Minimum Wage, Maximum Return: Is the Contact Center Paradigm all Wrong?

What do Listerine, Play-Doh, and contact centers all have in common? To better understand this question, it’s best to first look back on the origins of these three unique things.  Listerine, introduced in 1879, saw its original uses range from surgical antiseptic to floor cleaner to cure for gonorrhea, all before it finally found success years later as a solution for bad breath.  In the case of Play-Doh, it emerged in the 1930’s to clean coal residue from wallpaper but failed to take off as homes transitioned to utilizing natural gas.  Almost two decades later, as the company faced certain bankruptcy, a new business partner proposed repackaging the putty as the child’s toy that remains incredibly popular today. The origins and mainstream implementations of the call center goes back to the mid-1960s and early 1970s, as emerging technologies enabled companies to pool together resources that saved them both time and money. The call center, for all intents and purposes, was built to save on costs.  Fast forward to the modern day contact center, however, and you’ll discover that these teams are able to do so much more for an organization than simply deliver service for the lowest cost.   Today’s contact center can be the driver of customer satisfaction and loyalty.  Today’s contact center can be a strategic asset to the organization by fueling product innovation, delivering market intelligence, and providing differentiated service.

customer service paradigm shift

But, this is where things get problematic. Unlike both Listerine and Play-Doh, in which the companies embraced, rather than ignored, the fact that their product evolved into something with the potential for mass appeal and success, many companies still treat their contact centers as though their main purpose is to save costs.  For an alarming percentage of organizations, this fixation on saving costs in the contact center goes to preposterous levels and may cause significantly more damage than benefit.  ICMI’s research finds that these cost saving measures come in a variety of forms from delayed updates to legacy systems, to withholding training or professional development opportunities, and even down to one of the most common methods: low rates of pay.  For most contact centers, every decision is made through the lens of a pure cost to the organization, without consideration to the significant opportunities to impact customer satisfaction, loyalty, or business strategy.   In a time when the customer service experience is viewed as the key competitive differentiator, over both price and product, it is delusional to believe that the company who invests the absolute bare minimum in the contact center can expect to receive the maximum return in revenue, customer loyalty, or employee retention.

Falsely believing that the contact center can be a place of minimum wage (or investment) and maximum return is the reason that many companies struggle with things like customer rage, getting the necessary tools and resources, or engaging and retaining their employees.  We  can try to blame it on a variety of other things, but the reality is that the most common root causes of poor customer service could be prevented if we understand exactly where and how we should invest our time, money, and energy.  It’s time for the contact center to fully mature into its intended purpose – not just delivering low costs – but strategically differentiating the company through customer loyalty, employee engagement, and comprehensive business insights.

There are three ways that contact centers can get started on this evolution:

1.    Revisit the role of the frontline agent.  When is the last time that your job descriptions received an update?  Has the state of your contact center changed significantly since then or, do you expect it to in the near future? It’s important to revisit and update your requirements, responsibilities, and compensation packages on an ongoing basis to ensure that you’re getting the right fit for the role.

2.    Conduct a gap analysis on your most common contact drivers.  What’s causing your most common types of interactions and what can (or should) be done to improve or eliminate them?  For contacts that you want to keep, are you driving the maximum value from those interactions? What’s holding you back?  For the contacts that you’d like to remove, why are they still arising? What would it take for you to eliminate them entirely?  Map out a plan and get to work immediately on the low hanging fruit!

3.    Get alignment on your contact centers goals and objectives.  Does everyone on your team understand your mission and the role that they play in fulfilling it? Are your performance reviews and professional development plans connected to these goals and objectives in a tangible, easy to understand way?  Do your metrics ensure that people are held accountable only for the things that they can and should affect?  You should never assume that your team is on the same page, unless you’ve taken time as the leader to communicate often and test for understanding and buy-in along the way.

If you’re ready for your contact center to evolve and deliver greater ROI to your company, I’d love for you to join me in Orlando, FL this May at ICMI’s Contact Center Expo.  I’ll be diving deeper into this topic during my keynote and will also present a variety of breakout sessions and a MasterMinds workshop to help get you on your path to success.


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