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The Festive Season Might Be Over, But There’s No Rest For Call Centres

Tips to ensure productivity and quality remains high in the call centre.

Bruce von Maltitz

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Silly season is behind us and the e-commerce frenzy of Black Friday has died down, but the start of the new year means  another spike in back-to-school related retail and this naturally brings with it an increase in workload for contact centres.

While managing this period might seem overwhelming to the staff and managers involved, according to contact centre technology expert and joint CEO of 1StreamBruce von Maltitz, there are some key things to bear in mind to streamline processes and ensure productivity and quality remain high, and that customers continue to receive the best customer experience.

Catch things early

Providing concise, useful information at the point of need can help alleviate significant pressure on agents. For example, for a product or service issue that an organisation is already aware of, it’s possible to create short in-queue IVR (interactive voice response) messages giving callers the relevant information to answer their question before even chatting to an agent.

This means that customers contacting the business about this particular issue, will find out everything they need to know from the in-queue voice message, and will likely not need to follow through with the query. Naturally, this frees up agents to engage with customers who have more complex queries.

Related: The Call Centre Gets Smarter

Be proactive with information

A little proactive communication can go a long way, and with technology solutions and the rise of virtual agents, this is becoming an increasingly efficient way to contact customers.

A simple automated message giving information on an order or expected delivery can eliminate the need for customers to contact a business, which then reduces call volumes.

Adopt the single queue approach

At first glance, it might make sense to have designated teams within a contact centre to deal with specific business areas. But this silo approach can also result in queue blockages if one area is particularly busy while others have unused capacity. Consider the one-queue scenario that is adopted in Woolworths stores – the queue might seem long initially, but there is constant movement because even if one cashier experiences a problem, the rest are able to keep the queue moving.

The same applies in a contact centre where one agent might be dealing with a complex or time-consuming issue, or where one team is swamped with calls – with a single queue approach where possible, other agents or teams can step in to help move things along.

Invest in cross-skilling your team

cross-skilling-team-members

Not only can it be frustrating to a customer to get through to an agent, only to be passed on to someone else more equipped to deal with the query, but this is also costly in terms of resources and time.

Queries can be efficiently dealt with if there is increased cross-skilling in contact centre teams. Of course, there might still be a need for a group of specialists, but this will be for only a few and very complex situations that can’t be managed elsewhere.

Contract home agents for added support

The advantage of how easy it is to work remotely means contact centre agents are not bound to their desks. For businesses, this brings the possibility of increasing the size of the contact centre team, even if temporarily to manage a predicted busy patch, without additional infrastructure requirements.

Employing contract home agents over the busy back-to-school season takes the pressure off existing staff and can help provide the same high quality service despite the increase in workload.

Related: Maximise Call Centre Efficiencies

Manage processes from the cloud

Making sure that all agents are working productively, that all channels are being managed effectively and that the selected queueing system is providing the most efficient service is best done through cloud-based contact centre technology.

A cloud-based solution, while providing a cost-effective option, provides the most comprehensive answer for an omni-channel contact centre along with the benefits of full reporting services to help enhance processes.

Bruce von Maltitz is currently the MD of 1Stream, a hosted contact centre company. He has over 20 years experience in the service industry focusing specifically on contact centres for the last ten. He has a detailed understanding of how to design, build and operate contact centres having worked in the industry in SA, Africa and abroad. Visit www.1stream.co.za for more information.

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Are Your Scalable?

Here’s how you can assess if you’ll make it, or if you need to first make some fundamental adjustments before pursuing your growth goals.

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Pete is a classic entrepreneur. He spent 
15 years building his manufacturing firm to 
a R30 million outfit, before his big opportunity came to take on contracts worth R120 million, allowing him to scale to 
R150 million within five years. This was everything he’d worked towards. This was his retirement plan.

Five years later, instead of running a R150 million business, Pete is burnt out and broke. His company is closed and he’s lost everything. The crisis has even torn his family apart. How did this happen?

