Response Design Corporation:Creating the Uncommon Call Center
Kathryn's Uncommon Call Center Blog
May 30, 2006 04:19 PM
Categories: Management 
Professional blindness

NASA conducted a study involving commercial airline pilots. They asked the pilots to perform routine landings in a flight simulator. During several of the landings, the researchers put an image of a large commercial airplane parked crosswise on the runway. Twenty-five percent of the pilots landed right on top of the parked airplane. Even when the researchers asked the pilots directly, “Did you notice the plane on the runway?” the pilots said, “The what?” The pilots never saw the obvious – well, they never saw what was obvious to the non-professional. They had what I call “professional blindness,” and many of us running contact centers have it as well.

“Professional blindness” means we tend to miss what we’re not expecting to see. We are conditioned by our expertise and routine to only see what we’re accustomed to seeing. Think about how this affects us. When we go about our daily routine, looking at computer screens and report printouts, we may not see the commercial aircraft sitting right in the middle of data. Because we don’t see it, we don’t do anything about it and later wonder what caused the events of day to “go south” so fast.

Maybe you are running a routine training session or facilitating a daily staff meeting. You sense something isn’t quite right; but, you see nothing obvious. Later, a participant asks you if you noticed the obstacle to success, the “airplane on the runway.” You think back and answer, “the what?”

Professional blindness happens to your agents as well. Every time they speak with a customer, they use the same computer screens to answer questions or solve problems. Routine has taught them to expect to see certain data on each screen. But whenever that unexpected “parked airplane” appears on their screens, it is highly likely that some of the agents will miss it entirely.

People who are new to a job aren’t as blind as us veterans. They haven’t been conditioned to have expectations. Research has taught us over and over that new hires are one of our best sources of innovation. They don’t have to think (or see) outside the box because they haven’t have time to build the box around them.

To hone your center’s ability to identify the obvious:
1. make the employees aware that they could have areas of blindness;
2. when possible, have teammates switch tasks;
3. take time to listen to new hires; and
4. talk with people outside the environment and ask them what they see.

Even though they may not know how to “land the plane,” they might be able to point out what may keep you from landing safely.

Have you learned something unexpected or surprising by talking to a new hire or call center observer? We would love to hear your story.

Entry logged at 04:19 PM
May 24, 2006 04:16 PM
Categories: Management 
Focused blindness

Have you heard about the study, “Gorillas in our Midst?” It is based on an experiment in which people are asked to watch a video of a basketball game and count the number of passes one of the teams makes. A minute or so into the tape, while the people are busy counting passes, a woman in a gorilla suit walks onto the screen, stops, faces the camera, and beats her fists on her chest. Fifty percent of the people who watch the video don’t see the gorilla. I think life in the contact center is much like this experiment.

Each day, we focus on the task of “counting the passes” in our own “basketball game.” We know what we have to do to get through the day, and we do it efficiently. But, we miss a lot by being so focused. What would someone without so much intentional focus see? Does our harried pace keep us from observing something as obvious as a gorilla in a basketball game? And, might the solution to some menacing problem be found in what we are not seeing?

A good way to check whether we are “missing the gorilla” is to ask the new people on the team what they see. These individuals haven’t been indoctrinated into our carefully orchestrated day, and therefore often observe what we miss.

Keep an open mind. You may hear some things you think are impossible. I’ll bet there were several people who didn’t believe they had missed something as obvious as a gorilla in the middle of the video. When we are hyper-focused, we become blind to everything in our peripheral vision. Believe me, that’s where those gorillas love to dwell.

In which fifty percent are you – do you see gorillas in your midst daily or have some manifestations gotten by you?

Entry logged at 04:16 PM
May 19, 2006 02:04 PM
Categories: Measurement 
Using a "dose of reality" report

I smile each time I think about a recent conversation I had with a contact center professional. As we talked about how the next generation contact center would be defined, he told me about his innovative "DOOR" (dose of reality) report. I would like to thank Linksys for allowing me to share this concept; I think it should be a staple in all contact centers.

The director of the Linksys centers personally pioneered the process about two months prior to rolling it out to his management team. Now that he is convinced of the idea’s value, he asks each member of the management team to monitor a minimum of two calls per week every week. The team discusses specific customer issues illuminated by the calls at the director’s weekly staff meeting. The team communicates the issues to the appropriate TAC (technical assistance center) sites, and then tracks the resolve. If the customer’s issue is not resolved, the management team notifies the contact center’s internal escalation team to follow up.

