Are Contact Centers Still Factories?

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Are contact centers still factories from the industrial revolution?  In a word . . . yes.  OK, the monitoring of bathroom breaks and heavy-handedness may be over, but that doesn’t mean that the work itself has improved.

Contact center management still monitors calls, hoping to inspect quality into a call.  They still use outdated measures like Average Handle Time (AHT) and still give incentives to employees believing this is a way to improve performance.  Oh, and instead of beating employees up, they take them to the “couch” and give them them therapy.  This is so . . . yesterday.

Yet, when I walk into contact centers I see the tell tale signs of old thinking.  They come in many forms like those displays that tell you how many and flash colors when the queue is to large.  Yes, let’s hurry up off the current call to get to the next one, so that the customer you just rushed off the phone will have to call back (failure demand) or quit using your company forever.

The monitoring of calls for quality purposes is probably the most pathetic.  Did you smile and sound cheery for the customer.  This seems to be of more importance to management then actually being able to deal with a customers variety and providing service.

You see our problem with contact centers is design and they have all been designed with the wrong thinking.  Many were set up to save money by dealing with customers using a cheaper medium (phone), routing calls, get management data or the worst of all to save money.  Customers have been forced to use contact centers for these reasons which would be alright if service was actually provided.

More often than not I see contact centers filled with failure demand.  This runs 25 -75% or more of all calls.  It is a measure of quality that any contact center should take inventory.  Measure this and you will spend less time monitoring agents and more time fixing the causes of the failure demand and shutting it off.

I know, you can’t control what demand you get into your contact center.  My point exactly.  You have to realize you are part of a service delivery system and not a stand alone function left over from the industrialized design your company or partners adopted ages ago.  The one where you break up the company into pieces and optimize each piece.  But the pieces don’t fit together very well and this causes sub-optimization and creates waste.  Oh yes, your customers feel it, every day when they look for service and have to navigate your “functions.”

Speaking of functions, let’s not forget the IVR that has too often been over-engineered by some technology company trying to get a few extra revenue dollars.  They still remain my most loathed apparatus in contact centers.  Many were created to get you to the right answer (see failure demand) and others to reduce costs, but no one seems to care about the customer that actually brings profit and revenue.

In the end, if contact centers are to be modern they need a modern design and better thinking, not more technology or couches to perform therapy.  Take a look at the demands your customer places on your organization as a place to begin redesign and remove your companies performance from the industrial revolution into a new modern age of service design.

Join me for the International Deming Conference in New York City on March 21 – 22.

Tripp Babbitt is a speaker, blogger and consultant to service industry (private and public).  His organization helps executives find a better way to make the work work.  Read his articles at Quality Digest and his column for  Download free from “Understanding Your Organization as a System” and gain knowledge of systems thinking or contact us about our intervention services at [email protected].  Reach him on Twitter at LinkedIn at

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