Category: Customer Experience

Call Center Commodity

Call any contact center and get into a conversation about call center services and you will quickly find the person you are speaking to referring to their agents as “FTE” “Dedicated Staff” or my personal favorite “operators.”  For years the BPO industry has worked hard at removing faces and names from our operations team, and without knowing it, or maybe on purpose, made the contact center space seem like a commodity to the outside world.

But, how can you make human beings be a commodity?

The answer is simple, YOU CANNOT!!  Agents are real people, they have real bills, and funny enough are typically the primary consumers or the products and services they are supporting at the contact center.  So, how does the BPO industry begin the long hard battle of removing the idea of “Commodity Call Center” and get back to the days of looking at agents as people rather than an “FTE”?

The first step is for all of us to agree that customer experience and employee experience must be #1, and that profits cannot come before people!

Yes, I know this may sound insane, lowering our profits to make peoples lives better, are you nuts?!?!?!  No, I am not nuts, just understand that when people who work for you are happy, they are willing to go the extra mile for your business, which in turn will help you grow even larger than you are today.  So yes, sacrifice a little profit today, for MUCH more profit tomorrow.

So this is step one, and it is a step that we are already seeing being implemented in the business world.  Just look to Zappo’sAmazon, and a long list of other very successful businesses putting people first and reaping the benefits from it.

So why not in the BPO contact center space?

Some will immediately say, “we do not have the margin needed to do that!” or “businesses will not pay the rate to make that happen!”

My response is “YOU ARE RIGHT AND WRONG!”  LOL!  Got to love the salesmen/politician response.  

What I mean by this is that yes, businesses out of the gate will not be willing to pay more for a service that most of the BPO space charges much less for.  But, they would be willing to pay more for a service that is at a different level than what your competitors have to offer when you can prove it.  The hard part is that one word, “PROOF!”  To do this right you must be willing to try it at the potential cost of your profitability on a program.  But, by doing this you will then build the proof needed to show other businesses why this approach not only works, but must become the new standard in the world.

It goes back to the oldest sales teaching there is, Quality Before Price!  If you can prove that your BPO sees agents as Frank, Tammy and Edward instead of “FTEs“, and that this view of employees will help make your customer more money.  Then guess what, you can get the price needed to build an amazing new way of performing BPO support services!

Once these first steps are taken, you have to commit to stay the new path you have designed.  This way your employees do not see it a fluke, but the way things are and can become part of your new solution.

Forging a new path all begins with taking the first step.  Are you willing to see what lays beyond the well known beaten path?

To Your Success & Prosperity!!

For additional posts about this and other Call Center subjects visit:


This is my presentation deck from my keynote at APOE 2012 in Wuhu, China.


It has always amazed me how contact centers, and businesses in general, forget to use the best feedback resource they have available to them, their agents!!!  Think about it for a moment, who else in the entire organization has a better understanding for what your client’s needs really are?  Agents are the only people who are interacting with your customer’s customers RIGHT NOW.  All of these interactions will result in ideas the agent has to help better improve the experience those callers, emailers, web chatter, social media people, etc… are having each time.


Simple, because agents do not want to make the process hard, just as much as the person looking for help does.  When the process is easy, the agent, your customer and most importantly the customer’s customer is very happy with their experience.

So next time your team is looking for ideas to improve your service quality, turnover, etc… Give some serious thought into inviting a few front line agents into your senior meeting to share their ideas unfiltered.  I can guarantee you will be shocked just how great some of the ideas will be, and typically how easy and cheap to institute.

Michael C. McMillan



Listen to Your Frontline Employees

by Anthony K. Tjan  |  11:05 AM April 4, 2012

A basic prerequisite for business success is to know — really know — your customers. There’s a variety of traditional research methods aimed at better understanding customers: usage analysis, conjoint analysis, cluster analysis, roundtables, panels.

