Small is Beautiful: The Unique Advantages of Small to Mid-sized Contact Centers
“…[W]hen we look closely we can notice that as soon as great size has been created there is often a strenuous attempt to attain smallness within bigness.”
E.F. Schumacher’s groundbreaking work, “Small Is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered,” cleaved through the faults of conventional economic thinking when it was first published in 1973. More than four decades later, this economist-turned-philosopher is still celebrated for paving the way for a new way of thinking, one that celebrates the beauty (and even superiority) of smallness.
“Any intelligent fool can make things bigger and more complex,” Schumacher argued, in stark contrast to the prevailing “bigger is better” mindset of the time. “…It takes a touch of genius – and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction.”
Today, the strategy among leading consultants is to help the Fortune 500 “act small.” Business’s hottest trends – agility, customization, human experience – are all based on smallness and flexibility. Like other operations, “smaller” contact centers (those with 50-200 agents) can run very differently than their more massive counterparts do. Facilitated by the latest in workforce management technology, the beauty of the small and mid-sized contact center is now more obvious than ever.
Workforce management has become a cornerstone of the high-tech contact center. It can have a huge impact on performance, and continuously evolving methods and metrics help supervisors empower agents to improve. Coaching strategy is a key part of successful workforce management, one that has received substantial ink from industry experts. In a small contact center, managers often have an advantage over their counterparts in larger organizations when reinforcing agent strengths and addressing weaknesses. They are more familiar with their staff on a personal level. A human connection backed by clear and relevant data is the perfect formula for strong coaching.
The ability to build relationships at smaller shops helps agents in other ways, too. Because contact center representatives are on the front line of customer communications, they need up-to-the-moment knowledge and insight into openings, crises or changes that may unfold. Representatives at smaller contact centers frequently have closer ties to the organization as a whole. Agents are more likely to be looped into sales and marketing departments and other customer-facing functions. In turn, this proximity and familiarity increases knowledge and comfort with a product or service. Agents may even have a direct connection to subject-matter experts who can help them – or a caller – with an unexpected issue.
This holistic view of the call process and organizational structure is a unique advantage in itself for the smaller contact center. No matter how much they prepare, agents will occasionally be forced to go off script. Understanding when and how issues are handled contributes greatly to empathy and creative problem solving – both of which are valuable skills when dealing with difficult or troubled callers. Similarly, managers of smaller centers often have the luxury of being able to oversee the entire floor and be personally involved in managing operations or reacting to issues.
Finally, smaller contact centers often bring a human touch to their work with customers, too. A call is an interaction, a personal brand experience for each customer. Companies need agents who are professional and trained – but who can also communicate naturally. People working in large contact center operations, separate from the communities they serve and the companies they represent, sometimes report that they struggle to feel connected. Advocates of domestic call centers argue that local agents are more relatable and in sync with the experiences and attitudes of their callers; this same benefit appears in call center agents with closer ties to their business and callers. Sometimes, that means going off script or connecting on a simple but meaningful level. Smaller-scale contact centers are ideally modeled to offer professional, responsive service with an extra dash of humanity.
For many years, contact centers with fewer than 200 agents were handicapped by limited technology and opportunity. New options in forecasting and cloud technology, however, have negated the operational difficulties, such as budget limitations, call volatility and scheduling confusion. It’s time for these contact centers to show their many strengths and show the world how beautiful small can be.
Paul Chance is a senior product marketing manager for NICE Evolve WFM, the leading software solution used by small and mid-sized contact centers to plan and manage the workforce anywhere from the cloud. For more information, visit www.nice.com/websites/evolvewfm.