Support Center Maturity A Value-based Model ÂŠ2011 Brian Flagg
Introduction Maturity models are pervasive in many industries. A simple web search will uncover over 120 maturity models, ranging from a Business and I/T Integration Maturity Model (Leenards, 2009), to a Maturity Model of e-Government (Microsoft Interoperability Roundtable, 2011), to a Partnership Maturity Model (Dabholkar, 2009), and even to a Social Media Maturity Model (Kaluza, 2008). All of the models have some basic elements in common; maturity is defined in terms of levels, such that as a company or organizational unit proceeds from one level to another, their maturity changes. The models portray a spectrum of maturity levels, with the lowest level of maturity at one end, and the highest at the opposite end. Within each level is a definition for that level, identifying the key characteristics of a company or organization at that level of maturity. Typically, the models depict maturity in an organizationâ€™s processes, leadership and planning, technology (technology in the broadest sense), and may include organizational capabilities. Many models include guidance for the organization, on how to move from one level to a higher level. Typically the model is developed by an industry group or consortium and therefore the guidance represents the collective wisdom of its membership. The models are useful as they not only provide a set of good or best practices, but also allow an organization to find out where it is on the maturity continuum, and what the next level looks like. This gives the maturity model an advantage over a framework, which is an end-state model. Frameworks are operational models that are also developed by an industry group or consortium, and represent the end-state, or highest level of operational maturity. Unfortunately the frameworks do not provide the organization with either a sense for the size of the gaps between their current operation and the framework, nor with any path to get there. The most advantageous aspect of maturity models is that there are several levels identified and defined. The models show what is important at a given level, and stepwise improvements to make to get to the next. Without this roadmap, organizations typically either do not know what the next step looks like, or try to move to a framework that may be many levels of maturity above where they currently sit. This explains why many improvement initiatives fail. Generally, it is very difficult for an organization to move directly from one level of maturity, say two, to level four or five. An organization that is at level two is simply not ready to progress directly to level four or five, and therefore whatever the improvement initiative to try to get there, it is almost certainly bound for failure.
However helpful the maturity models are, they lack one important element, the notion of value. Value informs the organization why they want to be at a certain level of maturity. Value helps the organization to develop an ROI or business case to moving to the next level of maturity. This article introduces a maturity model for support contact centers that includes a value proposition for each level of maturity.
The Model Levels The levels chosen for the model set forth in this article are based on the Carnegie Mellon Software Engineering Institute (SEI) Capability Maturity Model Integration, or CMMI (Carnegie Mellon, 2011). CMMI was chosen as it is the result of 20 years of ongoing work by the CMMI Product Team, which includes members from industry, government, and the SEI. The levels of process maturity identified by SEI are; Initial, Managed, Defined, Quantitatively Managed, and Optimized. There are defined as: 1. Initial (chaotic, ad hoc, individual heroics) - the starting point for use of a new or undocumented process. 2. Repeatable - the process is at least documented sufficiently such that repeating the same steps may be attempted. 3. Defined - the process is defined/confirmed as a standard business process, and decomposed to levels 0, 1 and 2 (the latter being Work Instructions). 4. Managed - the process is quantitatively managed in accordance with agreed-upon metrics. 5. Optimizing - process management includes deliberate process optimization/improvement. Whereas the focus of CMMI is on software engineering processes, the notion in this article is expanded above the process dimension to include other dimensions of maturity, such as leadership and technology, as the above definitions can be readily applied to these dimensions as well. This will be discussed in the next section of this article. The levels also have excellent and broad applicability outside of strictly the software engineering domain, and can generally be applied to most any industry or domain. The next section will introduce and define the dimensions applicable to the support contact center industry or domain maturity model, however, the dimensions presented in this article should have broad applicability.
The Model Dimensions As explained previously, a maturity model is characterized by dimensions and levels. The model depicts how dimensions change across levels. Dimensions are key drivers of performance and can be considered critical success factors for the support contact center organization. Often, the dimensions cover areas of leadership, operations, and technology, again technology used in the broadest sense. These dimensions are covered in this article.
