How to Build a Contact Center That Can Withstand Whatever the Future Throws at It

Welcome guest contributor Jeremy Markey! Jeremy has a few decades-long background in contact centers and shares from his experience working with agents at Hunter Douglas as the leader of CS Ops and Workforce Experience. Hunter Douglas is the leading manufacturer and marketer of custom window treatments in North America.

Three Steps to Taking Your Contact Center to the Next Level in 2024

Economists love to make bold predictions at the end of every year. Gazing forward to 2024, the experts expect the US Fed to cut interest rates as it looks for that elusive “soft landing”. In contrast to recent fears of an impending recession, the experts tend to have a pretty optimistic outlook for the economy heading into the new year. While that’s good news, expect the near future to be a bit bumpy, depending on your industry. In fact, there are still many worrying signs in the economy around inflation and an uptick in bankruptcies. The overall theme this year? More uncertainty.

So, what do you do to prepare your contact center—your customer service, customer experience, customer solutions center—for an uncertain economic future? I always tell people to look at three things in the face of possible economic headwinds: invest in people, invest in digital-first, and reduce your spend. But those are just the umbrellas. What do they actually look like? I’ve been in a lot of organizations where we thought, for example, we were investing in people. But when our best people left, it was clear that we were off the mark. Or take digital-first. There are a lot of misguided steps—everybody tried to beat everybody to the punch. If you’re already down the path of digital-first, your strategy might be to double down. But a lot of organizations aren’t there yet. And then there are so many ways to look at adjusting your spending. What does that mean in a contact center—without cutting off your nose to spite your face

Step 1 Invest in People

The first step to investing in your people is a counter-intuitive one. Toxic people and poor performers must go. As soon as possible. (That includes leadership, by the way.) Those folks will drive away your best people. And I can’t speak for every toxic person or every poor performer, but I’ve been that person at one point in my past and I’ll tell you from personal experience, they’re not happy. They just don’t have the bravery to separate and go someplace else. Let them go and they’ll be happier.

Fit Assessment

Now when you’re looking to replace poor performers, you need to start with a fit assessment. Is the person that you hired for in the past going to meet your future needs? If not, update your job requirements based on what you’re looking for. For example, you might need to hire somebody who can handle digital-first in a true omnichannel environment. That’s a different type of person than somebody who just does voice. A fit assessment is also a great way to determine who your top performers are. Build it on who you’re looking to hire, then assess your existing staff.

Leadership Training

Next, you have to train and develop your leadership. The data hasn’t changed—the number one reason people leave organizations is their boss. If you’ve got an attrition problem, your leadership sucks. That’s just the way it is. So, what does that training look like?

  • First, your leadership needs to know your business inside and out.
  • Second, your leadership needs foundational management training. There’s a lot of leadership training that is about inspiring and encouraging. That stuff’s all fine and dandy but tends to miss the point. You’ve got to do the foundational blocking and tackling first. There’s a great tool called the Management Trinity. Start there.
  • Third, your leadership needs to know the business of contact centers. There are many resources, communities, and even consultants that can help with this. The best resource is the textbook Contact Center Management on Fast Forward. It’s a fantastic, if heady, book.


Beyond great leaders, your best people want flexibility. I’ve talked about this before. People absolutely love it for a couple of reasons. One, they can live their life. Two, you’re treating them like an adult. Especially with the hybrid remote environment, if you haven’t already added flexibility, you’re probably losing people to organizations that have. “But what if they abuse it?” Thank you for abusing it! I know it sounds strange, but they just told you that they’re a bottom performer. They just raised the red flag and said, “I need to be fired!” Thank them and take them up on it.

Looking to make the transition to remote work? We can help you get there! Vertical has the expertise, tools, and experience—we’ve been a 100% remote company for a number of years—to make the transition smooth and successful.

Broken Culture

Another thing that causes top performers to leave? An unhealthy culture. Culture is really just a name for the default outputs of a system. If it’s not the boss causing people to leave, it’s the system. So, find the friction points and eliminate them. I love to play “Kill a Stupid Rule”. People can’t wait to tell you the things that are causing stress. Gather information from your team and take a step back. Look at the pattern of what’s going on and fix the problems. Here’s an example. At one point I was leading a team of agents who were overwhelmed, complaining that the default 30-second timer didn’t give them enough After Call Work (ACW) time. Instead, they were taking five, six, or even seven minutes! So, I changed the timer to two minutes. Instead of taking five to seven minutes, they started taking a minute and a half, on average. For some groups, I got back 150 hours back in productivity AND the agents didn’t feel rushed anymore.

Moreover, you need to revise or eliminate toxic entities like quality assurance, adherence, or compliance (depending on your vernacular). When it comes to your quality process, if your agents are saying, “I got dinged,” it’s toxic. “Well, Jeremy, we need QA!” Of course you do, but your QA is broken.

Start by fixing adherence. Again, I talked about that in my flexibility article.

