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Call Center Managers: Diversify or Perish!

Call Center Managers: Diversify or Perish!

Call Center Managers: Diversify or Perish!

To stay relevant and influence corporate objectives as call centers migrate to contact centers, call center managers must boost their skills. They must also demonstrate leadership.

By Donna Fluss
CallCenter Magazine

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Three months ago, I heard from a call center manager whom I had helped when I was at the market research firm Gartner. She had just lost her job and was understandably upset. Superiors replaced her because they perceived she didn’t have the aptitude to transform her call center into a contact center. She was also frustrated because her bosses hadn’t told her she needed new skills.

I didn’t speak to her company. But I suspect they thought it was her responsibility to upgrade her skills. The pity is that she has the talent and intimate knowledge of the enterprise and its products. Higher-ups viewed her not as a leader or influencer, but as narrowly service-centric and not technologically adept.

This call center manager isn’t alone. Unless you invest in yourselves, many of you likewise risk losing your job or being demoted during the next two years as call centers migrate to contact centers.

A recent survey of about 120 call center managers indicates that only 22% had managed a contact center or migrated a call center to a contact center. Less than 2% had been asked to manage a CRM initiative. And only 18% had been involved in a CRM project. Most telling, only two people had attended a training class or seminar in the last six months.

Call center managers are realizing that dealing with customers, managing service representatives and meeting service levels is no longer enough. Enterprises are looking for well-rounded people to manage contact centers.

Companies value leaders and influencers who are politically adept, good with financials, and great with technology. They must also be as comfortable with sales, marketing, electronic commerce functions and systems as they are with customer service.

You must acquire the skills and training to change perceptions of your abilities. Acquiring training is easy: There are courses on calculating return on investment and giving speeches. But courses alone can’t teach you how to become a leader and influencer.

Exacerbating the issue is the perception that customer service is not where leaders are developed. Many enterprises fail to recognize that call centers touch the company’s customers and impact customer satisfaction and retention more than any other part of the organization, including sales.

This lack of appreciation is a symptom of a larger problem. Call center managers are good at handling things they can control (e.g., influencing customers). But they currently do not have much influence on executives and peers.

Call center managers are given incentives to meet internal goals, including service levels, customer satisfaction and managing agent attrition. Rarely, however, do executives reward them for meeting corporate goals.

Call center managers who want to lead need to influence corporate objectives. To that end, they must lobby peers and senior executives in sales and marketing. They must take risks. They need to schmooze, politick and play golf with colleagues.

Managers also need to be able to sell, market and service in all channels. They must leverage technology and people to meet enterprise objectives. And they must share goals with their peers.

Ironically, as managers learn leadership skills, they may have to defer the basics of handling customers and managing representatives. Until call center managers can lead multi-disciplinary CRM initiatives, their ability to influence corporate decisions will be limited.

Corporate executives, too, must reward managers who demonstrate leadership skills. That means changing measurement and reward structures. But these changes won’t happen unless managers leave the protection of their call centers and start playing hardball on the playing field of corporate politics.