The team searches the DOORs not only for customer-specific issues, but also for trends. Identifying the trends allows it to develop and assign corrective actions. The director reviews progress against these actions, also in his weekly staff meeting.

The director believes the process helps sensitize managers to the issues their customers face every day. The understanding creates a greater sense of urgency that drives improvements in overall performance and keeps the team focused on real issues.

Lynksys is now implementing an automated reporting process so it can expand DOORs to the entire executive management team. One team member is creative in how he approaches his monitoring assessment. He converts the sound files and downloads them to his mobile audio player. He listens to the calls during his commute to and from the office. His only caution to other DOOR participants is that sometimes he finds himself trying to talk to the technician to make suggestions while driving. He becomes fairly wrapped up in the process and forgets it’s not “live.” Lynksys doesn’t want to cause any accidents!

What innovative “next generation” procedures has your contact center team adopted?

Entry logged at 02:04 PM
May 15, 2006 12:00 AM
Categories: Employee Turnover 
If you want to know, ask! The employee survey

Studies have concluded that a negative, causal relationship exists between employee satisfaction and employee turnover, and conventional wisdom insists it is true—improving employee satisfaction appears to be instrumental in decreasing employee turnover.

But, how do you determine what employees want in order to be satisfied? The same way you find out about what customers want. You ask—through an employee survey.

An employee survey is not a one-shot event eliciting general feedback. It is not a report that sits on managers’ shelves making them feel good that at least they asked. Employees will stop taking surveys if they know nothing will come of their feedback. They will know it is an exercise in futility. Sure, a report might be generated, but if the survey didn’t spur any action plans or an interactive, ongoing dialogue between managers and employees, the agents will be rightfully frustrated.

If conducted correctly, surveys can have tremendous impact on turnover. One financial services company began the survey process with an annual turnover of 55 percent. Instead of the “usual” survey, this company decided to implement a new “business focused” survey that would allow them to develop specific action plans to address key business issues. The key questions involved issues over which a manager had some control. Managers designed the questions to reflect drivers of agent satisfaction, engagement, and retention (e.g., “How likely are you to leave the company?”. Once the agents answered the survey, managers determined which items in the survey most highly correlated with turnover and focused on these first. The company engaged the agents to help design the solutions – ensuring the “voice of the employee” could be heard in the solution. The following year, the turnover rate dropped to 22 percent and then to 14 percent after a second survey.

One caveat for those of you looking for fast wins—it may take longer than the annual survey cycle to see the effect of some process changes. For example, if a new hire training process needs to be implemented or frontline supervisor training requires update and deployment, the actions may take longer than a year to complete.

If improvements cannot be made overnight, managers should communicate with both the agents and upper management to let them know the center is moving forward. A subsequent survey score could lag behind, causing management and employees to question the effectiveness of the action plans. Rely on your expertise to defend your plans and respond with patience and tenacity to drive the change forward.

Entry logged at 12:00 AM
May 11, 2006 12:00 AM
Categories: Employee Turnover 
Brand loyalty and employee retention

Have you heard the buzz about incorporating brand messaging in all of your employee communications (orientation, training, team meetings, general memos and communications)? Many of the companies I work with as a consultant are certainly focusing on this more and more.

The theory is that employee retention and productivity improve as employees experience greater job satisfaction and motivation. This comes from an increased sense of purpose and loyalty (the employees understand what the company is trying to achieve for its customers and they commit to making it happen). A survey performed by Deloitte & Touche discovered that one third of the CEOs surveyed felt that the company vision was the primary reason employees stayed with the companies.

Of course, improved retention is not the only reason to focus on internal branding. studied U.S. companies and found that every one point increase in brand equity yielded approximately one percent increase in stock return.

No one is better able to reinforce or negate your brand to your customers than your customer contact employees. They interact with more customers than all other department personnel combined. Every company wants their customer contact personnel to act in accordance with the brand, but few have internal brand marketing as a strategic objective.

I heartily recommend considering any strategy that can both decrease turnover and increase company value.

Entry logged at 12:00 AM
May 8, 2006 12:00 AM
Categories: Employee Turnover 
Exit interviews - why spill the beans?

