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Wonks in solidarity

Wonks in solidarity

In the eyes of your colleagues, the CIO and the company's contact centre manager may have more in common than either party realises.

I'm sorry to break this to you, but one of your colleagues thinks you are aggressive, unreasonable and habitually mean. Before you get all offended about this, I can redeem you. To understand how, know that the person who dislikes you so much is your business' contact centre manager.

Your contact centre manager is angry because he or she can't keep staff in the building for long. Australian businesses, you see, employ about 100,000 staff to answer phones and emails in contact centres. Most of that throng resent you and all other consumers bitterly, because you have blithely forgotten how much fun it is to drive to the shops, find a parking spot within a mile of a bank and then queue for half an hour while some kid counts out a lamington drive's worth of 10¢ pieces in the middle of your lunch hour.

Your amnesia regarding the joys of retail turn you and most other Australians into horrors when you pick up the phone, a medium through which you expect instant service, delivered by operatives of enormous intelligence, girl/boy-next-door good looks and a willingness to please that only former governors of New York have recently detailed in public.

Your expectations are even higher if you are told about the importance of your call, a message that only increases your ire when you are eventually connected.

Ordinary Australians, it may not surprise you, aren't all that keen on spending their days defusing you and other consumers under those circumstances. About a third therefore flee their contact centre jobs each year. Hence your contact centre manager's less-than-flattering opinion of you, even if you are only a tiny part of the problem. It may therefore seem like a drop in the ocean to apologise on behalf of all those other beastly callers, but I recommend it as a way to salve your conscience while also learning an amazing amount about modern measurement techniques.

Contact centres, you see, have measurement down to an impressively fine art and they track their agents' performance with fabulous granularity. Metrics like calls per hour are old hat. Good contact centres can now measure how often agents express inappropriate irony and the amount of sarcasm that leads to low customer satisfaction ratings.

When these thresholds are violated, corrective re-education modules appear in front of agents' eyes to rewire their brains before they can offend another customer. This all happens without the need for an agent to leave their desk, partly because some contact centres even know how often their agents pee and can tailor call flows around those unwelcome biological interruptions.

Strangely enough, contact centre people often keep this kind of measurement to themselves inside many organisations. They live and breathe process, measure it, refine it, reiterate it and keep the whole thing going in a virtuous circle. Most of them have become pretty good at it and really can make processes more efficient.

As a result, chatting to contact centre people is fascinating as they can offer all sorts of insight on what to measure if you need to figure out if a process really works. And because the processes they measure reflects what your customers actually want, a few businesses are starting to lap this stuff up and are asking their contact centre managers if they can help the rest of the business understand both customers and processes.

Contact centre managers jump at the chance to apply their skills to the wider business, as they imagine it could lead to elevation (and a chance to stop spending so much time hiring new agents).

Which is the real reason to apologise to your contact centre manager, and also how you get to redeem yourself for your beastly behaviour. CIOs, after all, have long been told that information executives are naturals for the C-suite, seeing as most businesses are basically nothing more than people operating processes wrapped around technology.

Over in the contact centre world, the idea is building that since businesses are really nothing more than processes that deliver to customers, contact centre folks are the ones who really know what business is all about. They are, the argument goes, due to be handed keys to the executive washroom any moment now. CIOs languishing on unfashionable rungs of organisation charts know this argument for the tosh it is, which is why you really should meet your contact centre colleagues, and soon. The tales you can tell will help them to understand their place in the world before their dreams are crushed.

Today, after all, they know you to be garden-variety scum. Once they realise both of you - CIO and contact centre manager alike - are viewed as useful-but-odd wonks within your organisation, you'll have turned an enemy into a friend. And if that's not an important call, we're not sure what is!

Fairfax Business Media

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