As far as QA, unfortunately, in most contact centers it’s “caught you doing bad”. According to research, you’ve got to focus on the positive five to ten times more than the negative for the positive to stick. So when you’re doing those QA inspections, you can’t go through everything that was good and bad. Either you’re going to review the good things, or you’re going to review the bad things. Overall, however, the problem with QA is very rarely training. If you’ve got something that’s going on regularly—more than every once in a while—you’ve got a process breakdown. Here’s an example. I was part of a company that rolled out a giant, new, technical product. It was such a big product change that our technical team did a lot of the heavy lifting supporting our dealers. It became an unintended environment where all of the agents, as soon as they heard the name of the product, immediately transferred to support. We needed to change our processes to fix this issue.

So how do you keep your best people when you realize you have systemic problems? Convince them you’re going to fix the issues! Depending on your environment, however, that may not be enough. So consider a stay bonus. Typically, it’s between 5 to 10% of somebody’s salary over the period that you’ve asked them to stay. But the worse the environment, the bigger the stay bonus you’ll need. No matter what you decide to pay, though, remember: the stay bonus is just a temporary fix to help you resolve your problems.

Step 2 Invest in Digital-First

Digital-first comes in a couple of flavors. The first is simply that they interact with you digitally. Self-help, chat, SMS. Things like that. The other piece of digital-first is standard contact shed, an industry term that means reducing the number of contacts you deal with.

When you push towards digital-first, you’re alleviating bandwidth-intensive processes. You haven’t removed the pressure points, but you’ve eliminated that process. SMS and chat are typically two to four times more efficient than voice. E-mail is typically one-and-a-half to three times more efficient than voice. So get out of a voice channel where you can! We have a webinar recording about digital-first and instant interactions.

Keep in mind, that your customer experience has failed when customer service has been engaged. So, give them what they need so they don’t have to reach out in the first place. How do you do that? First, you have to measure it. I like to use something called IPSO or Interactions Per Sales Order. That metric ties your cost of doing business, essentially, to your revenue generation. If you’re a profit center, you want to have fewer interactions per sales order. So first you have to measure it. Then, ask yourself, “What’s the goal?” Look ahead and determine where you predict the market going. How many contacts can we afford to have? That’s your goal. And then you figure out the timeline based on what the business needs are. It’s uncomfortable to think of it that way. You’re probably thinking “Holy crap, Jeremy, that’s scary!” It is scary. Every time I go through it, I’m scared. I’m doing it right now. I’m scared. Be scared with me and let’s go do this!

Don’t disenfranchise your customers while doing this. That means they’ve got to see value in it. I’ll give you an example. If they’re trying to cancel an order with you, but the button doesn’t work or there isn’t a button and they have to call you, they don’t want to call. They just want to cancel the order. Eliminate that. Make it easier for them. Go look at the reason why you have interactions. You have that data—If you don’t, go get that data!—and then determine how to eliminate these unnecessary interactions.

Step 3 Reduce Spend

The easiest way to reduce spend is to do an existing technology cost review. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve found money in license reduction. All it’s going to do is save you money. Beyond that, you want to challenge your frankenstack. I stole this term from a friend (you know who you are). A frankenstack is your technology stack that is duct taped, baling wired, and glued together from different organizations. That frankenstack probably has a higher overall cost, because by consolidating with your preferred vendors, chances are they’re going to give you a discount. Even if they didn’t have a great offering when you initially stood up your technology with them, these companies are iterating all the time. Go back and look at it. It might not be perfect, but if it’s really close—like 80 percent of the way—it will save you a bunch of money. Another advantage to challenging your frankenstack is that the software from a single vendor is natively designed to work together, which reduces the amount of time and resources necessary to maintain it.

Now challenging your frankenstack might mean going with a different vendor. If you’ve got these nineteen things in different places, is there one vendor out there that does all those nineteen things? There have been times in my past when we brought on a new vendor who increased our spend by up to $250,000 a year—but I needed three or four fewer technicians to maintain it. We saved hundreds of thousands of dollars a year! Where can you see similar savings? Some vendors offer more tools. Some are more seasoned, more capable, or more reliable.

Want a vendor with the expertise to help you turn your frankenstack into a well-oiled machine? Vertical Communications gives you the advantage of having experts come alongside you to help make sure you’re getting the most out of your technology.


If economic headwinds are coming for your industry—and some organizations are already seeing it—you need to be smart about how you approach your spending in 2024. So, make a concerted effort to invest in your people. Pursue a digital-first strategy that will reduce how many times people have to reach out to your customer service in the first place. And find smart ways to reduce your spending. These solid business principles will strengthen your contact center for the future, whether the economic picture is rosy and your business is poised to grow or things take a turn for the worse. If you do those three things, everyone will sleep a little better in the new year.

Need Help Positioning Your Business to Grow in 2024?

You don’t have to do it on your own—Vertical can help! While we can’t find you more top-performing agents, we can give your team the AI tools to help your best agents shine. Technology like Agent Assist places the right resources at your agents’ fingertips to help them deliver a great customer experience every time. And if you need an expert to help you explore a digital-first strategy, the team at Vertical boasts 974 years of combined technical experience and works with the latest innovations from 8×8, RingCentral, Ericsson-LG, and Five9.

No matter what your needs are, Vertical is the expert when it comes to designing a better communications strategy. We can help you build a more effective contact center, take your whole office to the cloud, or simply assist you in finding savings in your technology stack. We’ve helped hundreds of businesses implement industry-leading voice, messaging, and video solutions that enable employees to do their best work from anywhere.