A common fate

Unfortunately, it’s a far more common story than most of us would like to admit. 70% of the top 1% of businesses (by growth potential) land up failing to scale. Sometimes, like Pete, they lose everything and close the doors. Other times, they land up bigger, but managing a chaotic hell of their own creation: A daily sprint to survive, a never-ending treadmill of frantic hustling to keep things together, with the horizon never coming closer.

The most common reasons? Either scaling something that fundamentally is not scalable, or scaling poorly; not making the right changes at the right time.

In this article, I’ll be focusing on the first reason: Attempting to scale a business that is fundamentally not scalable — because not every business can be scaled. If your ambitions are focused on high-level growth, step one is to determine if you have the 
right business model to do so. Because if 
you don’t, that’s the first change you need 
to make.

Scalability

Some companies scale easier than others. And some don’t scale at all. Let me illustrate with two extreme examples:

Very scalable: Dropbox makes an extra $10 for every user they add, while adding $1 of cost, and zero operational capacity. That is very scalable.

Not easily scalable: A start-up ad agency is soon faced with a growth ceiling created by the limits of the founder’s time and energy. This normally occurs somewhere between ten and 20 people. An ad agency is not a scalable business model because growth requires top, senior creative talent. Such individuals are rare, have attractive options, and usually prefer to either work for big multinationals, or run their own businesses. It’s therefore tough for smaller agencies to attract and retain talent without offering large chunks of equity, which can be a zero-sum game. It sometimes even works out net-negative. Unless you find a way of breaking that constraint, this is not a scalable business model.

Related: If You Want Scale, Fail Fast And Learn Quickly

So, what makes me scalable?

Building a scalable business is a bit like picking a spouse. There are a number of criteria to consider, the absence of any one of which is a deal killer, even if all other criteria are amply present. A suitor may exceed your fantasies in every regard (looks, smarts, fun, caring, etc), but if they are also prone to parallel relationships, that’s enough to pull the plug and look elsewhere.

Just as in relationships, a number of things must come together to make your business scalable. Here are the ten most fundamental drivers of scalability grouped into three core areas: Scalable market, scalable business and scalable team.

Scalable market

  1. Size (Total Addressable Market, or TAM): The market must be big enough to achieve your ambitions. As a rule of thumb for ambitious entrepreneurs, TAM must be at least 4X your business size goal. If you want 
to build a R500 million business, you need a R2 billion market.
  2. Economics: It’s expensive to scale. You need to invest in great management and top talent, plus spend on infrastructure ahead of actually seeing growth. To make that sensible, it must be very profitable serving your market.
  3. Growth: The market must be growing, and preferably faster than the rate of new competition. 

Scalable business

  1. Number one: Highly scalable businesses almost inevitably are number one, or will become number one in their market or niche. If you can’t lead the market, you must be able to lead a sizable niche.
  2. X-Factor: Every market has a bleak outlook: More competition, lower prices, lower margins. Unless you have some fundamental reason to continue to lead the market despite competitive intensity, such as proprietary tech. It must be good enough that you can be and stay number one in your market.
  3. Scalable channels to market: Some customers are just impossible to reach profitably. A scalable business has access to channels to effectively target, market to and sell to customers profitably.
  4. Scalable operating model: Scalable businesses have unconstrained access to all critical materials and talent, without breaking the economic model.
  5. Scalable economics: You can calculate the scalability of your economics with a simple formula: [Gross Profit per R10 million new revenue] / [new cost required to manage each R10 million new revenue (managers, systems, facilities, etc)]. Highly scalable businesses have a 2X or higher ratio. 1 to 1,2 is borderline and scaling will be like walking on glass. Most businesses have a ratio <1, which means they will lose money by scaling.

