By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD
In the most recent U.S. presidential election, both major party candidates were claiming to be the true agents for change. Whenever I hear a politician spouting change rhetoric, I am immediately cynical. My initial reaction is that they are disingenuously saying what they need to in order for people to vote for them so that they’ll be elected. In this scenario, there is no intention for change, so we can rightfully expect the status quo.
However, if their assertions for change come across as genuine and sincere, then I am likely to give them the benefit of my doubt. Still, there are obstacles. It could be that they truthfully want change to occur and will honestly work for it. Yet, in the throes of political maneuvering and the conflicting self-seeking agendas of others, they often find that the change they dreamed of ends up on the trash heap of good ideas.
Finally, there are those candidates who truly want change and effectively work to make it happen. They do see results and change does occur, but they never see all the changes they wanted – or promised. Some of their ideals are watered down in order to win enough support passage, others are sacrificed for the expediency of more critically important issues, and for a few, there simply isn’t enough time – or energy – to address them.
Personally, I believe that President Obama truthfully meant what he said about being a candidate of change and that he will earnestly set about pursuing it. After most elections, we would need to wait to see if change happens. However, given the current U.S. and global conditions, it is safe to say that change will occur; it will be a requirement. Facing President Obama is the credit issue to stabilize, a capsized economy to right, U.S. automakers to bail out, two wars to figure out, and other “lesser” issues demanding attention. In addition, the healthcare system needs to be fixed, and concerns exist about anticipated changes in employee and union rules and regulations.
Therefore, we will see change. What does this mean for your call center?
Credit: With the tight credit markets, call centers are affected on two fronts. The first is acquiring technology. Today’s call center is an equipment intensive enterprise, requiring a growing technological infrastructure. If planned computer upgrades and replacements require financing, their implementation might need to be delayed – or re-evaluated. However, some vendors may be open to provide – or forced to accept – self-financing. Alternately, if you have the funds available, now is a great time to buy.
The other front is your agents. With tight credit, their goals and dreams will be curtailed or even squashed. If they have a mortgage, their home may be in jeopardy. While it is not feasible to create a “bailout” for every employee with a financial need, you can look for clever and creative ways to ease the burden for as many of your employees possible. Sometimes, the simplest of gestures means the most.
The Economy: With the economy in the pits, spending will be down. That directly affects call centers that handle orders and order processing – and indirectly influences most others. This shapes staffing levels and dictates scheduling. When things turn around – and they will – be ready to ramp up staffing. It could happen slowly over many months, abruptly, or in spurts. Be ready to respond, or your call center will miss unexpected opportunities. Also, a slower time is a great time to refocus on quality issues, such as first call resolution, call monitoring, and agent coaching – giving these initiatives the time and attention that they deserve.
The Wars: Regardless of your thoughts on these conflicts, keep your opinions to yourself and support the troops. The reality is that your call center staff is affected. Some of your agents may have a secondary career in the military; they could be called up and deployed. If that happens, make their departure smooth and celebrate their return. Look for ways to provide support to them – and their families – while they are serving their country.
Additionally, agents’ family members and close friends could be in harm’s way. There will be times when this reality preoccupies the thoughts of your staff and impinges on their work. Be patient and tolerant; work with them. Also, be prepared to respond to and support employees who receive bad news. Don’t expect to just deal with it if that time comes; have a plan in place and be prepared.
The Auto Industry: The U.S. auto industry is huge, with widespread ripples in a number of sectors. If you are in any of these sectors, the workload in your call center hangs in the balance. Whatever the outcome, it is reasonable to expect that what emerges will be less than what exists now. What is unknown is the degree of change that will occur.
Healthcare: The healthcare system in the U.S. is arguably broken, being described as overcharging and under-delivering, long in need of an overhaul. (It was sixteen years ago that Bill Clinton sought to “change” healthcare, assigning his most trusted ally, Hillary, to the task. Good intentions and able leadership were not enough to fix the system at that time.)
Some political pundits claim that there are too many other more pressing matters to deal with at this time, effectively pushing healthcare reform aside. Others assert that the situation is so dire that President Obama will be forced to address the healthcare system, along with everything else. Even if the latter group is correct, don’t look for anything in the near future, which means that things will likely get worse before they get better. Do what you can do now to help your employees take a step closer to affordable healthcare access. Any step you take, no matter how small, will trump doing nothing.
Employee-Related Legislation: It has been suggested that President Obama is more likely to disappoint people on the far left than on the far right. Even so, it is highly probable that he will be a friend of the working class – and by implication, not pro-business; the anticipated “card check” legislation is a case in point. I have heard from some call centers that are considering drastic steps in response to this fear, including using a staffing agency, offshoring their entire operation, or even selling their business.
Instead, let’s consider some less severe steps. First, get informed and become active. Let your congressional representative and senators know about your opinion on important pending legislation while there is still time to form it. Ignoring what lies ahead will not make it go away, but instead will catch you off guard.
Second, look at what you can do in your call center to become even more employee-centric and agent-friendly. Don’t wait for legislation to force you to change; begin taking proactive steps now. In specific response to the “card check” legislation, work to make your call center such a great place to work that “card check” effectively becomes a non-issue.
Conclusion: The concerns are many and seemingly formidable, but they also provide opportunities. Whether we like it or not, change is upon us. It’s how we react to those changes that will make the difference. Take steps now to ensure that your call center comes out ahead when the dust settles.
[From Connection Magazine – January 2009]
Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Connections Magazine, covering the call center teleservices industry.