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What Conway Twitty taught me about Agent resilience

by OmniTouch International OmniTouch International No Comments

 

In this short article I share how the popular country music Artist, Conway Twitty, taught me a life-long lesson about Agent resilience in the Contact Center.

 

What do I mean by Agent resilience?

Here’s a useful definition of resilience –

the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties, toughness.

Because given what’s going on in the world now, Contact Center folks at the Frontline are going through a lot.  Changes in work environments, work from home protocols, stressed Customers, stressed Bosses.

So while the topic of resilience is always relevant, it has a special resonance right now.

 

The background

Early in my career in the 90s, I was Vice President of Call Centre & Distribution Operations for Heartland Music.  Based in Los Angeles, it was the job that got me into the Contact Center & Customer Experience industry.

Heartland ran TV commercials and mailed out catalogues to millions of Customers across the US.

TV commercials and catalogues that featured titles like ‘All the Elvis Presley’ hits you need to own or the ‘Top 100 Love Songs’ of all time.

Customers then called into our Contact Centers to place orders which we packaged and shipped from our own warehouses.  And of course we provided Customer Service as well – anything from suggestions on what titles we should stock to ‘where is my order ‘enquiries.

It was a big and growing business.

 

So how does Conway Twitty fit into Agent resilience (and who was he?)

Country music was a big part of our offerings.  And country music fans were generally sweet, loyal and supportive.

And though it sounds a bit macabre, whenever a popular Artist that we carried passed away, there would always be a marked and sudden upsurge in sales for their work.

That’s still the same case today – though it’s reflected these days by increases in streaming figures vs. how many ‘units’ were sold.

And an Artist passing way was an event that a Workforce Manager couldn’t really plan for.

We relied on our own internal back-up plans and a strong committed Agent workforce to get through most of our unexpected surges.

But Conway Twitty was the surge to end all surges.

An American country music singer, he also recorded rock and roll, R&B and pop music. And he received several Country Music Association awards for duets with Loretta Lynn – another beloved country music star.

I don’t remember which day of the week it was, but when I entered the office, our Operations Manager made a beeline straight for me.

‘Dan, Conway Twitty died.’

That’s all Frank had to say.  We’d both been around enough years to shorthand the conversation.

The volume of calls in the Center had already picked up and we knew we were only at the beginning.

CX lessons we can learn from the Contact Centre industry

Six weeks later

I’m not exactly sure why Conway Twitty was different.  But we were now six weeks into the surge and his sales were still going up.

Great for business but not so great for our Agents.

Occupancy was through the roof, hours got longer, and admittedly a few people started to get edgy.

And while we were dealing with normally sweet country music lovers, long wait times and out of stock situations put them on edge too.  Meaning even more frustration for our Agents to deal with.

It ended up being about a 3-month period overall.  Much longer than the normal two or three week ‘lift’ that we had seen before.

 

And here’s what I learned about Agent resilience

My Operations Manager said it to me first.

‘Dan, they’ll be ok. Do you know why?  Because they know there is light at the end of the tunnel. 

What to look for when you hire a new Contact Centre Manager

The light at the end of the tunnel

If you’ve been a fair boss,  you communicate honestly, and you have a management team that’s aligned to the purpose – it’s amazing what your people will give back to you.

And I’ve seen them give back for a year and even more (in some cases).

But the real caveat for Agent resilience is that there is light at the end of the tunnel.  You must be very open & honest about what you’re doing to bring things back to ‘normal’.

Even if what normal looks like coming out doesn’t look exactly like the way it did when going in.

 

Thank you for reading!

Daniel

[email protected]

CX lessons I learned judging CX Awards this year

by OmniTouch International OmniTouch International No Comments

In this article I share CX lessons I learned judging CX Awards this year.

Judging CX Awards is a privilege

When I first began judging CX & Contact Centre Awards way back in 2006, I thought wow – this is so exciting.  What a wonderful way to build my CV and experience as a Trainer and Consultant.

But what I quickly learned is that judging Awards is first and foremost a privilege.  One that gives you unparalleled insight into what real world CX heros face every day in the real world.

And when it comes to who gets Gold, Silver or whatever hierarchy of Awards is in place, I’d say this.

