Technology Requires MORE Interactions, Not Less

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I attended the Call Center Demo show in Miami this past week. It was a good show – lots of vendors and lots of speakers. I had a great time in my session talking about the “road to leadership for the frontline managers.”

I am always amazed that so many of the attendees to these shows have never been to an event before. I guess the turnover at the agent level also affects the turnover of leaders and managers also. Another surprise was the number of people attending that have 50 people or less in their centers. In one large session more than 70% of the people in the room fit into this category. I am not sure if the industry is moving toward the small center versus the large 500 to 800 position centers – or perhaps those people just don’t attend shows in large numbers.

As I walked the trade show floor, I realized that more than 75% of the technology being offered seemed to focus of improving the production of the individual agent. Everything from the quality systems to the workforce management systems to the agent support systems – they all talked about improving the specific interaction that the agent has with a customer. There were even systems that “listen” to the call and “watch” the agents screen to automatically “pop-up” windows on the agents desktop – reminding them to sell an item or provide a solution. There seems to be a focus on “automating” the personal interaction by the agent with the customer.

Vendors are trying to find ways to automate coaching, quality and even the real-time management of agents. I guess this all makes sense in some way but here is what I believe. With all of this automation there is more need than ever for companies to revert back to the simplicity of personal conversations between the agent and the frontline supervisor. Instead of investing in more technology, how about if we invest in a 12 to 1 employee to supervisor ratio and give the supervisor the time to build relationships and change behavior by conducting truly “live” feedback sessions.

As a consultant I have the opportunity to spend time in call centers all over the world. There is one thing that is common among the best centers in the business – time. Time that comes from effective forecasts that include allocations for agents and supervisors to spend time with their team members. Time that comes from training supervisors how to build relationships and communicate effectively to change behavior. Time to ensure that agents feel valued in the company and not feel as if they are an expendable “hourly employee.”

On the last day a friend at the show commented that most of the speakers had focused on creating more effective people. They all seem to have one thing in common as they spoke, “It really is about spending more time with the people that spend time with our customers.”

So perhaps the next big question in the center is how do we find more time (also known as resource costs) to allow frontline managers to spend it with their people?

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