Text: Marco P. Houthuijzen

Organizations often make use of consultants: to solve problems, fight a crisis or start changes. They also contribute with their knowledge and experience in the contactcentre world. Before using a consultant, it is wise to think about the pitfalls when hiring a consultant.

The most important considerations for hiring a consultant are:

  • Crisis management for PR- and customer contact catastrophes
    This asks for the veni, vidi, gone-consultant: he/she jumps in the deep end after having agreed on a high degree of competences and will – averse to internal conventions – (and if possible with a big number of consultants-colleagues) want to bring everything back to order. Just like construction workers, consultants who bill by the hour do not have so much haste (and thus produce more/thicker reports) than the ones who take on the job for a fixed fee.

  • Assessment of the customer service’s efficiency
    There are barely any Chief Customer Officers to be found in Dutch boardrooms – often there isn’t even anyone that holds the end responsibility for “the Customer”. This is strange since the Customer is that which every organization is justified by. The contact centre is rapidly seen as a costly calling factory (“everyone can answer the phone, right?”) and the consultant is hired in order to lower the costs.

Consultants particularly communicate with their direct client and line managers. Rarely or never with the employees of the department(s) concerned. And with communication I mean: the debate and dialogue, not announcements about what is about to change. Since 70% of the costs of a contact centre are personnel costs, the first advice is obvious. Less people can be justified by more self-service (the Aldi concept) and shorter conversation times (scripting). There is often only a reaction to the production capacity of the contact centre and not to the role the contact centre has internally (damage control, the linking factors between the different islands, silo’s, marketing goldmine, and so on). As criterion for quality 7,3 is often used as acceptable norm. And with that 7,3 you are in the middle group, which means that you won’t distinguish yourself from your competition in that area. And that while this is the moment to distinguish yourself in terms of customer orientation and problem solving capacity. That’s what your customers will assess you on.

  • Storing the quality of the service
    Some consultants/consultancies like to sell and implement quality systems like ITO, COPC, ISO 9000/9001, LEAN/Six Sigma, the European NEN-norm or its derivates.

Measuring is knowing, right? (see further).

There is also a great number of ‘independent’ consultants reseller of different software solutions (SaaS applications, workforce management systems and/or know their own methods, measurement systems and other solutions.

Always ask yourself whether the extra service solves something for your organization or for that of the consultant.
“Customer service is not a department; it’s an attitude”
I was born with the curse of servitude and being people-oriented; giving sincere attention, listening, helping people, wanting to be friendly, solving problems. I was born with the curse of servitude and being people-oriented; giving sincere attention, listening, helping people, wanting to be friendly, solving problems. And thus I started earning money with it. (“Sometimes our greatest strength comes from our weakness”): in the handicapped care, at the UWV, pension fund PGGM, CNV Vakcentrale, ‘branch’ organization (see further) VCN and now as freelancer. A period that spans over 20 years. I have been involved with the conception and birth of in-house contact centres and I have seen the bureaus specialised in contact centres at work. As manager Operations at VCN I have got acquainted with these advise bureaus as committee member. I am thus a ‘hands-on’ expert.

“All the solutions to our problems are in the front line staff, if we bother to ask” Tom Peters

The first an external advisor will do, is make an inventory: he/she talks with several parties concerned, he reads (conclusions and suggestions from reports of previous consultants) and writes an own plan of approach. As a consultant invoices per hour, you could have saved a part of the costs by doing that inventory yourself (after which you probably would’ve concluded that you don’t need a consultant).

Measuring is knowing… but not understanding
Organizations set great store by management reports, thus consultants like to produce as many numbers as possible: Average Waiting Time, Longest Waiting Person, Average conversation duration, Average time finishing up, Customer satisfaction, Employee satisfaction, Net Promoter Score, Quality Monitoring, First Call Resolution, Adherence, Conversion rates, Upsell and Cross sell ratio’s, costs per contact, Forecast realization…

Often the ‘quality’ of a conversation is measured as ‘has the script been followed’?, ‘Were the sales moments recognised and used?’ and ‘Was the employee friendly?’ In my opinion only the customer can assess the quality of the conversation. The bottom line being: does he/she feel as if he/she were taken seriously? Did the employee listen to him/her sincerely and will the request be answered or problem solved? And is the experience so positive that the customer will certainly come back and that he wants the same for his friends? (free after Walt Disney).

The widely present instrument ‘Net Promoter Score’ should therefore be linked to the measurement of the numbers of ‘repeat business’ and ‘referral business’ (there is a big difference between what people say they will do and what they actually do [know thyself!]).
Conclusion
Most problems can be solved and prevented by doing an extensive problem analysis yourself and to discuss this with the employees and to look for solutions together. Consultants can be of added value; but know that the stricter the assignment description is, the more you will control the costs and keep a clear overview. Know that about 70% of strategic policy fails because there is no basis: estimate how much you think you need to communicate (discussion and dialogue) with the people directly involved, double that and double that again. Then you will come quite close.

Marco Houthuijzen was Manager Operations at VCN (dutch Customer Care Association) and is now Chief Engagement Officer at ViDeC training & consulting (http://www.videc.nl/)