be different than mine, but by focusing on the few things that matter most in your environment, you’ll be genuinely moving the ball.

And by the way ... what’s your list? I’d love to see it.

Wishing you a warm, wonderful holiday season, and an adventurous 2015!

(And as always, please drop me a note with your stories, comments, feedback… I’d love to hear from you.)