By Dan Berman, Founder and CEO of Concentra Solutions, Inc.
“The farther back you can look, the farther forward you are likely to see.” – Winston Churchill
COVID19 forced contact centers to do things differently, such as center-based vendors moving to a ‘Work from Home’ model. While developing our future plan, Concentra Solutions looked at our industry in the rearview mirror. What did we learn? Industry mistakes and creeping normality have prevented us from providing a fantastic customer experience.
“Creeping normality” is a term coined by American scientist, Jared Diamond in Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. It’s “a process by which a major change can be accepted as normal and acceptable if it happens slowly through small, often unnoticeable, increments of change. The change could otherwise be regarded as objectionable if it took place in a single step or short period.” Think about quarantining during COVID19. We abandoned our professional attire, replacing it with sweatpants. But one day you have to put on your professional attire, and you might find it no longer fits! Adding the COVID19 pounds didn’t happen overnight. It was small, unnoticeable changes. Maybe a few extra desserts and not going to the gym. Next you started ordering “comfort foods” more often and binging too much television. Creeping normality defined. Now let’s dive into the history of the outsourced contact center to better understand how creeping normality negatively impacted client-vendor relationships and ultimately, customers. We look at the past, present, and share Concentra Solution’s future for inbound and outbound programs at scale.
This industry has seen tremendous transformation in the past 40 years. What started as a call center morphed into a contact center, expanding beyond phone calls and snail mail to an omni channel with calls, chats, emails, self-serve platforms, and social media.
Geography controlled the industry in the 80’s and 90’s, with everyone scrambling to be in central, rural areas to take advantage of telecom savings and plentiful, affordable, qualified candidates with neutral accents. Advancement opportunities were plentiful with agent to supervisor ratios of 8:1 or 10:1. There were appropriate layers of management from account management to quality supervisors, training managers, regional managers, and directors. Companies invested in agents, offering development opportunities.
Clients started dictating lower prices in the 2000’s so vendors, attempting to maintain margins, sought out cheaper labor in two ways. Some moved offshore to countries with lower labor prices, allowing them to hire highly qualified candidates while still meeting cost goals. Other vendors remained in the United States but hired lower paid talent, resulting in less skilled employees (“butts in seats”). Infrastructures were impacted meaning fewer supervisors (doubling the agent to supervisor ratio to 15:1 or 20:1), cutting operations managers, account management, and hiring fewer quality team members and trainers.
While margins and profits were protected, customers were impacted. The cultural understanding of US consumers was missing in the offshore centers and vendors still in the United States faced extremely high turnover due to lower paid agents with limited supervision and career-pathing. Customer experience suffered and as a result, the client suffered.
Clients had significant investments to create a cohesive brand experience yet the person interacting with customers was less equipped to engage properly with a customer. This era started a steady decline of quality, oversight, and value for companies with a long-term impact to their bottom line. The beginning of “creeping normality”.
With current models not meeting client’s needs, changes were needed so reshoring began in the 2010’s. Vendors, still looking for ways to maintain margins, focused on technological advancements that provided significant savings. Transactional customer interactions moved from agents to chat bots, self-serve mechanisms, email, and social media interactions so agents were no longer needed for the basics.
As the quality of customer service decreased along with the vendor’s revenue, client’s expectations for contact center services increased! Customers had access to more information than ever before, and they expected instantaneous results from knowledgeable agents with exceptional service skills. Cost and value were not synced, creating misalignment between vendors and clients, eroding this relationship. Client’s internal contact center agents were paid more than agents in outsourced centers. And although clients expected more from internal agents, customers didn’t! Customers don’t know if they are speaking to an internal or external agent. They just want service. Both internal and external agents need the same skill sets and when they don’t, it leads to risk in brand messaging and customer experience. A bad experience used to mean a lost customer who told a few people. Today, one bad experience gets blasted over social media, reaching thousands of people in minutes, ruining your brand in an instant.
2020 will be remembered in the contact center industry for business continuity when we couldn’t work together in a contact center. With disruptions coming from hurricanes, wildfires, and pandemics, companies started leveraging a non-centralized workforce for resilience. The ‘Work from Home’ (WFH) model is extremely viable. Also, the work performed today is more complex, and for vendors to upgrade their labor, they must take advantage of different geographies to get the right resources at the right price. Unlike other industries, contact centers are well-positioned for WFH due to their unique ability to monitor every aspect of an agent’s performance. After all, they have been doing it for decades!
Shifting away from commercial real estate changes the calculations for contact centers. Vendors are stuck in leases not fully utilized (empty seats) or are forced into leasing larger spaces to accommodate social distancing. Even vendors temporarily using a WFH model must recoup the lease cost (large sunk cost) in their billing. Vendors with their hands tied with long-term real estate obligations are unable to make the much-needed investments in labor. A vendor lucky enough to not be constrained by long-term real estate can re-invest in their business, hiring better agents.
The industry is at a crossroads. Contact centers used to be summarized as “sticks, bricks, and computers and people.” But today’s agents just need computers. Vendors are starting to embrace WFH but that’s just the beginning of the massive shift. An alternative model is needed.
In this new era, what is the direction of contact centers when there’s no such thing as a center? Concentra Solutions believes this new model must be centered around “people, outcomes, and customers”. Our new strategy, SamePage Resourcing, will close the trust gap between vendor and client while leveraging the unique opportunities of today, righting what has been going wrong in the industry. How, you ask? It starts with hiring the right person at the right rate.
Today’s complex environment requires a specific skillset and to get an agent that can successfully serve customers requires paying the right wage. We will upgrade the labor, realigning the agent pay rate in partnership with the client to match the level of talent required. This realignment enables us to focus on developing agents, creating opportunities for them grow into new roles. We will make our people our most valuable resource.
Concentra Solutions will transparently share agent pay rates for outbound and inbound projects at scale, so clients have complete visibility into where their money is going. You get what you pay for, and now, our clients will know they’re paying for the quality of the agent needed, just like a Kelly Blue Book for contact centers. SamePage Resourcing is adding transparency and trust back to the vendor-client relationship.
Transparency goes beyond agent pay rates. No more loaded rates. With SamePage Resourcing, pay for what you need by building your own custom model of add-on services. Build the outsourcing model that fits both what you need and what you can afford, with 100% transparency. Agents have important insights into your customers—would you like to capture that? Would you like to test new processes or scripts? Valuable insights on customers, brand, and processes that can help grow revenue are available, if you want them.
SamePage Resourcing is the return to the services that have been disappearing from the industry. We can fix the creeping normality and return to the best parts of our history combined with modern advancements. We offer custom and fully transparent solutions that can be built a la carte or leveraged holistically for the best ROI. We are a vendor who becomes an extension of your company, not just a service provider. A new business model, SamePage Resourcing is a radical new way to look at vendor-client relationships. Are you ready for a transparent partnership that allows you to serve your customers like they want to be served? Hopefully so.
Dan Berman, Concentra Solutions, Inc. founder and CEO, has created and managed successful teleservices and customer relationship management programs for Fortune 100 companies for over 25 years.
Concentra Solutions maximizes contact center performance through outsourced BPO and Quality Assurance services with a specialization in compliance and customer experience. With operations in both the US and Canada, including a WFH model, Concentra Solutions drives performance and operational improvements with a strong focus on Customer Journey. For more information, visit www.concentrasolutions.com.