I know many companies that don’t perform exit interviews. Managers have said to me, “Once they leave, who cares? Most employees don’t offer insightful comments during exit interviews anyway. Our HR manager keeps telling us that it is a waste of time.” One study found that only 46 percent of organizations conduct exit interviews. What’s wrong with this picture?

The first thing wrong could be the person conducting the interview. Think about it. Would you be honest in an exit interview if it were being conducted by someone in the very company you are leaving? I guess if you were angry in the heat of the moment you might. But most of us would keep our mouths shut. Employees fear burning bridges or receiving bad references. There’s no benefit to an employee for “spilling the beans.”

Exit interviews should be conducted by a third party—someone the departing employee can trust while anonymously providing thorough and honest feedback.

Managers should publicize lessons learned and actions taken as a result of exit interviews. Word gets around (remember, the person leaving probably still has friends in your organization and they probably still talk). If the departing employee communicates what he said in the exit interview and word gets around that nothing was ever done to acknowledge or change it, then most employees would realize there is no reason to elongate the exit interview process by talking.

Entry logged at 12:00 AM
May 4, 2006 12:00 AM
Categories: Employee Turnover 
First-level leaders - the "forgotten" link to retention and engagement

We don’t have to question the role of the front-line leader in employee retention and engagement. There’s been a ton of research confirming it. To illustrate:

1. Employees will stay if they have a good relationship and open communication with their immediate boss. (HRI Institute, 2001)
2. Employees typically see the organization as they see their supervisor. (Tross & Egermann, 2005)
3. As the job market improves and people find more employment alternatives, leaders will need to put more effort into retaining talent. (Gantz Wiley Research, 2004)
4. The front-line leader is of critical importance in building engagement. (Gopal, 2004)
5. The root of employee disengagement is poor management. (Gopal, 2003)
6. Employees need bosses who care about them, and will help them achieve their goals. (Human Resource Institute, 2004)
7. Much of engagement work must be done by first-line supervisors. (Bates, 2004)
8. Employees who believe that the supervisor values their contributions and cares about their well-being believe that the organization on the whole supports them more, which in turn relates to decreased turnover. (Eisenberger et al., 2001)

I have often said that the first-level manager is the weakest link in the call center today. We are notorious for taking our best agents and promoting them with little or no management training. We throw them into the daily “running around with your hair on fire” call center operation and ask them to perform heroically. We ask them to balance oft competing objectives and seldom give them the time or know-how to perform well. We hire them to manage people, yet they spend the greatest amount of time managing tasks. Then we wonder, “Why are employees disgruntled and leaving?” The buck stops not with the front-line managers, but with call center leadership.

1. Human Resource Institute (2001). “Loyalty and Commitment: A survey on Attracting and Retaining Workers.”
2. Tross, S. & Egermann, M. (2004) “Employee-Manager Relationship Duration: Effects on Perceived Supervisor Career Development Support & Voluntary Turnover.” Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology Annual Conference, April.
3. Gantz Wiley Research (2004), “WorkTrends 2004.”
4. Gopal. A. (2004). “Flawed Assumptions Can Defeat Your Business,” Gallup Management Journal, April 8.
5. Gopal, A. (2003), “Disengaged Employees Cost Singapore $4.9 billion,” Gallup Management Journal, October 9.
6. Human Resource Institute (2004). “Reengaging the Workforce,” TrendWatcher, Issue 211, May 7.
7. Bates, S. (2004). “Getting Engaged.” HR Magazine, 49(2).
8. Eisenberger, R., Armeli, S., Rexwinkel, B., Lynch, P.D., & Rhoades, L. (2001). Reciprocation of perceived organizational support. Journal of Applied Psychology, 86. 42-51.

Entry logged at 12:00 AM
May 1, 2006 12:00 AM
Categories: Employee Turnover 
Decrease turnover through internal marketing

When Response Design and the APQC partnered to study the customer-centric organization, we discovered an amazing correlation: as contact centers increase active, internal marketing programs to communicate the value of contact centers throughout the organization, they experienced a commensurate decrease in negative annual agent turnover. (Negative turnover is when an agent leaves the organization - no matter what the reason. Positive turnover is when an agent leaves their position for another position within the organization - promotion or lateral move.)

These high performing companies actively engage in marketing the contact center to the rest of the organization. My guess is that the process causes agents take increased pride in their work and the pride translates to loyalty. Hence turnover is decreased. What an “easy” and relatively inexpensive way to improve retention!

Entry logged at 12:00 AM
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