But there are a few reasons why traditional research sometimes fails to deliver: 1) Customers don’t always say what is really on their mind; 2) Customers often don’t know what they don’t know; and 3)Those conducting the research may bias results with the types of questions they are asking (wrong questions mean wrong answers).

During a recent hotel stay I was reminded of these limits by a shower that splashed water on the bathroom floor no matter what I did to try and prevent it. The problem was poorly positioned shower controls and shower head. Every day the bathroom floor would get soaked as I turned on the water. Don’t the people designing these things think about this stuff?

A more anthropological approach to customer research might have helped here. There’s a variety of ethnographic consulting firms that use observatory data-collection methods ranging from video to “day-in-the-life” immersion with a targeted user. But most executives don’t take advantage of the best anthropological consultants already employed — their frontline employees. It’s the employees who are closest to serving and supporting the customer who get an unfiltered view of how customers interact with a product or service.

These frontline workers tend to sit at the lower end of the organizational totem pole, meaning their views are often overlooked. But if you take a moment to think about it, some of the best sources of observatory research can come from those at first point of customer contact or first point postcustomer contact: waiters and bus boys (e.g. most frequently asked food items and most frequently unfinished food items); sales floor personnel and customer service reps (e.g. where people first go to in the store and what frustrates the customer the most); receptionists and cleaning staff (e.g. who is happy coming and leaving).

With the faulty shower in my hotel room, I wondered if management spent any time asking housekeeping for feedback. It’s the housekeepers who know which bathrooms are the biggest pains to clean — and which bathroom mats are consistently soaked A wet bathroom floor surely frustrates the housekeeper, too, not to mention increasing the hotel’s service costs. Would it have been helpful if the hotel’s cleaning and maintenance personnel had a process to voice their observations and recommendations to management? You bet.

Relying on the insights and observations of your frontline folks is good business. As the Wall Street Journal reported recently, the lifestyle apparel company Lululemon stations its clothes folders next to the changing rooms not just because it makes logistical sense, but because it gives them an opportunity to hear customers expressing their clothing likes and dislikes.

As I discussed this post with a colleague, he said it reminded him of some of the principles of Total Quality Management (TQM). I did a quick Google review of TQM, and sure enough, it includes a focus on quality and customer satisfaction at every level of an organization. Whether it is part of a formal TQM program or simply a key input towards better understanding your customers, find the time to listen to the voice of your frontline employees. If you don’t, you’ll know less about your customers than you should.

More blog posts by Anthony K. Tjan
Anthony K. Tjan


Anthony Tjan is CEO, Managing Partner and Founder of the venture capital firm Cue Ball, vice chairman of the advisory firm Parthenon, and co-author of Heart, Smarts, Guts, and Luck (HBR Press, 2012).

For many years small and medium-sized businesses have used contact centers to help extend their business hours so they can always be available to their customers.  But, as you can read in the article below, all businesses need to look at how to extend their business hours, and all the mediums they are available on for their customers.

This is where a good BPO Contact Center support company can come in.  Most of the leading Contact Centers now are supporting all the traditional communication channels and the new ones like, Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, etc…  This way instead of trying to reinvent the wheel with your internal support team, you can use the experience that these contact centers already have to expand your service abilities.Now before you jump in feet first and outsource all of this there are a few pieces of advice I would offer:

1. Just because a company says they do social media monitoring and response, does not mean they actually do it.  The best test is to tweet or Facebook a post mentioning them, and ask a question.  If you do not see a quick response (1 hour or less) they are not the company for you.

2. Ask for the hiring profile for social media based support agents upfront.  If the center is really in the space this is something they should be able to send over right away.  If you hear hesitation or there is a big delay (over 1 business day) then count this as a red flag.  Also, read over the hiring profile very carefully and look for these key items:

– Typing speed at or above 75 WPM

– Grammar and Spelling proficiency testing at or above a 95% accuracy requirement

– Blogging or Social Media experience

– Journalism experience (a plus)

These items make up a great foundation for a support agent who will not be supporting any or very little live call volume.  Remember a phone agent can not be a non-live agent 99% of the time.

