Turning contact center managers to customer advocates


emir-susic-senior-director-for-avaya-professional-services-europe-midWhile technology is driving the transformation of the contact center, the evolution of the contact center manager’s role is being driven by an even more powerful force – meeting customer’s needs.

Emir Susic, Europe, Middle East, Asia, Africa APS Senior Director at Avaya, shares his views on how CC managers need to become customer advocates if their organization is going to compete effectively.

Like me, you have probably read plenty of articles about the evolution of the contact center. Most of these focus on the contact center’s origins as a humble call center, with accompanying black-and-white photos showing banks of operators plugging in connections. What these articles all too often fail to talk about is something that has evolved along with the changing nature of contact centers: the role of the contact center manager.

While my career doesn’t quite stretch back to black-and-white photography, I have been involved with the contact center industry for a long time – I was a CC manager 15 years ago, and even since that period I’ve seen the contact center go through dramatic evolution. Unsurprisingly, the responsibilities and concerns of the CC managers I talk to today are very different from what I remember.

For a start, we’ve seen the perception of the cost center shift from it being another type of CC – a cost center – to being a profit and revenue generator. The discussion in my time was very much focused on cost issues, with the CC manager’s job being all about how to best utilize the resources you had available. The conversation has long since moved on – a decade ago, McKinsey estimated contact centers could generate as much as 60% of total new revenues for telecom operators. Anybody who has ever worked in a large organization, anywhere, will know the difference in how you are perceived if you manage a cost center versus a profit center!

While the push towards profit and revenue generation brought welcome changes to the CC manager’s role, another trend we are seeing today is likely to have even greater effects. This is fundamentally about businesses putting the customer relationship at the heart of their strategy: Gartner estimates that 89% of companies today expect to compete primarily on customer experience. And in today’s digitally-engaged, always-on, mobile world, a key driver in creating those all-important positive customer experiences is… the contact center.

For many enterprises, that means the job spec for the CC manager’s role is no longer about keeping costs down, or managing banks of operators in a basement somewhere. The position is now one of the most important in a company, with a successful CC manager being not a mere administrator but a member of the company’s digerati.  Companies are looking to align their strategies with customer needs and the CC manager is responsible for proactively managing customers’ journeys across multiple channels.

In fact, I’d argue that the companies that are going to be successful today, and in the future, are those that position their CC managers as customer advocates. In a world where customer experience is everything, companies today know they have to keep innovating and improving on how they engage with their customers. That requires somebody to step up and champion the customer experience, not only in terms of delivering positive outcomes, but in driving transformation within organizations to put the customer at the heart of what they do.

The role of customer advocate is not always an easy one. You have to be prepared to drive others within your organization to embrace transformation – and resistance to change is one of the strongest employee forces in an organization.  So the customer advocate will need to overcome internal challenges to ensure the customers’ voice is heard.

The best way of overcoming those challenges is to get supporters on board and creating alliances within the company. Unsurprisingly, getting the support of the technical team is crucial to making the customer advocate role work – these are the people that will enable you to deliver the customer voice internally.

Perhaps more surprisingly, the customer advocate needs to form an alliance with the marketing team. Or maybe that isn’t so surprising. After all, CMOs need to understand their customers’ needs and how to reach out to them, so they can ensure digital transformation initiatives are focused in the right direction. According to research from Altimeter Group, the CMO is more likely to lead a company’s digital transformation strategy than the CIO.

Above all, any transformation drive needs sponsorship at executive level, be that the CMO, the CIO or whatever. Only when you have the organization aligned behind you can you achieve your goals. We talk a lot at Avaya about the importance of breaking down the silos – combining different information sources created by different groups to create meaningful solutions. That applies at corporate level as well. If the CC manager can get alignment of the technical team, marketing and leadership, then they can ensure the customer voice is heard loud and clear in the organization.
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