When Domain Expertise Gets In The Way Of Change

So, your contact center has been in place for many years. It probably started many years ago from a few people taking phone calls during regular business hours and has developed into a multi-site, multi-channel, multi-shift operation. What started as an agile team adjusting to shifting and changing customer needs and quickly expanding products and solutions, is now changing at a snails’ pace and not keeping up with company or customer’s needs.

What really has changed? Just because the operation is larger doesn’t automatically mean it takes longer or is harder to change. There are great examples of large organizations with the ability to quickly change at scale. Intuit software has over 5000 agents on the phone supporting customers across the world and their product changes every year to support new tax code. Their product has moved from desktop software to software as a service. Their customer segments and products continue to grow year over year and they continue to be a high growth company with no signs of slowing down.

So, if sheer size isn’t the barrier, the next culprit must be tools or systems. You didn’t have complex tools or systems when you were a smaller operation and were able to change quickly. Why do you need something different as a larger organization?  Companies like Zappos, USAA, and Amazon don’t have complex tool sets to service customers and have some of the highest customer satisfaction ratings of any company across any vertical and also have large, complex contact center organizations.  Granted, there are tools that would help facilitate more efficient and effective changes across an organization, but lack of tools isn’t a barrier for these companies and they don’t use it as an excuse not to keep up with change.

There is one common thread I have observed in the 50+ companies I have worked in and tends to be the root cause that prevents change. That common thread is people with too much domain expertise.  They have glued together processes, duct taped systems, and used their ingenuity to keep the operation afloat in the most efficient and effective way possible. Don’t get me wrong,  I admire these people. They have to span the organization, keep up with change, provide insights to multiple audiences, reduce operating expenses, and try to explain to the CEO why they missed service levels at 11:30 PM for a couple of calls while they answered 10,000 calls within service levels throughout the rest of the day.

Over time, they get too close to the fragile operating model they have built. A once agile operating model where change was the norm must now flow through a few people because of the self-induced complexity created over time. They lose the true essence of what got them in business in the first place, providing a differentiated experience to the customer. They now fall back on process, regulations, costs, metrics, quality, industry vertical knowledge, and a myriad of other excuses to not change. They find comfort in this. Every customer issue that surfaces in the operation is a fire they alone must battle and at the end of the day they feel a sense of comfort knowing that they solved a few customer issues. They lose outside-in perspective, and now are the most resistant to change. Once motivated by company growth and culture, has switched them to fear, defensiveness, and knowledge hoarding.

When you identify this behavior, what do you do? Most leaders often try to rationalize with these operators. Trying to fix things one at a time. It’s like a game of whack-a-mole. One issue gets pounded down, another one or two pop up and as the game progresses, you never seem to make headway. You must look at your operation from the top down, not from the bottom up. I have seen companies invest millions of dollars on expensive consulting engagements only to get a bottoms up list of things to fix. Most of them sit on the shelf collecting dust because they fixed one thing, and two new issues popped up that needed to be solved. Time to remodel and move the furniture around to get a new perspective and don’t be afraid to break it.

Ask yourself, what value do you want from your contact center operation? If you can’t answer that question, think about what would happen if you shut the contact center down completely. That value statement should inform everything from hiring guides, to SOP, to performance goals.

Now, go change something!

Scott McIntyre

Chief Instigator