Response Design Corporation:Creating the Uncommon Call Center
Kathryn's Uncommon Call Center Blog
June 30, 2006 12:44 PM
Measures, rewards, scripts, and empowerment

Last week, the national media had a field day replaying the taped incident of a gentleman who tried for 45 minutes to cancel his Internet provider account. And, recently, my associate tried in vain for 20 minutes to cancel a credit card. Customers are becoming aware that agents are desperate to keep their business. The phrase, “cancel my account,” has become the latest t-shirt slogan for frustrated consumers.

What has changed?

Contact centers have transitioned from simply being a cost center providing a service to earning their value through, among other things, retaining customers. Retaining customers is good, right?


Retaining happy, satisfied customers is different than retaining bullied and strong-armed customers. Even though I cringe when I see these news segments, I always wonder if it is the agent we should critique or the management of the contact center. What is that agent being measured on? How is he being rewarded? When he is monitored, does he get “dinged” if he doesn’t follow a script? Is he empowered to adjust to the needs of the customer for a long term advantage, even though it may seem contrary to the short-term tactics?

To the customer, both the agent and the company are at fault for making her feel strong-armed into an action she did not intend to take. Customers intuitively believe that their contact center experience is a direct reflection of the company’s values. They believe that the attributes of the agent are the attributes of the company.

So, after we hear the tape of an agent refusing to cancel an account, we quickly hear the company denouncing the action and terminating the employee. But, is it that simple?

Do you know what behaviors your measures, rewards, scripts, and empowerment policies are driving? Have you been beating a “get that sale” or “keep that customer” drum so loudly that it is causing aberrant agent behavior? Let us know if you examine your practices and have second thoughts.

Entry logged at 12:44 PM
June 26, 2006 01:28 AM
What's in a name?

Do you still say, “I work in the call center?”

If yes, why?

You have so many other options: “I work in customer service,” “I am a customer advocate,” “I work in customer relations,” “I am a part of customer contact,” and so on.

I remember in the late 1990s when we tried to change our name as the first step in receiving respect. Since then, we have earned the respect by taking on new responsibilities, gathering essential data, integrating into the rest of the organization, and in some cases, earning revenue. Suddenly the drive to change our name is not so important anymore because the term “call center” has stretched itself to cover all contact types and various customer relationships. A recent poll found that the vast majority of us continue to say, “I work in the ‘call center.’” I do not know what makes “call center” so comfortable, even though we handle more than calls and aren’t centered in any one place anymore.

A similar term is “grocery store.” We might say we are going to the grocery store to use the ATM, have our prescription refilled, order a deli tray, pick up some light bulbs, select a flower arrangement, get a flu shot, buy some stamps and a bus pass, and maybe buy some groceries. We do not have to change its name to “SuperCenter” or “MegaMart” to know it means more than Campbell’s soup, Folgers coffee, and Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes.

“Call center” is a term that describes entities throughout the world; it is a standard term. As a consultant, I am often asked, “How many call centers are in the United States? How many are there worldwide?” Wouldn’t it be interesting if our industry had its own SIC so we could more easily find others like us?

Has your company changed the name of your department to something other than “call center?” If so, what’s the current name? Has your company recognized your call center for meaning much more than just calls?

Entry logged at 01:28 AM
June 19, 2006 12:42 AM
Categories: Measurement 
Customer data and how to get it

According to a recent survey, 58 percent of CEOs believe they do not have enough information about their own customers. And they say they do not know how to get it.

They must not have call centers. If they did, they would have a wealth of customer information at their fingertips. Most contact center professionals are working feverishly to distribute customer information to everyone who needs it. When CEOs or department heads request more data, contact center managers gather it in a myriad of customer-friendly ways.

“Drip irrigation,” for example, is an effective, low-cost method of collecting data in which customers are asked for small details about themselves during the course of their conversation with the agent. Each tidbit is not worth much alone; but multiplied, the information can show trends and hidden dissatisfiers.

Would your CEO have been one of the 58 percent if he or she had been surveyed? If not, what steps have you taken to ensure he is in the know?

Entry logged at 12:42 AM
June 12, 2006 12:52 AM
Categories: Management 
The Value of the Call Center

Recently, a vice president of a financial institution said to me, “(Our company) looks at the contact center as a mirror image of the rest of the organization - virtually everything that goes on in the rest of the organization, in some way, shape, or form can be tracked to an interaction that we have in the call center.”

He went on to say, “So, whether a department manages a product, manages clients, or deals with finances or marketing, there is some representation of what goes on in those worlds going on in the call center each day. It could happen on any call. Each day the call center engages in interactions that are examples of that mirror. Not only do we have to run the business of the call center, but also we have to provide more and more information to the internal stakeholders wanting to know the call center's insights on their customer strategies.”

I’ve never heard a manager express the value of his contact center better. Our centers are mirror images of the rest of the enterprise; we reflect the organization. By working through the interactions and reporting on what we have discovered, we are a source of wisdom for our sister departments.

How does your contact center reflect enterprise strategies? What intelligence are you delivering to your partners in other departments? How are you delivering it? This is an exciting time for us, it’s important that we all learn from each other.

Entry logged at 12:52 AM
June 6, 2006 04:20 PM
Categories: Measurement 
Critical control points

How many measures do you track in your contact center on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis? Ten, twenty, a hundred? Do you know why you track each metric? Do you think watching each measure every day is critical, or do you only measure certain elements after a warning? Have you categorized your metrics according to “cause” versus “effect?”

If you struggle with your measurement system, Temple Grandin, the author of “Animals in Translation,” has terrific insight regarding how to set up a successful measurement system. She attributes her measurement success to understanding critical control points. Ms. Grandin defines a critical control point as a “single measurable element that covers a multitude of sins.”

Ms. Grandin says, “When I’m auditing the animals on a farm, one thing I want to know is whether the animal’s legs are sound. There are a lot of things that can affect a cow’s ability to walk: bad genes, poor flooring, too much grain in the feed, foot rot, poor hoof care and rough treatment of the animals. Some people will try to measure all of these things. But that’s not my approach. I measure one thing only: how many cattle are limping? That’s all I need to know. If too many animals are limping, the farm fails the audit. After that, the farm management has to figure out what is causing the limping and then how to fix it.” To Ms. Grandin, this one critical control point (limping) covers all the possible reasons (poor flooring, foot rot, etc.) an animal might be experiencing the undesired outcome (unsound legs).

What areas of your contact center do you want to know are sound? Are you measuring the critical control point for each of those areas? If you have more than 10 measures, then you probably aren’t aligned to this critical control point measurement method. But if you are one of the “critical” elite, please let us know the control points you have identified.

Entry logged at 04:20 PM
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