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Few Call Centers Considered Strategic Assets

Are contact- or call-centers perceived by their senior management as strategic assets to their businesses and, therefore, a high priority when it comes to investment in growth and capabilities upgrades?

A recent survey by InfoTrack found that only 42 percent of contact center respondents have an explicit objective to be perceived by corporate management as a strategic asset. However, within that 42 percent, 20 percent said their senior management believes investments in their contact centers are strongly aligned with the strategic objectives of the business --and 65 percent said investments are reasonably or strongly aligned.

The message is that for those centers actively pursuing this as an objective, they are making good progress. That said, the problem is that fewer than half of all contact centers are even trying to achieve this objective. Given the projects that I've previously worked on with clients, I'm not at all surprised by these findings.

When asked about the impact of such recent investments in advanced IP-based capabilities such as click to talk, Web chat, automated e-mail -- 85 percent of the managers who cited an objective of improving the perception of corporate management reported it had helped in this regard, although none felt they had totally achieved the objective.

In fact, the IP-based capabilities that had the greatest impact on upper management's perceptions of the centers (in order of priority) were:

- Agent/customer/third party expert collaboration conference capability.
- Virtual center (pools agent resources across locations).
- Customer e-mail access with automated response.
- Agent/supervisor IM/presence information for immediate support.
- Agent work blending (e.g., inbound calls, e-mail, chat, etc.).

The common thread among these capabilities is the ability to leverage the resources of the contact center to both improve agent productivity and customer satisfaction without adding staff. Basically, they demonstrate approaches that make existing resources more effective, and they demonstrate good management skills.

On another level, they improve the ability of the contact center to tackle tougher customer issues successfully and also to collect information on customer needs and the market in general.

According to Ken Dolsky, program director for InfoTrack, "Wise senior executives and product or service managers view their centers as a combination of effective customer care and as an early-warning system for such potential problems as product design or service process flaws or perhaps a major shift in the market that would otherwise go undetected for months."

"Managers who understand this pay attention to the results coming from the centers, including (especially) problem reports. In fact, the really sharp managers don't wait for the contact center analysts to inform them of problems. They pro-actively demand this information."

Contact center respondents polled by InfoTrack came from a wide variety of fields, but the majority represent the financial, telecommunications, computer or electronic, education, healthcare, manufacturing and wholesale arenas.

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