Off Center
Earlier this week I delivered a keynote presentation at a fun and informative user group event sponsored by Calabrio ( Prior to the event, Calabrio posed a handful of cogent questions and asked me to provide some insightful responses.

I provided these instead.

How have you seen contact centers change in the past 5 years?

For one, the contact center now receives much more respect from the rest of the company and the business world in general. What used to be viewed as a mere back-office operation is now highly valued for the critical customer data and insight it gathers daily (and shares with key departments) to greatly enhance customer loyalty and revenue. No longer do contact center managers and staff get beaten up and have their lunch money stolen by big mean bullies in Marketing, Sales or other departments. If you work in a contact center and still do endure such bullying, let me know and I’ll take care of it. I’m tough like that.

Another big and very positive change in our industry is the increased use of home agents. After years and years of contact centers just tinkering around and testing the home agent waters, many are finally fully embracing this powerful staffing model, which studies have shown to improve agent recruiting, retention and performance, as well as decrease facility costs and enhance staffing flexibility. Add in the obvious “green” benefits the home agent model affords, and it’s easy to see why more and more companies are kicking their agents out of the contact center. 

And of course, no conversation about big changes would be complete without mentioning the emergence of social media and its impact – both real and imagined – on customer care. Just when contact centers were starting to get a handle on the phones, email, chat and web self-service, social media comes barreling in and forces managers to return to therapy.  

What are a couple of the biggest challenges facing contact centers now?

One of the biggest challenges contact centers face now is one that they have always faced: Keeping agents in place and inspired. While with ICMI from 1994-2010, I was involved in several research studies and reader surveys in which we asked managers to list their biggest concerns and challenges. Agent turnover and burnout always topped the list. Fostering agent engagement and retention is especially critical in today’s crazy competitive business climate, where top-notch service and support is often the differentiating factor – the thing that determines what company a customer decides to mate with for life.

I’ve already alluded to what I see as the other major challenge in today’s contact center: Managing the multichannel madness. Have you ever tried accurately forecasting and scheduling for phone, email, chat and social media contacts – and ensuring that customers receive consistent, efficient and effective service regardless of which of those channels they choose? Scary. It’s why I merely analyze and write about contact centers rather than actually RUN one.

You’re a humorist in a unique industry. Can we use a little more comic relief in the world of customer service?

Absolutely. Just look at what we’ve got: An industry full of managers being pressed by execs to constantly do more with less; agents being measured on a multitude of performance metrics while sitting in a cubicle that’s the same square footage as their body; and the entire center having to handle a seemingly endless stream of calls and other contact types from highly demanding customers who are often abusive even though they know that you know where they live. If that’s not an industry begging for comic relief, I don’t know what is.

Managing a contact center is no laughing matter. But if you want to survive in this business, laughing matters. Humor defuses. Humor relieves. Humor inspires. And if we can’t laugh at ourselves, who can we laugh at – besides the guys over in IT.

JR Hardenburgh
11/10/2011 09:37:27 pm

Great article, an instant classic.

11/10/2011 10:16:16 pm

Wow - thanks, JR. Though I think to be considered a classic I would have had to list ALL the major changes and challenges impacting contact center pros, and provide clear solutions. But that would be a book, not a blog post.

Nevertheless, I appreciate your labeling!


11/11/2011 06:17:29 am

Greg, this is insightful in that it's real. One way I look to look at the ideal contact center is that it should be positioned as a resource for customers and not a burden. I think if you can communicate that to your agents, it will lighten the mood. Who knows? Maybe a real laugh inside the call center will turn into a detectable smile over the phone with the customer.

11/11/2011 07:29:39 am

Nicely put, Jim.

However, it's not enough to communicate to agents the value of the contact center -- managers must make agents themselves feel valued. Empowerment and recognition are key.

Thanks for your comment!



11/17/2011 07:57:44 pm

Great stuff Greg.
Colleague engagement is the key...Look after your front line and watch them feel empowered to look after the customer for you.

11/17/2011 08:43:07 pm

Bingo, Dan. You should tweet that comment!




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