In Our Drive to be Efficient, Are We Sacrificing Innovation?


In Our Drive to be Efficient, Are We Sacrificing Innovation?

By Elaine Cascio, Vice President  |  March 30, 2016

The Chinese economy has been in the news a lot lately. For the economy to continue to grow, many argue that it needs to rely less on externally based manufacturing and more on creating opportunities through native innovation. There have been successes, most notably Alibaba, but many inside China worry that culture and society no longer nurture the kind of innovation that made it one of the greatest cultures in the world. 

That brings up the question: Are we in the U.S. sacrificing innovation at the altar of efficiency?

Customer service and contact centers are increasingly viewed in the same light as manufacturing, and the move is on to squeeze more and more efficiency from them. As customer service professionals are measured on the smallest details of their day and driven to handle more and more contacts, we stifle their ability to think creatively.  

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think that customer service organizations can run without controls (despite customer service leader Zappos experiment with Holacracy), but we need to balance efficiency with improving both the customer and the agent experience.

How can we make room for innovation?

So what are the ways that we can begin to remove the straight jacket of contact center management and start to innovate? 

Look at Best Contact Resolution

First contact resolution is heralded as a model for efficiency and good for customer experience. But is it necessarily what is best for the customer? And does it run counter to other controls in the contact center? An emphasis on FCR may result in longer contacts, channel inappropriate contacts, and unnecessary hold times for the customer. Best contact resolution may require an additional contact, but consider whether customers are happier if they are placed on hold or if you contact them (in their channel of choice) with an answer in an agreed-upon timeframe? 


Evaluate Self-Service

In a drive to reduce contact volumes, many companies turn to self-service as the answer. Voice self-service is perhaps the worst offender (one of the reasons why a phone call has become the channel of last resort). Rather than design a system to accommodate every possible customer scenario, look at ways of partially automating calls to combine the best of high tech with the best of high touch.  

Re-examine Your Devotion to Average Handle Time

AHT is another metric that can drive bad behavior and result in multiple contacts and poor customer experience. Give your reps some leeway and begin to look at the entirety of the contact (quality, customer experience, building loyalty), rather than simply how long it takes.  

Communicate Company Vision & Values

If agents don’t know what’s important to your company, how can they represent it to your customers? And how will they make decisions that are in line with the brand? Customer experience giants like Apple (News - Alert), Southwest Airlines, Zappos, Ritz Carleton, and Nordstrom have clear missions and values that they communicate to employees often.

Reward Employees for Innovation

Many contact centers rely on tribal knowledge to operate, and often innovations get baked into processes without the knowledge of trainers or management. Agents shouldn’t have to operate under the radar to get things done – create ways for them to share practices and ideas on a regular basis. And reward innovation that becomes part of the center, whether it’s a way of more effectively using technology at the agent desktop or a way of improving the customer experience.

Innovation is the lifeblood of any successful businesses. Make sure your drive for efficiency doesn’t discourage innovation in your contact center.

Elaine Cascio is vice president at contact center consulting firm Vanguard Communications Corp. (

Elaine Cascio is a vice president at Vanguard Communications Corp. (, a consulting firm specializing in customer experience, self service, contact center processes, operations and technology.

Edited by Stefania Viscusi
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