How Lean Budgeting Helped Answer a Call Center Crisis in Just 21 Days

Jun 29, 2020 |
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When COVID-19 hit, it not only ushered in a public health crisis but also an economic one—leading to a costly back-up in an automotive finance company’s call center. Lean Budgeting provided the agility they needed to steer out of the skid and get their white glove customer experience back on track.

When unemployment soared in the early days of the pandemic, the financial services company’s call volume soared more than 600%, as worried customers sought information and relief such as deferrals on their car payments. Call center staffing levels couldn’t handle this sudden increase, and existing online tools couldn’t provide the type of support people needed to make changes to their financing terms.

600% spike in call volume leads to spiraling costs, steep decline in customer satisfaction.

As a result, customer experience (CX) was taking a major hit—a risky situation for the company’s bottom line, as research consistently shows that poor CX often carries a high cost in lost loyalty, as unhappy customers take their business elsewhere. The call center crisis also had another, more immediate, financial impact: Costs spiraled as the company put “all hands on deck” to handle the deluge.

Agile Transformation Paves Way for Hairpin Turnaround

Fortunately, this global financial services client had transformed their product development process, using the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) we helped them implement. As part of that transformation, the team adopted the Lean Budgeting approach. Unlike long, bureaucratic funding processes, Lean Budgeting allows teams to zero in on the outcomes and value they will deliver, rather than waste time trying to build the business case and justify costs.

This makes it possible to quickly reallocate budget and resources to respond to changing needs, as our client did when their call center strained against surging demand. As incoming calls overwhelmed customer support representatives, their Agile product development team quickly huddled and pivoted to respond.

They put the brakes on development of in-process features and reorganized to begin developing new features and functionality. Meanwhile, existing resources from across the company were cross trained and redeployed to provide backup in the call center.

Within a week after the new features went live, inbound calls returned to the pre-crisis level.

Just 21 days after the first sign of crisis, the team delivered critical new features that dramatically improved their customers’ experience. Instead of waiting on hold, customers had access to quick and easy self-service options on a variety of channels, including the company’s website, chatbot, mobile app—even the voice-enabled assistant in their cars. This enabled customers to get the information they needed and manage their financing terms—without having to contact the call center.

More than 1,000 customers took advantage of the new features in the first 24 hours after they went live. And within a week, inbound calls returned to pre-crisis levels. So did their premium customer experience, as call center professionals returned to the phones, and cross-trained employees went back to their “real” jobs.

At no point during the pivot was funding an obstacle, which was a key factor in getting new functionality into market so quickly.

Pivoting Without Mercy—and Without Permission

Lean Budgeting provides the flexibility to deliver products and services your customers demand and get them to market faster. But speed is just one benefit organizations see, as they respond with agility to business disruption.

Traditional budgeting models are notorious for creating high overhead and friction, as stakeholders from multiple, often competing, cost centers must buy in. Lean Budgeting removes that friction by providing total cost transparency and empowering teams to swiftly pivot to respond to changing needs. They’re able to do the right thing—without having to ask for permission.

Organizations that adopt a Scaled Agile Framework achieve 50% faster time to market. — SAFe1

Lean Budgeting provides 100% visibility into all product costs, which means Agile teams don’t have to spend time assessing the budget impact of new features, as they typically would. Instead of spending months estimating, developing the business case and securing approvals, they can focus on delivering higher value to customers—and greater impact to the business. Lean Budgeting also helps you quantify the value you receive on your investments while avoiding requests for long-term investments with unknown outcomes.

In this case, the product team already knew how much product development would cost during their development work cycle, and their budget had been approved well in advance. So they were able to quickly shift their focus to develop the new high-priority features. They also knew which resources were required, making it possible to immediately reallocate team members and budget that weren’t needed.

Building a Powertrain for Business Agility

Lean Budgeting was critical to enabling rapid deployment of the new functionality. But since it empowers product owners—rather than budget owners—to decide how money gets spent, it’s often one of the more challenging practices for organizations to successfully adopt. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, our client already had a few years of Agile under their belts and had reached the maturity curve to fully embrace its principles, including Lean Budgeting.

Other core Agile principles that supported this turnaround include:

  • Empowered, self-organizing teams. In a Lean-Agile approach, product owners decide which tasks should be completed during a given work cycle to deliver the highest value and business impact. There’s no need for higher management levels to get involved, since they’ve already established guardrails by providing the strategic vision and funding for ongoing product development.
  • Fast, flexible development cycles. Short, 12-week program increments minimize the impact of a major disruption. Product owners—like the CX team in this case—are already close to customers and can understand their needs without repeated rounds to define requirements.
  • Built-in quality testing and validation. To successfully deploy new features fast, you have to be sure those features work and deliver the outcomes you intend. That assurance is already part of the Agile development process.
  • Pivoting without mercy. Like drivers encountering road hazards, Agile teams must be ready to stop and turn on a dime, shifting resources to meet changing needs—even if it means making painful choices.

Lean Budgeting, along with other features of the SAFe methodology, allowed our client to do just that. Product owners were able to make tough decisions quickly and confidently, helping to conserve cash while continuing to provide industry-leading customer experiences.

Is Your Business Ready for the Next Disruption?

Whether driven by a global pandemic or some other event, business disruption is a constant. As we’ve seen with our clients in a broad range of industries, transforming to embrace a Lean-Agile approach provides the Business Agility you need to thrive.

And as our automotive financial services client discovered, adopting SAFe and a Lean Budgeting approach gave them the turning power to nimbly respond to economic fallout from COVID-19—and transform a customer experience crisis into an opportunity.

Have questions about Lean Budgeting or ready to accelerate toward Business Agility? Our Agile experts are ready to help. Get in touch now to learn more.

1.Typical results reported by organizations that have adopted a Scaled Agile Framework.

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