Scalable team

  1. Scalable founders: Statistically, most founders are not scalable. They lack the experience, skills and personality profile to make the required shifts as the business scales, and to develop the organisation through its various lifecycle stages. Scalable entrepreneurs are able to:
  • Build a great culture for >100 people
  • Attract and build an A-Team of truly impressive senior leaders, and delegate large parts of the business to them
  • Be ‘builders’ and ‘managers’ — that is, graduate from ‘entrepreneur’
  • Submit their interests to the best interests of the organisation, even when it’s painful — we see this when founders step down in favour of CEOs with corporate experience
  • Lead the transition of the business to a professionally managed company, introducing systems, processes and policies in a way that does not break the company’s culture.
  1. Leadership team: Particularly in the most painful scale up stage — going from ten to 100 staff — the key driver of scaling well is the quality of the top team. That’s why quality of early hires is a great predictor of scalability. Leaders who can adapt and be effective in a business of ten, then 20, then 50, then 100 staff are truly remarkable, and therefore exceptional. Not many manage this transition. These leaders can be effective in three completely different ‘modes of organisation’: The hustle (at ten people); The build (from ten to 100 people); The operate and grow modes. By implication, they are — or can grow into — executives. They can hustle. But they can also shift from a tactical focus (immediate fires and opportunities, action focus), to a strategic focus (future focus and system focus). They are able to run operations while transcending operations, bridging the long-term strategy, the short-term strategy, operations, culture, team, and finances, and they can do that in a company of ten people, or 100 people. Of course, you can bring in new leaders and you can replace leaders that are not scalable, but this dramatically slows the scale-up journey and can even derail it.

The result of having founders and leaders who are capable of scaling with the organisation will be the automatic development of the other key ingredients for a scalable team: Great talent, a highly engaged team, a great culture, and an effective organisation.

Related: What It Will Really Take For South Africa’s Businesses To Scale And Create Jobs

The key to growth

If you’re following the path to scale, or investing in a scale-up, it’s important to be aware of the causality amongst the above ten factors. Typically, the main factor that drives the speed at which a business can scale is how quickly founders can delegate major areas of responsibility, so that the business can continue to make rapid progress at scale.

This in turn is driven by the ‘next level’ (non-founding) leaders, as well as the leadership abilities of the founders. The problem is that early-stage companies struggle to attract top talent, unless they find people who want to be a part of the equity-incentivised leadership team pursuing an exciting opportunity. This type of career opportunity can usually attract top talent, despite the various reasons these individuals gravitate towards well-paid corporate roles and their own ventures.

But that sort of opportunity does not typically happen by accident: It’s the function of the founders getting points 1 to 9 right. In a nutshell, the first thing you need is an amazing team of founders who work smart to nail points 1 to 9, find and pursue an amazing opportunity, and then harness that to attract amazing talent in order to delegate effectively, so that you can scale beyond the limits of the founders’ time and energy.

scalability-self-assessment-tool

Click here to take your free self-assessment. 

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Leon Meyer GM At Westin Cape Town Shares 4 Experience-Driven Tips On How To Keep Your Team Productive

Productivity is a fundamental requirement for an organisation – it’s the seed that builds a business and contributes to higher profit margins.

Leon Meyer

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Productivity is a fundamental requirement for an organisation – it’s the seed that builds a business and contributes to higher profit margins. But what’s the best way to ensure employees remain productive, and happy in their day job?

The answer is simple and highly effective and I choose to sum it up with three short phrases – respect, trust and teamwork.

In partnership with my management team, which consists of about eight staffers across various disciplines, we strive to tick these boxes.

Related: 5 Surprising Elements That Boost Your Productivity (One of Them Is Colour)

In total we’re ultimately responsible for managing roughly 500 employees.

Five hundred employees across several departments is a mighty job. But with teamwork, good listening skills and the right attitude from the top to filter down, any business can run like a well-oiled machine.

I’d like share with you the essentials for building and maintaining a productive workforce, and these apply to all industries, not just the hospitality sector:

1. What’s your definition of a productive team and how do you achieve that?

We need to keep in mind that productivity is a result, one that CEOs and managing directors strive for with their teams. But what happens beforehand in order to achieve that result determines whether it will be achieved at all, and is equally important. I suggest the following to ensure a productive team:

Define roles and responsibilitiesDirection is incredibly important; everyone needs to know exactly where they’re going and how they need to get there, so KPIs are essential.

