The quickest way to sink a potentially successful, profitable call centre is to not set realistic goals, or worse, to not share those goals with your centre workforce.
Many companies and business ideas have run aground on the rocky coastlines of unclear goals. There are any number of things that could go wrong: rapid shifts in market trends that render initial aims obsolete; target audiences that shift away from certain products, brands, or services; non-diversified business aims that allow only one service to be rendered, or bust, etc.
Call centres are no different. These contact points thrive on service provision to customers, whether sales or solutions. They often have high employee turnover rates, present challenging work environments, and subject their people to long, grinding hours that can rapidly degenerate in terms of productivity and motivation. These are not things that call centre managers don’t necessarily want to engender or allow, but they could happen despite best efforts. How exactly does a call centre stand the test of time and provide longevity, both in services delivered, and workforce retention?
Simple: they set smart goals.
We can argue the nature of what ‘smart’ means here, and interpretations will vary from manager to manager, depending on their style of leadership or capability. Even a diverse range of perspectives cannot ignore the simple truth that all goals need careful thinking, alignment to satisfy the needs of clients and workforce, and should make allowances for changeability in all business areas. The most effective goals strike the balance between serving company needs, and serving employee needs. The two are not identical; one can fail when the other is absent, or when one takes precedence over the other. “The customer is always right” might ring true as a guide, but in reality it is not always accomplishable, nor is it sound business practice to set your clock by only your clients’ variable demands. To most effectively ensure that your call centre workforce moves as one to sell and service, with one primary purpose, you’ll need simple, sound, smart business strategy with clearly outlined goals.
First things first: you need to communicate a clear, concise, strategic centre goal to your workforce. Even call centres have various departments, such as operations, management, quality control, recruitment, training, etc. Ensure that all your various centre coordinators follows the same goals, and communicate inter-departmentally2. This visibility will make sure your various functions don’t inadvertently work against each other, or that efforts are made redundant by different departments working towards the same goals, but isolated from each other. You must also account for the fact that not all of your call centre staff belong squarely in only one department, or will only ever have one function. For example, your recruitment and training departments cannot operate independently of one another, and the productivity and effectiveness of your training measures cannot operate independently of quality oversight, else you misalign your training outcomes with your centre agent’s functionality.
Before we can get to the benefits of company-aligned goals, we will look first at effective ways to set those goals in the first place. The S.M.A.R.T test is one of the most simplified yet far-reaching and effective ways to see if your goals for your call centre can actually work for your employees and business, and not against them.
‘S’ for ‘Specific’
A 2017 University of California report1 breaks this down into the simplest questions:
- Who? – consider the individuals or departments that are going to be involved in accomplishing your call centre goals. “Who is responsible for what?”
- What? – you might need to be more detailed here, but this step will determine what you wish to accomplish for your call centre. “What do you want to accomplish?”
- Where? – one of the less applicable criteria to query, but if you are just starting out, you need to think of the physicality of your workspace, or events that could affect your strategy. “Where does all of this take place?”
- When? – this will frame the timelines of your goals and efforts. You might needs to establish the ‘who’ and the ‘what’ first, else what are you planning to set aside time for? “When should this goal be accomplished or completed?”
- Which? – here is where you will define the possible business requirements, and whichever obstacles might hamper your goals (e.g. often identifying what not to do, to see a clearer picture of what to do). This also leads organically to the ‘how’ of your efforts. “Which elements are required?” and “How will these elements affect centre efforts?”
- Why? – question your goal itself. Why is it relevant, and why will it determine the hopefully profitable outcomes of your call centre? For example, if you ask this question with regards to your workforce, then appeal to the facts: advancement, or career development. “Why is my goal important, and why will it benefit my employees?”
‘M’ is for ‘Measurable’
No successful business can ignore either its numbers or its people. To be able to continuously accomplish your primary goal – even through unforeseen dips or challenges – you need to be able to measure everything that will align efforts to successfully accomplishing your primary goal, and all its subsidiary aims.
‘A’ stands for ‘Attainable’
Lofty goals are the stuff of dreams, but they could break your workforce’s morale. Don’t set goals – primary or otherwise – that quickly fall by the wayside because the expectations to accomplish said goals are just not within reach of your workforce. You can afford some room to manoeuvre; relevant, attainable goals don’t stifle creativity, but also don’t allow for too much leeway and individualistic interpretation. Be ambiguous, but also realistic.
‘R’ for ‘Relevant’ (or ‘realistic’)
Leading off of attainability, setting realistic goals – and more importantly, clearly communicating those goals – will leave your call centre workforce with a clearly defined, relevant approach to take. Your centre goals must be relevant to your workforce, else their efforts will arguably give your call centre the profitability it needs, but also rapidly increase your employee turnover rate (which will drop that profitability faster than you can achieve it).
‘T’ stands for ‘Time-bound’
Goals that don’t have defined end points can very quickly demotivate your workforce. No one wants to work towards some massively open-ended goal, without knowing that the goal is time-sensitive. Such goals are rarely accomplished successfully. How do you expect your centre goals to work, if the goal posts keep shifting, or moving further and further away from fruition?
Ultimately, your call centre will only see the benefits of goals, if those goals are foundationally iron-clad in terms of its outcomes. The space between “this is what I want to accomplish” and “this is what I have achieved” should be populated with your S.M.A.R.T strategy in all its varied, magnificent forms and functions. Make sure your goals have defined outcomes, and then put in the efforts for your workforce to accomplish them in cost-effective, productive, and ultimately profitable ways.
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