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Want Change in the Center? Start at the Top 

Want Change in the Center? Start at the Top

Want Change in the Center? Start at the Top

How call centers can collaborate effectively with sales and marketing.

By Donna Fluss

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Call centers are undergoing a quiet revolution. The defining characteristic of this process is that it is being driven by parties outside the call center, largely in sales and marketing. Interestingly, call center management – the group of people who stand to benefit most from innovation – is resisting the transformation. But now it is time for managers in call centers, as well as sales and marketing departments, to put their differences aside and work together to achieve corporate revenue and profitability goals.

Senior managers, executives and leaders in sales and marketing are struggling to increase revenue and profitability and are focusing on the untapped potential of call centers. After more than 30 years, executives have finally figured out that in most companies, call centers – whether large and formal or small and less structured – interact more often with customers, know more about them and are positioned to influence opinions and spending patterns more than any individual or department in the company.

Broaden Your Focus and Initiate Change

It’s pretty clear why call center managers are considered parochial and internally focused. We’ve been shunned, outsourced, ignored, hit repeatedly by budget cuts, downsized and forbidden to invest in necessary technology and training. Somehow, we’ve come up with ways to deliver the best service possible, despite short-sighted corporate constraints.

And, now, seemingly out of nowhere, we are being told by peers in other departments that we are important. If that’s so, then why are we paid less and in lower grades than people in sales and marketing who have fewer responsibilities and less stressful operating environments?

This may not be fair, but it’s not a good reason for call center managers to turn their backs on sales and marketing organizations and, literally, shut them out. Many of us in call centers have been offering assistance to sales and marketing organizations for years and have been turned away. But now that call center management is being invited to the table, it’s not time for payback. It’s time to put aside our differences and grudges (even if these are well-deserved) and work together.

Now that the door is being opened, if only a crack, we – the legions of call center managers located throughout enterprises around the world – need to take advantage of the opportunities we are being given. Of course, senior management must help, but the initiative must be taken by the call center staff.

What Call Center Managers Can Do

Here are some suggestions for how call center managers can collaborate with sales and marketing organizations:

  1. Call center managers should broaden their focus to encompass revenue and profitability objectives, in addition to service and efficiency goals. Call center managers should proactively engage with senior managers in other departments and encourage meetings to discuss priorities and set goals. This may result in additional work for the call center; don’t expect it to be a fair trade of responsibilities.
  2. Call center managers should invite sales and marketing executives and their staff to participate in call center decisions. Actions of call centers directly impact the outcomes of sales and marketing programs and campaigns. Call center managers should invite sales and marketing to participate in preparing and training for these initiatives; this will improve the effectiveness and profitability of campaigns.
  3. Call center managers should invite sales and marketing executives and their staff to listen to phone calls. Yes, you’ve been turned down in the past, but try again. Sales and marketing organizations really are looking for help in achieving revenue goals. Call centers can provide this assistance.
  4. Call center managers need to be positive and open to ideas and suggestions from sales and marketing. Sales and marketing departments are accustomed to developing creative plans – this is their job. Try to find the positive aspects of some of these ideas and give them a chance.
  5. Call center managers need to obtain a better understanding of corporate, sales and marketing activities. Call center managers should seize the opportunity to expand their skills and develop a clearer understanding of corporate goals and objectives and how they are achieved. Take advantage of your company’s education budget and, if there is none, consider paying for the course or seminar yourself. It’s an investment in your future.
  6. Call center managers should campaign for rotational programs in sales, marketing and customer service. The value and benefits of rotating top professionals from these departments through each other’s function are inestimable.
  7. Call center managers should campaign for salary and grade-level parity with their peers in sales and marketing. The timing may not be great to demand salary increases, as budgets are still tight in most companies, but it is a good idea to start the process of addressing these issues with senior management and human resources. It will take time, but the sooner you start, the sooner it will happen.

Suggestions for Corporate Executives

Besides responding positively to the specific call center management changes outlined above, corporate executives should:

  1. Invite call center management to participate in corporate strategy sessions. The call center is not the “back office.” It is the virtual face of the enterprise to its customers and the means by which customers access the enterprise.
  2. Develop a process that allows call center management to share customer insights on a timely basis. Call center staff has a handle on customer issues and opportunities. They just need a formal way of communicating this information.
  3. Convert call centers to profit centers. Allow call center managers to generate revenue and contribute to the corporation’s bottom line.
  4. Give call center managers revenue and profitability goals in addition to customer satisfaction and productivity objectives. Motivate call center managers with rewards for achieving revenue goals, just as you would with executives in sales and marketing.

The recommendations above will change the role and responsibilities of call center managers as well as the strategic position of the call center. The steps described above will also help companies migrate from reactive cost centers to engaged, proactive, revenue-generating profit centers that provide an outstanding customer experience.

What to Expect

Change is not going to be easy; it’s an iterative process. But broadening the roles and responsibilities of call center managers promises huge benefits for the organization and its customers. Sales and marketing organizations want and need the help of call center managers to achieve their revenue and profitability goals.

Call center managers who aspire to get ahead need to take the initiative and patiently work with their peers in sales and marketing to build and support programs that realize top- and bottom-line revenue goals.

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