Sean McGinn, Director of The Agile Contact Centre, has had a career history rich in contact center operations and customer support. His interest in agile methodology, combined with his passion for customer experience, gave him countless opportunities to lead and transform contact center operations across GE and ME Bank. Now, in a consultancy role, Sean helps organizations optimize their contact centers and operations teams to be more efficient and deliver more value.

2020 saw the biggest upheaval in contact center history. In a period of just four to six weeks, every single customer support center across the globe transitioned their technology and people to work remotely. For many, this also happened while simultaneously managing a drastic influx in customer call volume.

For Sean, watching that transition was phenomenal. “We’ll probably never see something in the contact center industry like that again - where every single contact center was working on the same thing, at the same time.” But the transformation doesn’t stop there. In fact, the future of change for contact centers is only just beginning. 

We sat down with Sean to hear his thoughts on the future of contact center operations, leadership, customer experience and value. Here was his advice:

Focus on the root cause not the symptom

When asked what’s the one piece of advice he would give to contact centers embarking upon the new future, Sean didn’t skip a beat. “Deeply understand what is driving your customers to interact with you”.

Perhaps you’ve been focusing on Average Handle Time and how to shave 30 seconds off each call. But what is driving that call to come in in the first place? Is failure demand driving your customers to engage with you, or value-demand? Failure demand might be a process breakdown, system breakdown, technology issue or human error. Essentially it forces a customer to contact you when they shouldn’t need to, distracting them from their day, and consuming your agents with work they shouldn’t need to do. On the flip side, value demand is delivering what customers want, helping them get more value from the product or service you offer. 

“We find, it’s not uncommon for up to 50% of all interactions coming into a contact center to be driven by a failure of some kind.” By taking a systemic view and focusing on the calls you’re getting that you shouldn't be getting, you can make a major shift. You can begin the journey of turning your contact center into a value center, not a cost center. It will allow you to truly understand your customer, anticipate their needs in advance, and deliver exceptional customer experience (CX). And by removing a whole load of high effort interactions with unhappy customers about unnecessary things, you’ll also be improving the agent experience, making their lives easier and far more enjoyable at the same time. 

“If you start looking at the system and what’s going on beneath the surface, you can shift things to achieve the outcomes you want.”

Measure customer outcomes, not agent outputs

For a long time, contact centers have been defined by key performance indicators (KPIs)  like Average Handle Time (AHT) and After Call Work Time (ACW). These productivity focused metrics are important for forecasting and staffing, but as Sean says, they also “create a very blinkered view of the world and the system you’re looking at”.

By placing your focus on productivity metrics like these, you’re ultimately creating an environment where your agents will work to simply deliver the output, such as quicker calls or faster after-call wrap up. “They’ll look for ways to game the system and meet the targets, and this can lead to less than favorable outcomes.” 

Instead, contact centers should focus on outcomes-based metrics, like First Contact Resolution (FCR) or Customer Satisfaction (CSAT). The challenge with these metrics is control. Higher up the chain, leaders like to have a sense of control, and standard productivity metrics give them a degree of understanding and relatability. But if you’re really looking to deliver exceptional CX that drives long term loyalty, customer outcomes need to be your priority. It might take longer to get everyone on the same page, leaders may feel uncomfortable, and it may take longer to get there, but ultimately the results will be better. “If you start looking at the system and what’s going on beneath the surface, you can shift things to achieve the outcomes you want.”

Trust and empower your agents

Aside from the urgent migration to cloud based technology, the biggest impact for contact centers in the last year has been a shift in leadership style. Long depicted leaning over the shoulders of their agents in a position of command and control, contact center supervisors have faced a challenging transition as organizations embrace remote working and agents are being empowered to do more. These leaders, who previously felt control and gratification in being able to make key decisions and fix problems, are now facing an identity crisis as they discover their new role as leader.

As Sean says, “99.99% of your people wake up in the morning and want to do a good job” but if you really want them to bring creativity and innovation to their work, you must trust and empower them. “If you set up your system so that it is about monitoring people, tracking their time and getting them to report bathroom breaks, then even your good people will come down to that level. Increase the trust in the system and people will rise to that.” 

“There's a massive opportunity to elevate the role of the contact center from being a place that just manages calls to a place that is more of a customer experience hub”.

Commit to the long game

The operational nature of work for contact center managers means they’re often putting out fires and working against the clock. Despite the best intentions to set long term strategic goals, the contact center environment is often reactive not proactive.

But the future doesn’t need to look that way. Businesses have a “massive opportunity to elevate the role of the contact center from being a place that just manages calls to a place that is more of a customer experience hub”. The key however, is committing to the long game. It’s going to take a shift in mindset, patience from everyone, commitment from leaders and plenty of internal support. 

Start by involving your people. Engage with your frontline agents who live and breathe customers every day, and begin to really understand why your customers are interacting with you. Help your contact center leaders adapt to changes in their roles as remote working becomes a permanent fixture for the future. And involve your contact center teams at a strategic level too - empower and enable them to play a bigger role in CX initiatives. Don’t expect to see change immediately, but don’t give up. 

With change comes opportunity. Contact centers now have the chance to make a fundamental shift by truly identifying their purpose, aligning with CX teams, prioritizing the customer and empowering their people. It’s time for a bold new future, and a really exciting one. 

Interested in reinventing your contact center operations, learn more about The Agile Contact Centre