Call Centers and the Zero Sum Game: A Loser's Mentality

Tripp Babbitt

Most of us have connected with the service sector (public or private) through call centers or otherwise and felt like we have been "worked." That burning feeling that what matters to you does not matter to the service company with which you are interacting through the call center.

The source of this feeling might be the Interactive Voice Response system you have to go through when you call a call center. Its multiple layers of questions and feeling like you won the lottery that day by saying the right words or pushing the right buttons to get to a call center representative who can actually help you.

The multiple follow-up calls you have to make to a call center in order get an answer can be both frustrating and time consuming. All along in the back of your mind you're thinking either "How can I quit using this company?" or "How do these companies stay in business with such poor call center service?"

The Problem with Command and Control Management in the Call Center

A lot of us tolerate the poor customer service from call centers because we figure the next service organization will be just as bad as this one and the switching cost is too high.

The sad part is that service organizations could provide really good customer service through their call centers at a lower cost, but command and control management doesn't think that way.

The command and control mentality prevents good service at call centers and promotes higher cost.

Call center managers just don't see it. These call center leaders manage their businesses in a zero-sum game believing there is a trade-off between costs and good service. One can only be achieved at the expense of the other.

And at a call center guess which loses most of the time . . . good service at the expense of some financial or performance target typically for some financial reward that customers who call the call center would cringe at if they knew about.

All Failure Demand is Waste in the Call Center Environment

The leadership strategy of command and control organizations and call centers is to do as little for the customer as possible and maybe they won't recognize or complain about the bad service.

The problem is customers aren't stupid, and the tolerance for poor service from company call centers is at boiling point. Social and business networks are now offering mediums to communicate poor call center service in an online instantaneous fashion that is viral in nature. People will know about a company's poor call center service much faster than before and avoid using those organizations that are guilty. Recovery will be too late and the costs that don't show up on the financials will already be incurred.

The management paradox here is that all this is unnecessary. The zero-sum game is a loser's mentality. More costs are incurred through bad or poor call center service than are incurred when the call center service is good. Command and control thinkers at call centers do not account for failure demand, multiple calls from the same person to get a problem corrected, or chase the status of a previous call.

All failure demand is waste in the call center environment.

Value Drives Call Center Profits

Imagine how much call center costs would fall if customers got what they wanted and the corresponding call center system was re-designed to give the customer what they want and eliminate this failure demand. Call center costs would fall and service would improve.

The systems thinking organization and call center understands that value drives profit and not vice versa. The command and control organization or call center only knows the zero-sum game that is a guaranteed loser.

A change in leadership strategy for call centers is imminent. Where will your service organization or call center wind up?

First published on New Systems Thinking Blog.