The very fact that you entered and reached some Finalist level already indicates that you’re part of the ‘tribe who cares’.  The distinction between first, second, third and so on is much less important.

Some suggestions for industry Awards entrants

 

The themes I picked up judging CX Awards

The lessons shared here don’t originate from any single Awards entry.  To come up with the lessons, I identified themes that appeared across multiple Awards entries.

For example, in Lesson #1 on ‘Who leads Tech programs’, I encountered three different Finalist entries that incorporated or mentioned this topic in their entry.

I think that makes the lessons more meaningful and also protects the confidentiality of individual Awards entrants.

And for those of you out there who also do qualitative research, I’m sure that the detection and reporting of themes will be familiar to you!

 

Lesson #1 – Who leads Tech programs?

It was quite remarkable to read that when it came time to implement a new Tech program – such as a new Martech stack – it was the Customer Experience Team that led the program.  Not the IT Department.

I had to re-read that a few times to make sure I had it right.

Because so often, technology leads the way.

And Customer Experience has to gallop and chase from behind to figure out what the technology is going to ‘do’ to the Customer Experience.

But putting the CX folks firmly in charge of leading Tech programs ensures that the Customer perspective is built in from the ground up.  Call me impressed.

A couple of years ago I ran a large number of management workshops on how to successfully implement Live Chat into the channel mix .

And when I asked Participants why they were rolling out Live Chat, most told me that they were told they had to do it by their bosses.

Either because everyone else was doing it, or because that functionality was already in the software package and they wanted to maximize their tech investment.

Sound familiar?

 

Lesson #2 – Is CX really everybody’s job?

Across multiple entries I saw the following sentiment expressed.

It might be nice to say that CX is everybody’s job.

But the reality is that the art & science of CX requires experts.  And the nuts and bolts of how CX gets done is through expert know-how and experience.  Just like any formal business discipline.

I admit I loved this sentiment.

Platitudes – such as ‘CX is everybody’s job’ – don’t take organizations very far in their CX ambitions.  And it doesn’t recognize the robust nature of the know-how required to get CX ‘done’.

Why not put CX-related responsibilities into everyone’s job role?   That’s a great way to help bring CX to life.

And of course the CX-related responsibilities that I’d put into the jobs of my Finance folks will look different than those I put in for my Warehousing folks.  But by taking this step, everyone knows what their role in CX is and how to bring it to life.

In my work with Clients I prefer to say that CX should be in everybody’s job.  That strikes me as far more practical and meaningful.

And you can take that further – as many Entrants did – by providing a fundamental level of training in CX – not just Customer Service – to everyone in the Organization.

https://www.omnitouchinternational.com/what-i-learned-running-60-classes-on-cx-values-and-culture-for-one-client

Lesson #3 – There are different ways to build CX momentum

There’s a lot written about on how to get that CX momentum to start in your organization.

And different Awards entrants had slightly different experiences in how to do this.

One way – that was shared across quite a few entries – involved setting anywhere from a 6 to 12 month campaign to achieve as many small quick wins as possible.  The principle being that the aggregated impact of many small wins ends up being significant.

In one memorable example, the focus was on eliminating 99 Customer pain points within a year.  And that required a lot of cross-functional collaboration which in turn nurtured organizational excitement around CX.

A second way I noted was to tackle one relatively large project – one fully backed by senior management – and succeed at it.

That project then served as a showcase for other folks in the company.  Folks who otherwise hadn’t been interested in CX but wanted to see what all the fuss was about and how such great outcomes were achieved.

Of course the risk here is that of actually succeeding.

And finally – one of my favorite submissions on this topic.

The Awards entrant shared that the very process of sharing broadly and deeply on CX and looking to Employees as a big source of insight on the current state of CX, kick started a completely new and more collaborative way of working with Employees.

And that Employees rewarded that sense of collaboration with even more effort.

CX lessons we can learn from the Contact Centre industry

 

CX lessons I learned – in closing

One last observation in closing.

Entrants specifically for CX Leader or Head of the Year Awards shared that they they were making an impact – and not just on Customers.

But on the hundreds and sometimes thousands of people who worked in their organizations.

