Tag Archives: call center management

EA Sports – Worst Company in America?

What makes a company the worst in America?  The Consumerist website has determined EA Sports is this years winner of the Golden Poo award – for the second year in a row.  EA Sports soundly defeated perennial powerhouse Bank of America.

I like to read the Consumerist as you get some really good info on what problems organizations have in delivering product and/or service.  I see many of these problems with organization obsessed with revenue and costs – where they should be focused on the customer and let revenue and costs take care of themselves.  Unfortunately, too many executives only get targets for revenue and expenses that lead to bonuses.  This leads to a short-term focus and an internal view.  Consumers feel the pain.

There are few companies (and I haven’t found one) that deliver really good service and mostly for the reasons I have noted above.  All organizations in the US are struggling with an environment that has been shrinking.  The shrinking has to do with our collective approach to management and a scarcity mentality.  Budgets are part of this thinking.  Growth and innovation takes a back seat to budgets and shrinkage.  Businesses fight over market share rather than ways to grow.

This is a disease that began here in America.  EA Sports in the eyes of consumers that frequent the Consumerist have spoken.  However, so are your customers – are you listening?  Do you know how?

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 column at Quality Digest and his articles for CustomermanagementIQ.com. Reach him on Twitter atwww.twitter.com/TriBabbitt or LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/trippbabbitt.Enhanced by Zemanta
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Trust – Your Obstacle to Increased Revenue and Lower Costs

I have often talked about the zero-sum game in my articles and blog.  The belief that good service costs more and cancels out any benefit.  “Customers”, they say, “should not be trusted or they will screw us out of every penny.”  If your organization thinks this way it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

In fact, service organizations strike the first blow with poor and cumbersome service.  A customer having to wait on hold, navigate an IVR, and gets transferred around to different agents is bad enough.  If it only ended there, customers have to arm wrestle with technologically hand-cuffed agents that are scripted like robots.  All this costs money but management thinks it less costly then giving customers “what matters” to them.

Trust has to be built into what we do.  Starting with enabled agent that can actually help the customer.  How absurd would that be?  Customers that get good service not only cost less, but they bring more customers.  Good service is a diamond in the rough and giving it to customers attracts more customers.

Customers already trust you by giving you their business.  It just costs less to deliver it when trust us present.

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 column at Quality Digest and his articles for CustomermanagementIQ.com. Reach him on Twitter atwww.twitter.com/TriBabbittor LinkedIn atwww.linkedin.com/in/trippbabbitt.

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Contact Center Call Back Technology – Save Your Money

For a little over three years, information technology companies serving the service industry have been advocating call back technology.  Before you rush out and spend unnecessary capital, consider what you are actually getting – something to add costs to your already poor work design.

So, let’s take a look at what traditional thinkers say about call back technology.

From call center helper and their article titled, Everything you Need to Know about Call Back Technology.

  • High abandon call rate – for example, 10%+
  • Low abandon rate – for example 3%, with overstaffing for peaks
  • New business call centre, where you don’t want to lose a single call
  • High agent attrition
  • Staffing difficulties and resultant problems managing call flow, for instance, during unpopular shifts
  • Customer satisfaction issues
  • Headcount restrictions and/or space constraints
  • Training and agent deployment

These are the same management problems that every contact center faces, so why not call back technology?

Customers are calling when it is convenient for them and your organization is calling back when it is convenient for you.  Although customers don’t have to wait on the phone, they still have to wait.  We are solving the wrong problem.

Contact centers are concerned about the wrong things.  The problem they have is their thinking about the design and management of work.  Better designed work through better thinking can increase both capacity and capability.  Failure demand (the failure to do something or do something right for a customer) is the product of poor thinking and work design.

Failure demand runs upwards of 75% of all calls and sometimes more in contact centers.  Instead of treating all calls as work to be done, why not design a system (with better thinking) that doesn’t create all these calls in the first place?