Leadership The elements chosen for the dimension of leadership chosen are those important in setting direction and driving the organization forward. Key elements or aspects of leadership included are strategic planning, organizational leadership, succession planning and competency development. Maturity in leadership moves an organization from the directionless focus solely on the day-to-day operations of the business through the establishment of a strategic planning function, the development of core competency definitions and succession planning, and the shifting focus of management from cost control to revenue enhancement to value creation. Maturity in leadership is a necessary prerequisite to maturity in other dimensions. At the Initial level of maturity, leadership is depicted as management by crisis. Heroes emerge to fight and control the fires of today, and when a new fire emerges tomorrow, so must another hero. Leadership direction is provided by strategy, but a strategy is not in place as the need for one has not yet been recognized by the organization. Hence, the organization is directionless. Outside of management by crisis and the need for heroes, the principle focus of the organization is cost and cost control, as this is usually the easiest organizational asset to measure and control. However, without a strategy or strategic plan in place, cost control and cutting is indiscriminate. Costs may decrease as a result, but it is not at all clear if the cuts are for tactical or strategic advantage, or not. In short, the lowering of operational costs is more of an accident than a plan. As no understanding of the need for benchmarking is in place, the organization does not have a target for cost cutting programs or initiatives, and hence no gauge of whether the programs or initiatives are the right ones. Core competencies are those capabilities that are critical to a business achieving competitive advantage. The concept of core competencies was formulated by developed by C K Prahalad and G Hamel in their book entitled Competing for the Future (Hamel, 1994). Their principal idea was that over time organizations develop key areas of expertise which are distinctive to that organization and critical to the organization's long term growth. Unfortunately, when an organization is in the Initial level of maturity there is no understanding or recognition of core competencies. This is of little surprise, as without a strategy, and thus with no tactical or strategic plan in place, the organization should not be expected to have an understanding of competitive advantage or of what is needed for long term growth. At the Initial level of maturity in the leadership dimension there is no leadership succession planning in place. As there is no long term focus, no strategic or tactical plan in place, and a singular focus on management by crisis, future leaders are not identified and developed, and current leaders are too busy fighting fires to plan for their replacement. Promotion is likely based on heroism and an employeeâ€™s perceived value to the organization. There are far too many examples of employees, a good fit in their current operational assignment being thrust into a leadership position and failing miserably. Everyone has one story or another about a very competent engineer or programmer being promoted into a management position, totally unprepared, and simply not being management or leadership material. This is one form of the Peter Principle. The Peter Principle states that "in a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence", meaning that employees tend to be promoted until they reach a position at which they cannot work competently. The Principle was developed by Dr. Laurence
J. Peter and Raymond Hull in their book The Peter Principal (Peter, 1969). Without a leadership development program and succession plan in place within an organization, competent employees are promoted to a level within the organization where they are unprepared or unskilled and therefore incompetent.
Processes As the maturity of the organization in the leadership dimension drives the maturity of the other dimensions, it should be of no surprise that the Initial level of maturity is characterized by crisis management, and ad-hoc, non-repeatable and unplanned work efforts. Processes, whether they are financial, operational, developmental, or involved with management, or planning, reflect this Initial level of maturity. At this level, there really are no processes. Every problem or every situation is treated anew, typically driven by heroes working in an ad-hoc fashion. Results, if they are measured, are accidental. The organization is not only not synergistic, it is un-synergistic. In other words, the whole is actually less than the sum of its parts. Any knowledge about how the piece-parts of the organization interface or integrate to get work done, or how they perform within isolation, is stored in the grey matter of the employees doing the work. This is known as tribal knowledge. It contains good practices as well as bad habits which inevitably creep into the work, as the knowledge about how the work is done is as individual as the employee storing the knowledge. This level of maturity has a great deal of issues relating to how work gets done. As the â€˜howâ€™ is not written or documented, there is no starting point for improvement. There is no context for understanding the history of results produced by the organization, whether improvements or otherwise were the result of some directed action or not. The training of new employees is an arduous and elongated task, and there is no clear understanding of whether the training is effective and complete or not. What can be said about employee morale and engagement at the Initial level of maturity? It should be clear that given the level of crisis-driven leadership, the constant need for heroes, and the ad-hoc and inefficient nature of the work, morale and employee engagement is correspondingly low. Research by Gallup and others shows that engaged employees are more productive. They are more profitable, more customer-focused, safer, and more likely to withstand temptations to leave (Buckingham, 1999). Correspondingly, managers can expect the opposite results if employee engagement is low. Important to increasing engagement is for employees and managers understand what motivates the other. Clearly with the leadership and process situation described above, employees with have little understanding of what motivates management, outside of working longer and harder rather than smarter, and management will have little interest in understanding what motivates employees other than the recognition of heroes.