And that while the first year – or even two – were hard, that eventually they became the go-to resource for CX in their organization – with folks actively seeking them out for advice and input.

It was this level of influence – and the resulting legacy they were creating – that seemed to be a big motivator for these terrific entrants.

Thank you for reading,

Daniel

[email protected]

CXPA Recognized Training Provider

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What to look for when you hire a new Contact Centre Manager

by OmniTouch International OmniTouch International 1 Comment

In this article I share what to look for when you hire a new Contact Centre Manager.

Our scenario – you need to hire a new Contact Centre Manager

Let’s say you’re the new Chief Customer Officer and you need to hire a new inbound Contact Centre Manager for your existing 200 seat Centre.  You’ve been given a mandate to implement a CX strategy and you have a small CX Team at hand.

You don’t come from the Contact Centre industry yourself.  But as a CX professional you understand the value of the Contact Centre.

Your overall business is in good financial shape though the Centre has been somewhat neglected for the past few years.  And tech-wise the Centre has the basic building blocks though there’s room for improvement.

You’ve learned from past experience that the number of years of experience held by the Contact Centre Manager doesn’t correlate to mastery of the job role.  You need someone who ‘knows’ the Contact Centre – not just someone who has spent a lot of time in one.

So the essential question is this – what do you look for when you hire a new Contact Centre Manager?

 

The key domains of know-how required

The job of a Contact Centre Manager is a rich and full one.  And that’s because there’s a lot to know to succeed.

I recommend the following key domains of know-how when looking to hire a new Contact Centre Manager.  Or when you’re looking to upskill a current Manager or Management Team.

1.  Operations & Technology

Includes Centre design, forecasting the workload, calculating staff and resource requirements, selecting the right metrics and ways to measure those metrics, understanding the interrelationships between metrics, understanding the underlying dynamics of the Centre, channel management and the ability to articulate the impact of business decisions on the operation.

In this domain I’d include essential & evolving technology knowledge.  That’s because of the significant impact any technology choice has on the operation with cascading impact on Customers, Employees & the Organization itself.

When I’m asked which domain should come first in the hierarchy I always recommend Operations.  That’s because so much of what happens in a Centre, from how people are managed through to how Customers experience the Centre, flows from strong operations management practices.

How to use the True Calls per Hour Calculation in the Contact Centre

2.  People Management (or the broader ‘Employee Experience’ if you prefer)

This domain includes organizational design, strategic resource planning, hiring & selection, retention & attrition management, training & development, performance management, compensation & incentive strategies, coaching and employee engagement, satisfaction & motivation, career & skills pathing and succession planning.

In this domain, I’d specifically include the design and implementation of the monitoring & coaching process.

For organizations that are evolving into Employee Experience – a big topic today – I’d recommend adding those competencies to this domain.

3.  Leadership & Business Management

From a leadership perspective, this domain includes competencies around the vision, the mission, values (or principles) and development & execution of strategy in the Centre.  It also includes how to build healthy cross-functional relationships and put the Centre front and center on the organizational radar screen.

From a business management perspective, this domain includes the ability to make credible business cases, calculate Contact Centre budgets, calculate ROI and understand change management project management.  I’d add that it’s vital that the Contact Centre Management bring strong financial and analytical skills to the job role.

In my experience, very few Centre Managers have a strong grasp of how to correctly calculate a Contact Centre budget.

If I were conducting a hiring exercise for a Contact Centre Manager I’d ask the candidate to walk me through how they budget for a Centre.  You’ll learn a lot about how much they know (or don’t know) about a Contact Centre operation.

4.  Service Management 

Service Management is the art & science of delivering value to Customers through any channel or combination of channels.  Often times the Contact Centre is at the heart of the Service Management function.

Service Management includes know-how around developing and implementing a Service Delivery Vision, the selection & definition of relevant Quality standards, Quality assurance practices, Customer research practices including service monitoring, Customer communication strategies and the nurturing of a service culture.

And of course it includes a strong & practical understanding of the specific service and relevant sales skills for each channel in use.

The skills for handling a Customer email are different than those for handling a Customer live chat for example.  Omnichannel service requires a different approach than multi-channel service.

