Every so often, “ownership” of the contact center comes up for debate. It happened about 10 years ago, when the web first became hot and many companies put marketing in charge of online customer inquiries. And the debate has arisen again in the past year, after Forrester issued a report titled, Why Marketing Should Own the Contact Center (Elana Anderson and John Ragsdale, April 9, 2004).
In the ’90s, when it sounded logical for marketing to assume ownership of the web, it really wasn’t a good idea in practice. It was painful for customers and enterprises. Marketing wasn’t prepared for, or equipped to handle, the deluge of email and web-based inquiries. But handling such communication is the reason contact centers were built. Marketing’s mission is to analyze and spot trends in customer data to create revenue opportunities, not to respond to customer inquiries. After receiving many complaints about web site customer service, marketing organizations quietly passed responsibility for these inquiries to their contact center, where it belonged.
In the same way, Forrester’s conclusion and action item is wrong. Marketing should not “own” the contact center, as marketers are not prepared or even interested in dealing directly with large numbers of customers. Yes, marketing organizations need to increase their effectiveness. But putting them in charge of contact centers won’t make that happen. Instead, the move puts contact centers at risk of losing sight of their primary customer service mission. Without a strong service focus, contact centers stand little chance of leveraging customer relationships for incremental revenue.
The report accurately pointed out the “declining effectiveness of traditional marketing tactics.” Ironically, though, Forrester cites this as a driver for giving marketing organizations additional responsibility for contact center management. It’s true that contact centers have great potential as a sales channel, because customers share their preferences and needs during service interactions. The obstacle today is that contact center agents do not have access to the marketing information needed to sell in real time, at the point of customer-initiated contact.
Instead of demanding control of contact centers, marketing departments should concentrate on improving their own effectiveness. There are many reasons why marketing organizations are less successful these days than in the past. The 2003 federal Do Not Call Registry limiting outbound calling is one explanation. Another limitation is anti-spam legislation. However, marketing performance was already declining long before these external impediments were introduced. This may sound harsh, but it doesn’t make sense to reward marketing organizations for poor performance by giving them new responsibilities they’ve already proven they can’t handle.
The time is right for change, and contact centers, well positioned to generate new revenue and retain profitable customers, must step up and play an increasingly important revenue-generating role within companies. Contact centers have more meaningful interactions with customers than any other organization in the enterprise. Callers to inbound contact centers are generally open and receptive while asking for help. Enterprises that can optimize these interactions will provide an outstanding customer experience, increase revenue and retain customers, three essential goals for all companies. But they need information, not instructions, from marketing organizations to achieve these objectives.
Contact centers have been eager to contribute to corporate revenue goals for years and welcome the opportunity to participate to their full potential. It’s time for contact centers to step out of the shadow of marketing. Executive management should empower contact centers by converting them from cost centers to profit centers. Contact centers must be given corporate revenue goals aligned with corporate and marketing objectives.
Contact centers need parity with sales and marketing organizations if they are to increase revenue while continuing to deliver an outstanding customer experience. They must be promoted organizationally, reporting to the same executives as sales and marketing departments. Contact center management should be compensated in the same pay range as their peers. Senior executives should introduce shared revenue and profitability goals for sales, marketing and the contact center so that these organizations will be forced to put politics behind them and work together. Performance management applications should be implemented to measure adherence to common corporate goals.
But it’s not a free ride for contact centers. They must open up their resources and freely share customer information with all customer-facing departments on a timely basis. Marketing and sales organizations are increasingly dependent upon real or near-real time customer insights that are available in contact centers. If contact centers were better at sharing customer information, there wouldn’t be as great a need to “own” them.
Marketing does need help and support from contact centers. But marketing does not want, and is not prepared to handle, the day-to-day responsibility of managing customer interactions. If you have any doubt, I suggest that all marketing staff be required to do a three-month rotation getting to know their customers by answering inquiries in contact centers. While I’ve never seen this done, I suspect that you would have a hard time filling marketing positions with this as a requirement. But if marketers are going to manage the contact center, they must be prepared to handle all aspects of customer interactions, from simple requests to irate callers.