A recently published white paper urged the industry to build “high performance customer contact centers,” and offered three questions to enable managers to assess whether or not their centers would qualify as such. “Does your operation work in tandem with the rest of the enterprise on key operational and performance metrics such as cost controls and service quality?” “Are individual workers aware of clear performance goals aligned with business objectives, and do workers have timely and accurate access to their progress towards those goals?” “Is the flow of information into and out of the center controlled and channeled so that appropriate managers and analysts can interpret the raw data and use it to create specific prescriptions for change that improve performance?” A contact center that was recently shut down and its entire staff laid off could have answered all three questions affirmatively. They’re still just as unemployed as if the answers had been No.
The Handwriting on the Wall
Customers will always have questions about the products that they buy, both before and after the sale. Every complex tool inherently has a support burden; the user must make an investment in learning how to use it in order to gain the promised productivity benefits from the purchase. Most traditional software (and far too many SaaS ones, too) company senior managers, knowing this basic reality, ask themselves “how can we provide the answers to customer questions as cheaply as possible?” The question alone is very revealing, and those who consider themselves support professionals need to understand the meaning in it. A company that only talks about the importance of cutting costs in the contact center sees no real value in the support function; it’s an unfortunately necessary evil. When it can be gotten rid of; it will be. Nor does such a company truly consider its support employees to be professionals making a valued contribution. When they can be gotten rid of, or replaced by volunteer “community support;” they will be.
How Did It Come To This?
The questions asked by the white paper are not themselves inherently bad. The problem is that absent an appropriate vision, they inevitably lead in the wrong direction. Failing to look past the immediate performance and cost questions being asked by Senior Management to see what prompted them can be expensive. The price can include derailed careers and economic hardship for a lot of people — one of whom may be you. If cutting costs is the only acceptable answer, it’s likely that the wrong question is being asked. Shuttered centers and laid-off support staff members lie at the end of that road. If you don’t want your center and staff to be another example, it’s time to turn back and to rewrite the questions.
One of my favorite teaching tales is of Scott Cook, the founder and former CEO of Intuit, and one of the very few software company CEOs I’ve met in 30 years who truly “got it.” After a presentation he gave many years ago at a support convention, he was asked: “What advice would you give a support professional who was unable to practice their chosen profession to their own standards?” The reply was swift, and to the point. “Put your resume on the street.” Find a company who will appreciate the value you have to offer.