Sense and Respond: Its application to contact centres

Call centres are typically viewed as the hinterlands of customer service, the place where marketing promises meet the realities of the fine print in customer contracts.

They are considered cost centres to businesses, so much so, that many companies shift these front line customer contact centres off to countries where anyone with a shaky handle on the english language can vie for jobs salaried at a fraction of those in English speaking countries.

The irony is that viewed through the Sense and Respond prism, these much maligned customer contact centres are the key to a company’s success.

By having direct contact with a product’s end users, call centre employees become de facto intelligence gatherers about consumer needs, opinions and ideas about product improvement.

In this way, call centres become management centres, moving the company and its products forward by listening to its end users carefully.

By elevating the call centre to a driver of the company business plan, rather than simply a cost centre or sales facility, organisations change the way in which senior management relate to service staff and the way they relate to their customers.

That fundamental change in thinking is key to changing what was once viewed as a cost centre into a hub for management ideas and a major determiner of a company’s business plan.

Typically call, contact or customer centres are viewed as either being at the tail-end of the business, making amends for delivery failures, or at the front-end, transacting the selling process.

Highlighting, measuring and costing the waste and potential loss of revenue in the current design is the only way to convince sceptics and the boardroom that the current approach is detrimental to customers, employees and negatively impacting both short- and long-term profitability.

The ‘Sense and Respond’ vision places the contact centre at the heart of the company, shaping and controlling everything else that supports it.

By elevating the call centre to a driver of the company business plan, rather than simply a cost centre or sales facility, organisations change the way in which senior management relate to service staff and the way they relate to their customers.

That fundamental change in thinking is key to converting what was once viewed as a cost centre into a hub for management ideas and a major driver of a company’s business plan.

And whereas current call centre culture focuses on short calls and direct revenue generation to offset the centre’s ‘cost’, the Sense and Respond model looks to having longer calls, with customer support workers ‘sensing’ and acting on customer needs. The intelligence gleaned would lead to greater alignment with customer needs.

The new call centre culture would allow employees to create performance measures based on the intelligence gathered from customers and the needs of the organization. Their tasks would be focussed to meet both goals.

Intelligence generated from this new perspective, driven by front-line staff allows the rest of the organisation to redesign itself to ‘respond’ to the needs of its front-line staff and customers.

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Companies must move away from disparate vertical measurements, and adopt a single, common set of horizontal measurements that unify all the departments involved in the value chain. That means the contact centre must measure customer value upstream and downstream from their position in the business value stream.

This is not as difficult or as complicated as it sounds. What most organisations measure today has little relevance to the customer. They are by nature siloed with non customer-value measures focused on internal objectives.

The customer purpose defines value, and value defines meaningful work. The organisation and its leaders need to know what to optimise, what to remove, what types of demand to increase, and what types of demand present opportunities to create new products or services.