Are you leaning out the value of your call center?

What is the focus of your call center? What are the metrics that you look at and what behaviors do these metrics drive?

Is your call center focused on answering calls quickly, providing a quick call turn over, and getting to the next call? If so, I hope that the sole purpose of your company is to answer questions for customers as quickly as possible.

If your company’s business to to do pretty much anything else, then you’re not focusing on the value of your call center and you probably are not looking at managing all your channels to drive the right calls to your call center.

See, many companies, as they’ve dealt with scalability and capacity issues, they’ve moved to a very lean model in their call centers. Many business process outsourcing firms have jumped on this opportunity to provide less expensive and very manufacturing-like processes around call centers. On shore, near shore, and off shore, there are people answering phones for all kinds of companies.

Because we have to answer calls and as we grow the number of calls significantly increase. Thus, we search for ways to deal with the increased call volume without significantly increasing our staff. Instead, we focus on really leaning out the operation, because it’s seen as not having value.

So let’s talk about that for a moment–value.

Value in a process is defined pretty much as, “what a customer is willing to pay for.” When a customer has a problem, question, concern, etc. with a company, they want to be able to pick up the phone and speak to a real person to resolve and respond to their issue. I know that as a customer, the value I expect and pay for is someone answering the phone and someone responding to my needs on the phone. So, if this is a value to a customer, are we diminishing it by forcing computer automated responses and focusing on getting them off the phone as soon as possible?

Let’s look at the “other type of value”–business value. Sometimes there are activities and steps in a process that aren’t of value to the customer, but are of value to the business. In other words, the customer won’t pay for it, but we clearly will. Again, unless your company’s sole purpose is to answer customer questions, anytime you have your customer on the phone is an opportunity to learn more about them, to deepen your relationship with them, to provide them advice, and to sell them other key products that they might need, but didn’t even know you offered.

Unfortunately, when you are focused on managing the call volume in a traditional lean approach, value tends to be over looked. Both value to the customer and value to the business.

What’s worse is that our other channels tend to drive the wrong kind of calls to the call center and not the right ones. Many times, your physical mail channel, your web channel, your mobile channel, your social channel, etc., deliver inconsistent and non-integrated messages. These create confusion and drive up call volume from concerned customers. Thus, the reason they’re calling is to clarify, complain, and the like. So, you see the call center as a necessary burden to literally deal with communication rework answering questions that should have been clear and consistent in all channels in the first place. When it’s seen as a burden, then you try to minimize the expense and time involved in it.

Change your way of thinking…

You have your customer–the most valuable person to your organization–on the phone. Do you realize how hard it is to get someone on the phone these days? Take advantage of that!

Figure out what is driving your call volume and focus on eliminating the communications rework–answering something that should have been answered by another communication. Focus on other channels to drive the right call volume to your call center–volume that increases your relationship, understanding, and sales with your customer.

When you have the customer on the phone, don’t focus on answering quickly, getting them off the phone, and moving on to the next call. Focus on building your relationship, deepening your understanding of your customer, and providing them with information they didn’t have about your products so they might buy something else they need or want from you. Measure that–customer and business value of each phone call–and see how your behaviors around your call center change.

Simply put, the day you stop having meaningful conversations with your customers is the day that you go out of business. This will happen no matter how lean your call center is.

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About johnrknotts
John Knotts is a results-oriented business professional leader, manager, and supervisor with experience from the military, small business, several nonprofits, and is currently a management consultant. Working out of the San Antonio, Texas, he retired from the Air Force in July 2008 and worked with Booz Allen Hamilton from the end of October 2008 to December 2011. Now he is a Strategic Business Adviser with USAA. John leads large and small strategic transformations and has extensive experience in the areas of change management, strategic planning, process improvement, strategic communication and marketing, strategic human capital and resource management, education and training, facilitation, organizational design and development, modeling and simulation, financial and budget analysis, activity based costing and management, quality management, competitive sourcing and privatization, leadership development, and business development.

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