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Why organisations cannot afford to get carried away with contact centre success

To build sustainable success in the contact centre world, you need a strong focus on business goals, incremental business gains, teamwork and a culture based on trust

Across the contact centre and customer interaction space, the pace of change is unrelenting. Among solution providers operating across the marketplace, competition is fierce. To reach the top and stay there, you need some core competencies. A strong focus on business goals and achieving incremental business gains is key, as is a sense of teamwork and a culture based on trust.

Any organisations selling into this sector that can harness these capabilities in their employees are likely to be high-fliers. However, while these individuals and teams may be the biggest asset those businesses have, they may also be their greatest liability. 

Success in the contact centre arena is often hard won – but also easily lost. One of the biggest dangers is believing your own publicity. Nobody understands this better than Gerald Ratner, whose infamous Albert Hall speech to the Institute of Directors (IoD) in 1991 gave rise to the phrase “doing a Ratner” after the jewellery entrepreneur joked about the quality of two of his company’s products.

What is it that drives often-brilliant leaders like Ratner to this precipice? And what can individuals and businesses learn from their experience? To find out, Enghouse recently invited Ratner to speak to an audience of senior executives from contact centre vendors and solution providers about his experience of business and what it has taught him. 

The Ratner experience

At the beginning of the 1990s, Gerald Ratner’s career was riding high. Having inherited his father’s jewellery business, he quickly turned it into a multimillion-pound empire. This success bred a desire to grow the business into the world’s largest jeweller. 

In retrospect, this obsession with growth was unsustainable. The danger was that Ratner felt he could not go wrong. The company was outperforming competitors. “I was on the crest of a wave,” says Ratner. The speech he gave to the IoD reflected this confidence. Yet, the impression given was one of over-confidence.

The reaction from the media, and ultimately the public, was so negative that it sent the business into a spiral of decline. The lesson to learn – from Ratner’s perspective – is that however successful you are, avoid the temptation of “flaunting it and milking that success publicly”.

In attempting damage limitation, Ratner solicited advice but did not always take it – and this made the situation worse. The value of the Ratner group plummeted by around £500m following the speech, which nearly resulted in the firm’s collapse.

Further problems came when Ratner slashed the prices of his stock prior to Christmas 1991, despite advice to the contrary from management, the board of directors and external consultants. Ratner’s gamble failed – another example of the dangers of not listening to advice and something that every business, including those operating in the collaboration-focused contact centre space, could learn from.

We see the benefits of this in the contact centre arena, where by pooling skills and resources, partners can deliver a services and solutions offering more precisely targeted to customers’ needs. Channel players can, for example, add huge value to the sale of a vendor’s products by bundling them into packaged solutions, adding consultancy services to their portfolio, and building domain and vertical expertise in specific sweet spots.

Contact centre vendors also have a key role to play in this kind of arrangement, by developing partner programmes, engaging with and investing in partners, and giving them access to research and development and advanced technology input. It’s a collaborative approach that pays dividends for both groups and for their customers.

Lessons learned

The aftermath of the IoD speech hit Ratner hard, and for several years he struggled to motivate himself to get back into business. Yet, the successes he achieved once he did do so, particularly the establishment of online jewellery business Gerald Online, in collaboration with SB&T, a Mumbai-based jewellery export company, demonstrated he had learned from the past.

Gerald Online is a collaborative venture and the emphasis is on slower, steadier growth – but this has proved to be sustainable and the business is successful. Indeed, it is now one of the larger online jewellers in the UK. As Ratner says: “Success is sweeter second time around, albeit my company is nothing like the size of the old company.”

If he had his time again, Ratner says he’d no longer focus to such an extent on business growth – trying to be the biggest in the world, doubling his profit every year and expanding “at a rate of knots”.

Ratner’s story should resonate in the fast-track world of the contact centre, with its strong emphasis on partnership and channel sales. In this environment, it is easy to believe your own hype and then fall behind. Instead, the focus should be on building a prudent, sustainable approach to growth.

A consensus-based approach is key to building sustainable success in the contact centre world both from a business and an individual perspective. Relying on a diverse knowledge base with differing opinions and ideas will only strengthen your organisation. It is about thinking brand and brand values.

You shouldn’t be afraid to admit mistakes. People can be forgiving if you hold your hands up. No one is infallible. Remember: when you are most successful you are at greatest danger. Prudence, far-sightedness and building consensus are key to sustainable growth.

Read more on Customer Relationship Management (CRM) Services

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