In the old days, call centers were seen as a necessary cost of doing business, a place to answer consumer questions, deflect complaints and perhaps sell an item or two. Today, many corporations regard multi-channel contact centers as the mission-critical front end of the business, the primary interface for addressing customer loyalty, attracting new revenue and aggregating a wealth of valuable consumer input. The problem is that while attitudes have changed, many organizations still manage the contact center as they did in the old days.What a perfect entree for performance management! My good friend Donna Fluss, who is a consultant and principal at DMG Consulting, says that performance management has been introduced into the contact center only in the last couple of years and that debate remains about the definition. In her new book, The Real-Time Contact Center (AMACOM, 2005), Donna tackles the revenue potential of contact centers and devotes a good bit of energy to the topic of contact center performance management.

"In the most basic sense, contact center performance management aligns the goals of the contact center with the goals of the corporation," Fluss says. "That alone is a major step because I'm now taking the contact center outside its four walls and saying the contact center is a part of the corporation. If the corporation is willing to work with performance management, a tool they are probably already comfortable with, we can finally align what's happened in the contact center with what's happened in the corporation."

Not many companies have adopted this thinking. A lingering problem is that contact centers are generally are not owned by marketing, Fluss says. "The service organizations are considered the problem-solving department. They are put as far away from senior executives as possible in order to keep customers as far away from senior executives as possible." But the value of information flowing from contact centers is extremely high, chock full of customer needs, wants and insights. In many companies still adhering to old-school practices though, representatives are motivated and forced to move on to the next call, a classic case of misplaced productivity.

"While about half of all contact centers are now involved in some form of up-selling and cross selling, most don't have revenue or lead management or marketing campaign improvement goals," Fluss says. "A call center doesn't have to be a profit center, but it absolutely has to contribute to the bottom line beyond just cost containment."

Contact center performance management uses the same tools finance managers are already familiar with: scorecards, dashboards, analytics, standard and ad hoc reporting; and perhaps an "action engine" that helps identify and address opportunities as well as problems. Contact centers, like any people-intensive operation, need productivity goals and quality goals, (though QA only measures how well the agent adheres to internal policies and procedures). More importantly, contact centers have to have customer satisfaction goals, and the only way to do that is to actually survey the customer. "Contact centers should have revenue goals, lead generation goals, marketing campaign goals and more but the only way to bring that together is through performance management," says Fluss. (Donna Fluss will detail some of the requirements and provide a checklist of issues in a column in the December/January issue of BI Review. -ed)

The good news is that contact centers are some of the most technologically sophisticated operating environments, meaning that just about everything can be measured and matched up externally with new leads and sales. Some things are quantitative, some are qualitative, Fluss says, so it becomes tricky. However, she believes companies that use performance management properly will have a huge advantage, which includes the cost perspective.

The not-so-good news is that companies have to commit to contact center performance management in order for it to work. "When performance management was getting hot last year, I thought it would take off because it played both on the productivity side and on the revenue side," says Fluss. "The challenge is that it's very hard to do all of the integration you'd like to do and get all the information you need. Some of the vendors out there are more like system integrators than product houses."

We'll talk more with Donna Fluss in our next newsletter, and you won't want to miss her column in the next issue of BI Review.

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