Here’s a well-known rule of thumb in the customer contact sector: 70% of the cost of the customer contact operation is spent on staff. That’s also a rather accurate indication of how customer contact managers spend their time. You’d expect managers to largely commit to supporting and coaching employees in the best possible way. But in practice, they are responsible for a myriad of operational and process-based tasks — consulting on KPIs, leading innovation-focused project groups, and aligning with the Marketing, Sales, HR, and IT Departments, just to name a few. Not to mention all the effort they have to put into staff recruitment, transfers (development), absenteeism management, and employee departures. When it comes to actual ‘work floor activities’ (the customer contact process itself), managers are tasked with making ad hoc decisions. In many cases, team leaders have to approve solutions proposed by agents (such as cancellations or crediting). Often, employees are perfectly capable of making these types of decisions independently. After all, they do that at home, too. Right?
Where is the grass greener?
There are a number of contact centers where employees are allowed to act on their responsibilities, but they’re grossly outnumbered by contact centers where that isn’t the case. That’s fodder for discussion about who can and should do what and who has an overview of what’s happening. And usually, customers or employees aren’t the first to benefit. Employees quit because they’re not taken seriously. Managers get frustrated as they have to make too many operational decisions, and they try to find out if the grass is greener on the other side. Fellow managers should make an effort to recruit new employees, productivity drops, service levels are under pressure, and turnover cost (market indication: €10-30K per vacancy, though Gallup research points out it may be up to 0.5 to 2.0 times an employee’s annual salary) is a permanent burden on the budget.
The net results: customer satisfaction and/or NPS are low and growth targets are under pressure.
Freedom of work
The above problem is a vicious cycle. The root cause is (and remains) that employees are treated as immature people. An often-heard issue in this context is the lack of trust on the managers’ part. If we look at the underlying reason for this lack of trust, will we find employees who knowingly cut corners?
Well, guess what? As long as managers need to spend most of their time putting out fires because processes and performance aren’t clear, information is incomplete or not up to date, and agents can’t make independent decisions regarding customers or the organization of their work, it doesn’t matter whether you recruit job-competent employees or not.
Flip your thinking
Those who have the courage to reverse this image will see an organization in which (real-time) processes are clear to everyone and people have insight into performance, too. That’s a mature organization where employees make decisions on who takes on which task based on their current performance, for example. Such a work environment also encourages employees to continuously contribute to improving both performance (taking it up a notch) and processes (eliminating inefficiencies and avoiding disruptions). That way, ad hoc adjustments are made in the right place, and it’s not necessary to run issues by other people in the organization. In this ideal world, managers can focus on optimally facilitating employees so they can be productive. Incidentally, facilitating or servant leadership starts with asking questions out of genuine interest: What’s going on? What does an employee or team need to achieve their best performance, so you can free up time and resources to continuously improve processes?
You won’t be surprised to hear that this approach also results in a different revenue picture. If you take the above-mentioned actions and therefore take employees seriously, they will also take their tasks more seriously — plus, they will enjoy their jobs more. They know they can independently deal with many issues, and if they really need help, they will get solution-focused support rather than hitting a wall of bureaucracy. This contributes to a high employee satisfaction rate — which we all know is a crucial (direct and indirect) driver for a high customer satisfaction rate. Here’s our estimate: 30% time savings for managers, 30% lower turnover cost, and 10% margin improvement. And all you need to do is optimally support employees by providing them with the right information. There are managers out there who have pulled it off!