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customer experience
Flora Marriott
  • By Flora Marriott
  • Dec 12 2016

Three Assumptions made by Contact Centre Managers

rethinking the processes we take for granted...

“You are crazy! You can’t let employees edit operating process manuals and edit the intranet!”

“Employees felt it belonged to them, which it did. It is absolutely true that people own what they help create.” Flora Marriott

This was the response from parent company executives, a few years back, when I was involved in setting up a new contact centre. I was part of a small team of managers with a real challenge on our hands. We were asking our new starters to do a role that wasn’t just new to our company, but was also in an area that the staff didn’t have exact experience in. The job was a combination of speaking to small business owner customers to obtain information before writing website copy.

We were under pressure to get monthly cohorts of new employees up to speed fast – both in terms of doing their jobs as well as jumping feet first into our culture. We weren’t flush with time, money or resources. To meet the challenge, I created an intranet that everyone had editing rights to. From their first day at the company, each employee could edit every single page. In fact, their very first task was to create their own personal webpage on the intranet, with a photo and an ‘about me’ blurb. They didn’t have to create this page in a set format or answer particular questions; it was freeform. The brief was simply to tell everyone else some stuff about you.

Another feature of the intranet was that it held the ‘operating manual’ type info, (SOPs etc), which were also editable by everyone. Along with news posts that anyone could post themselves (not via a comms team), product information was accessible.

Did it work? I’ll come back to that.

There is no denying that an open-to-all intranet challenges our assumptions. We all have assumptions of how people should be managed and it’s my experience that people running and working in contact centres often have more deeply held assumptions than many other areas of business.

Assumption 1

The execs reacted in horror at my ‘open intranet’ idea. They assumed that employees would break the system, make unhelpful changes to procedure manuals, write inappropriately on their personal pages, go off-message and lower production by wasting time. As you are reading this, perhaps you are thinking something similar?

Assumption 2

Many contact centre managers believe that efficiency and quality are opposing forces. How often have you heard “The only way we can improve the quality of individual call (email/chat) transactions is to increase average handling time, and we can’t do that as our costs will rise.”

Try telling that to a manufacturer! It’s well established by movements such as TQM, 6 Sigma and others, that a focus on quality will also reduce cost and increase customer satisfaction.

Churning out as many cars as you possibly can per hour whilst regarding quality as secondary is dead in the water as a method of manufacturing. Many academic researchers, most notably PW Ellway, have proven that there is actually a negative relationship between contact centre quality and quantity – i.e. when the focus is primarily on cost reduction and efficiency measures, quality actually decreases in the long term. And when quality decreases, customers suffer; the customer’s experience becomes a poor one.

So why is it wrong to believe that quality and efficiency are opposing forces? Because the unit of measurement that managers are focussing on is the wrong one. The quality v quantity assumption that managers make can be true when they think about an individual advisor or individual call. However, it is completely the wrong assumption when we view the contact centre as a whole, especially when viewed over the course of months.

Assumption 3

Another assumption that’s made by many contact centre managers is that the responsibility to improve quality lies with a specialist QA team and team leaders. The underlying thinking here is that the agent themselves is not able to help themselves and their peers to learn from previous calls/emails/chats and improve. I don’t dispute the value of specialist teams who analyse data and provide useful information to help agents and the centre as a whole to improve the experience given to customers. However, it’s interesting that feedback is almost always given in a 1-1 by a team leader or QA specialist or training person.

Contrast this with fields like web design, where groups of designers get together on a frequent basis to review and constructively critique their work. Or a football team – everyone’s performance is out there for all to see.

We’ve known since at least 1925 (from the psychologist Albert Bandura) that we humans are social learners. In other words, one of our main methods of learning and progressing in life is to learn from others. Hey, who needs a psychologist to prove this – every parent knows this only too well! By hiding learning conversations away in a 1-1 meeting, we drastically limit employees’ natural ability to learn from others.

In conclusion…

A leading global brand has recently introduced peer feedback sessions for its contact centre employees. Small groups of agents get together and listen to call recordings. They discuss what they think is good and what can be improved on. Interestingly, initial reactions were unusually strong; positive and negative. Some people absolutely loved it, and found it liberating, others found it very uncomfortable. The latter said that they thought it was their manager’s job to ‘tell them’ about their call quality.

Assumptions about how to manage aren’t purely the preserve of managers! It’s early days, but the project is now going really well and seeing results in terms of quality improvements and employee engagement.

So, what happened to my free for all intranet? Were the parent company execs right? Did chaos reign? No of course not. The culture was one where we trusted employees, and, as is almost always the case, when you show genuine trust, it is replicated. There were one or two small instances of people behaving inappropriately, but this was out of a total 400 plus people, and that would happen anyway.

It’s always important to do things right for the majority, not the exception. Our open intranet made a strong statement about our culture. It’s not just what you do, it’s how you do it. The intranet was a tool that helped us out in a stressful time of super rapid expansion, and people actually used it. Employees felt it belonged to them, which it did. It is absolutely true that people own what they help create.

What assumptions about contact centres have you noticed?

Where have you seen contact centres breaking free of ‘this is how we always do things’?

What has been the impact of trying new approaches?

It would be great to chat further about current contact centre issues, so why not join us at the Smith+Co one-day masterclass in London on February 22nd 2017. It will be a thought provoking session about what it means to take contact centres to a level where customers feel truly connected to your brand. Click here for details.

Reference ‘Is the quantity-quality trade-off in call centres a false dichotomy?’ B Piers William Ellway - Managing Service Quality, 2014