Noble Systems (News - Alert) came out with a survey in late March that it had commissioned which revealed that 97 percent of its contact center respondents expect their businesses to grow or remain stable in 2010, a sign, it says “of strong confidence in the industry.” According to the survey, 48 percent expected that their business would grow in 2010 while 49 percent believed it would remain consistent. Only 3 percent anticipated a revenue reduction for the year.
This is great news. Yet is it time to finally fire up the bulldozers on that new contact center?
While the fiscal skies are beginning to lighten up, the hard reality is that the U.S. is still far from out of the downturn gloom. High unemployment and underemployment and fears that these trends will continue plus long-term indebtedness and tightened credit will squish consumers’ confidence and pocketbooks. Rising property taxes and user fees and reduced services resulting from lower sales taxes, leading to looming state and local government agencies’ layoffs are adding to the pall.
Bottom line: limited money in the wallets means limited calls to contact centers and less web interactions for orders and service.
Yet would a return of good times mean likewise for North American contact centers? Well, not exactly.
Yes, companies have finally realized that customers prefer to speak to high quality agents and will switch to competitors, depending on the ease for specific products or services, if the service stinks. A rising economy also means, though, a return to higher contact center turnover and costs, leading to ultimately fewer centers, and jobs. Why? As web and IVR/speech rec self-service and outbound notifications take the simpler calls, contact center agents are left with the difficult ones. Unfortunately, too many centers are infested with poor supervisors, the product of lazily promoting the best agents to those jobs: including those without the talents to manage people.
Working six to eight hours being screamed at by customers... then being yelled at by incompetent coaches and leads…is it any wonder why all too many agents slam down their headsets and walk out…and into better paying/better working conditions jobs as these gradually appear with the slow economic turnaround.
Adding to the crunch text-based communications like social media requires agents with superior comprehension and communications skills. Yet most existing agents and those willing to be hired by centers are too often do not have these abilities thanks to the once-great American educational system having been turned into a glorified babysitting service.
The most likely place to hear ground being churned for new contact centers is Latin America to serve the rapidly growing U.S. Hispanic population: at lower costs than at home. Many of these countries’ urban areas have workforces that are fluent in English, thereby providing “one-stop shopping.” American Spanish-speakers appear to be less concerned with having their calls handled out of the country than those whose language preference is English. Outsourcing is the most cost-effective means of tapping that workforce for all but the largest organizations.
Is the environment dismal for domestic contact centers? Not if these steps are taken:
- Make web and voice self-service great experiences, couple them where needed to outbound notifications link them with live agents and customers’ experiences (and attitudes) will be greatly improved.
- Move to more flexible home-based agents that enable higher quality service and productivity at lower costs. This is the best way to tap into workers who speak other languages including Spanish, French and Mandarin without outsourcing.
- Hire smart, pay more especially for skilled work like social media. Screen and test applicants to get the right people whom you need. Don’t rely on diplomas and degrees. They’re the crutches of hopeless HR departments. And don’t jerk staff around on hours and shifts. Find out which ones work best for them attitude/performance/lifewise.
- Get smart on supervision by hiring and training the best people for those critical jobs.
Together these methods will cut costs, improve productivity and lead to better, more profitable service – benefits if achieved by every organization in all departments – will help create a solid, sustainable and job-wealth-creating economic recovery at home. CIS
Brendan B. Read is TMCnet’s Senior Contributing Editor. To read more of Brendan’s articles, please visit his columnist page.