A very large collections call centre in Lakela...
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Contact centers notoriously take a manufacturing approach to how they are managed.  The contact center formula has long been set and looks like this:

# Calls  x  AHT (Average Handle Time)  x  Service Level

Contact center management and cost accountants use this number so they can determine how many people they need to staff phones.  The service level piece is constantly being benchmarked to see what an acceptable amount of phone calls would be not to get answered.

I’m OK with the first two factors to determine staffing levels, but the whole acceptable level of service piece is to plan to upset customers.  From a customer perspective having all phone calls answered when they call is what is desired.  The customer expectation is in direct conflict with the the formula above.

Some will say, “Everyone uses this formula .”  Yes, they do . . . and at great expense. 

Starting with the customer, they call in when it is convenient for them to call.  With service levels your company calls back when it is convenient for you.  Customers have a choice either find someone else to call (competitor) or have to call back or wait for a call back – both are arrogant approaches to customer service.

On the cost side we may be able to staff at lower levels with less than 100% service level.  But try putting a figure on how many don’t call back and do business elsewhere or swear never to do business with you again.  These figures are unknown and unknowable (W. Edwards Deming).

On the AHT factor, I have had many conversations (some heated) about if they just drop AHT by 15 seconds they save (in some cases) 100s of thousands of dollars.  I can only say this may be true, but they are looking at the wrong part of the formula.  They completely ignore their biggest opportunity to improve.

What is this opportunity?  Reducing failure demand.  First discovered by John Seddon, this is a failure to do something or do something right for a customer.  This number ranges from 25 – 75% of all calls a contact center receives.  Eliminate or reduce failure demand, you reduce phone calls.  This represents a far larger savings than reducing AHT because you never have to take the call in the first place.

The added benefit is greater customer satisfaction when you reduce or eliminate calls that customers don’t want to make and you don’t want to get.  This also frees up resources  to answer 100% of calls.  Customers love good service and rarely get it, so this becomes a differentiator from the masses and your competition.

Failure demand is only the beginning.  We have learned many other counter-intuitive truths about contact centers through interventions with the public and private sector.  But taking this first step to different thinking can help your organization dramatically.

Leave 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.  Read his articles at Quality Digest and his column for CustomermanagementIQ.com  Download free from www.newsystemsthinking.com “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 www.twitter.com/TriBabbittor LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/trippbabbitt.