Before Making Your Contact Center Wish List....

By Brendan B. Read, Senior Contributing Editor  |  December 01, 2010

This article originally appeared in the December 2010 issue of Customer Inter@ction Solutions.

This is the season where individuals—and organizations such as contact centers — make their wish lists. Yet, with budgets, both household and corporate, limited there is no allowance — or tolerance — for unused or misused items. The penalties include reprimands and threats to cut back on how much is given next year.

Therefore, it is essential the items that go on these lists reflect critical and provable needs for which there are no on-hand or lower-cost substitutes. There must also be evidence that indicates these investments will be used and benefits quickly realized. The payoff is that centers that follow these practices, stand a greater chance of having more of their wishes granted.

So, how can contact centers improve the chances?

1.            Take a hard look at centers’ and at parent organizations’ business processes and ask the question, “Can we work smarter and make fewer mistakes?” (Thanks, Convergys (News - Alert), for making that point some years ago.).

The reason most people who call/write to contact centers is because they have problems: product and service issues that may have been prevented if the items and services were designed and delivered better. Taking steps to ensure this will lead to fewer contacts, higher customer satisfaction and likely increased revenues from existing customers and new ones attracted by raving fans via social media. That translates to fewer seats, licenses and boxes and simpler and more affordable applications.

2.            Check for and find ways of using shelfware. There is nothing like the virtual dust gathering on unused items to draw the wagging fingers of CFOs. Pay special attention to complex multi-featured solutions, such as CRM software and all-in-one-suites like workforce optimization applications.

3.            Consult with the agents and supervisors who use support the products, like help desks. They will give critiques on what they use and offer suggestions how to improve them or whether the items should be recycled or trashed.

4.            Take an “are these investments truly necessary” approach. Make, check and re-check the business cases for them. Treat what is being written on the list as if it is coming out of your pocket, which it is, one way or another.

5.            When feasible, pilot. If not, obtain or conduct in-depth research.

6.            Avoid bells and whistles and the nice-to-haves. Don’t overbuy for the future. Focus on current and imminent needs. Technologies and vendors change so often that it often doesn’t pay to add functionalities that may be needed in the future.

7.            Consider modular or, better yet, open-source applications that permit easier add-ons when needs and budgets permit. Open source offers some insurance in case a supplier or product line goes belly-up, because you can use core (non-proprietary) applications.

8.            Double-up on due diligence. Get on social networks to ask your counterparts in the other contact centers. Listen and analyze to the gripes on social media sites. Read news and feature stories (where better than on TMCnet?). If the candidate suppliers are publicly traded, delve into their reports. Check out any speculation that these companies are buying others or may be bought out themselves, which could mean enhanced investments or support for the products/services, or the end of the solutions. Ask hard questions about the benefits, usability, installation, support, product/service lifespans and the vendors’ financial stability. This is and will continue to be a buyers’ market. Negotiate smartly and fairly.

9.            Learn how to play corporate politics to get budget allocations. Make allies in other departments – we scratch your backs, you scratch ours. Speak the corporate, not the contact center language (i.e., “higher per customer sale”, “higher lifetime revenue” rather than “first call resolution”). Too often, contact centers have been relegated and treated as cost-drains as opposed to profit/goal-contributors because they don’t pick up and play by the rules.

10.          Check out the Buyers’ Guide in this issue. Click on and call the companies listed.

Follow these simple steps and may your wishes come true.

Brendan B. Read is TMCnet’s Senior Contributing Editor. To read more of Brendan’s articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Stefania Viscusi