Contact centers are modern enterprises’ communication lifelines, but running them well takes tough decisions. As businesses scale, it can get overwhelming, so it pays to learn how the experts work. We sat down for a chat with Nerys Corfield to do just that.
Nerys Corfield has more than 25 years of experience overseeing multinational contact centers at enterprise scale. As Director of Injection Consulting Limited, she routinely advises organizations on launching, auditing, and managing scalable, performant contact centers.
Nerys covered a lot of ground in this knowledge-packed interview, and we’ll link to the video at the end. We’ve also pulled some of the best insights to share here, so read on.
Why Are Contact Centers Important to Business Growth?
Contact centers expand their operators’ capacity for active engagement and communication. Brands that want to stay in good public standing use them to drive on-demand service and pursue better consumer experiences. Contact centers let governments disseminate information and expand their public safety capabilities during major events.
On the other hand, contact centers can fall short – like any business operation. As we explored, there’s no shortage of dynamic factors to consider.
Contact Centers’ Hardest Challenges and Stressors
It’s hard to do contact centers well. We asked Nerys to help us shed some light on why and share some possible resolutions:
A Mismatch in Choosing the Right Tech
A running theme involved contact centers’ dependence on technology. To explain why this could be problematic, Nerys pointed out that businesses don’t always use their contact center tools in optimal ways. For example, some contact centers overload their staff with way too many different tools.
“Agents still have to deal with this whole mishmash of applications,” said Nerys. “We should be much closer aligned to the idea of a single agent experience.” She also predicted a near future where agents just talk – letting their software do all of the transcription and other work while displaying conversationally relevant context and feedback.
Picking the Right Contact Center KPIs
Some conflicts lie in companies’ choice of performance measurements. Not all management techniques are equally effective – even if it feels natural to promote metrics and performance ownership practices that align with your corporate culture.
Nerys shared an excellent question that she commonly asks call center owners who use flashing wall boards to display Service Level Agreement (SLA) performance stats.
“What do you expect the agents to do when that SLA stat goes red and becomes really stressful?” Many businesses, she said, seem not to have thoroughly considered that possibility, focusing solely on reducing answer times.
The problem with this perspective is that it’s rarely grounded in measurable facts. Few companies observe their agents’ quality improve for being able to see SLA stats. Even worse, this relatively big-picture viewpoint can distract focus and potentially worsen morale.
“I think what’s really critical is determining what metrics are right for what audience,” said Nerys. In other words, it’s not about depriving your workforce planners of their favorite KPIs. It’s fine to hold on to the data that underpins your most powerful insights – Just keep it away from those who don’t need it flashing in their faces while they’re dealing with the Universe’s Angriest Customers.
Nerys said that unless there’s a concrete reason for displaying intrusive metrics on agent dashboards, you ought to skip doing so. Instead, focus on regular reviews that bring everyone together to examine your KPIs under a lens and ensure they promote improved customer experiences.
Managing Stress: Agents vs. Customers vs. Managers
We asked Nerys what she thought about resolving workplace stress. After all, stressors exist at every level of public-facing communications – between managers, agents, and customers alike.
Is it possible to balance concerns like putting the customer first with the need to manage internal stress?
Nerys said that smart leadership was key here. Companies that want to do outreach better should promote organizational cultures where leaders spread beneficial values – instead of just dumping their stressors (like SLAs) down the chain of command.
As we’ll get to in a bit, empathy is also vital. Showing you care about your team is a huge stress reducer. Never discount the value of letting them know they can rely on your support.
Choosing How, When, and Where to Invest in Contact Centers
Nerys bills herself as someone who bridges gaps between contact center technology and contact center operations. When asked about this, she hinted at a blurred boundary that often starts with budget considerations.
“The reality is that the budget for investing in contact center tech still very much sits in that IT world,” Nerys told us. “IT and operations inhabit very different worlds and have very different focuses. IT teams are very much consumed by concerns like privacy, data storage, and connectivity, while the application management teams just want tools that service them.”
A wise contact center investment might involve closing those gaps. For instance, in her consulting work, Nerys often acts as a translator for cross-team requests. If a manager tells IT they want an omnichannel solution, Nerys helps the IT team understand how to implement the feature in a way that optimizes usability and efficiency.
Elevating Frontline Voices to Optimize Workloads
It can be hard to define the path forward when you’ve got to weigh operational efficiency against the customer experience. Even trickier, the contact center managers who usually end up tackling this challenge typically have a million other things to juggle already.
Nerys said a solution to this unwelcome situation might involve giving managers more time and space to consider what they need to work well. She uses the analogy of visiting a hairdresser: You come for the style, but you also get a bit of a therapy session in the process.
In this case, however, the benefits flow both ways – While listening to your managers is certainly therapeutic for them, opening dialogues also helps you gain valuable insights, reflect, and reprioritize.
