Customer EngagementKathleen's Corner

The Ball Is in Your Court

The quality of your customers’ experience is in your hands. Improve your game by defining and delivering on the critical elements.

Kathleen Peterson

I have had this idiom tossed my way any number of times by my parents, my children, my husband, my bosses and my colleagues. Perhaps you, too, have experienced the notion that “the ball is in your court.”

Apparently this expression’s origin can be traced to sports. I must confess that, for some reason, I have always related this to basketball. However, it comes from tennis (latter half of the 1900s), which, of course, makes more sense. But the intended message is really sports neutral—“It’s your responsibility now; it’s up to you.”

When “the ball is in your court,” what happens to it depends on you—your skills, your understanding of the game, your experience level, the tools you use, etc. I, for one, have no understanding of tennis; every time I’ve played it became more like a game of “fetch.” So let’s put a business context this. Imagine that the customer experience is, in fact, the “ball” and that the contact center is the “court.”

The customer experience is currently the Big Kahuna of strategic planning. The trouble is that clarity around exactly what it is that folks are looking for could be improved some. This is the time to improve that clarity. This is the ball lobbed into management’s court. Define exactly what is longed for by your customers, what is being promised by your brand, and what is required of the people charged with delivering the goods.

In defining the elements of the customer experience, think in terms of key areas (people, process, technology, etc.) and be as specific as possible. Specificity brings clarity. Let’s take a closer look at three key areas.


How good are your customer experience athletes? Are the players right for the team? Is the coach skilled? These are critical questions. No matter how good whatever you’ve got is, the wrong people will remain just that… wrong!

Figuring out who the right people are is not a simple task. First and foremost, identification and documentation of the “core competencies” are required. Do your agents need to be computer literate? What level of speaking and writing skills is required? What about language skills, educational requirements and experience in specific areas? Whatever matters to your operation must be identified to ensure staff alignment to the job requirements for delivering on the customer experience.

I’m certain that each of us can relate to having to “deal” with an organization whose lack of specificity in terms of a core competency definition has led to the customer interfacing with a non-responsive or even hostile individual. This type of person damns the fate of the customer experience and, ultimately, the brand and profitability. Hiring the “wrong” folks might “cost less.” But the true cost to the enterprise far outweighs lower hourly rates. Message to contact center leaders: When it comes to hiring the right people… the ball is in your court!



Process is another “court” of concern. The customer is launched into whatever processes exist in the organization. As consumers, we are often subjected to processes which make no sense to us—unnecessary “approval” escalations or delays in response due to an operation full of silos built to support internal needs rather than the needs of the customer. Streamlining processes delivers the most powerful rewards all around; efficiency and experience are often the big winners. Focus on specifying the most frequent, critical and complex processes in your organization and get to work.

Spread the work—your frontline staff knows infinitely more about how things work in your contact center than anyone else. Include them in the improvement process. Put the process discovery ball in their court. My guess is that there is lots of juice in your process lemons!


What about “position”? We all know that the position of the athlete on the court plays an enormous role in the game; the position of the athlete in rankings plays a role in the revenue, the quality of the tools, etc.

When it comes to the contact center, I categorize position as “visibility,” that is, how the contact center is viewed by others in the company. Is it as valuable asset or necessary evil? Valuable assets always receive more in terms of budget and prestige. The ball is in everyone’s court when it comes to positioning the contact center as a valuable resource.

Some organizations’ treatment of the contact center is… for lack of a better word… bad. Here are some examples—when other departments “don’t talk to customers” (this reality emerges by default rather than design in most cases) leaving the front line to toggle between internal resources and the customer for answers; when staffing requirements are cut while demand and performance expectations remain the same; when systems are slow and cumbersome or training is constantly being cancelled; and when necessary information is distributed inefficiently to the front line via many channels and by many people.

This list goes on. This is the time for a close look at the contact center’s visibility. Take control of the game by stepping up to make sure that the contact center’s contribution is respected and that it enjoys the benefits of being on the valued-asset list.

Bottom line: The ball is in your court (that means everyone) when it comes to understanding the requirements for and delivering on, the customer experience. Play Ball!

Kathleen Peterson is the Chief Vision Officer of PowerHouse Consulting, a call center and telecommunications consulting firm.

– Reprinted with permission from Contact Center Pipeline,


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