I am being interviewed for an article today. I thought I would blog the questions and my response for preparation. Here are the questions we will discuss and my corresponding answers:
Q1: What are the business issues that typically drive companies to set up call centers?
– The idea is all work on telephones should be handled in one place to get economies of scale.Improve Service
– However, this is typically translated to mean "standardized service." Standardizing service makes service worst (not better) because the system is not capable of absorbing the variety of demand that customers receive in service. Creating a management paradox: Failure demand increases (meaning customers have to keep calling to get what they want).
Q2: What types of mistaken assumptions or arguments do you see used in justifying this move?
A2: 3 Big Mistakes
- Treating all works as units of production (like manufacturing). This means we don’t distinguish between demand we want (value demand) and demand we don’t want (failure demand). Failure demand in call centers runs from 25% to 75% (sometimes higher).
- Believing workers can be held accountable for the work they do, when the system (work design, technology, management, measures, etc.) is responsible for 95% of the variation in performance and only 5% is attributable to an individual.
- Managers act in ways that inhibit the systems ability to absorb variety (e.g., scripts, adherence, quality monitoring, AHT, etc.)
Q3: What are the pros and cons of serving customers via a call center in your view?
A3: Thinking from a customer point of view . . . If you design the call center to provide service the customer will love it and that is wholly a different approach then sending calls to get economies of scale. To achieve this an organization has to ignore the standard call center mantra of AHT, GOS, etc. and instead learn how to serve customers at the first point of contact. It means making the call center agents "smarter" not dumbing them down with technology and scripts. Only people can absorb the variety of demand in service.
Q4: What are the commonest mistakes made in the way call centers are set up?
A4: See Q4 above and . . .
Work design – Treating all demand as work and managing the call center as a separate function instead of part of the system. Customers view their demands end-to-end . . . organizations do not.
Outsourcing the organizations failure demand or not accounting for an organizations failure demand – Why pay to have failure demand as part of your outsourcing strategy and why keep having failure demand at your call center if you keep it in-house.
Q5: What should businesses being doing instead?
A5: Understanding the nature of demand on their system (the type and frequency of demand and the value and failure of that demand).
Designing roles to create value and providing training on demand to increase one-stop resolution or increase flow by optimizing the value work and eliminating waste.
Redesigning the role of call center management to act on the system rather than the worker. This will require redesigning our leadership strategy and development.
In two words . . . Systems Thinking.
Add lib question from the reporter: Do you believe you are "spitting in the wind?"
Maybe . . . but if I am unsuccessful where do I work? The US doesn’t manufacture much anymore, because we didn’t listen to Deming after WWII. If service is poor, what is left?