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  • Digital Care

Transform your contact center with a strong change management strategy

by Ramona Maher, Change Management Director | Aug 16, 2021

Introduction

Let’s start with something we’ll all agree on: businesses change and evolve. Some undergo changes more quickly than others, and some undergo changes more successfully than others. But companies that last, and those that hope to last, must be able to evolve their business practices or they’ll be left behind — or worse — crumble amid the chaos of change. The need to evolve is especially true of enterprise contact centers because of their scale, complexity, and the variety of customer-facing operations they run.

Organizational transformations used to take place through large-scale projects with long timelines, some of which took years to implement. Change began to speed up after the Great Recession in 2008, when consumer needs shifted and became more urgent. Transformation initiatives began happening more often and on smaller and more focused scales. These more rapid changes were required to serve the quickly changing needs and expectations of customers following both the economic downturn and new ways of communicating that businesses implemented.

New pressure for businesses to evolve surfaced when COVID-19 forced brands to adapt many parts of their organization quickly, especially customer-facing operations like the contact center. Contact center changes that began over a decade ago accelerated greatly over the last year.

We know that many of the changes contact centers experienced are here to stay. In fact, the majority of contact centers — an impressive 93% — plan to operate using a hybrid remote and in-office model.


A change management strategy is crucial for success even without an event as seismic as a global recession or a pandemic. Making significant changes can feel daunting, even when you recognize that your existing systems or processes no longer support your business or customer needs.

But what if change didn’t have to be overwhelming? What if you could plan for and enact change with less disruption over a short period of time? Customer service executives report that their top barriers to running a “dream contact center” are budget, conflicting priorities between or within teams, IT issues, and lack of new technology. What if you could easily leap those hurdles and achieve lasting, impactful change for your contact center?

At Khoros, we know first-hand the rewards and pitfalls brands face on the path towards change, and we’ve designed our change management practice around them. Here we’ll demonstrate:

    1. Why change is difficult
    2. Why change is necessary
    3. How to enact change
    4. How to sustain the change

Read on to learn how your contact center can operate in a modern, efficient, and effective way.

Why change is difficult

Adopting new technology and workforce models within contact centers isn’t easy. Training agents and customers on new experiences requires a lot of brand effort. And getting everyone on board and marching towards the same goal requires planning, effective execution, and follow-through. Adding to the complexity is the fact that the change you want to drive within your contact center exists in the context of broader, ongoing change initiatives within your organization and must coexist peacefully among them.

Frequently switching up processes or systems in your organization can lead to “change saturation” and “change fatigue,” which can become significant issues. Change saturation occurs when the number of changes being implemented exceeds the capacity of the individuals in an organization to effectively adopt and use those changes. Change fatigue is a general sense of apathy or passive resignation towards organizational changes by individuals or teams.

A lack of change management strategy can result in missed opportunities, like customer care agents failing to adopt new tools and your audience failing to adopt new channels, resulting in lower-than-expected ROI. A poorly-planned change management strategy can also mean additional costs in the form of reworking changes that have been made, retraining staff, project delays or extensions, unplanned overtime, and a lack of employee engagement. Any one of these on their own can contribute to employee turnover or unhappy customers — in combination, brand risk is amplified.

Why change is necessary

When contact centers fail to manage change effectively, the ramifications can be felt business-wide. Active and visible sponsorship is critical to the success of a contact center change project. Without it, transformation can fail to meet expectations, even with good project management.

It’s crucial for contact center managers to avoid pitfalls like insufficient expertise on a project team, a lack of a ramp-up plan, no back-out plan, a lack of training and testing, and the use of quality assurance tools or processes that are insufficient for the task. Otherwise, customers can be lost, turnover in critical leadership roles can occur, change can be delayed or derailed, money can be wasted, and confidence in future change can be eroded.

How to enact change

Successful transformations have important similarities. From their years of research and real-world experience, McKinsey identified key tactics that drive successful, transformational change:

  • Setting clear, aspirational targets for change

  • Creating a clear structure for how the change will take place

  • Maintaining energy and involvement among stakeholders company-wide

  • Exercising strong leadership

McKinsey also identified four basic conditions that must be met before employees will change their behavior.

First, they’ll need a compelling story: something that helps them understand and agree with the need for change.


Second, employees will need to see role models, such as the CEO and colleagues they admire, behaving in the new way.

