Contact Center Series - Part 3: From Startup to Growth

This is part three of our four part series, “The Digital Health Operators Guide to Contact Centers” – access parts onetwo, and four.

In the first two articles of our Digital Health Operator’s Guide to Contact Centers series, we’ve given an overview of contact centers in digital health and provided guidance on how to get started building a contact center. In this article, we tackle the next stage: scaling the team.

The scaling phase is arguably the most difficult part of building a call center. You’re attempting to improve both the quality and the efficiency of your operations while simultaneously growing the team, often at a rapid pace. There’s so much to do in such a short time that if you aren’t strategic about how you approach your building efforts, you can quickly fall behind — with both the customer and employee experience suffering as a result.

In this article, we’ll cover some best practices to help you navigate the chaos of a rapidly scaling contact center, including 1) how to drive greater operational efficiency, and 2) how to improve your people processes.

Driving operational efficiency

Broadly speaking, there are two primary levers contact center leaders can pull to improve operational efficiency:

  1. Hiring specialized operational support roles to oversee one or more team enablement responsibilities

  2. Implementing new technology and/or augmenting existing technology to streamline and automate the team’s activities

Bringing on operational support

In our previous article, we noted that an important part of planning for future growth is setting the expectation with leadership that additional operational support will be required as the team scales. Once growth begins to take off, it’s time to put this plan into action.

In the table below, we’ve highlighted the operational support functions that most commonly exist within contact center teams, including their key responsibilities and some best practices to keep in mind. It’s important to note that it’s often not necessary to hire dedicated support for each function; to start, multiple functions can be owned by a single person. As the team continues to expand and the operational needs grow further, you can consider whether further segmentation of responsibilities and additional ops hires are needed

Leveling up your contact center technology

The growth stage is also when you start investing in additional technology solutions to improve the quality and operational efficiency of your team.

What you add typically depends on where you’re feeling the most pain. If it’s scheduling logistics, you might invest in a workforce management solution. If it’s delivering accurate information to your customers, you’re likely looking for a knowledge management product. Or if you’re simply trying to get a better read on how your customers feel about the service you’re providing, you might look for a customer satisfaction (CSAT) or net promoter score (NPS) measurement tool.

Most CRMs and phone systems have some of these capabilities built-in — however, in many cases, the basic functionality begins to break at this stage and necessitates looking for more specialized solutions. Even if you’re not yet experiencing pain in these areas, it can still be worthwhile to explore other solutions to see whether there are opportunities to meaningfully improve your performance.

In the table below, we briefly highlight the most common technology solutions contact leaders consider at the scaling stage.

Improving your people processes

A natural consequence of scaling is a rapid expansion in headcount — but without careful processes in place, a growing team can easily spiral out of control, leading to frustrated employees and unhappy customers. In our experience, three of the most important people-related systems are hiring, performance management, and team culture. We will focus on performance management and team culture since we covered hiring in the previous article in this series.

Implementing performance management

We like to break performance management into two related levels: team-level and team member-level.

Team-level performance

Assessing team performance is often a challenge in the early days. Goal-setting is difficult when your operations are still maturing and operational benchmarks don’t exist. But at this stage, it’s less about identifying precise KPIs and more about developing a habit of tracking performance. Once you develop initial baselines for your key metrics, you can focus on driving improvement.

In terms of what to measure, we’ve found these three categories work well as a jumping-off point for team performance goals:

  • Efficiency-focused KPIs – e.g., the target ratio of customers to representatives

  • Quality-focused KPIs – e.g., NPS or CSAT

  • Growth-focused KPIs – e.g., operational goals related to headcount growth or increased capability

The exact metrics will inevitably vary depending on the organization. Whichever you choose, we’d recommend keeping them simple and easy to understand, particularly as you’re just starting out. You can always change or augment them as you develop the muscle of tracking and managing targets.

Team member-level performance

In our experience, the greatest value of team member-level performance management comes from setting expectations. When well articulated, performance expectations give team members a clear picture of success, motivating them to achieve that vision and making it clear when they fall short. If your organization encounters an underperforming team member, performance expectations empower managers to facilitate improvement or confidently decide to part ways. More importantly, clear expectations drive a better employee experience, as they help prevent ambiguity and give team members a better sense of where they stand.

We’ve found a mix of two types of team member goals works best:

  • Team-oriented goals – These should directly correlate with the goals set for overall team performance. For example, if you set a target ratio of 1,000 customers to one team member, you’d want to set goals encouraging each team member to reach the number of contacts required to meet that target.

  • Individual-oriented goals – Developmental objectives are equally important, especially aligned with a team member’s professional goals (e.g., learning a new skill). The key to individual goals is to make sure the person is excited about what they’re committing to and that your organization is there to help them achieve success.

Building team culture

When company culture is strong, employees are happier (and happy employees are more productive). But when culture suffers, the opposite happens — and in our experience, once a culture becomes negative, it is incredibly difficult to turn things around.

So, how do you build a strong culture? It starts with the people you hire. Startups are characterized by frequent change, which is challenging to begin with and made even more complex by the rise of remote or hybrid teams. Therefore, it’s critical to hire people who are comfortable with ambiguity and excellent communicators with strong organizational skills.

The next step is prioritizing culture-building activities, particularly those facilitating team member connections. The best way to do this is by making company culture a core management responsibility and empowering managers with the necessary time and budget. Just keep in mind team culture isn’t one-size-fits-all, and what works for one team may not work for another. It’s crucial to extend your managers the freedom to support culture-building in whatever way works best for their team.

At this point, you should be well on your way to understanding what’s required to scale a contact center team. However, building out a contact center team from scratch is not the only option. In the last piece of this series, we take a deep dive into external contact centers, when it makes sense to work with one, and how to ensure they’re successful.

Read next: Contact Center Series – Part 4: Partnering Externally