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Expert’s View: Biggest Challenge Faced by Today’s Contact Center Leader

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Contact Center Leaders and Managers have spent numerous sleepless nights ensuring well-being of agents and smoother functioning of centers. Managers often find themselves coping with the need to efficiently manage huge employee base while remaining compliant with varied industry standards. The additional pressure of improving customer experience, lowering cost and achieving targets often complicates the job of a contact center leader.

Recent development and paradigm shift has ushered contact center industry towards a better future. Efficient use of IVRs and RPAs are making it easier for contact center managers to achieve their targets and offer quality customer experience but there are challenges that needs to be discussed at the earliest.

We recently got in touch with numerous leaders from contact center industry and gathered their views on their “Top Challenge”. Everyone we got in touch was really courteous and excited to share their views with us.

Let’s read through the varied insights we received and try to understand what innovation and paradigm shifts are required to survive the changing trends:

Anthony Weinberg
Director – Contact Center
Bright Health

If I had to pick a topic that is a challenge it would be the tug of war between efficiency and customer experience. Often contact centers are viewed by C-Suite Executives only through cost and KPI deliverables. These deliverables are focused on cost related tasks, such as Average Handle Time, Answer Rate, Speed to Answer, Service Level and other measurable statistics. What is often overlooked is the customer experience and how those KPIs for some organizations may be inadvertently decreasing customer satisfaction. Looking at these two important aspects of a contact center together, showing how one impacts the other, is a great step for those executives who often only see the forest and don’t have time to count the trees.

Luis Carrillo
Director – Program Services & Contact Center
Credit.org

I believe one of the biggest challenges in today’s fast-paced environment is to foster the philosophy of “customer-centricity” across all lines of service and business in an organization. Often times, there is a lack of engagement to champion customer-centric initiatives in any company as this is view as adding another cost layer to any organization rather than envision this perceived “cost” as a short-medium investment in understanding the “voice of the customer” and be able to focus on consumer loyalty that can later be monetized and turn into revenue. I strongly believe all companies should have someone that can champion this effort of governing all aspects of customer touchpoints, from surveys scores to customer journey mapping, to consumer analytics and be able to bring all of this information holistically to all different lines of business to ensure customer-centric approach is at the top of everyone’s priority.

Tim (Trey) Fischer
Consultant
Customer Service
& Contact center

The issue that I am hearing about the most frequently from all types of contact centers is the difficulty recruiting and retaining contact center agents.  With U.S. unemployment rates being historically low in many areas of the country, contact center agents have more opportunities in the job market.  This results in higher turnover and lower customer satisfaction / customer effort scores as well as additional money being spent on a continuous recruiting and training cycle while agent wages are being continuously increased to stay competitive.

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In one difficult example, I recently spoke with a company located in a medium sized metropolitan area that was attempting to fill fifty positions with a two month lead time.  They were only able to fill thirteen of the fifty because of a lack of applicants flowing into their recruiting system despite spending tens of thousands on advertising.  This is causing contact center and human resource leaders to look at alternative solutions such beginning or expanding home agent programs to get a larger geographic reach in their recruiting.  However, unless they are able to train the agents at home as oppose to bringing them into the office, this is often met with limited success.  Also, if not done well, home agent programs often score lower in employee engagement scores resulting in higher rates of turnover.  The home agent market is also becoming quickly diluted as several companies our entering the home agent market including large scale outsourcers.  When done well, home agent programs can be a recruiting lifesaver for many companies.

Another potential solution is outsourcing.  There has been a significant increase since 2016 in outsourcing domestically, near-shore and off-shore.  Outsourcers are working feverishly to keep up with the demand as many of them are having to acquire new space in new locations around the world.  Thus, because of this increase, office space prices are also climbing causing many outsourcers to have to increase their rates as well.  However, many companies are finding success with outsourcing as the quality of language skills and education levels around the world continue to be on the rise.

Fortunately, there are some promising software and tools out there that is helping reduce the quantity of agents needed by companies to help the recruiting shortage.  Artificial Intelligence (AI) assisted IVR’s and chatbots can help reduce headcount for companies, but often require a significant investment and economy of scale that often only large companies can afford.

Lesser expensive solutions such as real-time process automation (RPA) can help reduce the number of people needed for certain tasks and can often be completed.  The payback is often not about the amount saved in the automation, but more about less positions that they will need to recruit.