And yes – your ever evolving mastery of what are commonly called ‘digital’ channels goes here as well.  That incorporates chat, messaging and to some degree even chatbots as there should be a solid bridge between chatbot-assisted and Agent-assisted service.

I think some folks confuse Service Management with Customer Experience Management.

Service Management very specifically relates to Customer interactions with the brand.  It’s a subset of the overall Customer Experience.

Customer Experience includes product, pricing and every single aspect of the organization from the way the bill looks to how fresh the chicken is in the restaurant.   It’s so much more than a call to the Contact Centre.

With that said, let’s look at the last domain of know-how – Customer Experience Management.

What I learned running 60 classes on CX values and Culture for one Client

 

5.  Customer Experience Management 

There is a ‘real’ Customer Experience Manager job role out there.

And the Contact Centre Manager role is not that role.

The Contact Centre Manager job role – by its very nature – only involves some subset of all Customers (never all Customers), at some point of time (not all points in time) in that specific Customer journey (not all Customer journeys).

If it was really true that the Contact Centre Manager job = the Customer Experience Manager job then why not rebrand every Customer Experience Manager as a Contact Centre Manager?

Because that’s what’s implied. It would have to work both ways to be true.

So you honour the Contact Centre profession when you keep the phrase Contact Centre in your job title. Not when you decide to jump on the rebranding of everything as CX bandwagon.

Sure – the Contact Centre has impact on those Customers who experience that touchpoint. But it’s not the same thing as the perception the Customer has of the entirety of their experience with your brand.

Once you get that – and master your understanding of and contribution to the overall CX – you become a better Contact Centre Manager.

So after that big build up, what does the Contact Centre Manager need to know about CX?  From my perspective, the more the better.

But we need to be careful here.

While having our Contact Centre Manager understand CX as a business discipline is important and helpful to our CX efforts, let’s remember the Contact Centre Manager already has a full-time job.

Just relook at domains of know-how we covered so far.

So it’s likely that much of the actual ‘work’ of CX will be done by the CX Team.

That’s because the CX Team is in the best position to handle activities like VOC research, developing the CX strategy, cross-functional journey mapping. implementing organizational accountability measures and the like.

The CX Team has a higher elevation across functions as well as a broader mandate.

I think that in real life, the Contact Centre Manager has a lot to learn from the Customer Experience Manager with regard to CX.

And I think that the Customer Experience Manager has a lot to learn from the Contact Centre Manager as well.  The Customer Experience Manager will benefit from the rich experience, know-how and Customer insight residing in the Contact Centre.

Ultimately, both roles will work closely together for the benefit of the Centre and the Organization.

CX lessons we can learn from the Contact Centre industry

You don’t have a CX Team?  I see that all the time.

Then it’s likely that you have a ‘Service Quality Team’ or variation.  As is implied in the name, a Service Quality Team tends to focus on service – including research and analytics, high level complaint management and targeted improvement efforts across the organization.

But again – avoid confusing a Service Quality Team with a Customer Experience Team.  The mandate and activities are different – as well as the scope of authority.

For Contact Centre Managers (or anyone) that wants to develop competency in Customer Experience – I recommend the CXPA 6 Competency Framework as a basis.

In that framework, the essential domains of knowledge for CX are CX Strategy, Voice of Customer, Experience Design, CX Metrics & Measurements, Governance and Customer-Centric Culture.

To those domains I add Maturity Analysis & Implementation Strategy as well because I think that’s important.

10 CCXP Exam Practice Questions for Customer Experience Strategy

 

Of course there’s more to consider

Of course when you’re selecting your Contact Centre Manager you will also look at their past track record of success and their ‘characteristics’.  Such as how well they seem to ‘fit’ your culture.

But know-how is an obvious and critical component in the selection process.  And it often takes a backseat to how much ‘experience’ the candidate has.  That’s definitely the wrong way to go.

The key to success will always be KNOW-HOW + EXPERIENCE with DEMONSTRABLE SUCCESS.

 

In closing

I hope this article has been helpful.  It’s a big nut to chew on for sure.  And each heading and domain could be an article or set of articles on its own.

But I hope the high level overview is useful for you.

Thank you for reading!

