TMCnet - World's Largest Communications and Technology Community




Publisher's Outlook
October 2000


Taking Your Customer Interaction Center To The Next Level
Web Technologies, Systems Integration And The "Net-Gen" Are The Do Or Die Of Your Customer Interaction Center!


Today, many companies, out of necessity, are changing the way they do business. Their communication methods are becoming more and more Internet-dependent. Even more businesses are in the throes of contemplation, pondering how to make the transition from traditional business practices to the "next gen." For both sides, doers and contemplators, a key issue is often systems integration: how do I make the technologies I have work with what I need to reach the next level? This only makes sense; companies have made huge investments in legacy systems that, at the time they were implemented, were touted as cutting-edge, not to mention the fact that these technologies still sufficiently perform their intended functions for the business. Thankfully, blending the old with the new in terms of technologies is not an insurmountable challenge. With the advent of open architecture and systems integrators, the road blocks are easily overcome. So, once those technology obstacles are mastered, it's a done deal, subject closed, final answer, right? Sorry, not even close! Any business that looks at systems integration from a technology-only viewpoint faces a questionable future. There is an entire half of the equation missing from this formula and that is human resources.

Today's job market is impossibly tight, and everyone knows that the cost of hiring and training a new worker is much higher than retaining an existing, reliable one. Nowadays, a Web-savvy contact center agent with knowledge of your company's products or services and enthusiasm for selling is almost literally worth his or her weight in gold.

But chances are good not everyone in your call center possesses the most up-to-date skills. People, just like technologies, need to be integrated into the new, "next-gen" way of doing business and become "net-gen" employees. As cold as it may sound, people are part of the system, and as such, deserve the same dedication and attention given to technology as businesses endeavor to evolve into the next generation. Those businesses that are fortunate enough to have call center agents with tenure in their company should consider them an important "legacy" in their "system." You simply have to make an investment in them to help them transition with your company. Why? Because you can buy all the up-to-the-minute technology you want, but if your people are not up to the task, it's like putting rockets on a Model-T Ford and expecting a smooth flight...a silly concept that will get you nowhere. Unless you can infuse your contact center agents with the training, skills and ambition to conduct business in today's world, your company will forever be stuck in the Dark Ages. It takes a whole new way of thinking for companies to make sure that both their people and their systems are up-to-date.

Fortunately, today there are numerous excellent training systems and educational venues available (such as our very own Communications Solutions EXPO) to help you facilitate your task of bringing your contact center agents to the next level as your business strategies expand. No matter which path you take, it is important to remember that you know your employees best: you know what their skills are, whether or not they will respond well to learning new skills and how successful they will be in bringing about changes. Capitalize on your own insight to tailor a program that suits your center's individual needs. Those of you who have progressed through the years into call center management probably remember vividly the days when the "fear of cold calling" and the syndrome of "call reluctance" were on the top of the human resources challenges list. Certainly, if those daunting challenges could be mastered, helping agents transition into the new world of user-friendly technologies can be mastered as well. In my humble opinion, the real key to success in this area lies in the power of positive presentation.

Also, keep in mind that in today's contact center job market, you're going to have to pay your contact center agents more. They have more skills, are harder to replace and need to be compensated accordingly. But when you realize the kind of value they add to your company's operations, you shouldn't hesitate to keep them happy. The old saying that you get what you pay for holds true when it comes to your contact center agents.

From my own experience, I have found that a positive presentation requires the following ingredients;

