The call centre industry’s dark secret
From the editor: One of our regular contributors, Daniel Ord, shares his views on the call centre industry’s dark secret – exploring why contact centres don’t truly share information.
I’m sure many of you will relate to the issues Dan raises – let’s hope we start to see a lot more genuine sharing within our industry so we can all benefit.
At a local level, the Auscontact Association offer a range of site tours throughout the year.
We list all the upcoming industry events including site tours, training courses, conferences, webinars etc on the Industry Events Calendar >>> so make sure you check it out to find out what’s coming up.
Sorry that’s confidential
Last week in an operations class, my students and I had a lively chat about the value of Contact Centre tours.
Alice shared, “Yes Dan, you’re right. I went with two other colleagues on an official contact centre tour here in Singapore and every time we asked a question we were told that unfortunately, that information was confidential.”
“You asked about Available Time right?”
“Yes we did. We wondered at that time – before taking operations – if there was some industry standard for Available rate…but they told us that their Available Time level was confidential.”
At that, our entire group burst out laughing – since when did Available Time – which can be easily guessed at or calculated with Erlang C – since when was that a confidential figure?
On my side I’m not sure whether to laugh or – perhaps – to sigh in despair.
Breaking down silos
For easily 25+ years, contact centre professionals have complained about how tough it can be to build effective cross-functional relationships within their organisation.
Marketing keeps releasing promotions without informing the centre…Operations changes their procedures…Legal changes terms & conditions and so on.
I’ve always said that the role of more senior levels in the contact centre is to work up and out – by which I mean educate organisational management and cross-functional management on the value proposition that a contact centre brings.
And to their credit – many contact centre leaders have done just that. Improve the visibility and value of their centres throughout the organisation.
Better communications, more supportive colleagues and enhanced morale for centre employees who understand that their work is valued and has purpose.
But at the contact centre industry level centres remain deeply cut-off from each other
A phrase that rattles my nerves is when a senior executive – anywhere – tells us how ‘different’ they are from everybody else.
I’ve even had one tell me that they weren’t a contact centre at all (they were)
On average, I meet anywhere from 75 – 100 centres each year and although the vertical industry may be different (hospitality vs. healthcare – banking vs. consumer goods) it’s still a contact centre.
But most of the centre management staff that I meet have worked in perhaps one or two centres in their career (to date) and their view of the contact centre industry is rather narrow and (as is to be expected) deeply influenced by how their organisation views the centre.
A simple test I like to conduct is this – I ask participants what industry they are in and the answer should be – The Contact Centre industry.
That answered can then be followed by – “And yes – I work in the Insurance/Telecoms/Public Sector vertical…”.
It’s a simple and wonderful exercise to see how people view their role within their organisation – as well as their view of the industry.
When you are a consultant, you tend to see the same problems (and opportunities) over and over.
I’ve had a case where one centre was struggling with upselling while there was another centre literally 1 km away that had sorted out upselling and were doing a great job of it.
But the real-world odds of these two centres – operating within walking distance of each other – meeting up and sharing ideas is super unlikely.
But what about the Industry Associations?
Associations across countries (and I’ve worked with a few) have to first survive before they can flourish.
And in the markets where we operate the most, the best way for an association to survive is to offer awards.
So while their official names (and promotional copy) may involve the phrase “Contact Centre industry body” it’s probably more accurate to say “Contact Centre awards issuing body”.
It’s a bit of a chicken and egg situation.
Do the associations launch more (valuable) industry-wide initiatives such as education, benchmarking and industry development (which involve significant and specialised resources to attract more members and revenue)?
Or do they focus in on the awards process – which certainly attracts a predictable core base of awards seekers – and hope to achieve a surplus for that year which could potentially be channelled into more industry-wide initiatives later on?
Just a couple of days ago I had a client write to me and thank me for connecting them up with folks in other organisations who are going through exactly the same channel implementation process (they are installing Live Chat).
She wrote further – “Dan, if you could organise a group of Team Leaders from different organisations that can meet to cross-share that would be great – we feel very isolated and would love to be able to bounce off ideas and learnings with others.”
(This from one of the country’s largest contact centre employers).
When I wrote back I admit that I felt a bit guilty.
I said that while it was a great idea – and we certainly enable a lot of cross-sharing within our own students – we didn’t really have a mechanism yet in place for creating large group cross-sharing.
I continued by writing that they should contact the national association as I felt that this would fall under their purview and it seemed relevant to a non-profit vision.
But – I am now seriously thinking about how to accomplish this on our own.
But what about Contact Centre site tours?
I’ve been in the call centre industry a long time – working in both the outsource and captive worlds.
Presumably because of my ability to present well I was almost always the one picked to conduct the tour for outsiders, clients & prospective clients.
One of the call centre industry’s dark secrets is that for most company cultures, contact centre tours are meant to show off and impress – and they are invariably highly staged.
In some cases tour members are not even allowed into the centre – they spend most of their time in a conference room receiving a PowerPoint presentation.
In my training work, I remind my students that a lot of what happens in a contact centre is invisible – you can’t see quality, you can’t see customer experience, you can’t see employee engagement, you can’t see leadership.
I’d love to attend a tour (and I’d pay for the privilege) where the director tells us about all the big mistakes they made and how they fixed them – where they are willing to peel back the veneer and share the journey – because it’s always a journey and not a destination.
When the tours are arranged around centres that have won awards – well there is even more pressure on these folks to ‘look good’ and in some way justify their status as awards winners.
I am certain there are indeed awards winners and contact centre tour providers who open their hearts and minds to their audience.
But these will be the pleasant exception – not the rule.
Is your Service Level really classified information?
As a final point for this short article, I have to wonder about who makes the decisions about what information is ‘classified’ and what information might be made available to contact centre practitioners from other organisations.
The moment that a centre’s Available Time rate becomes confidential I worry about the ongoing health of our dynamic and inspiring industry.
Recommended further reading: 15 Facts about working in the Australian Call Centre industry
Find a list of all upcoming industry site tours, conferences, training courses and more on the Industry Events Calendar >>>