5 Mistakes Contact Center Managers Make

Tripp Babbitt

I hope that contact center managers will take to heart the issues I have identified below. If they challenge your current thinking, I am hopeful that upon reflection you will find some pearls of wisdom.

I am challenged on these five items with frequency. Many are controversial, but they have worked miracles in many organizations I have engaged with and reflect knowledge gained from application.

1. Failing to understand that the contact center is part of a system.

Contact Centers have associations, magazines and have by default been identified as an industry. This has never been what I have found. Contact centers are part of a system that serves a customer or provides support to a product.

Functional thinking has been a part of our working lives, but its roots are in the work of Frederick Taylor. The functional separation of work comes from scientific management theory and its theory based in the existing structure of businesses into sales, operations, HR, IT, etc. We accept the structure because that is what we have known all our working lives.

Customers don’t see functions, they see a system that serves them. Blaming another function to a customer may seem practical, but they only see one company that provides their goods and services.

2. Separating the decision-making from the work.

GM’s A.P. Sloan first separated the decision-making from the work. He declared that managers should not be in the work and ridiculed those that did. Instead of decision-making with the work, Sloan advocated "management by the numbers" and replacing those managers that didn’t hit their numbers. Sound familiar?

When Walter Shewhart, and later W. Edwards Deming, began using SPC (statistical process control) they discovered that "making the numbers" was a lottery. Variation became the focus of how a system performs and not monthly financial or activity figures.

I have learned that to make good decisions that making them without knowledge of the work can be costly. Making decisions from reports, assumptions and/or anecdotal evidence which many of today’s decisions are made makes things worse. Getting knowledge is a key.


3. Thinking that focusing attention on the agent will improve performance.

Nothing frustrates me more than the waste associated with counseling, monitoring and inspecting the agent for improved performance. No organization can inspect in good service.

95% of the performance of any organization is attributable to the system and only 5% the individual. This challenges the modern attempts by many contact centers to focus attention on the agent. The problem is that the design of the work is so poor that an agent has little chance of being successful. Blaming the individual for a bad system is nonsense.

4. Using functional measures instead of system measures.

The traditional list of contact center measures include: call volumes, AHT, and service levels. How would we ever manage without them? They may have some usefulness in determining staffing levels, but do little to help improve. In fact, management by these measures worsens performance.

For contact centers, managers should be more concerned up the nature of the calls and please don’t rely on IT reports from the system. You need to listen to the type of calls and decide how many calls are failure demand (demand caused by a failure to do something or do something right for a customer) or value demand. Usually this percentage runs between 40-60% for contact centers.

What about misrouted IVR calls and workflow queues? You see contact centers fail to see the effect of their system on customers with the measures they embrace. Better measures would be to know how customer demands get resolved, or measures around "what matters" to customers.

5. More technology investment reduces costs and makes the center more effective.

The love affair with technology has to be scrutinized. Technology companies have huge profits because of the snake oil they are selling. Not all technology is bad, but many times I take out IVR systems from organizations that are impeding customer value.

A slew of other technologies are a waste of money, but I am a voice in the wilderness. There are some things technology does well, but other things especially in contact centers are best done by humans.

My suggestion is to discover "what matters" to customers and pull technology if it helps customers. Workers and management working together can determine this.

I hope you will find these points useful to help your system grow.