Aligning People, Process, and Technology: The Key to a Successful Contact Center

By Donna Fluss

CONTACT CENTER executives dedicate a large amount of time and energy to managing their department’s technology, which is necessary, as it enables the delivery of an outstanding customer experience at scale. But it is just one aspect of optimizing a highly complex operating environment. It’s just as important for contact center leaders to make the right investments in their people and processes, fundamental components of all contact centers that are often overlooked.

The Scenario

When customers interact with a contact center (whether by phone, SMS, app, or website), they don’t care about the technology that routes their interaction. What customers (or prospects) expect is to reach someone rapidly who gives them their full attention, empathizes with their situation, and has the knowledge and authority to resolve their issue quickly and accurately.

Although customers rarely think about all of the technology required to provide a great customer experience, they are very aware of the way they are treated by agents (people) and how easy or cumbersome it is to accomplish what they want done (process). If you have any doubts, look at the comments that people write about companies. I don’t think I’ve ever seen one that talks about the wonderful routing and queuing system that got them to the right agent. Consumers write about service experiences that are either really good or very bad, typically mentioning the people who helped them and the outcome (part of the process).

Another way to look at this is to consider that people-related expenses generally account for 55 to 65 percent of a contact center’s budget; only 20 percent is spent on technology. This fact alone makes the argument that contact center leaders should dedicate a majority of their time to supporting, coaching, and developing their agents, but they don’t. Contact center leaders are finally willing to talk about agent engagement and recently have started to invest in systems and applications to enhance the agent experience.

However, if a company’s procedures and processes are not kept current (and most are not), it will be difficult to deliver a great customer experience (CX), and agents will be frustrated, making it hard to engage and retain them. As contact center agent dissatisfaction and attrition issues are well-known, there must be a reason why these underlying problems have not been resolved in the past 40 to 50 years.

The Resolution

Organizations need to evaluate and update all aspects of their contact centers, their people, processes, and technology, to position themselves for success. It’s fine to start by assessing the contact center’s current technology, as there have been tremendous innovations in the past few years. The new generation of artificial intelligence-enabled solutions expands the scope, speed, and accuracy of what contact center agents can do for their customers. Companies should also review, update, and eliminate outdated policies and procedures that cause customer aggravation and frustration.

There will be some things that customers find unfair and complain about but are necessary for the business; however, it makes no sense to have agents apply policies and procedures that were outdated many years ago and haven’t been reviewed in light of digital transformations and changed customer expectations. This isn’t right for customers, fair for agents, or good for the brand.

The remaining piece of the puzzle is to change the underlying narrative by converting contact centers into great places to work. It’s easy to scoff at this concept, but there is no reason it should not and cannot happen. Instead of the contact center being a department of last resort for job seekers, make the contact center agent a sought-after position. Transform the contact center into an inviting organization by staffing it with supervisors and managers who are well versed in managing people and as devoted to the success of their staff as they are to their customers. This will also require a company to give the management team adequate time to work with and coach their employees and the tools to do the job.

As part of this initiative, develop internal programs that reward agents who want to stay in their role, and fast-track outstanding employees who want a career path within the department and/or the ability to transfer into other functions where their contact center background (which gives them a broad appreciation of what happens throughout the company) gives them a step up to the next level. And be sure to pay agents a rate competitive with new employees in similarly important functions, such as sales and marketing. As many contact centers operate long hours, enable agents to create their own schedules, including deciding where they want to work on each day: onsite or at home.

Enterprises can improve their contact centers if they are willing to make the necessary (and long-overdue) investments. However, the best and most innovative technology will not change and enhance performance if companies don’t also update and improve their policies and procedures and how they treat their agents.