3. Check the score for the company.  This is a great gauge for how involved and influential the company is via social media.  Be aware not all companies are required to report to this website, so take this information for what it is worth.  I have provided you with my personal Klout score so you can see how it works.

In summary, just remember a diverse customer experience program is no longer a nice thing to have, it is required to be in business.  But, to do this you must have the buy in from your entire organization, ESPECIALLY YOUR LEADERSHIP!!  With out this you are never going to get the results that a completely diverse customer experience program can offer your business.  This will mainly be done by leadership continuing to view customer experience as a 100% cost center, rather than the revenue protector and builder it really is.

Photo credit: Mira Hartford

Every busi­ness has cus­tomers. Well, at least every suc­cess­ful busi­ness. If some­one walked into your store to ask you a ques­tion, would you tell them that you just didn’t have time to talk to them?

If you want to pro­vide great cus­tomer ser­vice, the first thing that you should know is that it’s no longer good enough to answer ques­tions in con­ven­tional chan­nels (email and phone, or in per­son) or at con­ven­tional times (dur­ing work hours, per­haps on week­ends.) Twit­ter in par­tic­u­lar is a chan­nel for cus­tomer response that’s changed the expec­ta­tions of cus­tomer ser­vice most dra­mat­i­cally, and for­ever. Your cus­tomers talk to you on Twit­ter because they feel it’s an imme­di­ate con­nec­tion to the peo­ple in your com­pany who can solve their problem.

Fine. What does that mean? First of all, it means that the expec­ta­tions for the time­li­ness and breadth of your cus­tomer ser­vice have become head­line dri­ven. Can you answer the cus­tomer, respond in the appro­pri­ate tone, and/or redi­rect the issue with valu­able con­tent in under 140 char­ac­ters? That’s what your cus­tomer expects.

Yet cus­tomers who con­tact you on Twit­ter don’t always want to have a pub­lic con­ver­sa­tion about their entire account. This shift demon­strates another way that cus­tomer expec­ta­tions have changed in our always-on world. Cus­tomers use Twit­ter because it’s fast, easy, and mobile. It’s also extremely easy for them to share their expe­ri­ence when things go right (or, when they go wrong.) And they con­tacted you because they want your busi­ness to learn the “right” way to con­tact them — which is a very per­sonal require­ment and might even change com­mu­ni­ca­tion chan­nels dur­ing a sin­gle issue — and for you to remem­ber that preference.

The sec­ond main item to note about the change in cus­tomer expe­ri­ence is that cus­tomers can now eas­ily com­pare your brand or ser­vice to the most respon­sive and service-centric brands in the world. Should you be wor­ried? No way! You now have a direct method to learn from @VirginAmerica, @StarwoodBuzz, and @ComcastCares, and other com­pa­nies that do a fan­tas­tic job extend­ing their ser­vice cul­ture onto Twitter.

You might think that all of this online activ­ity means that you need to be “always-on” and “always avail­able.” It’s cer­tain that being acces­si­ble to cus­tomers is one way to respond to cus­tomer needs and you should def­i­nitely con­sider this as an option … if you’re ready to respond on a 24÷7÷365 sched­ule. You should also respond even if you’re not going to be around all of the time — and you should ensure that your hours of oper­a­tion in that chan­nel are very clear to your customers.

Finally, you should know one thing that hasn’t changed about cus­tomer ser­vice in gen­eral even as the ways cus­tomers con­tact you has changed: that treat­ing peo­ple well mat­ters. If you cre­ate, com­mu­ni­cate, and deliver unique value through ser­vice, your cus­tomers will respond. And in the age of Twit­ter and other social tools,  they’ll tell their friends too.

Cus­tomer Wow at Assistly (a com­pany.) Social Media. Pho­tog­ra­phy. Sports fan. Cus­tomer Expe­ri­ence. Connector.

Greg Meyer