Daniel

With one foot planted solidly in the Contact Centre industry (29 years!) and the other foot firmly planted in the CX industry I have the ability to connect the dots for people in the Contact Centre that want to understand CX and for folks in CX who want to understand the Contact Centre.

I’m one of 6 Trainers in the world designated as a Recognized Training Provider by the Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA) and I help people learn more about CX and prepare for their CCXP Exam.

[email protected]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Culture of Fear & Compliance are poor tools for delivering a great Customer experience

by OmniTouch International OmniTouch International No Comments

This article proposes that a culture of fear and compliance are poor tools for delivering a great Customer Experience.

In the markets where I work most often, compliance still rules in Customer interactions.

Say this, wear that – act like this, act like that.

One of my students – who had worked as a concierge in a high-end Singapore shopping centre – told us that every morning their boss would line them up and critique all aspects of their grooming.

He told us the experience was a fearful one – and Team Members would begin their shift with a nagging unpleasant feeling.

Another student shared that they had been instructed to say, “Will you allow me to put you on hold?” vs. “May I put you on hold?”

It was never made clear why this use of language was so important to the Customer experience.

But there was a team of eagle-eared Quality Assurance analysts who fixated on language use and tidings of woe to the Team Member who in some way mixed up the verbiage.

 

Sure, compliance has its place – but not when it takes on Darth Vader-like proportions

Recently I had a meeting with a high-end hospitality company.

The course under discussion was how to help Team Members better interact with high-end VIP Guests through conversational engagement.

The challenge was that Team Members were either silent, monosyllabic or overly formal in the presence of ‘high rollers’.

The position I took was that in order to create a better Customer experience for these Guests, it was going to be necessary to back-off a bit on the compliance – and by association the culture of fear.

Perhaps it was time to allow for greater flexibility.

The whole room went silent.

You would have thought I had just ordered a double bacon cheeseburger in a vegetarian restaurant.

All eyes turned to the Senior in the room.

After a long pause, the Senior intoned that compliance was the most important aspect of their Service delivery and with that, I knew the conversation was over.

A culture of fear had shown itself.

I worry that to this day, these folks would rather look at their shoes than engage conversationally with a Guest.

 

Branding & the Customer experience

It is completely understandable that an organization would aim to live its brand promise.

The right opening, the right phrases, the right ‘look’ all matter.

They have their place in overall quality initiatives.

The problem comes in when these behaviors – and discussion around these behaviors – crowd out discussion about what’s really important.

It is well understood that what matters most in CX delivery is the Customer’s perception or ‘feeling’ about what they went through.

Clearly no Customer is going to get all excited about your greeting – or the fact that your Staff’s socks matched the color of their shoes.

When it comes to compliance, there’s very little opportunity to differentiate the experience.

But if you really consider your brand promises – either explicit or implicit – along with your values, mission, vision and the like – there’s a lot of rich context to develop powerful CX standards for conversation.

Let’s ask

The moment the Team begins to ask themselves – ‘What can we do to exceed the Customer’s emotional expectations’ for this kind of visit, call, email, live chat and so on’ – well that’s where the magic lives.

Thanks for reading!

Daniel Ord

Daniel Ord

 

 

 

 

To the Contact Centre industry – are we living in a siloed world?

by OmniTouch International OmniTouch International No Comments

It’s common for Contact Centre practitioners to complain about the siloed thinking that exists in their organizations.  And any CX professional is going to bring up siloed thinking when they talk about the challenges of implementing Customer experience strategies.

But in this short article I consider a different perspective.

The perspective that the Contact Centre industry itself

Really?

Last week in an operations class, we had a lively chat about the value of Contact Centre tours.

Alice shared,

“Yes Dan, you’re right. I went with two other colleagues on an official Contact Centre tour here in Singapore and every time we asked a question we were that information was confidential.”

“You asked about Available Time right?”

“Yes we did.  We wondered at that time – before taking operations – if there was some industry standard for Available rate. They told us that their Available Time level was confidential.”

At that, our entire group burst out laughing,

Since when was Available Time – which can be easily guessed at or calculated with Erlang C – a confidential statistic?

Sometimes I’m not sure whether to laugh or sigh in despair.

