A well-known major computer manufacturer just announced the closure of another one of its customer support contact centers. 1,100 more people will be out of a job, to join the 900 from the last such closure who are suddenly looking for new employment. The company spokesman said that “the decision to close the call centre was about cutting costs to stay competitive.” That statement is an accurate indication of how Support is typically regarded by Senior Management teams across the industry, and it ought to be prominently posted on the office wall of every Support executive. Despite the trade-show talk of running Support on a P&L basis, when the pressure is on, the discussion will be only about the costs to be cut. While you might be tempted to hunker down and hope to ride out the storm, there’s a much better way to improve your chances for prosperity.
Power Follows Money
In any organization, Power Follows Money. If you aren’t clearly associated with a stream of profit, if your group isn’t perceived as being necessary in order to generate revenues, you will have less status than those who do. The first goal, therefore, in your personal and group prosperity-enhancement campaign, is to create that direct association with profitability. The second is to extend it.
The immediate barrier to be overcome is the erroneous, but unfortunately widespread, perception that the only revenues that Support generates are from maintenance contracts. While Senior Management may acknowledge some contribution from Support towards sales in general, if the group has a good reputation, the amount of that income is too fuzzy to be useful. Similar lip service may be given to revenues from up-sells and cross-sells, but unless the figures are accurately and prominently reported, the acknowledgment of the contribution won’t help very much. It’s unfortunately all too easy to assume that the revenues from maintenance contracts and whatever allocation is made for up-selling and cross-selling are independent of support staffing and operational effectiveness. Down that path lies closed centers and minimum budgets. If Support executives don’t make sure that the contributions of their organizations to bottom line corporate profitability are fully and accurately reported, who will?
The Missing Technology
A major part of the image problem confronting support professionals is due to a serious lack of appropriate technology. Case management systems, the core of a contact center’s technology suite, are designed to handle trouble tickets through to resolution. They are not, however, designed to help the Support executive manage their center on a P&L basis. This is a significant failure on the part of the CMS vendors — and a substantial potential opportunity. It’s also a failure of the support professionals who don’t require such functionality before they buy. In a recent survey  I conducted of the 75+ manufacturers of case management systems today, there were none who offered contact center P&L management technology. One manufacturer has it, but has not chosen to make it available as a product to date. What’s wrong with this picture?
A Fundamental Question
In the Customer Centricity articles here on The HotLine, I’ve emphasized that there is a fundamental difference between an authentically customer-centric company  and a product-centric entity. A product-centric company has a great product and is looking for more customers to sell it to. A customer-centric company, on the other hand, is focused on a well-known group of customers and is always looking for more products to sell to them. In such a company, Support is a core product, and needs to be just as rigorously managed for profitability as any other.
The Bottom Line
In today’s economic scenario, with looming threats of recession, there are two ways that a company’s customer contact center can be included in the corporation’s Annual Report. One is as a footnote of measures taken for cost reduction. The other is as a significant contributor to increased revenues and profitability. If you’re interested in being in the latter category, I’m here to help.