The real beauty of redesigning the system is that it gives you capacity to take calls and provide good customer service.  Even better, it costs less . . . a lot less.  Want to learn more?  Download the Transforming Call Centers guide.

Come hear me speak at the CAST conference in San Jose, California!  Re-Thinking Management . . . Re-Thinking . . . IT!

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.  Learn more about the The 95 Method for service organizations.  Reach him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/TriBabbittor LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/trippbabbitt.

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2012 Global Customer Service Barometer

I am not much for surveys these days, but I ran across the 2012 Global Customer Service Barometer prepared for American Express by Echo.  The best way to find out how you are performing is to actually know before the customer hangs up.  Because, once the call is over the opportunity has passed to provide service – one reason I am not a fan of customer satisfaction surveys (another is that surveys rarely ask questions “that matter” to customers).

Some things that stood out for me in the survey:

  • Customers are not seeing much change in customer service.
  • Businesses are more likely to miss your expectations than exceed them.
  • Customers will pay more for customer service.
  • Consumers expect excellent customer service and don’t expect to pay more for it.
  • Consumers are likely to tell 8 or more people about their excellent service.
  • Consumers are likely to tell 11 or more people about their poor experience.
  • Consumers prefer to speak to real person either by phone or face-to-face.

As anyone can see from the survey, consumers want good service.  Just so few deliver it.  Why is this?

Many organizations view customer service as a zero-sum game, where the belief is that good service costs more.  This is not true, great customer service costs less.

This also means if customers want to talk to a real person, it will be less expensive than that expensive IVR and voice system you just bought to save money.  I have often found these technologies entrap the customer and workers – increasing costs.

There are some numbers more nebulous than others.  For instance, knowing how many customers say good and bad things is a very difficult number to know for your service.  However, failure demand  is something to sink your teeth into.  When customers place demands on your customer service people that are failures it is very expensive.  Worse, is the amount of failure demand hitting contact centers or other service workers.  It is typically between 25 and 75%.  That is the bad news, the good news is that in most service organizations it can be designed out.

A better service design also requires better management thinking about how to manage the work.  Activity measures like AHT and service levels are the wrong measures.  They play to the zero-sum game, failure demand measurement is a whole different game.  To deliver better service, we have to reduce failure demand that reduces costs too.

There are other measures that are important too.  These may be end-to-end measures derived from “what matters” to customers.  These require others outside the customer service arena to support making a design that meets the demands of customers.

No matter what the survey says, it can not replace getting knowledge about that what and why of current performance of your organization.  Learning about customer purpose, types of demand (value/failure) and the flow of the work will help you understand about the assumptions associated with design and management of work.

Come hear me speak at the CAST conference in San Jose, California!  Re-Thinking Management . . . Re-Thinking . . . IT!

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.  Learn more about the The 95 Method for service organizations.  Reach him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/TriBabbittor LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/trippbabbitt.

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Continual vs. Continuous Improvement

W. Edwards Deming in Tokyo

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Coming from a W. Edwards Deming background, I have been sensitized to the word “continual” when it comes to improvement.  It served as a code word for those that where true followers of Dr. Deming vs. “the pretenders.”  I always knew who really understood the philosophy and those that just sounded good.

Even today, I still find myself talking to groups about the difference between continual and continuous improvement.  I like to describe “continuous improvement” as always making improvements and moving forward – I have never seen this happen over the long haul.  “Continual” improvement” implies that sometimes you have to stop or even take a step or steps backward to achieve improvement – improvement is discontinuous in nature.

Management doesn’t understand continual improvement as their impatience only allows them to embrace continuous improvement.  Always forward, the next quarter must be better than the last.  Growth, no matter what the reality or the foolishness of the pursuit.

Studying systems requires a stoppage to understand the underlying thinking that dictates the current performance.   With solid understanding, experimentation with method may lead to improvement or knowledge of what doesn’t work.  For a scientist, this is a victory as they come one-step closer to discovery.