Breaking down silos

Contact Centre professionals have complained for years about how tough it can be to build cross-functional relationships within their organization.

Marketing keeps releasing promotions without informing the Center.  Operations changes their procedures.  Legal changes terms & conditions and so on.

But the role of senior levels in the Contact Center is to work up and out.

To educate organizational management and cross-functional management on the Contact Center value proposition.

To their credit – some Contact Center leaders have done just that.

Improve the visibility and value of their Center throughout the organization.

Better communications, more supportive colleagues and enhanced morale for Centre employees who understand that their work is valued and has purpose.

On the other hand – many have not.  And the internal reputation of their Centre remains mixed at best.

But at the Contact Centre industry level Centers remain deeply cut-off from each other

A phrase that rattles my nerves is when a senior executive – anywhere – tells us how ‘different’ they are from everybody else.

I’ve even had one tell me that they weren’t a Contact Center at all (they were).

On average, I meet anywhere from 75 – 100 Centers each year and though the vertical industry may be different (hospitality vs. healthcare – banking vs. consumer goods) it’s still a Contact Center.

But most Center Management staff that I meet have worked in perhaps one or two Centers in their career (to date) and their view of the Contact Center industry is rather narrow and deeply influenced by how their organization views the Center.

A simple test I like to conduct is this.

I ask Participants what industry they are in and the answer should beThe Contact Center industry.

That answered can then be followed by – “And yes – I work in the Insurance/Telecoms/Public Sector vertical…”.

It’s a simple and wonderful exercise to see how people view their role within their organization – as well as their view of the industry.

When you are a Consultant, you tend to see the some problems and opportunities over and over.

I had a case where one Center was struggling with upselling while there was another Center literally 1 km away that had sorted out upselling.

But the odds of these two Centers – operating within walking distance of each other – meeting up and sharing ideas is super unlikely.

What about the Associations?

Associations across countries (and I’ve worked with a few) have to first survive before they can flourish.

And in the the markets where we operate the most, the best way for an Association to survive is to offer Awards.

So while their official names (and promotional copy) may involve the phrase “Contact Center industry body” it’s probably more accurate to say “Contact Center awards issuing body”.

It’s a bit of a chicken and egg situation.

Do the Associations launch more (valuable) industry-wide initiatives such as education, bench-marking and industry development (which involve significant and specialized resources to attract more Members and revenue)?

Or do they focus in on the Awards process – which certainly attracts a predictable core base of Awards seekers – and hope to achieve a surplus for that year which could potentially be channeled into more industry-wide initiatives later on?

Just a couple of days ago I had a Client write to me and thank me for connecting them up with folks in other organizations who are going through exactly the same channel implementation process.

She wrote further – “Dan, if you could organize a group of Team Leaders from different organizations that can meet to cross-share that would be great – we feel very isolated and would love to be able to bounce off ideas and learnings with others.”

When I wrote back I admit that I felt a bit guilty.

I said that while it was a great idea – and we certainly enable a lot of cross-sharing within our own students.

But we didn’t really have a mechanism yet in place for creating large group cross-sharing.

I wrote that they should contact the national Association as I felt that this would fall under their purview and it seemed relevant to a non-profit vision.

But I’m now seriously thinking about how to accomplish this on our own given the apparent gap that’s out there.

What about Contact Center tours?

I’ve been in the industry a long time – working in both the outsource and captive worlds.

Presumably because of my ability to present well I was almost always the one picked to conduct the tour for outsiders, Clients & prospective Clients.

For most company cultures, Contact Center tours are meant to show off and impress – and they are invariably highly staged.

In some cases Tour Members are not even allowed into the Center – they spend most of their time in a conference room receiving a PowerPoint presentation.

In my training work I remind my students that a lot of what happens in a Contact Center is invisible – you can’t see Quality, you can’t see Customer Experience, you can’t see Employee Engagement, you can’t see Leadership.

I’d love to attend a tour (and I’d pay for the privilege) where the Director tells us about all the big mistakes they made and how they fixed them.

A talk where they are willing to peel back the veneer and share the journey.

When the tours are arranged around Centers that have won Awards – well there is even more pressure on these folks to ‘look good’ and in some way justify their status as Awards Winners.