As Nerys aptly put it, managers are “…the ones who really have that absolute clarity on what they want the customer, operational, and agent experiences to be like.” Who better to learn from as you try to streamline operations?
How CCaaS Solutions Contribute to Better Customer Experiences
Contact Center as a Service (CCaaS) solutions can contribute to far smoother engagements and conversations. From powering easier, cost-saving deployments to facilitating omnichannel engagement, cloud-native contact centers give companies the flexibility to take comms in stride.
Making Operations Easier Enhances Customer Experiences
Nerys suggested that these positive effects bubble outward. When companies invest in CCaaS tools that optimize common tasks, they increase job satisfaction and reduce attrition – indirectly improving CX.
Earlier, we touched on Nerys’ opinion that universal agent experiences are the way to go. CCaaS systems bring this dream a bit closer to reality. For instance, they can furnish agents with features like blended windows for uniformly easy call and chat workflows or enable predictive dialing for more balanced workloads.
Digital-first tools promote uniform experiences in the contact center backend. By making it easier to anticipate what to expect from a typical workday and providing answers on demand, they free agents to concentrate on CX improvements.
As Nerys said, companies that pay attention to these small details can reduce stress and foster a culture that motivates agents to go that extra mile.
Personalized Experiences Go a Long Way
One of the many challenges we discussed involved the growth of social media. When things go wrong, customers have no problem with putting your contact center or brand on blast, publicizing bad service on their favorite digital venues.
Nerys explains this as a natural reality of doing business: If a customer doesn’t think they’ll resolve their issues by engaging with a company via the normal channels, they’ll turn elsewhere.
CCaaS tools that offer enhanced personalization grounded in contextual awareness of customer lifetime value may hold an answer. These systems make it easier to recognize the individual customer, such as by acknowledging their longtime brand loyalty and providing agents with relevant background information so that callers don’t have to answer the same questions twice.
According to Nerys, offering customers white-glove-level service and showing them you care can diffuse tension. Before things ever escalate to the point where someone takes to a public forum with their gripes, you should focus on nurturing healthy one-to-one relationships – Doing so can eliminate people’s need to complain by making resolutions more likely.
The Role of Empathy in Contact Centers
One of our biggest takeaways from this discussion was that empathy is a powerful driver of contact center success. While some of the ways this works may seem like no-brainers, others are more nuanced.
How and When Can Businesses Promote Empathy?
First up, the most obvious advantage: When agents display empathy to customers by demonstrating they understand their concerns and proactively working to resolve their issues, customers walk away with warmer feelings about their interactions.
Nerys offered a prime real-life example of how companies can promote this kind of empathy. She relayed the story of how, during her time at Volkswagen in the early 2000s, an agent named Cinnamon fielded a call from someone stranded on the highway. Not only did Cinnamon stay with the caller until roadside assistance showed up, but she also called them back the next day to make sure they were OK.
At Nerys’ prompting, Volkswagen’s contact center leaders created a customer service award called the Cinnamon Cup for recognizing agents who’d gone beyond their calling. Nerys said this change led to a greater focus on what agents could do for their customers. It’s a clear case for the value of cultivating workplace empathy and promoting measures that reward your team members for getting on board.
Empathy Isn’t Just for Customers
Then there are the indirect benefits of being an empathetic employer – Building strong bridges with your team can help you combat unavoidable workplace stressors. For instance, agents can receive lots of abuse from the public, some of which can be outright repulsive or extremely stress-inducing.
Most agents handle these kinds of negative experiences professionally. Such incidents take their toll on performance and morale, however. As a contact center operator, you need to acknowledge and mitigate the resulting stress.
How might you demonstrate empathy with your staffing practices? Nerys brought us back to corporate culture once more, highlighting that “from an operational point of view, the leaders have to understand their agents are getting battered sometimes.”
Nerys admitted that some agents thrive on getting the opportunity to use their skills to calm customers down and pursue resolutions. Even if you’ve built such an amazing team, however, she cautions against taking your people for granted.
Having a great contact center workforce doesn’t excuse you from letting your team know you’re aware of how hard their jobs are. Nerys also advised that you should explain how you’re ready and willing to support them. Whether that entails explaining the remediation tools you’ve put in place or establishing policies forbidding customer behaviors like using abusive language, it’s critical to make a proactive effort.
What You Should Take Away
There are many ways to run a thriving contact center. Although each strategy should fit its business use case, starting from smart principles – like applying KPIs effectively, offering comprehensive stress management, and cultivating an empathetic culture – can make your quest for positive public engagement more rewarding.
Nerys covered way more than we could cover here, like the importance of defining clear customer personas, recognizing service gaps, and fostering leadership teams that place a premium on ethics. You can catch the whole exciting talk here to find out more.
Want to discover more about running a contact center that truly works? Check out the rest of the Ozonetel webinar series online, or talk to one of our experts about getting started.