Improving Communications Between Contact Centers and IT

By Donna Fluss

This column may tick off some readers, and I apologize to anyone who is offended. But if my writing drives change and improves understanding between contact center managers and their IT counterparts, then it has achieved its goal. My intent is to improve communication between these two vital and inter-dependent departments.

I am an IT person. The fact is that I live and breathe technology, particularly contact center solutions. I am also a contact center and enterprise executive, having spent years building, managing, consolidating, and consulting with contact centers. (I’ve also run other operating groups.) What’s important is that I speak both dialects – contact center and IT – and for the record, they are quite different.

Here are some typical illustrations of how the language of these departments differs. These examples show why there is a communication gap. Clearly, it’s not that IT is out to get the contact center or simply doesn’t care; it’s that they really don’t understand.

Example 1:

What contact center managers say: We need to change contact center routing.

Contact center meaning: Due to a change in the business, the current call routing is not working well, resulting in sub-optimal service. It is also generating incremental calls, increasing cost, and producing unhappy and angry customers. It needs to be changed yesterday, if not sooner.

IT reaction: This is not a priority because there is no service interruption; calls are being processed. The request should be placed at the back of the queue with other unplanned tasks because:

  • There are more important tasks to be addressed where a user is down.
  • It is not planned or budgeted.
  • There are limited telecom resources, and no one is available (because this is unplanned).

Example 2:

What contact center managers say: We need to enhance the IVR and add a new option.

Contact center meaning: Adding a new IVR option (or modifying an existing one) will reduce the volume of calls to live agents, the sooner the better.

IT reaction: Same as Example 1. Plus, the contact center should have planned and budgeted this activity.

Example 3:

What contact center managers say: We want to modify the agent servicing application (customer relationship management application) to speed up processing time.

Contact center meaning: Yeah! We figured out a way to reduce agent manual processing in order to decrease agent average handle time and processing errors.

IT reaction: Customer service is whining again. The benefits they claim are anecdotal and too small to make a difference to the company. There is no reason to modify the entire development schedule for this. It can wait until the next budget cycle and, if nothing better comes along, we’ll consider it.

Example 4:

What contact center managers say: Application response times are too slow; it’s taking too long for agents to pull up a screen.

Contact center meaning: Agents are bogged down waiting for systems to respond to a request – it’s taking one to three seconds longer than expected. This is throwing off our forecasts and resulting in bad service levels and customer dissatisfaction. Customers are angry about having to wait, and they are yelling at agents who are struggling to fill the delays with chitchat.

IT reaction: On average, according to our tracking systems, the response times are fine. No one else is complaining. If you can actually prove that your response time is degenerating, we’ll look into the issue.

Example 5:

What contact center managers say: A change is needed immediately.

Contact center meaning: Now, now, now.

IT reaction: We’ll review it and get back to you about if and when we’ll be able to fit it into our current schedule. Resources have to be freed up, and it has to go through the change control process. No promises.

There is a central issue that explains these divergent perspectives: the goals of the two departments are fundamentally different. The contact center’s top priorities are to improve productivity and keep costs down, to maintain service quality, and provide an outstanding customer experience. IT’s top goals are to keep systems up and running, keep costs and complexity down through standardization and simplification, and to use technology to provide a strategic advantage.

Here’s the bottom line. Contact centers operate in real time with customers breathing down their necks. IT operates behind the scenes and does not always appreciate the pressure that goes along with being the voice of the enterprise to customers. IT needs to get with the program, and the contact center needs to understand that not everything can be done immediately, particularly in the world of Internet protocol where there are vast interdependencies.

For the first time, contact center managers have a real advantage. If your internal IT group won’t pick up their pace, there are many cloud-based contact center infrastructure vendors who will. Not all contact centers want to use a hosted infrastructure, but all do want an IT group that speaks their language and moves quickly when business needs justify it.

Donna Fluss is the president of DMG Consulting and author of “The Real Time Contact Center.”

[From the June/July 2012 issue of AnswerStat magazine]