Sign up to get full access to all our latest content, research, and network for everything customer contact.

Command and Control in Governmental Contact Centers

Tripp Babbitt

In an attempt to keep in touch with the world I ran across an article in the Wall Street Journal. The article was of interest as it was about customer service and the IVR (Interactive Voice Response) system frustrations one experiences. As I read through the comments this post from "Call Center Cindy" caught my eye:

"I work for a branch of the government which is extremely popular on April 15. They give us scripts to read which don’t answer the caller’s questions, yet we are penalized for not reading the script verbatim and also penalized for adding anything that could be helpful. Even if we know the answer to the question, we can be terminated for giving any info not specifically written down for us. I hate sounding stupid when a caller asks a simple question and I have to read paragraphs of convoluted legalese when a simple yes or no would do. Our calls are monitored and recorded, just in case we’re tempted to be helpful. This is the only place I’ve ever worked where going the extra mile to be helpful can cost me my job."

You couldn’t make this stuff up, even if you tried.

The IRS (if it is the IRS—wink wink) is not alone in this problem. Too many contact centers have designed work so poorly that workers are destined to mediocrity (at best). Seriously, would you want to work in this system?


Contact center agents are over-scripted, entrapped with technology, monitored, recorded and standardized to the point that they can’t help anyone. Consultants are hired to fix the culture, provide empathy training, conflict resolution and the list goes on and on. What these contact centers are missing is very simple . . . well-designed work that is focused on the customer.

I can’t imagine the amount of failure demand (in the form of customer call backs) that this government entity gets, but I am sure that it tops 60 percent. A customer seeking an answer will either give up or call back. More calls lead to more costs and the cycle continues as 1040s and other forms are submitted with wrong or missing information.

When agents have no say in the decision-making in contact centers, can they really be held accountable for their performance? I say no, management bases decisions from the best practices and reports they receive in the form of data. This is no replacement for knowledge and context that an agent can provide.

If service is to get better (and less expensive) in government or other service organizations, management needs to rethink the design and management of work. Until that time agents and customers will suffer the consequences . . . but let us not forget the added waste in costs.

First published on Call Center IQ