Often when roles and responsibilities are unclear, things go pear-shaped. I am an advocate for setting clear KPIs, it’s a good way to steer us in the right direction, and in turn helps to grow the business and the individual in his/her role.

Be flexible: Rigid environments are the worst kind, allow your employees some flexibility and the opportunity to be themselves in the workplace. We spend so much of our time at work, we need to be ourselves there.

Celebrate the team: When there are achievements, celebrate them, single out individuals who are excelling and living the company values. This builds morale and is indicative of appreciation, which is fundamental when running and building a business.

2. What has and continues to be your philosophy since managing a large team?

Know your strengths and weaknesses, as well as your team’s and leverage off that. Be prepared to learn from others, no one can operate in isolation, regardless of the level on which you operate. Accept criticism and don’t bulldoze someone’s ideas, that’s how you build trust.

3. What in your view are the top characteristics the team look for in a leader?

  • Be consistent – inconsistency screams bad leader
  • Provide guidance – this is key, don’t turn a blind eye, give input and council
  • Listen – always listen intently
  • Be impartial – always be fair
  • Give credit – it builds morale and shows you recognise good work
  • Be patient – Rome wasn’t built in a day, and remember not everyone thinks the same as you do

4. What’s your view on an open door policy and how does it assist with managing a team and ensuring everyone remains productive?

I believe in an open door policy. It’s essential to build and develop trust. I’m the first to admit that it takes a while to build that trust, but once the team (on all levels in all departments) know your door is always open, and that they can trust you implicitly, half the battle has been won.

I host a GM’s roundtable every two months, just to establish how everyone is feeling and where everyone is at. It gives staff the opportunity to bring their challenges to the table, and I deal with them the best I can.

It’s 100 percent confidential and line managers are not allowed to attend. During this meeting we try reach common ground, and I commit to addressing and ultimately solving the problem(s).

Related: 10 Ways To Make Your Employees 10x More Productive

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Why Purpose Drives Profits

If you want to succeed, it’s time to start engaging where it matters.

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Over the past two years, many clients have been extending brand positioning exercises into purpose-driven expressions.

When we look at it, it makes sense given the country’s demographics. With many of our fellow countrymen struggling to make ends meet, brands have stepped in to provide them with a picture of a future worth striving for.

Global customer-centricity study, Insights 2020, led by research firm Kantar Millward Brown, has attempted to understand how brands could drive customer-centric growth as well as the factors that really make a difference. The research surveyed 10 495 individuals in 60 countries, and there are some significant efforts worth investing in if brands want to engage where it matters most, in consumers’ hearts.

The research uncovered that for market-leading companies and brands, traditional value drivers such as quality, packaging, or distribution are necessary, but no longer provide a competitive advantage; most brands are capable of providing these drivers. What is important, are a few critical approaches.

1. Purpose-led brands

The study found that when companies or brands linked to a purpose, 80% of them outperformed the market. Only 32% of non-purpose led brands managed to perform better than the market. 

Related: How To Calculate Gross Profit

2. On the ground

It’s important to engage with consumers in their space and on their terms. Through the use of memorable campaigns, experiential events and activations it is critical to engage with consumers on their turf.

3. Be truthful and authentic

Consumers can smell something inauthentic a mile away, especially when it’s coming from a brand. This forces brands to strive for authenticity in everything they do, especially when it comes to marketing. Building values and principle-based attributes into your brand as a guiding tool is essential.

4. Helping consumers commit

By allowing individuals to attach themselves to a brand with a purpose, it helps consumers personally commit to a cause that they consider important. When a consumer is personally invested, the link between the brand and product or service deepens.

Related: Profit Share for Increased Performance

5. Balancing heritage and modern relevance

There is a continuous tussle in balancing the traditional market, transitional market and the new consumers brands are trying to attract. Keeping the heritage and roots of the brand true to itself, while creating relevance for the new market, is a battle marketers are still fighting.

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