An opportunity to transform contact centers

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The status quo has been completely undone: staff working from home for the first time, more contacts with less resources, or too much staff with less contacts.

It is a moment of truth. How businesses and contact center leaders respond to these challenges in this crisis will impact the way that employees and customers feel about the company and the brand down the road.

It is also a tremendous opportunity to transform contact centers and give meaning, purpose and intention to how we want to shape the future. There has never been a better time to bring the warmth and human connection back into our workplaces. Customer at the center, employees at the heart.

We know it: there will be a before and an after the pandemic.

We should seize the opportunity and start to imagine what the contact centers could be post-covid. It could be the opportunity many were looking for to make their customer experience strategy come to life.

Contact centers’ leaders are real heroes.

Operating a contact center in the current context has never been seen before. What their leaders have accomplished is just short of heroic.

In the past weeks, many of them have transitioned their operations to a work from home environment at a speed we never thought possible. In those few short weeks, they accomplished technological and human changes with a level of creativity and efficiency of execution that was incredible.

In a make or break situation to ensure the continued operations they rose to the challenge.

Because of the current context we definitely need to highlight and recognise this work and not let it get minimized or forgotten.

No one thought any of this would have been possible 6 months ago.

When I think of this change, it brings to mind the movie “Apollo 13” where the engineers from NASA had to solve the challenge of fitting a square shape into a round hole.

Fitting a square shape into a round hole – Scene from the movie Apollo 13 (1995)

When you have the right combination of a clear objective, the right people and skills as well as the freedom to create, there is no limit to the solutions that can be envisioned. People are capable of incredible things!

Now teams are adapting to what this new reality means to each of them.

The people challenge

Obviously, a change of this scale brings different challenges the longer the crisis goes on.

Often, we were not exactly fully ready for such an immediate and comprehensive change. The quick wins that were put in place were thought up as temporary solutions to maintain operations. They were not designed though with the reliability and longevity we are used to seeing.

Many employees these days are answering calls on their personal internet connections, and even their own computers. Working at their kitchen tables and living with the reality of daycare or school closures. The reality of work from home with their families in this context brings all kinds of challenges.

On top of that, anyone who has worked in a call center knows the value to our wellbeing that the help between colleagues can bring. Especially when the call volumes go up. The down time between calls goes down, the conversations are more difficult, we get tired faster. At home we are losing the benefits of connecting, decompressing or getting help from colleagues & managers.

While support is still available, it’s not quite in the ways we are used to.

I have heard from several employees and leaders in contact centers over the last few weeks who are missing out on that simple human connection and getting anxious for the return to the office.

We all know that how close a manager is to their team in a contact center is one of the key factors for its success. Team meetings, morning touchpoints, informal and action coaching or even simply a daily greeting go a long way to open up the lines of communication and build trust between employees and managers alike.

For many leaders, adapting to managing from home and creating the environment and sense of closeness when their employees need them is quite the challenge.

How leaders tackle this and the impact it has can be hugely important on your employee’s engagement and your long-term retention.

Maybe not today or tomorrow… but once the situation improves and businesses reopen… will those employees stay the course when they have other opportunities?

The performance management challenge

The new context is also challenging how we manage performance.

In the current environment with the extra distance we run the risk of “managing by numbers”; A reflex instilled in call centers since their birth. We know though that it’s a very cold approach, in a time when we’ve never needed warmth and connection more.

There are specific reasons that this environment can be measured down to the very second. Budgeting, planning, staffing in a reality that is volatile to the unexpected and expected needs of your customers is quite the challenge. It’s normal that the workforce teams have real concerns when these indicators start to show performance levels dropping.

The numbers are part of the reality, but how we use them can have a huge impact on the people and on the experience those very same agents give to customers.

With all agents working from home, many managers felt they lost control over their operations. Managing the number is a natural reflex to gain back control.

How do we keep a human approach while keeping an eye on the indicators?

One of the first drastic changes we’ve seen from the first days of this crisis is that many contact centers have let go of schedule adherence. No longer following how an employee adheres to their planned schedule was a very human approach, especially for employees who are adapting to their new work environments.

But then, how can we ensure that our resource planning is accurate? These measures are there to keep on task and on budget after all…

The opportunity

In reality, the crisis and more so the work from home dynamic, is highlighting a reality that existed before all of this began:

Contact centers are confronted with balancing the need to control costly operations and the imperative to empower and trust the agents who talk to customers.

The realization that your customer experience strategy is in the hands of the hundreds of agents that speak to the hundreds and thousands of your clients every single day has been known for a while.

The “how” to execute the changes required, especially in contact centers, has been a harder challenge to tackle.

Contact centers are confronted with balancing the metrics and changing their environments to a human approach that lets customer experience programs thrive.

What if this crisis was an opportunity to accelerate or confirm and realize the type of changes that were necessary in the contact centers for them to evolve?

What if you could profit from this crisis and let go of the need for ultimate control and instead create cultures based on trust, collaboration, and responsibility?

Imagine that you could give more freedom to your agents to make more decisions, decide how they want to orient their own calls, and control how long it takes for them to resolve a call.

Imagine that you create a culture that mobilizes your employees and aligns them towards the intentions of your organization.

Imagine an environment where your employees help each-other grow by sharing their knowledge in group discussions or in peer coachings.

The impact on employee mobilization and on the experience your customers live would be simply incredible.

It is not as far fetched as it can sound…it’s what the best organizations are doing right now.

A moment of truth to transform

Contact centers are living a moment of truth right now. As much for their employees as for their customers.

The benefits of using the crisis as a catalyst for lasting change is undeniable.

Not only for the short term, but even on the medium and long term.

Loyalty and retention of your customers, notoriety of your brand, employee engagement.

Isn’t that what we all want?

And what of the benefits that are less tangible and more nuanced or human?

The benefit of simply being there to help thousands of people in a crisis.

That is also what it means to be an organization that is “customer-centric”.

It is really quite beautiful.

We do not always need huge initiatives and transformation projects to deliver changes in an organization.

That is a truth that no one will be able to deny now. At least for the next year… In a few short weeks, organizations implemented changes that had been on the drawing board for months or even years.

Use this period of crisis to change our organizations.

Create the conditions that led to these important accomplishments in a more controlled, structured and less stressful way. Human and efficient.

Bring back the warmth and connection we need to thrive.

We are in a moment of truth for whoever wants to reinvent their organization in the coming months and years.

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