Third, they’ll need reinforcing mechanisms. Systems, processes, and incentives within the company must all be in line with the new behavior.

And finally, employees must have the skills required to make the desired change, so their capabilities must be shored up through training.

Focus on microchange

Infosys surveyed one thousand global corporate leaders to figure out how top companies manage change. The biggest takeaway from their research is that microchanges are best suited to effective, lasting, long-term change. When big changes are deconstructed into small steps, behavior changes are easier for employees to implement and adopt.

Apply project management

Resist the urge to jump in and start making changes without planning ahead. Committing scope and resource planning before beginning to make organizational changes is important. In fact, fifty-eight percent of those who integrated change management and project management into their project met or exceeded their objectives, according to Prosci.

One former contact center manager shared that, in their experience, “if every project had the same level of planning and focus as it takes to build a new contact center from the ground up, success and sustained change would be virtually guaranteed.”

Project management and change management have similar goals and when they’re integrated during a change, they can offer structure for achieving the desired outcomes of organizational change. Change success, writes Prosci, happens when a solution is effectively designed, developed, and delivered and employees embrace, adopt, and utilize the change.

Understand how technology impacts metrics

Changes in technology impact more than just what tools your teams use. A change in your tech stack can lead to a change in your teams’ performance metrics. Change in metrics may therefore require a redefinition of what success looks like. So, you’ll need to understand how your new platform might impact your traditional analytics. Traditional call center metrics may differ from the metrics that a digital contact center achieves and finds most important.

For example, if a new goal for your digital contact center is call deflection, then you might need a new way to understand productivity and effectiveness. When the contact center starts handling fewer calls and creating more messaging interactions, your agents shouldn’t be penalized for taking fewer calls.

The goal is to reward the new action — in this case: messaging interactions and increased CSAT. As a KPI, average handle time (AHT) for call centers is not important in a digital contact center, which handles messaging interactions. Fundamental changes in KPIs, such as AHT and First Call Resolutions targets may change KPIs for a digital-first contact center where call deflection is the priority. Understanding the impact on what metrics should matter and redefining success KPIs is a key part of change management.

There are some mainstays of customer service that will remain and will likely improve during a shift to a digital contact center, such as your brand’s Net Promoter Score (known as NPS) and CSAT. As you begin to offer modern, digital ways for customers to connect with your brand, both scores will likely improve. A messaging option, for instance, rather than a long hold-time on the phone, is very likely to lead to happier customers.

Engage employees

Though most executives might think mid-level managers have clearly-defined roles in change initiatives, research from North Highland demonstrates that it isn’t always the case. They found that while 83% of CEOs believe that the mid-level manager’s role is clearly defined in change initiatives, only 32% of senior managers and directors feel the same way. Furthermore, while 58% of respondents in North Highland’s research indicated that executives are responsible for setting the change strategy, only 26% engage impacted employees to help design the change.

“When leaders intentionally understand and address the perspectives of team members at each phase of the process — from identifying the challenge to implementing the change solution — voices are heard, collaboration thrives, and strategy is strengthened,” writes North Highland.

It’s easy to rely too much on subject matter experts (SMEs) who may be out of touch with the actual end-user experience. They know how things are supposed to work, not always how they’re actually working. It’s therefore important to involve end-users during design and testing. With a little extra effort, these same end-users can be leveraged into a support team at deployment and beyond.

Prepare managers and supervisors

The best way to prepare managers to lead others is to allow them time, upfront and before any changes are implemented company-wide, to go through their own change. They should also be included during the design and testing phases. Then, when they have their own footing, they'll be better able to help others along.

Direct managers and supervisors are the best people to deliver messages about “what’s in it for me” to employees as well as how new changes will affect the team and the jobs of those directly below them. However, it’s also important for employees to hear the big picture from their senior leadership. Understanding the crucial role of all levels of your organization’s hierarchy will help ensure lasting, positive change.

Shore up organizational systems and processes

COVID-19 not only accelerated change, particularly in contact centers, it also fundamentally altered the contact center environment, writes Customer Contact Week. With 93% of contact centers planning to keep their remote-office hybrid workforce, shifts in managerial style must also occur. With agents and team members working across different systems, networks, devices, and locations, the process of managing feedback, monitoring progress, coaching, and generating reports becomes more complicated. The fix is to focus on the employee experience.

