Off Center
The only thing more frustrating than the current economic crisis are all the articles and sound bytes about it. The media seems to take pleasure in exploiting and fueling our collective financial fears. Everywhere you look, there is a journalist, newsperson or talk show host expounding on how stocks are plummeting, corporations are failing and – tragically – teen celebrities are being forced to sell some of their summer homes.  

Well, I have decided to do something about it: Join in on the fear-mongering.

Sorry folks, I’d be shirking my journalistic responsibilities if I simply ignored the current economic climate in my writings and didn’t try to elevate your sense of panic and dread. But I’m not a monster. In this article, I fully intend to help you overcome the very feelings of hopelessness and desperation I create by providing you with several key tactics for survival and success.

First, the panic and dread: You are doomed. Contact centers everywhere are crumbling due to the financial crisis. Customers are closing accounts and cancelling orders. Agents are losing their jobs. Operations are being off-shored. Managers are leaping from supervisors’ backs to their death.

Now for the key tactics: While I would usually spend weeks surveying managers and traveling around in search of best practices, my
research and travel budgets have both been cut due to the deep recession, thus I made up several of my own best practices. Here are some of them – the rest can be purchased for $99.99 each. (Please bring cash directly to me and stick it in the bucket lying on the ground next to my cardboard box).

Replace pizza with uncooked pasta. It’s estimated that the average 50-seat contact center spends roughly $6 million annually on pizza for agents working difficult shifts or overtime. That can be cut to about $8.36 annually by replacing all those pizzas with uncooked sticks of spaghetti or linguini. Agents still get the carbs they need to fuel their efforts, and the contact center saves millions of dollars and grease stains. In addition, you will be removing the risk of agents burning the roof of their mouth, which can adversely affect their speech and hinder their ability to beg customers not to leave.

Implement a “Dazzle Callers in the Dark” initiative. The only thing that overhead lighting in a contact center does is cause computer screen glare and run electricity bills through the roof. Turn off all those lights, and the glare as well as the glaring utility expenses are drastically reduced. Best of all, there is no impact on callers; agents can provide the same high level of customer care in the dark, with the added bonus of being able to bite themselves – or their supervisor – when frustrated without anybody really noticing. Turning off the lights also enables contact centers to replace “dress down” days with “undressed days,” thus saving staff hundreds of dollars in
wardrobe expenses. 

Teach agents yoga. Most contact centers require a large amount space to accommodate all the agents and workstations needed on site. To help reduce facility costs, many contact centers have implemented a home agent initiative; however, with so many agents losing their homes of late, telecommuting is not always a viable option. Instead, consider scheduling mandatory advanced yoga classes for all agents; this will enhance agents’ ability to contort their bodies in ways that enable them to work in tiny spaces, thus enabling the contact center to move to a much smaller building with much lower rent. Make sure you revamp your hiring processes to align with this new strategy. For instance, focus less on whether candidates fit the ideal agent profile and more on whether they fit inside a filing cabinet.

Incorporate chloroform into agent coaching. Most of you are probably already doing this as part of your efforts to boosts revenues in these tough times, but I thought I’d mention it anyway. All it takes is a little chloroform to safely render an agent unconscious, at which point supervisors can go through pockets, wallets and purses in search of bills and loose change. The best time to administer the chloroform is during coaching, when it’s not uncommon for a supervisor’s criticism to make an agent cry and reach for a tissue – a tissue that, unbeknownst to the agent, has had just the right amount of the sleep-inducing compound strategically applied to it. While rare, occasionally you may encounter an agent who reacts badly to the chloroform and never regains consciousness. If this happens, don’t panic -- simply move the agent into Accounting.