Call Centers: Where Outside-In Performance Improvement Begins

One often hears that quality begins in the boardroom.  This implies that (1) the boardroom and the people in it actually understand the work being done between the customer and their organization and (2) that the boardroom actually understands how to run the organization as a system.  Those are two items that would be a stretch for any service organization, but are needed to achieve business improvement.

So, here is a suggestion.  Those looking for a better leadership strategy may want to consider designing against customer demand.  An approach that requires the organization to look and understand current performance from the outside-in and not top-down.  This would require executive and front-line worker understanding current performance by performing a “check” of the system.  What are the types of demand received? Are these demands of value (things customers want to give and get from your organization)? Or are they failure demands (demand caused by a failure to do something or do something correctly)?  We can refer to this as getting knowledge about the organization and more specifically customer demand.  My company has found that you will find somewhere between 25 – 75% failure demand in service organizations.  Most organizations can not tell me this number and yet project plans, technology buys, organizational changes, etc. are done without knowledge. 

This leads us to Willy Sutton (the original Slick Willy) the depression era bank robber when asked “Why do you rob banks?”  His response, “because that is where the money is”  . . . and no this is not an advertisement for Activity-Based Costing.  An organization needs to go to where the knowledge can be gained . . . no, not a report or an anecdotal witness to activities . . . but where the customers are.  Where are they?  At the transaction points of your business, for service organizations that is (but not limited to) the call center.  Customers calling in every day with their demands, some value and some failure. 

Getting knowledge leads to an understanding of purpose and better measures that constitute the customer perspective and not the department or function perspective.  Customers don’t care that the other department was responsible for their problem, they see things differently than the function-by-function separation of work that we have built into our service systems.  We have become functional specialists by design and unable to serve the end-to-end demands of customers. 

Better designs for customer demands almost become self-evident once we gain knowledge about the nature of demand.  This allows a better customer management process to be achieved.  Because designing the organization from knowledge of customer demand helps us make the right choices regarding what will create value for the customer with regards to technology, policies, work design, structure, procedures, etc.  Otherwise, it is just a shot in the dark hoping to hit something.

Call centers can aid in this process by getting knowledge about customers by understanding the type and frequency of demand and whether it is – value or failure.  It’s taking leadership in understanding customer demand by performing “check” (or getting knowledge).  This is a value add to customers, executives and your organization.

ave me a comment. . . share your opinion!  Click on comments below.

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.  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 or LinkedIn at

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