The Best Place for A Reality Check

Tripp Babbitt

Command and control thinking has to manifest itself somewhere, and no where is it more prevalent than the call center. Let's look at the typical call center:
  • Productivity charts for team, unit and individual performance (complete with targets)
  • Display monitors with number of calls in the queue (and other worthless information)
  • Coaching sessions for those that don't "hit the numbers"
  • Four-six weeks of training on phone calls one will never get
You get the idea. I have the greatest empathy for folks who work in the call center environment. I have heard them called lazy, stupid, unmotivated and the like. But inevitably (as always) call center representatives are the most savvy, innovative and knowledgeable worker in any organization. Unfortunately, the call center representatives are rarely tapped as sources of knowledge. Worse, they sometimes put that savvy and innovation to cheat the system at the expense of the customer.

Call Center Representatives as a Knowledge Resource

To command and control thinkers this means that we need more inspection and monitoring (at great cost), but these call center representatives are always one step ahead and the game with its accompanying waste continues and escalates.

Call center management is playing an expensive and losing game when taking a command and control approach. The call center representative is a tremendous source of information for any organization and if they realized this they would rarely outsource. Call center representatives can help tell us what is broken with the system and changes in demand from customers, but call center management must be willing to dump the productivity mindset.

Average Handle Time No Longer Suffices

Productivity measures (and targets that accompany them) like call volumes and average handle time may be useful for resource planning, but tell us nothing about how to optimize the system. Yet, the call center is rife with information to improve any organization. If we engage the call center representative to study customer demand (type and frequency) they can share information management could never have thought of unless they spent time there (which I suggest).

Call center representatives can also help call center management with whether that demand is a value (calls we want) or failure demand (problems, follow-ups, etc.) My Vanguard partners and I have found that failure demand runs from 25 to 75 percent of all call center calls. Instead of pounding the desk for faster handling time, we can reduce the number of inbound calls by reducing failure demand and learning better ways to handle value demand.

The Call Center As a Knowledge Base

The call center representative is engaged to get the information and can tell us if demand changes more capably than some report a call center manager gets way too late. This information provides crucial information to call center managers to fix the service system or product and maintains a perpetual feedback loop changing culture, achieving business improvement and corporate cost reduction.

All for changing the way we think.

First published on the New Systems Thinking Blog.