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Challenging times

Sun 1 Nov 2009
FYI, this story is more than a year old

THE financial pressures of the recession took their toll on the 13th Annual Contact Centre Conference. But despite pulling less delegates than hoped for, organiser Smitha Shanbhag of Brightstar Conferences says the company is focusing on a more positive future.“We definitely had less numbers than we’d hoped for, but I think that is a sign of the current times,” she says.  “A lot of contact centres have been faced with budget cuts in the past year.”However, Shanbhag says Brightstar still wanted to make the event, held at Auckland’s Rendezvous Hotel on  Thursday October 22nd, as successful as possible. To make up the numbers, Shanbhag says the company offered guest passes to long-term clients who weren’t able to attend due to cost cutting.“We decided we wanted to make the most of the event, with the wide range of topics and top-class speakers,  so we’ve provided some of our clients with guest passes,” she says. “We really want to keep up the conference going and build it for next year.”This year’s conference, which was cut back from two days to one, was attended by 65 delegates in total,  including guests, down on last year, says Shanbhag.Fitting, given the economic climate, that the conference opened with a theme on the minds of most contact  centre managers –finding ways to navigate through today’s challenging environment.The presentation, by Hunter Dean, director of Human Performance Specialists, offered the audience a look at  the current state of the contact centre industry, while also offering a number of solutions.Dean began by looking at the issues that are “keeping contact centre managers awake at night in 2009”. The  major factors for the industry involve “treading cautiously”.Costing cutting was a fact of life most contact centres have to deal with, he says. “There have defi nitely been  budget cuts, but this has just opened up the opportunity to create change.” Change could be linked to both increased revenue for sales based contact centres, and increased productivity  for service based contact centres. Alternatively, Dean says increasing revenue and/or productivity can be achieved by: moving key performance  indicators, increasing average sale or call efficiency, and reducing after-call follow-up. But how can this be  achieved? Dean says the key to moving the business forward is to “use your internal experts”. By identifying  the greater skilled and less skilled members of the team in certain fields, a contact centre  manager can establish an internal ‘coach and counsel’ system. “Put your team into the skills matrix to work out what skills team members have in different areas, which will  allow you to find experts within a field. Then you can leverage their skills and make them coaches to assist the  rest of the team.” The coach can then be used to train learners in agreed areas, with rewards for both parties, he says. The final part of Dean’s presentation looked at creating strategic business units within the company. At the company level, there is a need to create “a vision or culture” and maximise the personalities of the  CEO, board and senior managers, he says. At a contact centre level, Dean says it is important to gauge the past, current and future expectations of the  centre, and also look at the same expectations at a team leader level. Finally, at the team leader and team member level, Dean reiterated the need for coaching, while adding the  benefits of building stronger relationships to minimise staff turnover.

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