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The Communication Gap Between Contact Centers and IT

The Communication Gap Between Contact Centers and IT

This column is going to tick off some of our readers, and I apologize to anyone who might be offended. But if this column drives change and improves understanding between contact center managers and their IT counterparts, then it’s achieved its goal. The goal is to improve communication between these two vital and inter-dependent organizations.

I am an IT person; the fact is that I live and breathe technology, particularly contact center solutions. I am also a contact center and enterprise executive – I spent years building, managing, consolidating and consulting with contact centers. (I’ve also run other operating groups.) What’s important is that I speak both dialects – contact center and IT – and for the record, they are very different.

Here are some good examples of how the language of these departments differs. These examples show why there is a communication gap. Clearly, it’s not that IT is out to get the contact center or simply doesn’t care; it’s that they really don’t understand.

What contact center managers say Contact center meaning IT reaction
We need to change contact center routing. Due to a change in the business, the current call routing is not working well, resulting in sub-optimal service. It is also generating incremental calls, increasing cost, and producing unhappy and angry customers. It needs to be changed yesterday, if not sooner. This is not a priority because there is no service interruption; calls are being processed. The request should be placed at the back of the queue with other unplanned tasks because:

1. There are more important tasks to be addressed where a user is down
2. It is not planned or budgeted
3. There are limited telecom resources and no one is available (because this is unplanned)

We need to enhance the IVR and add a new option. Adding a new IVR option (or modifying an existing one) will reduce the volume of calls to live agents; the sooner the better. Same as above, plus:

The contact center should have planned and budgeted this activity.

We want to modify the agent servicing application (customer relationship management application) to speed up processing time. Yeah! We figured out a way to reduce agent manual processing, in order to decrease agent average handle time and processing errors. Customer service is whining again. The benefits they claim are anecdotal and too small to make a difference to the company. There is no reason to modify the entire development schedule for this. It can wait until the next budget cycle and, if nothing better comes along, we’ll consider it.
Application response times are too slow; it’s taking too long for agents to pull up a screen. Agents are bogged down waiting for systems to respond to a request – it’s taking 1 to 3 seconds more than expected. This is throwing off our forecasts and resulting in bad service levels and customer dissatisfaction. Customers are angry about having to wait, and they’re yelling at agents, who are struggling to fill the delays with chit chat. On average, according to our tracking systems, the response times are fine. No one else is complaining. If you can actually prove that your response time is degenerating, we’ll look into the issue.
A change is needed immediately. Now, now, now. We’ll review it and get back to you about if and when we’ll be able to fit it into our current schedule. Resources have to be freed up, and it has to go through the change control process. No promises.

There is a fundamental issue that explains these divergent perspectives – the goals of the two departments are fundamentally different. The contact center’s top priorities are to improve productivity and keep costs down, to maintain service quality and provide an outstanding customer experience. IT ‘s top goals are to keep systems up and running, keep costs and complexity down through standardization and simplification, and to use technology to provide a strategic advantage.

Here’s the bottom line – contact centers operate in real time with customers breathing down their necks. IT operates behind the scenes and does not understand the pressures of being the voice of the enterprise to customers. IT needs to get with the program, and the contact center needs to understand that everything cannot be done yesterday, particularly in the world of IP where there are vast interdependencies. But for the first time, contact center managers have some real leverage. If your internal IT group won’t pick up their pace, there are many cloud-based contact center infrastructure vendors who will. Not all contact centers want to use hosted infrastructure, but all do want an IT group that speaks their language and moves quickly when business needs justify it.

Ask the Experts

Question:
Can you provide some advice about agent desk sharing? Can this practice work in call centers? If so, what’s the best process to use to introduce and implement call center agents sharing desks?

Answer:
With the high cost of real estate and 24/7 contact centers operating multiple and varied shifts, hot seating and desk sharing are a standard practice. Desk sharing, which is where agents have an assigned seat, but share the workspace with one or more people who work different shifts, is preferred by agents and supervisors over hot seating. With hot seating, contact centers agents sit at any available station. While desk sharing is preferred, it does present some challenges. Here are a few practical tips to communicate and implement this new policy to your staff:

  1. If desk sharing is being established as a new practice in your contact center, communicate with your staff and let them know what is happening. Explain the reason for the policy change and acknowledge that it’s going to impact how some people use their desk, but make sure to put things in a positive light.
  2. Invite agents to share feedback and try to obtain their buy-in. It’s a good idea to let your staff discuss the new desk sharing policy at a weekly update meeting.
  3. When assigning desks, be sure to place agents at workstations that are in close proximity to their supervisor.
  4. If your environment relies heavily on paper-based procedures and communications, set up mailboxes for each agent to ensure that all handouts are received. If work stations have adequate storage space, assign a dedicated drawer with a lock for each agent who uses the workstation.
  5. Invite the staff to assist management in creating “desk sharing” best practices. Communicate and distribute desk sharing tips to all staff members.
  6. Don’t take for granted that everyone has the same standards of personal hygiene or work habits. Make sure that cleaning supplies are readily available for use and require that agents take turns maintaining the workstation.
  7. Establish in advance a process for agents to discuss a desk mate mismatch and a procedure for assigning a new desk mate.

Introducing change into an operating environment can be difficult, particularly if some agents have been doing things a certain way for many years. While desk sharing is a common practice in many contact centers, it is new for your staff. Management must be willing to delicately address issues that arise from the transition.

DMG Consulting LLC is a leading independent research, advisory and consulting firm specializing in unified communications, contact centers, back-office and real-time analytics. Learn more at www.dmgconsult.com.