The road to continual improvement is a rocky one with many ups and downs.  Understanding this allows one the opportunity to begin the journey.

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.  Learn more about the 95 Method for service organizations.  Reach him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/TriBabbittor LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/trippbabbitt.

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Are Contact Centers Still Factories?

Marshall's flax-mill, Holbeck, Leeds, interior...

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Are contact centers still factories from the industrial revolution?  In a word . . . yes.  OK, the monitoring of bathroom breaks and heavy-handedness may be over, but that doesn’t mean that the work itself has improved.

Contact center management still monitors calls, hoping to inspect quality into a call.  They still use outdated measures like Average Handle Time (AHT) and still give incentives to employees believing this is a way to improve performance.  Oh, and instead of beating employees up, they take them to the “couch” and give them them therapy.  This is so . . . yesterday.

Yet, when I walk into contact centers I see the tell tale signs of old thinking.  They come in many forms like those displays that tell you how many and flash colors when the queue is to large.  Yes, let’s hurry up off the current call to get to the next one, so that the customer you just rushed off the phone will have to call back (failure demand) or quit using your company forever.

The monitoring of calls for quality purposes is probably the most pathetic.  Did you smile and sound cheery for the customer.  This seems to be of more importance to management then actually being able to deal with a customers variety and providing service.

You see our problem with contact centers is design and they have all been designed with the wrong thinking.  Many were set up to save money by dealing with customers using a cheaper medium (phone), routing calls, get management data or the worst of all to save money.  Customers have been forced to use contact centers for these reasons which would be alright if service was actually provided.

More often than not I see contact centers filled with failure demand.  This runs 25 -75% or more of all calls.  It is a measure of quality that any contact center should take inventory.  Measure this and you will spend less time monitoring agents and more time fixing the causes of the failure demand and shutting it off.

I know, you can’t control what demand you get into your contact center.  My point exactly.  You have to realize you are part of a service delivery system and not a stand alone function left over from the industrialized design your company or partners adopted ages ago.  The one where you break up the company into pieces and optimize each piece.  But the pieces don’t fit together very well and this causes sub-optimization and creates waste.  Oh yes, your customers feel it, every day when they look for service and have to navigate your “functions.”

Speaking of functions, let’s not forget the IVR that has too often been over-engineered by some technology company trying to get a few extra revenue dollars.  They still remain my most loathed apparatus in contact centers.  Many were created to get you to the right answer (see failure demand) and others to reduce costs, but no one seems to care about the customer that actually brings profit and revenue.

In the end, if contact centers are to be modern they need a modern design and better thinking, not more technology or couches to perform therapy.  Take a look at the demands your customer places on your organization as a place to begin redesign and remove your companies performance from the industrial revolution into a new modern age of service design.

Join me for the International Deming Conference in New York City on March 21 – 22.

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 info@newsystemsthinking.com.  Reach him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/TriBabbittor LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/trippbabbitt.

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Those Annoying Two-Year Cell Service Contracts

BlackBerry Bold NTTDOCOMO

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I am the guy who likes a cell phone that does what I want it to do.  Getting my email, calling or receiving calls, web and the occasional game of Break-Breaker are about all I need.  So the three generations ago Blackberry World Edition works perfect for me.

Recently, my track-ball stopped working and so I got a replacement, but not without some arm-wrestling with the sales guy that wanted me to “upgrade” to a BlackBerry Bold.  It slices, dices and probably will crawl on its belly like a reptile, but to upgrade I have to sign that stupid collusion (yes, seems all carriers have it) contract for two-years.

OK, maybe I am missing out on a camera phone (which seems to come in handy in places like Bahrain and Wisconsin).  But I am not sure I have need for 4G, which I am sure makes things faster, but why do I need faster?  This may be someones need or want, not mine.

Customer service with my current carrier (Sprint) is always entertaining and rarely good.  They say it has improved . . . haven’t noticed or heard particularly good things about any carrier with regards to customer service.  Often Sprint sends me from a “sales center” to a “service center” when I have problems with my phone.  Shouldn’t any location be a service center?

