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Effective Budgeting: 7 Keys to Getting the Resources You Need

handsGetting the resources you need is an essential part of fueling your contact center’s results and potential. It also is more challenging than ever, as many contact centers continue to face three significant challenges. Workloads have grown and become more complex, finding and keeping the right employees has been difficult, and the economy faces many uncertainties. Effective budgeting, and a clear understanding of what the returns should be, has never been more important.

Here are some essential principles I’ve observed in organizations that consistently get the best results with the budgeting process:

Base your budget on a clear strategy.

A necessary first step for a successful budgeting process is agreement on the contact center’s direction and priorities. Your customer access strategy is the framework that defines how customers will interact with your organization. The customer access strategy is the de facto blueprint for the budget—defining who your customers are; when and how they want to reach you; the means by which you will identify, route, handle, and track those contacts; and how you will leverage the information that comes from those interactions. Without this foundation, budgetary decisions are likely to head off in many unrelated directions and may be at odds with your organization’s broader objectives.

Answer the big questions.

Anticipate and be ready for the big questions. Why are we spending this money? Why does the contact center exist? Why are we spending more (or less) than last year? These questions form the backdrop of the budgetary process. The answers are sometimes addressed in the communication that takes place during the process, and also may be summarized in budgetary documents. Regardless, those who are involved in preparing and approving the budget need a shared understanding of the value the center contributes to the organization.

(Tip: be realistic and candid about the recent past and whether or not the contact center has been meeting its objectives. Be transparent about opportunities and challenges.)

Focus on results that matter.

Handling 2.9 million calls, achieving 85 percent first-call resolution, or hitting service level targets are not the results decision-makers seek; they are only means to an end. As your center’s objectives and focus mature from handling customer contacts efficiently to delivering great customer experiences, you will have a greater impact on business results — including brand reputation, revenues, profitability, and market share. Illustrating this connection focuses the process on the things that matter most.

Ensure that the budget is an extension of resource planning.

In well-run contact centers, forecasting, staffing, scheduling, and cost analysis are ongoing responsibilities. These activities should take much of the work out of the budgeting process, as the budget should ultimately be based on the already-established forecasting and planning steps.

There’s an important principle at work here. Objectives should drive the budget, not the other way around. If your budget is based solely on precedent (last year’s numbers), arbitrary decisions, or anything other than the objectives identified in your customer access strategy and workload predictions, you are at a disadvantage from the start. If that’s the case, you’ve got a great opportunity to reshape assumptions.

Highlight investment opportunities.

As with organizations in general, most contact centers consistently search for ways to do more with less. But there’s also a place for making some high-leverage investments in sensible and practical areas, including:

  • Planning and process improvements
  • Technology investments
  • Management-level education
  • Cross-sell and upsell programs
  • Agent and supervisor development
  • Insight into product and service improvement opportunities

The key is to be selective, and focus on those areas that are most likely to yield a high return on investment.

Anticipate the “usual questions.”

They have come up many times before, and they will come up many times in the future:

  • What did we spend on the center in total last year?
  • Did it accomplish what we intended it to?
  • What’s our cost per contact? Is it going down or up?
  • What’s the contact per customer ratio? Sales per customer?
  • Is growth in some channels (e.g., chat, social media, self-service) changing the workload for agents? (Reducing? Increasing? Altering?)
  • What are we doing to reduce unnecessary contacts?
  • Can we use the resources we have now to handle the expected workload?

Be ready. These questions are your opportunity to shine. Some may be quite relevant, some less so—but having a complete grasp of the facts will provide you with credibility throughout the process.

Above all—view the budget as an opportunity.

Those who picture rows and columns of line items and figures when they think “budget” are missing the point. It’s really a communication process that presents a larger opportunity to learn about the business and make a case that’s a win for everyone (employees, customers, and the organization). I’ve seen managers spend many hours—make that many days—putting the details together, only to have their priorities swept away or diluted in a matter of minutes in the CFO’s office. I’ve also seen powerful (and positive) budgetary agreements happen over coffee. Remember, it’s the effectiveness of your case, not the detail of your analysis, that matters most.

When you see the budget as an ongoing dialogue and not just a document, you spend more of your energy on opening channels of communication, educating decision-makers, and highlighting key priorities and tradeoffs. In short, you focus on producing the right results.