People have been trying to turn contact centers into profit centers for years. Because they know that contact centers are often viewed only as a “necessary evil” by sales staffers (who hope that green, untrained customer service reps won’t destroy the customer relationship) or regarded distastefully by others as a fat expense line in the budget, center managers look deep within to find ways to reduce costs and maybe, just maybe, bring in some top-line revenues without creating unnecessary channel conflict.
The good news is that many of the tactics are working. Contact center operators have made great progress in moving the dial. Successful tactics for evolving the contact center into a profit center often include:
Skills-based routing and enhanced sales training
The use of IVR and self-help channels to offloading low-value contacts
Allocating contacts to the appropriate rep, with service center reps to handling simpler sales contacts and the full-service sales team concentrating on complex sales
Implementing a cross-sell/up-sell program
Improving coaching and performance management
Implementing a balanced scorecard that redefines successful contacts based on more than just talk time
Most of these can be done within the walls of the contact center, without input or agreement from anyone else. Other areas of the organization can simply look at the results and be pleased with the efficiency, productivity and profitability gains.
The wall of diminishing returns
So why fix something that isn’t broken? Let’s face it, contact centers are victims of silo-oriented accounting, where a profit center is defined as one that focuses solely on its own profitability: “The essence of your being is the difference between your revenues and your expenses.” How antiquated is that? But that ignores the contact center’s relationship with the rest of the company.
At some point, contact centers must graduate from operating as cost (or even profit centers) and move to the next evolutionary stage, that of a “value center.”
A value center is a center that generates value for the whole company, regardless of the impact on its individual P&L. Yes, this sounds idealistic; and it won’t happen overnight. But it’s worth the hard work and organizational angst to get there.
Here are some tips on getting started:
Voice of the customer:
Turn your center into the ultimate “voice of the customer” listening station. Leverage call monitoring and rep focus groups to glean insights into all areas of the company. An online travel provider, during its early launch stage, used live agent monitoring and discovered that a large majority of its customers were business travelers rather than leisure travelers. This insight resulted in new service offerings and site enhancements focused on an unknown segment of its customer base.
Dive deep into your data to uncover trends in call drivers, product and service usage patterns, customer preferences and complementary product opportunities. One health care insurer uses call drivers and claims data to predict which members might be in need of preventive care services. This feeds an outbound call process led by a team of nurses to drive members toward preventive services, healthier lifestyles and condition-specific treatments, ultimately lowering costs for both the members and the companynot to mention the obvious benefits to the customer.
Rep power (formerly known as “empowerment”):
Let your reps take charge. Train them to seek out new solutions for customers rather than relying on the same old handling practices and trying to get people off the phone as quickly as possible. This requires changes to your performance scorecard and quality-assurance processes, in that “what gets measured gets done.”
Assemble a group of sales and service managers to improve the company sales strategy. At a national bank, the sales executives met every month with frontline service reps, anointed as “change leaders,” to get insights about how well the products were working and meeting customers’ real needs. As a result, the sales organization altered its selling strategy and enhanced the products. They were humbled but appreciative and respectful of the frontline employees’ insights.
Capture the opportunity:
The best time to sell may not always be during a call, either because your service reps aren’t trained to sell or customers aren’t interested in new products when they’re calling for support on an existing product. But that doesn’t mean you have to lose the opportunity! Capture the data that can lead to product development and customized sales strategies on an aggregate basis for those customers in the future. Or refer the customer to a different part of the organization that can make the sale. This is particularly true for products and services that are highly technical, such as mortgages and health insurance plans.
Holistically analyze all sales and service activities (products, processes and segments) to determine the appropriate fit, either in terms of the relevance to a particular channel, such as your web site, or to call center sales and service opportunities. Who’s doing what, when and where with the customer? A thorough analysis of the sales trading desk at a large investment bank identified the high-value / high-touch and high-value / low-touch needs of its institutional investor partners. As a result, a targeted web site and service team of licensed analysts was built to assist the sales traders with the low-touch requirements, while freeing their time for more value-added contacts and relationship building.
Can this be done?
It’s possible to evolve your contact center into a value center, but it requires a fundamental shift in how people think. Living in silos is much easier than collaborating across an organization. Suddenly, we’re into “new math.” It’s not about the contact center. It’s about revenue and expenses. The change may mean that the contact center’s expenses may go up. But the company’s revenues should go up by more because of the value you have created.
That’s a liberating concept for contact center managers, but only if they step up and focus on creating value for the organization. It can’t be done within their four walls; commitment from the top is needed to make the investments necessary to harness one of the most powerful (and often underutilized and underappreciated) assets in the organization.