It’s an old saying, nowhere more applicable than the contact center: “When you’re up to your ass in alligators, it’s hard to remember that you’re trying to drain the swamp”.
Anyone who has spent any time in a contact center can relate to the idea. Contacts arrive at the time, with the content, and over the channel of the customer’s choice, and it seems that all we can do is react. And, for any given day, tactically that is all we can do. The experiences and business processes driving today’s calls were designed yesterday or usually much farther in the past. Contact center managers, constantly in crisis mode, begin to identify and associate crisis management with success and leadership. Supervisors are promoted based on their skill at wrestling alligators and pass on those skills to the new wranglers…er, CSRs.
This is not a choice that most contact center leaders make consciously, or willingly – the choice is made by the enterprise in culture, strategy, and allocation of resources. By failing to design business processes to optimize customer experience, and by fostering culture and operations that do not put customer and employee satisfaction first, businesses choose every day to go into the alligator ranching and wrestling version of customer engagement.
The implications of this often unconscious choice are profound. Businesses accept avoidable contacts and develop metrics and invest in technologies to manage and monitor and measure these avoidable contacts – with goals for first contact resolution. We report with great pride when FCR goes up and AHT goes down. If we instead reported statistics like avoidable contacts as a % of all contacts, would we treat FCR with such respect? Of course not – we would focus on avoiding contacts that detract from the customer experience. And for desirable contacts, we would focus on metrics that reflect the value of the contact. For example, many contact centers represent a sales channel – sometimes the primary sales channel for the organization. Metrics such as close rate, customer satisfaction, and average revenue per contact or per available hour are perhaps much more relevant metrics for desirable contacts than metrics that measure number of calls per hour or number of minutes per call.
The amount of effort and creativity that goes into managing and optimizing avoidable contacts is phenomenal. It is especially ironic to think of the time and effort spent finding ways to make customers handle these avoidable contacts using self-service channels…sort of like teaching the alligators to wrestle themselves and taking the alligator wrangler out of the picture….
I often hear client executives note that technology investments in the contact center rarely produce the ROI that was promised in the business case. Is it any wonder? Immersed in reactive, crisis mode management, with every interaction measured to the second, and pressure put on centers with hundreds of agents to find ways to reduce or freeze headcount below levels necessary to meet performance metrics, it’s no surprise that agents can’t be freed up to be trained to use the new technology, and no surprise that most centers lack resources for business analysis and process redesign.
Why does this go on? Once it’s started, it’s really hard to stop. The alligators who were once little get bigger every day, and if resources are diverted from wrestling the alligators they get bigger and even nastier. That means that once you start alligator wrestling, if you want to clear the swamp there must be a willingness to commit additional resources to the swamp draining while agents continue to deal with the issues of today.
It’s better to stay out of swamps to begin with, and some companies seem blessed with cultures and value systems that keep them more sure-footed and on dry land because of their emphasis on the value of customer and employee satisfaction. That said, there are success stories where other companies have successfully drained the swamps and gotten out of the business of alligator ranching. To the best of my knowledge, these stories all share several common themes – leadership from the C-level, coupled with innovative and determined customer service leadership and a determination to value customers and employees above cost management. The good news is that customer experience is now a key strategic focus and more and more we will see enterprises focus on draining their swamps.
Is there a future in alligator wrestling? Things change slowly (for a while, anyhow – we are rapidly approaching the tipping point) and there will be strong demand for top notch alligator wranglers for a long time yet. Need to brush up on your skills? Here’s a handy training guide. My favorite advice from this guide? See step 5 – “start small”.
About the Author
Mark Behrens is President of TriSynergy Consulting LLC, an independent consulting firm specializing in contact center and enterprise communication business processes, strategies, and technologies. His clients span a broad range of industry verticals and include for-profits as well as not-for-profits, charities, and associations. Mark has operated as an independent consultant to business and IT leadership since 2001. Prior to his current role, Mark served as a Partner and CRM consulting practice lead at Grant Thornton, as a consulting Manager at Deloitte & Touche, and in corporate management holding positions ranging from project manager to CIO. Mark earned his MBA in Finance from the University of Chicago after graduating summa cum laude in Accounting from Bradley University.
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