I am certain there are indeed Awards winners and Contact Center tour providers who open their hearts and minds to their audience.

But these will be the pleasant exception – not the rule.

Is your Service Level really classified information?

As a final point for this short article I have to wonder about who makes the decisions about what information is ‘classified’ and what information might be made available to Contact Center practitioners from other organizations.

The moment that a Center’s Available Time rate becomes confidential I worry about the ongoing health of our dynamic and inspiring industry.

Thank you for reading!

Daniel

[email protected] / www.omnitouchinternational.com

The risks of channel blending in a Contact Centre

by OmniTouch International OmniTouch International No Comments

This article is about the risks inherent in channel blending in Contact Centres.

Channel blending is defined as having Agents work on different types of contacts coming in – simultaneously.

This is a different scenario than having multi-skilled Agents handle different types of contacts coming in – but at different time intervals.

These days with more channels of communication – channel blending seems like a logical approach to improve productivity.

But there are risks inherent in channel blending that Contact Centre management need to factor into planning decisions.

 

If you don’t know already – please learn your Erlang C

Yup – your Contact Centre Agents have Available time.

Available time results from the dynamic of random contact arrival – with the outcome that at some times your Agent is ‘occupied’ while at other times they are ‘available’.

The following formula applies:

Occupancy Rate + Available Rate = 100% for any given period of time

So if your Agent is 85% occupied that means they are experiencing a 15% availability  rate over the same period.

Let’s do some math using an hour as time basis:

  • 85% Occupancy x 60 minutes = 51 minutes of being occupied
  • 5% Available x 60 minutes = 9 minutes of being available

But those 9 minutes – spread over the course of an hour – come in bits and bursts.

5 seconds here…42 seconds there…1 minute here and so on.

So the question is – does it really work to ask your Agents to handle other contacts at the same time during these bits & bursts of Available Time?

Obviously, when Occupancy rates are very low, it makes sense to switch attention to other work.

But in Contact Centres which aim to achieve Service Level interval after interval, Occupancy rates don’t fluctuate wildly.

 

Channel blending – handling multiple channels of contact at the same time 

Can Agents viably handle channels such as Live Chat or Emails while logged in to handle Voice calls at the same time (or over the same time period)?

Smart practitioners and organizations that pursue Customer Experience say no.

It all sounds so good on paper so why not?

It’s simple.

Quality and the Customer Experience (and all that goes with it like First Contact Resolution) will suffer in this scenario.

Try writing a clear and well presented reply to a Customer email while being interrupted any number of times by Voice calls.

Try jumping back and forth between a Live Chat (or three) and a Voice call and ensure you handle them all well.

Now try doing this hour after hour, day after day, month after month.

I watch a lot of industry recruitment videos and in these videos you hear about the need for a Contact Centre/Customer Service professional to listen well and give their undivided attention to the Customer. To create a memorable and positive experience to build loyalty and trust.

All noble stuff.

But the implementation of channel blending (as defined in this article) flies directly in the face of great Customer Service and is a bit hypocritical at the end of the day.

 

Wikipedia gives us this gem for multi-tasking

Human multi-tasking is an apparent human ability to perform more than one task, or activity, over a short period of time.

An example of multi-tasking is taking phone calls while typing an email and reading a book.

Multi-tasking can result in time wasted due to human context switching and apparently causing more errors due to insufficient attention.

Jeff Toister, a Customer Service expert, writes –

Multi-tasking and Customer Service don’t mix.

  • We can only process one conscious thought at a time
  • Multi-tasking slows us down
  • We make more errors when we multi-task

I recommend reading Jeff’s full article on the topic at the link below – it’s a winner.

http://www.toistersolutions.com/blog/2014/5/19/one-thing-that-makes-multitasking-five-times-more-dangerous

Wikipedia carries on with the origin of the term ‘multi-tasking’:

The first published use of the word “multi-task” appeared in an IBM paper describing the capabilities of the IBM System 360 in 1965.

In this context, “multi-tasking” refers to the ability of a computer to apparently process several tasks, or computer jobs, concurrently.

The term has since been applied to human tasks.

