Ken Faw : InformationWeek

Call Center Lessons Learned

Successful call center operations can make or break your business. Getting your processes and integration standards right are critical to keeping it all running smoothly.

After 10 years of managing an internal call center, our organization hired a consultant to outsource the department. Unfortunately, the consultant neglected to engage our IT department in the process beyond setting up the feeds to send contact information to the vendor’s dialer. We quickly learned that including IT in a change like this was essential, and were left with some additional takeaways that can help us in any similar initiative.

Importance of process integration
The first key component in any integration strategy is to understand your business process. Then you can design your feeds and services to eliminate processing gaps and data leakage.

Integration isn’t as simple as saying, “We’ll ship you the inputs, and you ship us the outputs,” though that can be a perspective adopted in some organizations. It is easy to take the simple metaphor of an ETL tool (extract, transform, and load), set up a few feeds, and call it a day.

When you integrate a call center, you send out leads, make sales, and book appointments. But you also update contact information, get back call dispositions, update Do Not Call registries, and you may also gather many other metrics, artifacts and insights.

Treating your call center as a black box and doing only a superficial job of integration can produce significant risk and lost opportunity for your business.

Align call center metrics
Gregory Mankiw’s first Principle of Economics is “People respond to incentives.” As somewhat cynical corollary is “Tell me how I’m measured, and I’ll tell you what I’m going to do.”

The principle is fundamental, whether your call center is in-house or outsourced. However, if you manage your own team, you may have more direct control over the departments, as well as a better understanding of any given performance metric.

Say, for example, a call center gets leads from various sources. A call center metric based on the overall number of calls can be inflated by staffers calling a lot of low quality leads and avoiding meaningful conversations. Or agents may flood a lead channel that produces a lot of volume while restricting attention to other channels.

Call center metrics are likely to be far more involved than calls per day. It is important to make sure you develop metrics that align incentives to your business objectives.

Alerts and notifications
Finally, losing call center productivity can significantly damage sales in a very short time period. When your call center is in-house, call center managers can walk over to IT whenever there is an issue.

When the call center is externally sourced, the protocol for communicating in the event of a problem or failure must be clearly outlined. This process should be defined well enough to avoid disruptions, to recover from them quickly, and to conduct an appropriate level of postmortem if and when issues arise.

Call center management and your own managers need to be identified by name and role and have direct lines of communication. They also need the authority to take effective action quickly, directly, and with resolve.

You can’t anticipate everything that can go wrong. But it is prudent to set up channels for communication before a crisis hits.

You may have noticed that the last couple categories I’ve described could be combined into the first one — if you have a good sense for the business process, you can’t afford to do half the job of integration. And creating a comprehensive integration plan that supports your business processes will cover most of your bases. Spending the time, energy and money (where needed) to get the process integration right from the start will save lost opportunity and promise a more seamless and effective outcome for your business.

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