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Avoiding Groundhog Day in the Contact Center

whiteboardDid you know that in the US February 2, 2023, is Groundhog Day, the day that Punxsutawney Phil comes out to predict if spring has arrived? It’s also the name of a movie when the main character is forced to live the same day over and over again.

Using an animal to predict the weather is like implementing a change in your contact center without having a way to measure the outcome. If there’s no measure, then there’s no way to ensure the “stickiness factor.” And without stickiness, you might be living the same changes over and over.

So, to ensure changes to your process are “sticky” for your contact center agents, you can ask these two key questions, and leave the groundhog feeling out of the process.

Question 1: Are you fixing the right thing for your customers, or for internal experts?

How was this issue identified as the thing to fix? Was it voice of the customer? Voice of the employee? Were the questions in the survey biased in any way? A lot of consideration should go into the selection of the top priorities to fix.

And what was the analysis that was done? Often, I see data analytics presenting great numbers, but numbers that don’t necessarily tie back to the root cause of the problem. If my head is on fire, and my feet are in the freezer, my average body temperature might be normal, but it’s not a great experience. And you don’t have to be a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt to get to the root cause.

To focus on the root causes of the problems you identified to fix, there are several simple tools and tricks you can leverage, including listening, negotiating, the 5 Whys, the fishbone diagram, and CTQ. Even if you don’t have process experts, you have people who know your process; with these simple tools, you can see if your process change is going to improve the contact center experience.

Real World Example

How do you take a 30-day approval process down to 3 days? By simply talking to the people who execute the process. Yes, you may have to listen to a lot of complaints as people are explaining the pain in the process, and document what you are hearing, but if you use simple “back of the napkin tools,” you can quickly get down to the root causes.

To get the 30 days down to 3 days, I let everyone have a say during a Zoom call, and when they were done explaining it to me, I asked, “Now, having said all that, what is the right thing to do?” And one person piped up and said, “Oh, that’s easy, if we could just go get this VP to approve having a lower-level resource then it would all be so simple.”

It wasn’t that they didn’t know the right thing to improve the process, it was that no one wanted to broach the conversation with Senior Leadership. And often Senior Leaders have inherited an approval process that they too are wondering why their signature is needed.

I was happy to go negotiate that improvement. After that, tools could be improved and people would be trained in the new streamlined process. This resulted in a win/win for all engaged in the old process. And it gave back 50% more productivity to those resources, which they could then use to focus on better outcomes for their customers.

You are probably thinking, what about the risks? And yes, you must document the risks, and have a way to identify and measure them. Risk mitigation can be measured via an FMEA or other analytical tools.

Question 2: When this change is implemented, will it break anything else?

Much like the Hippocratic Oath, you want to ensure your process change doesn’t harm any other existing, well running process. So how do you do that safely, effectively, and efficiently? Do you have your contact center process in a visual map?

Often documenting the contact center process, and seeing how the hand-offs between teams or between contact engagement types are not clearly documented. Or how they were once documented, but not kept up. It might be time to ensure you have an up-to-date process map.

Once you have the current state process map, and the future state process map (what change you think will work), it’s time to have an unhappy path discussion.

So, what is an unhappy path? It is the team (contact center agents, managers, leads, data, etc.) sitting around the process map discussing and documenting the potential failure points and trying to preemptively find mitigation plans.

Real World Example

Once upon a time I worked in a contact center that was email and chat based, and the happy path assumption was that no one would ever want to call in to get help. However, customers wanted to call in when they felt they weren’t getting quick enough responses from the email/chat lines open to them.

That is an unhappy path. The process was designed to work via email and chat, but when the customer needs weren’t being met by the process, the customer created a path that met their needs. If we had had an unhappy path discussion, we could have avoided those customers' painful experiences.

We quickly put in place a phone queue and the customer calls were handled. It was not optimum yet, but it solved a pain point quickly.

Was the problem fixed at the root? No, because the real issue is that the Customers felt like the response time via email and chat wasn’t fast enough,and it left the customer feeling alone and unsupported in the process.

To find the real root cause of the issue before it happens, focus on an unhappy path discussion with the team. Document the discussion and find ways to identify when the unhappy paths are occurring.

Remember, the goal here is to make sure that the positive change you are implementing in the contact center is sticky. For this, you will need to have a data-based view into the changes and a clear understanding of how this change may impact the customer journey.