Customers and Agents – Island of Misfits or Holiday Magic?

Tripp Babbitt

Ah Rudolph the Red-Nose Reindeer, the holiday classic that as a child I looked forward to every year. Sam the Snowman (Burl Ives) narrates and sings us through the trials and tribulations of Rudolph, Hermey the Elf and Yukon Cornelius the prospector. All three are misfits by their own admittance.

And so it is with customers and contact center agents. Customers are sometimes pegged as being too demanding and agents too incapable. They sometimes are more identified with Charlie-in-the-Box, the Spotted Elephant, Dolly for Sue, Bird Fish and the Cowboy that rides the Ostrich.

Customers are guilty of communicating demands to contact centers that don’t fit the scripts, procedures and rules. Instead, they bring variety in demand that is too often unfulfilled.

Why can’t those customers be ‘normal’ and bring demands that we can actually accommodate? After all, we standardized all those scripts and responses to fit management’s view of the world. Inside-out is the view. The customer must fit management’s view, so we can handle you with great efficiency. Anything outside the norm makes the customer a costly misfit.

Agents must also comply with the standardized scripts and processes, or find solitude on the island of misfit toys. Of course, we know this island was built by the process police that seek compliance to smiling and offering that all important up-sell. Deviate from the script to better serve the customer and you are a candidate for therapy.

The island of misfits, however, is a management made island, molded from misguided attempts to reduce costs. More inspection, scripts, technology and standardization predictably end in increased costs. The problem is the design and management of the work, not the agent and certainly not the customers.

Our approach needs to be different by embracing the variety that customers bring and freeing up agents to absorb this variety. When our work design doesn’t absorb variety it’s costly. Customers and agents become frustrated. Agents have to deal with multiple call backs from the failure of the system (structure, roles, management, technology, measures, etc.) and customers have to call back.

If you want to do something magical this holiday season, start by understanding your system outside-in from a customer perspective. Understand that standardization entraps both agent and customer and increases costs. Seek understanding instead of compliance.

Redesign to accommodate the variety that customers bring and agents need to absorb. The result will be a holiday present with happier customers and agents, and a healthy increase in the bottom-line.