Contact-Center Managers: Customer Care

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Despite often being viewed by big business as a purely mandatory, non-strategic overhead, contact centers are vital to the overall success of an organization. Considering on average 80 percent of customer interface occurs within contact centers, they are an optimal place to improve business results and impact organizational growth. So it’s crucial that the professionals managing contact centers possess the know-how, gusto and skills to support this mission-critical organizational asset.

However, understanding the nuts and bolts of contact-center management requires familiarity with the field first. The perception that a bunch of contact-center agents and managers sit huddled together virtually handcuffed to computers and tied to headsets for extended periods of time while answering nonstop calls, e-mails or instant messages from edgy, unhappy customers is quite accurate. Hence, it is not surprising that contact centers usually possess high turnover and disengaged employees.

Due to the repetitive yet stressful nature of the work, managing a contact center is extremely demanding and requires specific skills and personality traits. “There is much to managing a call-center operation,” said Penny Reynolds, senior partner at The Call Center School (TCCS), a provider of training and development for call-center professionals. “It is very different from running any other area of business. Working in a call center is a difficult job, a stressful job, an unwanted job sometimes. So understanding the special dynamics of a call-center operation is critical.”

The Basic Skills
At the most fundamental level, contact-center management involves people, operations, customer-relationship, and leadership and business management. However, Jay Minnucci, vice president of consulting for the Incoming Customer Management Institute (ICMI), said the contact-center job function continues to get more multifaceted. “Nobody has ever said, ‘Yeah, things are getting easier in contact centers.’ The job function just continues to get more complex. And in the world of help desk, what you find is usually organizations are trying to consolidate their call centers and help desks into one area, and that one area is supporting many more applications than what it may have been doing in the past.”

Because it’s common for a contact center to hold a wide span of duties, it’s extremely important for contact-center managers not only to be excellent managers, but also inherently customer-orientated. Specifically, they should be exceptional communicators, adept listeners and capable decision makers, as well as extremely organized, tolerant of stress, and possess an innate flair for motivating and engaging their direct reports. “It takes a specific type of person to be successful in a contact center. They need to be the type of person that can sit in a chair for eight hours a day doing what is sometimes fairly monotonous work and be happy with that,” Reynolds said.

According to Minnucci, the size and scope of an organization influences the core responsibilities of a contact-center manager. “The larger the call center, the more the focus is on breadth of skills rather than depth. For a smaller organization with 10, 15, 20 or so agents, call-center managers are more likely to be in charge of all of the forecasting, scheduling, probably listening to some of the calls if not all of the calls and performing a lot of the day-to-day tasks of the call center,” Minnucci said. “Also, in a smaller center, managers are usually very involved in the hiring process. However, in a mid-sized or larger center, it is usually secondary involvement, which would normally encompass an ongoing dialogue with HR to discuss what types of initial screenings they are using and how the criteria coincides with the job and trait requirements set by the managers.”

Other than managerial excellence, contact-center managers should hold knowledge of the specific industry in which they dwell. According to Minnucci, contact-center managers must possess institutional knowledge in order to lead an organization successfully. “They need knowledge of the overall company, the industry’s background, the major players of the industry, where they can go for information, all those types of things,” he explained.

In addition, Reynolds said that contact-center managers should understand the core contact-center technology, the Automatic Call Distributor (ACD). “It is critical from the viewpoint of just understanding the technologies at work and that are in most call centers,” Reynolds said. “Even in the most basic call centers, they have some core pieces of technology that you need to understand the basic inner workings of them. For example, call-center managers need to understand how to set that up, how to figure out what routing is going to work best. Also, they should understand any workforce management, productivity management, quality monitoring and knowledge management technologies in place.”

Being a Contact-Center Manager
Upon college graduation, becoming a call-center manager probably isn’t at the top of most graduates’ chosen career lists. For example, according to Dennis Migel, vice president, Toronto contact center, Scotiabank, “My career path has been non-typical given my former career experience in human resources and operations management. Working in a contact center was not something I had originally aspired to.” However, the position can give people a good understanding of how to run a department, and it can set people up for other management positions down the line.

In Migel’s role at Scotiabank, a worldwide provider of retail, commercial, corporate and investment banking services, he is responsible for the overall leadership, strategic direction and performance management of the Toronto sales and service, 24×7 contact center, which employs approximately 600 employees. “I lead the Scotiabank contact center in providing outstanding customer sales/services experiences and implementing best-in-class customer service processes, policies and procedures,” he said. “I am also responsible for pursuing strategies to increase sales and service operational efficiencies, and establish metrics for measuring, evaluating and benchmarking sales opportunities, quality performance and customer satisfaction. I also collaborate with various business partners to launch product introductions/enhancements. Ultimately, I am responsible for building a strong management team that fosters a work environment that supports the development of a dedicated, high-performing and customer-focused sales and service workforce.”

Kelly Costen’s career path to his current position as a technical support manager at Verio Inc., a subsidiary of Nippon Telegraph and Telephone (NTT) Communications that provides hosting and Internet services for small- and medium-sized businesses and partners worldwide, has been more typical. “Once I entered the call-center environment, my career path has been typical because most call-center mangers have to start from the bottom and through hard work move up the ranks,” Costen explained. “However, my entire career path has been atypical because of the diversity of the jobs and different career paths. This gives me a perspective that might be lacking in the industry as a whole because I can bring in my experience from other fields that may improve operations and get things done better and faster.”

Prior to his current position with Verio, Costen worked for TechServ, a provider of marketing services, proposal support and management to win services contracts with agencies of the U.S. government, as a technical support representative and resource supervisor. Before being promoted to technical support manager at Verio, he worked under the titles of technical support 2 and technical support supervisor. Currently Costen is responsible for overseeing all aspects of the call

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