 

It’s not about the attitude of your Frontline Team Members

Recently I met a Contact Centre Agent at a workshop and she said that yes – it had been hard to handle multiple channels at the same time – but she seemed to chalk it up to attitude.

‘Dan – it was hard – especially at the beginning. But I have a correct attitude so I really tried and got used to it over time…’

But let’s take that argument a bit further.

For those who struggle with handling multiple channels at the same time does this mean that they don’t have the right attitude?

Her statement made me sad because I had to wonder – how many others out there in the industry are blaming attitude on their failure to achieve ‘success’ in channel blending.

 

The world has changed

Most Contact Centres recognize that their call mix has changed radically over the past years.

Nowadays the voice channel is not the ‘first choice’ for most and tends to be utilized for only the more complex or challenging situations.

This means the Agent job role has become even more difficult than it was before (just ask an Agent).

 

Organizations that focus on Customer experience allow their Agents to deliver on the Customer experience – especially when faced with increasing complexity.

 

Channel blending is not about being Omni-channel

Omni-channel is about the Customer experience.

Being able to maintain a seamless, ‘single’ conversation with a Customer across multiple channels of communication.

But being ‘Omni-channel’ – a Customer experience strategy – is not the same as Channel blending which damages the Customer experience (as well as the Agent experience).

Does it make sense to train Team Members across different channels of communication?

Absolutely!

This is where the work can get really interesting for the Agent and the planning gets much easier for the Centre.

Handling different channels, at different scheduled intervals, is a sign of healthy forecasting & scheduling.

Channel blending, though beautiful on paper, is a misguided attempt to achieve productivity.

Thank you for reading!

Daniel

[email protected] / www.omnitouchinternational.com

Stop blaming poor organizational behaviour on national culture

by OmniTouch International OmniTouch International No Comments

It’s not ok to blame poor organizational culture on national culture.

One of the great things about working in many different organizations, across many countries & regions, is that you get to see a lot of organizational culture up close and personal.

Whether in KL, Colombo or Frankfurt, the first morning of a scheduled training session is always interesting.

·      Will all the Participants turn up? Will they turn up on time?

·      Will Management turn up? If so, who – and how long will they stay?

·      Does Management all sit together? Or do they integrate into the group at large?

·      What does the energy feel like before the session begins?

·      Do Participants talk to each other or do they stare at their mobile phones?

·      Who is in charge? Is the ‘leader’ present?

·      How does management speak to staff? As adults? Or like children?

 

What a Trainer or Consultant sees and experiences on that first morning of a session – before introductions have been made – should be the ‘best’ in organizational culture.

Why?

Because it’s not work.

Because Participants are there to learn and grow.

Because the gap or opportunity is so significant, an external Provider was asked to come in.

 

On a recent drizzly morning in _______ (fill in the country).

 

On a recent drizzly morning session in ________(fill in the country), half the Participants had not arrived by starting time.

To this, the HR Representative said, “Well you know we _________(fill in nationality here) like to sleep in.”

Or “we’re always late in ______(fill in country)” or “when it rains you know how it is in ______(fill in country).”

But over the years I’ve been conducting sessions, I find that what really matters is which organization you’re working with – not which country you happen to be in.

In countries which are notorious for staff absenteeism and tardiness, I’ve worked with organizations where people simply aren’t late and where organizational culture does not tolerate lateness.

In countries which have a reputation for staff timidity and reserve, I’ve worked with organizations where people laugh and chat and catch up with each other before the session begins.

In countries where traditional management hierarchy is revered and rarely questioned, I’ve worked with organizations where management and staff intermingle and work together.

Great organizational culture always ‘trumps’ national culture.

The way the Employees at Company X behave and carry themselves is quite different than the way Employees at Company Y behave and carry themselves – even though their offices are in the same building.

 

Blaming poor behavior on country or national dynamics is just lazy

When HR, or management, or leadership, blames poor behavior on country or national dynamics – then it’s unlikely that you’ll see a great culture at that organization.

The happenstance of being born in X country doesn’t guarantee a life of tardiness, timidity or futility.

Individuals always have a choice.

A choice to be on time, a choice to speak up and even – as the case merits – a choice to find employment with an organization with a better culture.

Thank you for reading!

Daniel

[email protected] / www.omnitouchinternational.com