In the Zen Buddhist tradition, a koan is a question that is used to open the door to intuition and insight, to break out of old ways of thinking. In the course of doing industry conference presentations over the years, I came up with a koan for customer support/service professionals and C-level executives alike:
What is the sound of no customers calling?
More than a few in those audiences have blurted out a succinct answer: Trouble. “I’m out of a job” has been another common response from the support teams. I’ve also used the koan in speaking to our IT Help Desk cousins and received similar replies.
Those answers reveal a fundamentally flawed view of what a company’s customer contact center is all about. The perception is about being necessarily reactive; nothing happens until a customer calls with a problem. Fix that one, and here come ten more. There is no economic value or productivity gain in these transactions for either the customer or the support representative. They are a despised necessity. If the customers vote with their purchasing dollars by going to a competitor whose products do not require those support calls, there will be trouble indeed. The volume of incoming support calls will drop and layoffs will soon follow. But even if there is no direct competitor (yet!), there is no future in this view for either the individual support professional or the company.
But there is another answer to the koan.
How could the skills and knowledge of the support team be deployed and used to bring enhanced productivity and value to the customers? And at the same time, increasing the profitability of the company? If their talents were no longer being wasted on profitless Break/Fix calls, what opportunities could be developed? You won’t know until you step out of the old mind-set and take a look. Ask the question. Struggle with the answers.
The global nature of such a question may seem to be beyond the pay grade of a support rep, supervisor, manager or director — even perhaps ambitious for a support VP unless they’re a direct report to the CEO. The truth is otherwise. While you may not personally have the clout to order the necessary changes, you can start the conversation. Here’s another truth: Until you are capable of contributing to that visionary discussion, you’re part of the problem. The senior management team may rightly conclude that it would require a complete turnover in the support group to make such a sea-change in the role of the organization. Opportunity does not mean free from cost. In this case, the goal, significantly enhanced profitability and long-term success, is worth the price.