Tools and Technology The dimension which is typically the most domain or industry unique is the tools and technology dimension. Whereas the process dimension may consider how tools and technology is acquired and managed, and whereas the leadership dimension may include project and portfolio management and
the corresponding management of capital, the tools and technology dimension contains the ‘what’ rather than the ‘how’ (process) or ‘why’ (leadership) of tools and technology. Support center tools and technology fall into four broad categories; workforce management, contact and queuing management, knowledge and workflow management, and case or ticket management. Workforce management includes workload forecasting, staff scheduling and staff adherence to the schedules. Contact queuing management technology includes all of the functions needed to get a user of the service connected to a staff member or self-service. Knowledge and workflow management tools control the flow of an interaction between a staff member and a service user. Case or ticket management tools allow for the documentation of the service interaction. As with process, technology and tools maturity is primarily driven by maturity in the leadership dimension. At the Initial level of maturity, technology is immature or non-existent. No workload forecasting in place. Workforce scheduling is ad-hoc or using a time block where a number of staff are scheduled to fill 8-hour shifts. Matching resource to workload is not understood. No telephony queuing in place. Multiple phone numbers or a block of lines is allocated in a round-robin fashion, with a busy signal if the number of lines is exceeded. No alternate channels are available with the exception of email, which is handled using the organization’s general office email application. At the Initial level of maturity, Knowledge and work procedures are not documented. Interactions are handled on a best-can-do basis, based on tribal knowledge, and hence subject to the skill and experience of the staff member. Errors and workarounds are rediscovered on every contact, making each contact suffer through the problem determination skill of the staff member. Furthermore, at this level, no call or incident tracking system is in place. Integration with other levels of support does not exist outside of email or phone call interactions. Contact analysis is not understood as needed given that knowledge and workflow is not documented and forecasting is not in place.
Value The Initial level of maturity seems to paint a bleak picture in all dimensions, a picture of a very immature, inefficient, and poor-quality organization. Granted, any organization at the Initial level of maturity either needs to move to the next level over time or cease to exist. Clearly, an organization operating at an Initial level of maturity is of low value to its company, its customers, and its employees. The notion of value is an important addition to the maturity model. Each level of maturity has an associated value, and it is the value element that informs the organization whether it is at the proper level of maturity. An examination of the maturity model with the value added for each level will give the organization an understanding of the return on their investment if they work to achieve a higher level of maturity. Otherwise, increasing maturity is an interesting exercise, but may have an organization chasing improvements that net no increase in value. Value can be depicted any number of ways, by breaking it down according to the components of Strategy Maps (Kaplan & Norton, 2001), showing how maturity in the segments equates to value from the four perspectives; customer, financial, internal and organizational. Or, value can be depicted
according to a strategy question posed by Robert Simons (Simons, 2010) on shareholder, customer, and employee value. A pattern is emerging here. Notably, that the elements of value derived from a certain level of maturity across the segments should be based on the strategy model adopted by the organization. This should be somewhat obvious; an organization develops a strategy and strategic plan to achieve a certain value. This also drives an imperative for the organization; increasing value is depended upon increasing maturity. So, the key question is, should the organization strive to reach an Optimized, or the highest level of maturity? At level company or corporate level, the answer is â€œyesâ€?. But again, it is vitally important for the company to know its current level of maturity, and to put plans in place to get to the next level. An organization will find it difficult to move to a level of maturity too much higher than that of the broader organization or company. Support contact centers are typically highly integrated and dependent upon other functions with the company; support, sales and marketing. If these other functions are at an Initial level of maturity, it will be very difficult for the support contact center to operate at a Managed level. Process interlocks and technology dependencies will usually frustrate two integrated organizations operating at widely varying maturity levels. Therefore, maturity assessment efforts need to include partner organizations to be truly effective. The subject of core competencies was raised earlier in this article. A company or corporation will have a set of core competencies, those functions that contribute substantially to the unique competitive advantage for the company or corporation. The focus on maturity needs to be on these core competencies. Typically, an internal help desk operation will not fall into the category of core competency for a large non-technology corporation. What does this mean for the help desk in terms of assessing and improving maturity? Again, value is the key differentiator. The help desk needs to understand its value at its level of maturity, and project what its value would be at higher levels of maturity. To progress in maturity typically requires both capital investment and expense. A business case is essential for the help desk not only in understanding costs to improve maturity, but the value of the increased maturity as well. It makes no sense for the internal help desk to implement self-service and multi-channel technology at great expense if it cannot justify the expense with a business case. A maturity model provides a description of the segments and shows how they change as one moves through the levels of maturity. A maturity model can also provide some guidance with respect to value. However, as each organization, and its place with the company, is unique, the organization needs to use the description of the segments and its strategic planning model to develop the value statement for each level of maturity.
Conclusion Frameworks, such as ITIL, represent an end-state but provide little direction for the support organization in terms of understanding how they stack up against the framework or how to evolve from their current state to the framework. Maturity models provide the support organization with a description of each level of maturity, and some provide guidance for moving from one level of maturity to the next. However, maturity models lack a statement of value for each level. Value is needed to help the organization understand the return on an investment needed to move from one level of maturity to the
next. The value should be derived from the organizationâ€™s strategic planning model, supported by the maturity model segments of leadership, processes and technology. The support contact center cannot assess and plan for maturity improvements in isolation. Support contact centers are integrated with other support organizations, and typically with the companyâ€™s marketing and sales functions. Widely disparate levels of maturity among these integrated organizations will be problematic. An industry maturity model can provide a description of each segment at each level of maturity, and can provide guidance as to the value at each level of maturity, but ultimately each organization is unique and must develop its value, at its current level of maturity, and at higher levels of maturity.
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