Execs in Headsets: Connecting Senior Management with Customers and Agents

Some companies are fortunate to have executives who’ve “seen the contact center light”, who understand and highly value all that the center does to establish customer loyalty, generate/protect revenue, and capture key data that can be used to better the entire organization and the customer experience. At these companies, you’re just as likely to see an exec visiting the contact center as you are to see them cleaning their golf clubs. They are just as familiar with Service Level and FCR as they are with reserved parking spots and two-martini lunches. And they support the contact center’s mission just as much as they support (fill in whatever additional C-level stereotype you’d like here).

Unfortunately, such contact center-centric execs are not exactly the norm. For every organization that currently has (or is at least thinking about adding) a Chief Customer Officer (CCO), there are three or four organizations whose bigwigs would need to use the GPS system in their limited edition Lexus to even find the contact center. If you’re a center manager or supervisor who works for such a company, this blog post is for you.

How do you get your execs to give you and your center the respect and attention (and funding!) it needs to dazzle customers, drive revenue and engage agents?

Bring them to the frontline.

Invite some of your C-level people into the center, stick a headset on them, and let them sit with your agents and listen to calls. (Note: It’s probably best to have them sit with some of your most experienced and confident agents – handling calls with a suit sitting next to you can be scary and you don’t want to have anybody wetting themselves while serving customers. That will do little to earn the respect the center deserves.)

This “Execs in Headsets” approach is not my own wild idea or invention. I’ve met many contact center professionals who’ve done just what I’ve described – taking it upon themselves to get senior officers into the center and closer to the customer and to agents – with fantastic results.

It’s one thing to try to explain to execs the dynamic nature of the contact center environment; it’s quite another to show them. This is not to say that providing them with key reports, definitions and customer data won’t help them better understand the function and value of the center, but having them sit in the trenches listening to calls and seeing first-hand how agents resolve issues, capture data and cultivate relationships can be truly transforming.  And typically elicits a lot less yawning.

If you don’t want to take my advice, then at least follow a top contact center’s example. Years ago, BT Americas’ Regional Center of Excellence established an “execs in headsets” initiative called ‘Back to the Floor’. Each year, over the course of two weeks, dozens of senior managers for the communications solution provider travel to the Regional Center of Excellence in Atlanta to spend an entire day listening in on customer calls with an agent and helping to resolve critical customer issues that arise.

The center’s managers clearly explain to agents that the executive who will be sitting inches away from them isn’t there to catch them doing something wrong but rather to immerse themselves in the contact center environment and the customer experience. And I’m happy to announce that no agent fainting or “accidents” have been reported to date. Quite the opposite – agents feel highly valued and empowered, and quite enjoy working with the execs to bring about improvements that make the contact center and the organization better. Some of the numerous enhancements and fixes that have come about as a direct result of the ‘Back to the Floor’ program include better workflows and call scripts, more detailed customer information on agents’ desktops, and more dynamic call-routing processes. But probably most important is the fact that BT Americas’ execs now all know how to properly spell ‘queue’ and no longer point and laugh when they see agents with “headset hair” following a shift.

All joking aside, an Execs in Headsets initiative is a great way to show upper management what you and your agents do – and to help them see what you could do if you started receiving the support everyone in the center has worked so hard to earn.

 

About the author

Author of Full Contact: Contact Center Practices and Strategies that Make an Impact. He has written hundreds of feature articles, case studies, blog posts and research reports on contact center best practices trends and challenges. He is founder and principal of Off Center, which provides a variety of resources to educate, inspire and entertain contact center professionals. Levin is the former editor of ICMI’s pioneering publication Service Level Newsletter, as well as its highly regarded follow-up journal Call Center Management Review.

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Comments (2)

  • We initiated this with great success in many of my former call centers. We specifically used it as a part of the funding and approval process for technology upgrades, inviting senior execs in during the critical consensus gathering phase of the process. I also recommend that you require this as a part of your due diligence process if you’re pursuing any BPO/outsourcing partnerships. Follow it up with an open discussion with the BPO execs on initial recommendations for change in your call center. This will give you incredible insight into a potential BPO partner’s leadership and guide you in your decision making process as to whether you’re on track in selecting the best partner for your business.

  • Execs in Headsets is a great way to calibrate the perceptions of the Execs v. what the customer actually experiences. Typically, when Execs visit customers face-to-face, customers tend to dilute or mute their complaints leading the Exec to believe all is well. However, the phone provides the perfect camouflage when the Exec is shadowing an agent. Listening to calls prior to the Exec making customer visits can result in a more meaningful visit.

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