This article first appeared in ICMI.
George, the barber in the little town I grew up, was a gifted storyteller, and it was entertaining to listen to George elaborate in great detail about his endeavors. However, he was also opinionated about how stories should be told, and if you took too long unspinning your own yarn, he would interject, “Get to the point!”
Little did I then realize that George was giving me sound advice for the budget cycle. Every year we in contact centers take our world and share it with the rest of the company through the budgetary process. Any good partnership on the budget involves communication, and communication can’t exist without understanding. You have to tell your department’s story well!
Here are a few tips for telling the story of your budget to the finance department and to others outside the world of the headset.
Create a No-Acronym-Zone
You may know a few combos of letters so well, but such industry jargon may not be the right terms to convey “ROI”.
Spell out what these terms actually mean to the uninitiated. Sometimes, holding a 101 for higher ups, or having a reference deck to explain both the “what” and the “why” cements the foundation needed for a successful budget discussion. Also, test for understanding, and don’t trust the head nod.
Go Big or Go Home
When discussing efficiencies, it can be tempting to nickel and dime the terminology. If the cost per ticket changes from $12 to $11, we might be tempted to characterize it as a $1 savings. However, if you multiply that by a thousand tickets a year, that figure will likely get more attention. Likewise, overreliance on percentages can cause eyes to glaze, and it may not do your department’s work justice. Put the big dollar-sign behind that information.
One big word of caution - in the day of AI and deflection, chances are cost per ticket will be going up. There may be a lot of head-shaking unless you can help people look at the whole pie of the cost. You are making a smaller pie, which costs less, but the slices may be slightly bigger. Make sure your audience gets that.
Make Service Level and Occupancy Two Sides of the Same Coin
The key relationship between service level and occupancy is often a question that comes up, but the answer to that question is rarely understood. They are parts of the same equation, yet I have often seen separate goals set for each in a budget.
Make the case why service is important. You will also potentially run into the conversation of how much you will save if you raise your service level threshold. Explain that raising the service level threshold does not make the work go away—it delays the work from getting done!
Go For a Big-Tent Budget
Make budget planning something that helps everyone see how your department values the other departments, and how interdepartmental interaction can positively impact everyone if planned efficiently. Here are some items to consider:
1) Bottoms up shrinkage. Plan with each group in the contact center what is really needed, and not just what you did last year. For example, will the July training really take place the same week and be as long or short as last year?
2) Training and HR. Make sure you think of the timing of meetings or HR training and how it will be delivered. If these departments understand the “when” and “where,” and that you want it to be a success, you will be surprised how much partnership you can achieve.
3) Recruiting. Are there certain times of year when it’s easier to recruit or you get better candidates? Are you planning a recruiting push when your lead recruiter has a daughter getting married? Turnover and engagement are a cornerstone of the workplace in this industry. Ensure you are realistically accounting for these factors in budget planning.
Create a Partnership
The most important part of the budget process is creating a partnership in which you can look forward to seeing each other during the process each year. You are all on the same team, just playing different positions.
For successful budget delivery year after year, you need to plan the plan and work the plan and be transparent. Finally, remember you are telling your department’s current and future story, and you have to tell that story well. Get to the point and keep your listeners with the pursestrings engaged.
Todd Hixson has been in contact center operations/management for around 20 years, working for Travelocity, Cabelas and Intuit prior to joining Hulu. He has been an out-sourcer, and in-sourcer and an us-sourcer with a belief in efficiency realized using creative scheduling, performance based "right for me" shift bidding, and pushing limits with optimization focusing on delighted customers and engaged employees.
His current projects include capacity planning that relentlessly pursues better ways while ensuring his team “embraces fun.” In all of this, the focus is on the fact that it starts with the customer!
He has driven back-office utilization of WFM practice, multiple channel skill based operations practices, and cross functional "day in the life of WFM" workshops. Todd has served on ICMI's advisory board, consulted in industry standard certification with CIAC and was the recipient of ICMI’s distinguished Life-time Achievement Award in 2018.