An example of a low cost solution is taking the approach of trying to hire candidates that are less likely to turn over.  New predictive modeling software using speech analytics is showing some great results by identifying those candidates that are more likely to stay with the company as oppose to turning over.  The results of hiring more intelligently often results in side benefits such as increased customer satisfaction / customer effort scores, increases in first call resolution, and decreases in handle time and transfers.

Let’s not forget about company culture and reputation.  A strong company culture and reputation can go a long way towards attracting and retaining contact center agents.  Yet, many companies do not understand how to achieve this type of culture and often inadvertently do things that drive contact center agents away.  Implementing the correct culture is one of the least expensive opportunities businesses have, but it does take effort and planning.  It does not just happen on its own.

Finding ways to recruit and retain employees is shared by a large number of companies in today’s economy.  Fortunately, there are several ways like the ones listed above that can help companies get outside of their comfort zones and find quality agents to ensure their customers are finding it easy to do business with them.

Kevin Tucker
Director – Customer Service Operations
Thule Group

Finding engaged, motivated, and talented people to take care of our customers and channel partners.

Jacob Shields
Sr. Manager – Contact Center
CCI Systems

One of the biggest challenges is the amount of data we gather within a Contact Center and how to properly use it for reporting to improve customer support and the customer experience. Contact Centers do a great job at collecting all kinds of data, but we don’t do a great job at understanding what the data is telling us.

By understanding what the data is telling you and how to effectively use it; we can find ways to proactively resolve customer issues, determine new methods and procedures and improve the overall customer experience by being able to resolve customers’ issues quicker and easier.

Gwendolyn Oglesby
Call Center Management Professional

One of the challenges leaders face in contact centers is managing employee attendance while ensuring the needs of the business are accomplished. Let’s face it – attendance is critical to the success of any organization. Without good attendance, calls are not serviced in a timely fashion and customer satisfaction will decline. If the issue is not addressed, poor attendance becomes the norm and those employees at work will have to carry the weight of those who are absent. It is vital that the leader educates the staff on the company’s attendance policy and keeps the lines of communication open when it comes to attendance. The leader must address absences as they occur but with ‘care and compassion’. They would also want to recommend the employee establishes a solid support system to help when unexpected events occur. This support system will lessen the need for the employee to miss work which can lead to corrective action and termination of employment. The leader would also want to offer any company resources to help the employee have a better work/life balance.

Gwen Foster Oglesby is author of the book, Call Center: A Focus on Customer Service. The book explores the reasons why customer service is declining and offers best practices for the employee to enhance their work ethic and customer service skills. The book also provides tips to successfully manage contact center/customer service teams.

Joshua St Louis
Manager – Contact Center
World Ventures Holding

One of the top challenges I face as a Contact Center Leader, is meeting my customer in the right space with the right agent at the right time.  Customers desire an array of contact methods, from text, chat, and email to old fashioned phone calls.  Therefore, the challenge in a contact center is ensuring the right method of contact is available for your customer when they need you.  Additionally, to improve the customer experience, we want to match the right agent to the right contact.  If we know our customer well enough, which with today’s analytics and information gathering, we do…I should be able to partner a customer with a Type A personality with an agent that operates well with that type of personality and need.  This would allow the opportunity to provide a catered customer service experience, that’s also efficient and drive a positive net promoter score.

Ben Devey
Contact Center Leader
Kuru Footwear

Career Pathing: I run a call center of 20 agents for a smaller company. We have great retention the majority of agents have been with us for over three years. The struggle is setting up a career path where there is not a lot of places to go outside of our department. We have support positions filled and just not a lot of opps that open up.  That has been my biggest challenge so far.

Daryl Lister
Contact Center Leader
Cenlar FSB

Biggest challenge for contact centers is keeping employees engaged, healthy and motivated. At my company, we have made a commitment to build a culture that promotes education, values all perspectives, and strives to drive success through associate and customer delight. It is and will continue to be a challenge but we will continue to make positive progress!

Zach Christopoulos
Manager – Contact Center
4Front Credit Union

I think the biggest challenge, for me, is keeping everyone in the department feeling engaged and valued. As your Contact Center grows in size, it becomes more and more difficult to spend enough time with each individual. With that, it’s harder to show them the difference they’re making and that their ideas matter. This can be supplemented with department meetings, committees, and focus groups, but it’s not the same as having the opportunity to connect one on one.

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An ebook with strategies and tips on how to make your contact center future ready.
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