Back to the two-year contracts.  I have heard all the excuses about recovering costs and planning as the need for contracts.  Maybe if I got good service, I would want to stay.  But when you treat me poorly, I should have the option to leave the relationship, I am the consumer.

With contracts come early termination fees (ETFs) and the Utility Consumers’ Action Network (UCAN) has website on the fees charged by carrier.  It makes me wonder how much failure demand these carriers get in complaints from consumers.

It is frustrating moving from one bad carrier to another and to have to pay for the privilege is maddening.  How about improving the service first and then people won’t want to leave.  Obviously, these carriers take an inside-out approach which will cost them money or business.  A better path would be to acquiesce to these customer demands and provide what consumer’s want , the way they want it.  The first carrier that does, will win the market.

Join me for the International Deming Conference in New York City on March 21 – 22.

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 info@newsystemsthinking.com.  Reach him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/TriBabbittor LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/trippbabbitt.

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System or Individual? – The 95/5 Rule at Work in Service

My original post on the 95/5 Rule has been a popular and aggravating one.  Most managers believe that performance comes down to the individual.  This fundamental thought leads to more poorly designed systems than almost anything else.  We see it in business, government and education.

A system is comprised of all elements.  They include the structure, equipment, work design, measures, thinking. IT, customer demand, etc.

Let’s take a look at a service worker and what the system controls and what an individual controls in their work.  If we look at an HVAC technician (tech) that fixes furnaces, we can see what the tech controls and what the system controls.

Volume of customer demand –  This comes down to the system, the tech can not control the volume of work.

Type of customer demand – This again can not be controlled by the individual this is delivered by the customer out side of the control of the individual.

No one at the house – Not within the control of the individual

Traffic jams – Dictated by the system and not by the individual.

Poor weather conditions – System

Wrong parts – Typically the system will provide parts for a service van.

Waiting for parts – The cribs where inventory is located is run by someone outside the technician.

The same thinking can be applied to any service worker.  They rarely can dictate their own performance.  The system – good or bad – drives performance.  This is within management’s control, not the individual.

Workers in contact centers have to overcome poorly designed work, entrapping IT, great variety of phone calls, IVR systems, rules, procedures, scripts, etc.  All things they have little say in the development and the worker is at their mercy.

Yet, we build HR systems to “objectively” evaluate the performance of the individual with appraisals.  Management with forced compliance through “compliance or process police” that monitor the worker.  Both are sources of great waste in the bureaucracies they build.

It must be maddening to the worker that has to endure management that focuses on them rather than the system that dictates their performance.  The worker becomes compliant and submissive to management and supporting roles like IT, HR and finance when they are the only ones providing any value work.

How did management allow such behemoth systems full of waste to be built?  It has taken time and well-intended, but misguided thinking.  It won’t take to long to reverse the course, if you are willing to change your thinking.

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 info@newsystemsthinking.com.  Reach him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/TriBabbittor LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/trippbabbitt.

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Net Promoter Score is Nothing More than Another Lagging Measure

When a whole industry emerges from a single measure, I get concerned.  The aim of Net Promoter Score) NPS is to increase the score of a lagging measure and this puts into the same category as financial and productivity measures.  The measure doesn’t tell us how to increase or indicate “what matters” to customers.

What is the NPS?  You basically ask the question “How likely is it that you would recommend our company to a friend or colleague?”  The customer responds with a score of 1-10.  A 9-10 makes you a promoter, 7-8 makes you a passive and 1-6 a detractor. Subtract the percentage of promoters from detractors and voila . . . you have an NPS score.

Of course I have found that companies have targets for their NPS.  The defacto purpose is to increase a lagging measure.  You can improve the number by firing detractor customers or improving the service.  A lot of debate about firing customers in the blogosphere, but I usually find this not to be a good idea.

