Are You Strangling Your Contact Center?

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If you owned a company or were in charge of generating profits, would you knowingly prevent your employees from doing the best job they could? Of course not. But that's exactly how many contact centers operate, according to findings from a new study by International Customer Management Institute (ICMI) and cloud contact center service provider LiveOps. The findngs of the survey, which polled more 400 contact center professionals who occupied positions from the front line up the chain to senior management, were eye opening.

One of the more shocking results was that 74 percent of respondents confessed that, in some way, they knew they were deterring their customer representatives from offering optimal customer service—even though the same people said that loyalty and customer engagement were high on their priority list.

"The candor surprised me," says Ann Ruckstuhl, LiveOps' chief marketing officer and senior vice president. "They admitted that they actually knowingly hinder—not maliciously—[their employees]. They know they're not giving the front-line people the technology to do their job well. [For agents] to do their job well, they need to have customer insight and have everything at their fingertips to take care of customers, and that's easier said than done."

The scenario of insufficient technology proved to be a common one—one in five companies admitted that they had zero insight into a customer's information, including basic data such as personal information and purchase history. How is it possible that in today's age of advanced technology, such solutions are not being offered to representatives? According to Justin Robbins, senior analyst at ICMI, one reason is that upper management is focused on the cost of new or updated technology, but should instead take the long view.

"It isn't necessarily quick and easy to quantify the ROI of contact center technologies and, therefore, the purchaser is thinking about the price of investment and not a theoretical return," Robbins says. "The reality, however, is that with the right technology, the actual returns to the organization are quite significant."

Ruckstuhl agrees. "Contact centers are still being treated as a cost center—companies haven't pivoted their brains to the point where they realize that agents are the most critical group in delivering customer engagement and keep[ing] customer loyalty. The key is to think of a contact center not as a cost-reduction function but as a revenue-generating function."

Another issue thwarting contact center employees is an old theme—agents voicing opinions recommending operational changes based on their experience as the first contact are ignored. The survey found that just 26 percent of representatives felt that they were "sufficiently empowered" to help their customers, leading to disengaged employees. "I have spent a lot of time in contact centers, and it is discouraging to see how little discretion and authority is granted to the front line," Robbins says.   

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