Command and control thinking has to manifest itself somewhere and no where is it more prevalent than the call center.  The call center has the worse set-up.  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”
  • 4-6 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 be called “lazy, stupid, unmotivated” and the like.  But inevitably (as always) those call center workers are the most savvy, innovative and knowledgeable workers in any organization.  Unfortunately, they 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.  Command and control thinkers this means that we need more inspection and monitoring (at great cost), but these call center workers 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 worker is a tremendous source of information for any organization and if they realized this they would rarely outsource.  Workers 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. 

Productivity measures (and targets that accompany them) like call volumes and handling 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 worker 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).  Workers 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 – 75% 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 worker is engaged to get the information and can tell us if demand changes more capably than some report a manager gets way too late.  This information provides crucial information to 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.

Tripp Babbitt is a speaker, blogger and consultant to service industry (private and public).  He is focused on exposing the problems of command and control thinking and the termination of bad service through application of new thinking . . . systems thinking.  Download free 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