To successfully deploy CX technology, the contact centers sector must first perfect its processes.
The benefits of lean systems are highly applicable to contact center operations, Alessandro Laureani, director support processes at Google Cloud, told an Enterprise Ireland Customer Experience (CX) event in Dublin.
Laureani’s presentation focused not on technology but on the overlooked process side of CX operations. Strong, clearly defined processes and standard operating procedures are fundamental to any contact center; they are also the basis on which to build automation, delegates heard.
Fundamentals of effective contact centers
Over the course of a 20-year career, Laureani, a published author on the subject of Lean Six Sigma, has worked in B2C and B2B, and currently, on Google Cloud enterprise support.
While customers differ according to the stream, and the technology changes, the fundamentals of contact center work remain the same – it’s about seeing a need and solving a problem.
A problem for call center management is that “every week, someone is trying to sell you something,” he said, be that software or consultancy, AI or machine learning.
The call center manager’s role is to keep “mental order”, staying focused on what he or she is actually trying to achieve in their organization, and the customer success metrics they are responsible for.
Understanding the team’s priorities is vital, with clear standard operating procedures and processes the essential foundation.
Origins of lean
Although process improvements have been the subject of waxing and waning trends, Lean Six Sigma, which has its origins in post-WWII Japan, has stood the test of time.
Often referred to simply as ‘continuous improvement’, its principles have never changed, even as it made the migration from manufacturing to services.
What is evident, however, is that lean processes are often looked to in times of recession and neglected when times are good. In a downturn, “most companies are looking to save costs, so they say we need to optimize,” he said.
In fact, it’s a framework that should underpin a business regardless of economic cycles.
In order to allow continuous improvement, it’s important to first clearly identify and define the problems in need of improvement. The only way to do that is to establish current performance and measure it. If it falls short of where it needs to be, investigate the root causes and make the changes necessary to secure improvement.
Benefits of lean in the contact center
When a lean culture is fully embedded in a contact center, the small improvements that occur, when made at scale, by everyone in the organization, are a powerful tool with which to drive operational efficiency.
Customer experience is at the core of contact center operations. Key performance indicators typically include everything from sharing knowledge to reducing staff attrition rates. But the key is to improve the customer experience, he said.
Establishing the root cause for a customer to contact its contact center is very important to his work at Google because he uses feedback from it to inform product teams.
Agents are asked to categorize a complaint based on their knowledge as to what its actual root cause is. This process improvement can reduce staff attrition because it helps agents feel more empowered.
“Giving empowerment to your staff for being able to make some small changes to their work, in order to make some improvements, can really improve their satisfaction,” he said.
Contributing to progress in this way helps staff avoid feeling that simply do the same things – and handle the same complaints – day in, day out.
“The best service is no service,” he points out. “As a customer, I really hate to contact a call center because it means there is a problem.”
Reducing the need for customer contact
It’s why so much of his work in recent years has been about spending more and more time trying to eliminate the need for the customer to contact his team at all.
“Very often, the frustration for us is that we are the last chain of our company. When people come to us they have a problem that 99% of the time has been created somewhere else. How can I provide structural feedback and make (that party) responsible and accountable to address that?” he asked.
Part of continuous improvement is also being proactive, not waiting for a problem to happen and customers to contact you but to proactively address it and inform customers in advance.
This, too, is about processes, not just technologies.
“How can our organization make sales, or marketing, or any other team that we work with more accountable and share some of this experience? For me, the most productive, the biggest success we had in customer support, is when we manage to get that shared objective with our sales and marketing people, so that they know, ‘if the customer contact increase, it is going to be your problem as well’.”
When that happens, the result is typically less people calling you.
For successful automation, you first need a very clearly defined process and a specific process map that collects the voice of the customer, “so that if there is an issue, it is for all of the organization, everyone is accountable.”
For sustained success, continuous improvement must be just that, continuous, he cautioned. Despite its proven effectiveness, in fact, 70% of continuous improvement programs ultimately fail. This is typically because, once out of recession, the impetus behind them wanes, personnel change and leadership priorities shift.
All of a sudden, management starts to chase the next big tech buzzword. “So, we really focus a lot of time on technology processes, the stuff that we see, but we don’t spend enough time on leadership and behavior and that’s why we are basically making the same mistakes, just much faster now, thanks to technology.”
By all means, introduce robotic process automation, he said, just make sure you have a good, documented process map first.
“Before you do anything, establish what you want to achieve. Is it operational efficiency, customer satisfaction, staff retention? Then decide what to do next, instead of just chasing the next product or trend.”