A Contact Center Expo Exclusive Speaker Interview: Ann Latham-Anderson

We’re less than three weeks away from ICMI’s Contact Center Expo and Conference and, around here, the excitement and anticipation for the event is at an all-time high.  I could easily spend the rest of this blog post telling you about all of the reasons of why that is but, instead, would love to share a bit with you on what to expect during one of my sessions.  To do so, I recently sat down for a Q&A with one of my co-presenters for next month’s conference.

On Tuesday, May 5, from 2-3pm ET Ann Latham-Anderson of ChildFund International and I are presenting the session “How Your Small Contact Center Can Produce Big Results”.  Together, we’re sharing our stories, experiences, and lessons from the small contact center.  If you’re attending the conference and leading a small contact center or small queue group, we’ll be providing you with some incredible takeaways that will benefit your operation.   I’ll be sharing my personal experiences as a small contact center manager as well as the trends and best practices that we’re seeing at ICMI.  Ann will be sharing her perspective as a member of her organization’s leadership and workforce planning team. 

Here’s what I learned about Ann and ChildFund International:

(JR) Who is ChildFund International and what type of calls does your contact center receive?

(ALA) You might have known us formerly as Christian Children’s Fund. We are located in Richmond, Virginia.  ChildFund is a non-profit organization that serves deprived, excluded and vulnerable children in 30 countries primarily through sponsorship but certainly through other giving opportunities as well.  Our contact center operates to support the relationship with our donors.

(JR) How many seats are in your center?

(ALA) Our staffing will change seasonally to ensure proper coverage to meet the seasonal needs of our donors.  We always want to be certain we’re being good stewards.  Right now, we’re staffed right around 27 agents including some temporary staff.  We have some seasonality built in to our staffing plan so in the summer, we may see our seat count drop down as low as 24 just because that is typically a slower time for us with lower volume. 

(JR) What does the management structure look like? Agent to supervisor ratio? Who does the quality monitoring? Coaching? Training?

(ALA) We have three supervisors and the agents are somewhat equally distributed among the three.  However, the distribution tends to fall more closely along the lines of process division rather than an agent to supervisor ratio and it happens that the numbers work in favor of that as well for us.  So, we have one supervisor who has primarily, though not exclusively, inbound agents on her team.  We have a second supervisor who has a team of agents that specialize in email activity but also our child protection and visitation processes. And we have a third supervisor that leads our team of agents that specialize in financial transactions.  Although each agent may have a specialty, they are all trained in all processes.  There are no mystery processes in our world.  Everyone can answer the phone, everyone can respond to a donors email, letter or request for a statement. 

Our quality and training is done by our QV team of two.  They monitor and evaluate calls, emails, correspondence and even financial transactions for every agent, every month.  Agents must maintain quality standards individually but we also reward teams for meeting standards as a group.  We believe that while it’s one thing to meet your scores as part of your individual KPI’s, it’s just as important to meet them as part of a team effort, to help everyone remember they are an important and integral part of something bigger.

(JR) What is your role in the contact center?

(ALA) I have a very unique opportunity in my role as part of the Leadership Team along with the Operations Manager and the Director of Sponsor Care, to help define and improve processes for the department, provide input and feedback on strategy and really serve as an operations performance analyst keeping an eye on how we’re doing as a team and where we need to be going.  Of course, I also perform the workforce manager role as well, forecasting and scheduling but because I came to ChildFund with an extensive background in Contact Center Operations Management I have been able to contribute from that experience as well.

(JR) What got you started working in contact centers?

(ALA) Way, way back “when” - I had an opportunity to take a position within Circuit City (where I had been working for several years already) working from home on what was at that time secretly coined the “SIPs” Project (Stays In Pajamas).  I actually took the position because I liked the idea of working from home but I immediately fell in love with all things Contact Center.  I started moving through the ranks, fairly quickly becoming the Telecommuting Analyst for the organization.  I left there in 2000 to manage my first Contact Center and I’ve never looked back.  Having worked almost every position within the Contact Center has given me a unique perspective of customer service and operations.

(JR) What do you think is the top challenge facing small contact center’s today?

(ALA) I still think staffing correctly continues to be a concern for small contact centers.  And I think this whole idea of “Millennials”, though I’m not fond of the term, and their ideal work concept is compounding an already complicated situation for staffing the contact center.  I believe it’s a two pronged challenge/solution that goes along with the technology or the technology budget challenge for the small center.  It’s a struggle of course, the smaller you are, to get staffing right and keep it on track.  You really have to be even more creative when the smallest adherence failure can throw you off your service level objectives.  It’s so tempting to turn the focus on the wrong things to try to correct your customer satisfaction and drive revenue.  This is when it becomes more important than ever, to cling to your mission and vision.

(JR) What advantage do small contact centers have that large centers don’t have?

(ALA) One of my favorite things about being in a small center is the ability to build a more “family” team environment and you can build on each person’s needs and strengths more directly.   If you look at the contact center as a little ecosystem, when it’s small, more contained, if you do it right, it’s easier to care for, to keep not only alive but thriving.  Operationally, less staff can make things more difficult but culturally, it can also be more rewarding. 

Cross training is easier in a small center.   Everyone on the team knows who to go to for expertise; they almost instinctively know who the subject matter experts are.  Communication is more direct with a small team.  You don’t have to worry about crossing four shifts and hitting everyone when your team is small and compact; often word will spread (good, bad and indifferent) by the close of business when you’re working with a small team of agents.

Happy, well informed, trained, better developed agents make for more satisfied customers.

(JR) What are you most excited for at Contact Center Expo in Orlando?

(ALA) I always look forward to the opportunity to network with my peers.  For me, there’s not a better opportunity to do that than industry conferences where we are all gathered for the same purpose, to learn from each other.  The relaxed atmosphere really helps people feel comfortable together and I find the conversations and potential to learn from each other to be profound.  We each, no matter our length of time on the job, have so much to teach each other.  If you are brand new to your job, share with me your discomfort – chances are I will work with someone that’s new to their job in the future, and you can help me make them more comfortable by sharing your struggle.  And, perhaps I can help you feel more comfortable by answering some nagging question that you’re not comfortable asking your brand new coworkers.  It’s just really a great time to meet people and learn and even challenge each other.

(JR) Anything else that you’d like to tell our audience?

(ALA) I’m looking forward to meeting everyone in Orlando.  I hope you’ll join us in our session but if our session isn’t a topic that meets your needs, I still hope you’ll seek me out to chat and share your thoughts and experiences.  I enjoy meeting new people and sharing ideas and hearing about what you’re doing in your centers.


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