Lessons from Call Center Management: How Giants Become Mills

We have been using various analysis models within call center management for years. These help us to create better and faster insight into organizations in which good customer contact depends on a thousand and one things. All these analyzes have given us many different insights. Among other things, why managers are successful and why not. What is striking is that many teams achieve a marginal result that is disproportionate to the effort that is made (read commitment of time, love and euros) to improve customer contact. Initiatives that need to upgrade customer contact in accordance with the latest trends in digital transformation and Customer Experience. We want to win awards, we want to do beautiful new and challenging things, and rightly so! But the result of that effort is not even a fraction of what was expected to be achieved in the majority of organizations. How is this possible?

Here are some of our main findings based on the story of an old hero Don Quixote. About the giants we fight every day and how we make them the mills they really are. But for those less familiar with his story, who was Don Quixote?

Thinking that he himself is a knight errant, Alonso Quijano leaves his home under the name Don Quixote of La Mancha and begins a wander through the roads and countryside of Spain . Seated on his ‘warhorse’ Rocinante, he goes to war against all kinds of injustice and injustice. On his trek Don Quixote is accompanied by his neighbor and Squire Sancho Panza .

Who was Don Quixote?

Don Quixote is quite confused when he sees windmills as giants. But his delusions invariably meet with Sancho’s sobriety, prudence and proverbs. This collision between the ideal and fictional world of Don Quixote and the real world of Sancho is a main theme of the book.

We do not “see” the true objectives within call center management

What you don’t see doesn’t exist. So it makes sense that you do not direct it. The main reason that we are not making sufficient progress is that we are not working on those objectives that influence the desired result. The easiest way to explain this is as follows: there is no point in talking about how to improve customer satisfaction if you are not available. Logically I hear you say, but the practice is of course more unruly. If you want to focus on customer satisfaction, which elements directly affect this and to what extent? And then I am not asking you which one you think they have an influence, but what you know they have an influence (substantiated and demonstrable). This question is already a lot more difficult and not easy to answer for most. Then it is not surprising that if you do not really know, that you fall back on those things that you think should have an influence.

Focus on factual causes within contact center management

What we see in many organizations is that there is no management based on root causes; the actual causes. The extent to which this is done well can always be deduced from the amount of time that is spent on “putting out fires” or making adjustments. Or you can see it in the results: too many fluctuating service levels, handling times that have been increasing for a long time, backlogs in work stocks or an increase in contacts while we aim to reduce contacts.

Regardless of what objective you have in customer contact: if you do not have the basics in order, you will never be able to grow to a higher goal. So first work on a stable performance before you spend all your time on Customer Experience processes.

If you don’t have the basics in order, you will never be able to progress to a higher goal

Who is responsible: the marketer or the agent?

Team leaders steer their teams daily on handling times while they have no desired or no influence on this. We see that planners are being judged because they provide an incorrect forecast or managers who are assessed for too low NPS scores. No one who realizes that employees, team leaders, forecasters or managers may not have the desired influence on the result for which they are held accountable.

Whether you manage it or not, handling times have a major impact on our results: they are indicative of the quality of service to our customers and have a direct influence on the costs involved. For that reason, we put pressure on teams and employees to reduce handling times. This while we do not realize that we cannot exert the influence that is actually necessary. This is because the solution often lies in the underlying processes that are not in order or in a change that occurs in the reason for contact. These elements are more often the cause of the volatility of our handling times than the way we manage employees.

The same applies to the forecaster who has the most advanced methodologies and technology at his or her disposal, but is unable to deliver an accurate forecast. This is because marketing is time and again unable to deliver a reliable calendar that is actually complied with. Who should we have the conversation with?

NPS scores

And then those NPS scores that you as a manager have on your scorecard, which the management wonders time and again why you haven’t improved them after six months? The following also applies here: are you aware of the influence you actually have on that NPS score? Did you know that a high first time fix correlates strongly with a high NPS and higher Service Levels correlates low with NPS? Did you know that the contribution of good customer contact is relatively small to an increase in NPS scores, but that poor customer contact contributes greatly to dissatisfaction?

Do you really want to exert influence? Analyze your data and look for the cause. Then make sure that you address the person or department that actually has an influence.

Are you a giant or a mill?

“You will receive your new device within 3 working days”, “our technicians will solve it for you” or “you can find all the information and answers to your questions on our website”. These are the promises and answers we tell our customers every day. And what is the number one reason why customers call back? Status questions: I would receive something, but… The technician would come, but… I tried to look things up, but… We make promises to customers that we don’t keep. Besides the fact that this is not good for customer satisfaction, this also hurts the wallet. On average, 30% of the number of contacts with a company consists of status questions or questions about promises not kept.

What is your customer service capable of?

It is important for the person who is ultimately responsible for Customer Contact to know what his or her organization is actually capable of. Time and again we hear and see that promises are made or procedures are triggered that the organization is unable to deliver. Companies that are organized in columns, Business Units or other structures often do not even know what barriers and messes they create for their customers. If you really want to help your customer, know what your organization can do and what it cannot do. How is the process performing? Focus on what you want and can develop. Are you a customer contact department or are you an integral part of a chain of services that is fully geared to all possible channels in accordance with the most recent customer insights. The challenges of customer contact in these situations are really different from each other and require an appropriate way of management.

And now the biggest giant!

Create insight into the factual factors that influence what you want to improve within the call center and understand the context in which you act. But then …

Then there is the real giant that we fight with every day: our agenda! This is the real cause of change. Wherever we go and whoever we speak, we always hear again. “I would do this or that, but something came in between” or “Look at my calendar, when should I do this?” Your agenda literally drags you from one meeting to another. And at the end of the day you think: I still wanted to do this, should have called him and another 50 e-mails in my inbox.

It is far from delivering what we want, but we are following without being very aware of what our agenda dictates. Why? Following your agenda takes the least energy! Following the issues of everyday life is easy if you only have to dive into what is not going well or that presents itself automatically. In the call center world there is enough available in this regard and before you know it you are on the way home on Friday and you might think: I am a bit tired and did not do what I actually wanted to do. Recognizable?

But how do we solve this, how do we turn the giants into mills? In my experience, this starts with the actual insight into creating causes. Grab all your data and ensure good insight. Then formulate controllable objectives based on what you ultimately want to achieve. Delegate these to teams that actually have an influence on this and ensure that the underlying processes deliver on the promises made to customers. And don’t forget the most important thing: block time every week in your agenda to work on this. Create insight, get started and be successful! The rest is up to people and organizations like Don Quixote who can’t resist the temptation to fight delusions …

Wietse Westerhuis

View our solution SMART Insight and take control of your customer service