  1. First become an expert in the subject matter yourself so you are totally comfortable with the ideas and skills you are imparting. This is the time to overcome any doubts or fears you, yourself, may consciously or unconsciously have about the new way of doing business. No matter how hard you try to conceal them, your own insecurities will reveal themselves to your employees.
  2. Enumerate and expound upon all of the talents and skills your agents already possess and let them know how valuable their existing skills are to your company. Make sure they are aware that these skills are unique to them -- not everybody can do what they do -- and many are afraid to perform the tasks the agents take for granted on a daily basis.
  3. Remind your staff of their early days in the call center business. Certainly, many thought they couldn't do it or wouldn't be successful, but did and are. Here's an opportunity for a little levity and humor.
  4. Emphasize that the skills you are asking the agents to acquire will not only bring the company to the next level, they will bring each individual to a new level of personal worth and value. Underscore the positive value that possessing these "net-gen" skills will have on their future in the 21st century as compared to teleservices agents who do not possess these skills.
  5. Present a comfortable timetable for your expectations of skills achievement.
  6. Do not threaten job security, but do not openly offer a "safe harbor" for those who cannot master the skills. Do, however, have a backup plan for those valued employees who simply cannot master the tasks within the given timetable.

Let's take a closer look at point number 6 above. You may find that there is a middle ground between those who have no skill or interest in more modern contact media and those who are high-tech whizzes. It's possible that some of your more traditional workers can be trained to do very simple Internet-based tasks like answer e-mail inquiries. There are a great deal of good e-mail management products on the market today, and these systems often literally allow e-mail to answer itself, with little human intervention. These products are usually designed to be extremely user-friendly with a short learning curve, as well.

Obviously, if you offer a safe harbor, some agents just won't bother to learn new skills. On the other hand, you've got to take a good hard look at those who do not achieve your intended goals for "net-gen" agents. Did they simply not try? If that's the case, they are probably of limited value to your company anyway. But what about those who really did put in the effort to acquire the new skills, but didn't make the grade? Start by asking yourself if these agents are skilled salespeople: do they know how to upsell and cross-sell? Do they know the product or service they are selling intimately? If you can answer yes to these questions, the assessed value to place on these individuals is: priceless! I'm sure you have seen the same analyst reports I have that continue to state what I find quite obvious -- consumer demand for "live" agent interaction is not going away, and is in fact increasing, in spite of, and because of, increased Internet usage. Simply stated, the Internet encourages more interaction with businesses, and the more interaction consumers have with a business, the more opportunities exist for them to want to talk to a knowledgeable company representative about a purchasing or service issue. Who better to service these needs than an experienced and trusted teleservices rep? My advice is to do what ever you can to help these individuals integrate into the "next-gen" way of doing business.

Let's also take a closer look at point number 4 above. Now is the perfect time to reposition the role of all of your teleservices reps. In essence, what used to be a pretty simple, straightforward service role, has transformed into a cutting-edge position where all of the latest technologies come into play. Capitalize on this in your advertisements for new hires. Let the public know that what your company has to offer in terms of employment opportunities is more than just a job, it's a career opportunity where you will impart skills necessary for them to become "net-gen" workers for the new millennium.

The bottom line is that today's call center is a far cry from that of 20 years ago. A typical agent today should be able to not only make and take calls, he or she should be able to use a computer, navigate the Web, compose and respond to e-mail and even perform such functions as Web callback and collaboration. Let's strive for that. But let's also do whatever we can to help those who have helped to build our businesses into what they are integrate into the "net-gen" way of doing business.

Communications Solutions EXPO Can Help Your Company Climb To
The Next Level
I invite you to join me at Communications Solutions EXPO at the Sands Convention Center in Las Vegas, December 7th through 9th. Come and exchange ideas with both industry leaders and our own knowledgeable staff to help you get an opportunity to see and take advantage of the new technologies that will help you upgrade your contact center judiciously. (See Rich Tehrani's description of the show's special events in High Priority! of this issue and our special Communications Solutions EXPO Preview for more information.)

I look forward to seeing you there, and as always, I would love to hear your thoughts and experiences.


Nadji Tehrani
Executive Group Publisher

[ Return To October 2000 Table Of Contents ]

Technology Marketing Corporation

2 Trap Falls Road Suite 106, Shelton, CT 06484 USA
Ph: +1-203-852-6800, 800-243-6002

General comments: [email protected].
Comments about this site: [email protected].


© 2023 Technology Marketing Corporation. All rights reserved | Privacy Policy