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Getting contact center buy-in from senior management

Getting support for what has often been referred to as the "cost center" can be a difficult task. Start with math.

Getting senior management to buy into your next CRM initiative is never an easy task, but it becomes especially difficult when you're in the contact center, long referred to as the "cost center."

While management is beginning to understand contact centers may drive revenue, it requires more than a simple assurance, said Tim Montgomery, vice president of sales/analysis, process and systems support for the Scooter Store Inc. in New Braunfels, Texas.

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There's one starting point if you really want senior management on board, Montgomery said.

"It really comes down to math," Montgomery told attendees at the International Call Center Management conference in Chicago last month. "Be sure in your answers, too. Nothing frustrates management more than to go to two different people with the same question and get two different answers."

Montgomery said the first step is to make sure management understands call center staffing levels. He advised breaking down call volume into 30-minute intervals to demonstrate the peaks and valleys of the call center day.

From there, relate the need for appropriate staffing, Montgomery said. To mathematically demonstrate staffing level needs, determine the percentage of calls within a certain amount of time, with an average handle time and a 30-minute interval. This eliminates demands from senior management that some of the people in the call center who are sitting idle need to answer e-mail, Montgomery said.

The queue is there for a reason and idle time is there for a reason, he said. In fact, if agents aren't given some idle time and breaks within the workflow, they will create it for themselves, Montgomery said. That will result in unhappy agents and poor customer service.

Organizations need to understand how long a customer can wait in queue before it has a negative impact on their experience and the threshold for how much a quick answer is going to add, Montgomery said.

Call center managers can then demonstrate the minimum number of agents the company needs to staff before it has a negative effect on customers, as well as the maximum number before a call center is overstaffed, Montgomery said.

This model can also be applied to technology purchases, demonstrating to management how much employee time can be saved given a particular technology and translated into savings.

Ann Gavin, director of customer care for Avon Products Inc., in New York City, found an imaginative way to prove the importance of the call center. Whenever a sales or marketing promotion produced a flood of calls to the contact center, Gavin would track the time and expense they caused.

"That got the attention of senior management," Gavin said.

Montgomery's presentation struck a chord with many attendees at ICCM. A lack of understanding of the importance of call centers extends to business partners as well.

"They just don't understand call centers," said Janet Fossell, director of client contact center for the retirement and investor services at Des Moines, Iowa-based Principal Financial Group. "It's more education from a management standpoint. Sometimes you're too close to see it."

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