Roadmap to a Contact Center of Excellence

Performance hinges on customer service culture

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When it comes to government IT-based programs, the technology itself rarely seems to be a stumbling block. Agency culture — mainly the various parts of an agency simply talking to each other — is most often the culprit. The push to boost the performance of agency contact centers is a prime example of that.

The problem was noted several years ago. In a March 2009 white paper written for the then-new Obama Administration, the Government Contact Center Council (G3C) said that nearly 60 percent of contact centers had call volumes that increased year-on-year.

The council also noted that the Obama administration’s plan to make government more transparent would entail increasing the volume of communications – “of all types and styles” – between government and citizens.

However, the council’s report identified a significant barrier to better communications: The lack of intra-agency collaboration and coordination. Agency contact centers “need to have an agency-wide system in place to push information to all relevant points of citizen contact” so that agencies can respond to inquiries, the report states.

Unfortunately, “too often today, agencies’ communications with citizens exist in silos of operations that do not communicate with each other, although these agencies are communicating with common customers,” according to the report. For example, some agencies have a “main” contact center and an “official” website, yet the managers of each “rarely talk or share information, much less coordinate their uniform deployment.”

The pressure on contact centers has only increased since then. A survey conducted by the CFI Group, which was used to compile the 2012 Government Contact Satisfaction Index, found it was a contact center agent’s knowledge about their agency that was the most critical feature in terms of impact on a citizen’s satisfaction with contact centers.

And that’s only increasing the expectation of contact centers and the agents who work in them. Those agents “are being required to become more facile, to know a lot more information and to find it quickly, and handle multiple channels of access,” said MaryAnn Moore, director of GSA’s contact center services.

With that in mind, many agencies are looking to consolidate the various dispersed points of information across their systems, so that contact center agents can have it all at their fingertips in one location.

That’s critical to the future performance of government contact centers, said Ron Woody, senior solution architect for Xerox Federal Services, and more agencies seem to be realizing that.

“Many of the requests for information I’ve seen in the past 18 months have been from agencies looking for strategies on how to consolidate their numerous call centers or service desks,” he said.

The Veterans Administration has already taken the leap. The CFI Group’s survey found that, of all the agencies it looked at, VA centers had the highest percentage of “frequent contractors,” that is, individuals who need to make repeated calls.

That’s not surprising, given the VA’s constituency. Yet, just two years earlier, the VA’s inspector general found that just 49 percent of callers to the Veterans Benefits Administration — probably the most politically sensitive part of the VA — had a chance of reaching an agent and getting accurate information.

Under heavy fire from Congress and other critics to get its act in order, the VA in 2011 began a program called the Veterans Relationship Management (VRM) Unified Desktop, a multi-year project to integrate 13 VA benefit databases onto one server, with all the information accessible on a single screen.

Technology from vendors such as Xerox can help make this happen, but technology is not enough, Woody says.

“It takes that concept of collaboration — for government being willing to combine all of the separate systems at agencies onto the single desktop,” he said. “But in many agencies, the various areas that need to come together to do that still control their own funding and decision making.”

Until you can identify the champion within the agency who is going to work across all of those various lines of responsibility, he said, the only thing contact center managers can do is work to improve their own areas.