The employee experience can no longer be an afterthought, or one piece in a bigger puzzle. Now, to enact successful change, the employee experience must be a guiding principle. Contact center leaders must pick up and respond to the emotional cues of their employees and analyze shifts in behavior or performance through the lens of improving the work environment. An empathetic mindset on the part of contact center managers has a high chance of producing a more engaged and productive hybrid workforce.

Contact center leaders can find support for these efforts in a technological solution that offers data in real-time, encourages communication and full transparency, collects insights, and automates workflows and simple tasks so that agents can engage in more meaningful work.

Develop a guiding change philosophy

Leading during times of organizational change is challenging. And these days, many organizations go through what can seem like nearly continuous change. A guiding philosophy for change can help contact center managers in every industry. During times of change, the best leaders don’t get bogged down in minutiae or make unilateral decisions. Instead, they rise above the fray and engage team members in the process of finding solutions.

More specifically, as you plan for change, think about the sequence of change and coordinate each step so that changes that are dependent on each other happen in order. It’s also important to remain mindful of the cumulative cost of change on employees and ensure each team in your organization has the capacity for what you’re planning, writes TD at work. It’s crucial to help employees see that the changes will be worth it to them, and how, specifically, the changes will positively impact them.

And finally, consider this: human nature is such that people often have a difficult time imagining that others don’t know something that they themselves know, writes McKinsey. They add that people also often overestimate the extent to which other people share their opinions and beliefs. Approach change with a philosophy of honesty and openness and with the goal of ensuring every stakeholder understands what’s about to happen, from the ground up.

How to sustain the change

The best way to sustain change is to integrate it as seamlessly and as completely as possible into the everyday business processes of your organization and into the jobs of everyone affected. In early 2020, there was a lot of talk of adjusting to the “new normal,” and the same applies here. Your aim should be the “new business-as-usual,” post-change.

A study by Prosci found the top four most effective things you can do differently to realize sustained change: start earlier, create a more specific and targeted plan, engage stakeholders more effectively, and transfer ownership to leadership. The top three contributing factors to sustained change are support from leadership, ability to measure progress, and communications that encourage feedback. Here are some key things to keep in mind to sustain change:

  • Establish an accountability system: Make sure someone owns the new way of working and is committed to keeping it going. Then give them the tools to track progress, audit what’s really happening, and follow up if necessary.

  • Remove status quo enablers: If possible, take away any old systems or tools that would allow people to go back to the old way of doing things.

  • Equip managers to continue leading change: The continued support of supervisors and managers is essential to sustaining change. Ensure they are willing and able to see the change through.

It’s important to anticipate resistance while still in the planning stages and identify and solve the most likely sticking points so that when you encounter resistance, you’re prepared.

And finally, build your project with your customer in mind. Simply adding channels, or switching platforms, won’t necessarily improve the customer experience, and customers won’t necessarily embrace your change efforts.

Conclusion

We know you’ve probably tried tech changes before — probably more than once — and we know it can seem like there’s a new cure-all on the market every other week. Fads and trends come and go. But quality, sustainable efforts lead to quality, sustainable changes, and that’s what you’ll find with Khoros. We can’t offer a silver bullet because there isn’t one, but we can help you get more out of your complex change efforts than you might have ever before.

The truth is, if you install new software, no matter what your change management strategy is, you’ll probably realize some benefit. There’s inherent value in putting a new system in place, especially if it improves upon your former processes and eases the burden of agents and other contact center staff. But, without a solid change management strategy from the planning stage to the post-implementation stage, you’re unlikely to realize a maximum amount of value, and your change might not be lasting. In fact, structured change management increases the likelihood of project success six times. In the world of contact centers, every second counts, and how well your people are equipped for the change will directly impact your ROI.

Finally, we’re here to help you through your changes, too. At Khoros, our enterprise as a whole has undergone serious, organization-wide changes that have given us valuable perspective on what it means to be in the trenches. Our change management experts in Khoros Professional Services can help you build consensus for change among teams at your organization. Khoros Professional Services is accountable to your brand’s success, and they’ve deployed the Khoros platform across hundreds of businesses in all verticals, ensuring brands get the benefits they expect.

To get started on your digital transformation, get in touch by requesting a demo and we’ll help you take your contact center to the next level.

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