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1 800 Flowers - Undercover Boss Draws Wrong Conclusions

Tripp Babbitt

The latest episode of Undercover Boss was for 1-800-Flowers. Jim McCann (founder and CEO) and Chris McCann (President and COO) are brothers and seem to treat each other in that older brother-younger brother dynamic. This episode takes us on a journey through flower shops and a candy factory.


Chris McCann’s visit to the candy plant was the most revealing. I’ve watched contact centers try to copy manufacturing in the way they go about treating employees, using measures and increasing productivity. So let’s use this as a learning opportunity.

The Productivity Goal

Chris McCann mentions that he wants to increase productivity in the plant from ten million pounds to 16 – 20 million pounds. Goals are set by management and the machines speed up. Contact centers are managed in much the same way by management coming up with targets for the number of calls taken in a day.

The whole idea of a prescription of how many calls a contact center should take, the allotted AHT per call, and the service level given are rooted in how contact centers can reduce costs. This prescription seems logical enough and most contact centers subscribe to this approach. The problem is that focusing on costs always increases costs.

This isn’t a matter of making workers part of setting the productivity goal as Chris McCann concludes. This is a matter of understanding targets drive dysfunctional behavior.

It was in the early 1900s that Frederick Winslow Taylor started this path with his scientific management theory and separating each function of work with productivity targets and incentives. W. Edwards Deming taught the Japanese a better way and we have learned that to increase productivity in manufacturing economies of flow must be optimized, not scale.

In service, the variety of demand makes customer demand and flow even more important for contact centers. Instead of viewing all demand as something that needs to be done, contact centers have to understand that failure demand (demand caused by a failure to do something or do something right for a customer) needs to be reduced, not productivity increased.

Incentives Will Make Things Worse

Chris McCann concludes not only that the problem is that of workers being involved in setting goals, but decides incentives will make employees happier and more productive. None of these things are true.

Working together on understanding customer purpose and demand and getting rid of systemic failure demand should be the appropriate response. New measures emerge that are associated with what customers want from service as these drive the lagging financial and productivity measures up.

Chris McCann should take a couple of steps back and design a system that works for the customer and workers. This requires different thinking about the design and management of work.

For contact centers there are better ways to manage than trying to copy manufacturing (never a good idea to copy), especially old and worn-out concepts that don’t work very well.