Service organizations don’t need more lagging measures they need to find measures that are leading and derived from “what matters” to customers or customer purpose.  Leading measures that if improved will make customers happier and costs lower.  These measures drive NPS, financial and productivity measures.

The job in service organizations is to study your system by conducting “check” and determine what matters to customers.  Determine customer measures and design work so that there is improvement in these measures.  In the hands of workers, customer measures can be improved by experimentation with method.

A goal without a method is nonsense. – W. Edwards Deming

service organizations can not improve or achieve business cost reduction with lagging measures.  This can only be done with measures derived from customer purpose and innovation through new method.

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

Make the new decade a profitable and rewarding one, start a new path here.  Download free from www.newsystemsthinking.com “Understanding Your Organization as a System” and gain knowledge of systems thinking or contact us about how to get started at tripp@newsystemsthinking.com.  Reach him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/TriBabbittor LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/trippbabbitt.

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Contact Centers – An Alternative to Scoring Agents

Contact Centers and Scoring

In recent weeks, I have had a number of requests from readers about what to do if you don’t score agents.  The first thing is to be sure you understand that the work design and management thinking offer greater opportunities for improvement.  Agent scoring can not just be taken away, you must put something better in its place.

An understanding of the 95/5 rule is in order.  This was first communicated by W. Edwards Deming and simply states that 95% of performance is attributable to the system and not the individual.  You can read more about this at The 95/5 Rule.

If you can pull yourself through this different perspective about the system carrying more weight than the individual (a difficult obstacle for Americans), you can begin to see that work design in contact centers is poor at best.  Scripts, written procedures and standardization entrapped by technology and IVRs does not allow for the absorption of the variety of demand customers pose to agents.  To overcome these problems with variety different thinking must be present.

Contact center managers have learned the wrong lessons about how to handle variety and instead built systems that increase costs, lose revenue and ruin culture.  The pursuit has been to manage costs and productivity leading to both increased costs and decreased productivity . . a management paradox.  Most don’t see this paradox because they have not been trained to look.

Costs are not in economies of scale, they are in flow.  The flow can be optimized by a better work design that absorbs variety and designs out the waste.  To do this we need to better understand our systems by performing check.

Looking at the system from the outside-in we can listen to calls and determine the type and frequency of calls from customers.   To get this you need to throw out those computer generated reports from technology as they lack the context needed to get knowledge.  Some will be value and some will be failure demand.  Failure demand for some industries run as high as 75 – 90%.

For each call type determine the customer purpose of the call or what matters to them.  Once understood we now have a failure demand  measure and some customer measures related to customer purpose.  Customer measures are typically systemic and not functional.

Customer measures can be end-to-end times to provide a service, getting an answer from an agent on the first call, failure demand and any of an endless possibilities learned from purpose.  Each set of measures is unique by company and should never be copied from other contact centers.

An understanding of the current design and its performance against customer measures will lead to experimentation with work designs that absorb variety, eliminate failure demand and perform better against customer measures. Centers also get the expense savings of eliminating all that unnecessary monitoring and inspection to arbitrary management dictates.

I have learned many things about the redesign of contact centers.  The functional front/back office design has in many cases gets re-designed.  Whether this is true for your service organization can only be determined by performing check.

Ultimately, customer measures can replace agent scoring.  Better performance follows as putting the customer purpose and measures in an agent’s hands allows them to experiment with method leading to innovation.  Improved culture, productivity and  financial performance will soon follow.

To get this you need to throw out those computer generated reports from technology as they lack the context needed to get knowledge.

To get this you need to throw out those computer generated reports from technology as they lack the context needed to get knowledge.

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

Make the new decade a profitable and rewarding one, start a new path here.  Download free from www.newsystemsthinking.com “Understanding Your Organization as a System” and gain knowledge of systems thinking or contact us about how to get started at tripp@newsystemsthinking.com.  Reach him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/TriBabbittor LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/trippbabbitt.

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