Off Center
I'm not one to criticize or judge, except perhaps when I'm around other people. However, I feel I must voice (or, more accurately, write) my opinions regarding some common problems that plague the contact center industry.

Following are what I have found to be among the most common stupid things contact centers do, along with some suggestions to help avoid such idiocy.

Borrowing another contact center’s Service Level or Response Time objective. In choosing a Service Level and/or Response Time objective for their center, many managers simply use the same objective that is in place at centers deemed "best in class." What these managers fail to realize is that their particular customers may very well be bigger pains in the butt than those of best-in-class centers, making them more likely to complain and become irritable if their call isn't answered immediately.

Take for example a manager who, after reading an article about an award-winning pharmaceutical company's contact center with an 80/30 Service Level objective in place, implemented the same goal at his center. What he failed to realize was that 94 percent of the pharmaceutical center's customers were using a leading anti-depressant, and thus thoroughly enjoyed humming along to the centers' on-hold music for as long as possible. Our guy, on the other hand, managed a helpdesk for novice voodoo practitioners, where it wasn't at all uncommon for callers who were forced to wait even just 10 seconds for a connection to start sticking needles in little dolls wearing headsets.

The key point to take away from this ridiculous example is that I am very prone to run-on sentences. Another important point is that, whenever deciding on performance objectives, it's essential to choose the best objectives for YOUR contact center, and to ignore those of respectable ones.

Failing to incorporate customer feedback into coaching. One problem with relying solely on your own QA staff or supervisors to provide monitoring feedback to agents is that your agents don't like your QA Staff or your supervisors. Many of your agents would rather have their gums scraped or read a technology vendor’s whitepaper than take your supervisors' advice. That's why the best contact centers have started incorporating direct customer feedback (taken from post-contact surveys) into monitoring scores and coaching efforts. True, most agents don't like your customers either, but are more willing to accept their input because customers never have coffee breath and rarely if ever order your agents to go home and change out of their cut-off Rage Against the Machine tee-shirt on Casual Fridays.

Research has revealed several key benefits of implementing a direct customer feedback initiative. One study, for example, found that contact centers with such initiatives in place have up to 25% higher customer satisfaction rates, up to 15% higher agent retention rates, and up to 1% fewer incidents of QA staff and supervisors being gang-tackled by staff.

Waiting for bleeding-edge technology to become boring. I'm not saying that all contact centers should take big risks on unproven customer contact tools. I'm merely suggesting that those that don't are totally chicken. Now you may argue that investing in unproven solutions is not an intelligent, well thought-out business move. That's fine, but if you are interested only in things intelligent and well thought-out, then you have no business reading my blog.

Show me an award-winning contact center, and I'll show you a manager who has dared to make some dangerous moves with regard to customer contact solutions. Granted, occasionally such deployments fail at these leading centers, but persistent and progressive managers do not let such events stop them. Instead these managers continue to think about the next advanced technology to revolutionize their center and, once their request to leave the mental health facility is granted, eagerly begin meeting with vendors seeking beta-testers.

Treating agents like employees. If you treat agents like employees, they are going to act like employees, and few organizations can recover from such damage.

A recent study by a leading consulting firm revealed that employees are one of the biggest threats to a corporation's health and prosperity, second only to the CEO. Absenteeism, poor work performance and stapler-theft were among the many harmful acts found to be carried out more by employees than any other living entity.

On the other hand, the report found that such undesirable behavior is almost never associated with grandmothers, infants or lemurs. That's why, as I've been saying for years, contact center managers would be wise to stop spending so much time micromanaging and monitoring agents, and start spending more time providing them with rose-scented perfume, colorful rattles and pictures of Madagascar.

For those who find it insulting that I’ve used the term “Stupidity” in the title of this blog post, don’t be dumb. I was just trying to shake things up a bit and bring about some positive change.

For those of you who actually stuck around and kept reading, feel free to share what YOU feel is a common stupid thing in our industry. And please don’t say “Greg Levin”. I may be a highly judgmental and critical jerk, but I do have feelings. Moron.

5/1/2014 10:13:44 pm

Thanks Greg - yes, always nice to read your thoughts. Its the 21st century - why are Centres still measuring # of calls handled per Agent?

Clearly I've got some thoughts but I wanted to run this by you.

All the best,

5/1/2014 10:19:10 pm

I often ask the same question, Daniel, but I'm not going to let you off that easy and respond with another rant. It's YOUR turn! Use the "Comments" space to rip this industry a new one. It's fun!

Thanks for reading and reaching out.



Bruno Henriques
5/1/2014 11:40:26 pm

Greg, you are refreshing as always.
Assuming companies exist to due to their customers and to satisfy them (I know I'm being naive, companies exist to satisfy their shareholders) here's my 2 rants:
- treating agents like robots and harassing them with unrealistic handling times. You know these guys are talking to your customers, right? So, why do you push them to end the calls as fast as possible? You know they are talking to your customers, right?!
- treating agents like disposable resources. So, you think this is an entry-level position and anyone can do this job, right? ahhahahaah (evil laugh) think again! or please, just think for a moment.

have a great weekend :)

5/1/2014 11:48:17 pm

Nice one, Bruno -- actually nice ONES!

You GET it. I thank you -- and your agents thank you -- for not being a dummy!



Loretta Panayotou
5/2/2014 10:30:07 am

ahhh yes....totally agree. The illusion of "anyone can do this job" (bursting into hysterical fits of laughter). Some contact centres are sweat shops in disguise.

Loretta Panayotou
5/2/2014 10:01:01 am

Thank you for sharing Greg.
RE: Service Level & Response time...- could be worse. A flippant disregard to historical metrics, and employing the services of a consultant to reassess mmmmm.....all in the name of being proactive. More money than sense.

Eric Peterson
5/2/2014 10:29:29 am

Great article/blog entry. Couldn't agree with you more, although n ever have managed lemurs - grandmothers and infants, yes; lemurs, no. May be interesting though. But I have found that agents like getting to know the manager on an informal basis and may pass on the rose-scented soap if they are actually valued as a human by their lead/supervisor/qa staff/manager/director. Get out of the office and spend the time on the floor - maybe even taking calls like everyone else - and make a mistake once in a while when QA is listening - takes a lot of the pressure off, especially if you never make that mistake again.

5/4/2014 01:38:44 am

"Grandmothers and infants, yes" -- hilarious, Eric.

You sound like my kind of manager. But don't worry about me ever asking to work for you -- I realize I'm basically unemployable.

Thanks for your humor -- and insight!


5/4/2014 12:10:23 am

Hi Greg! Thank heavens for people like you. Our motto is also to rethink call centers with a focus on people and space. I found your blog a scream to read! Keep up the good work. Annemarie

5/4/2014 01:41:26 am

Why, thank you, Annemarie. Very grateful for the kind words, though I have concerns about people who truly enjoy my posts. What's the matter with you!? ; )

Take care, and thanks for reading!



Sheila B
8/28/2014 12:45:07 am

Late to the party, but this one chaps my hide:

Not giving agents all the tools they need in order to provide First Call Resolution...then counting off on evaluations for poor FCR percentages!! Grrrrrrrr!!!

p.s. Your blog cracks me up, but I think I'm the only one in my organization who "gets it."

8/24/2015 10:48:03 am

Great read, good ideas. We have recently added a few of the same suggestions that you pointed out. We use "HERO bucks" as a way for agents to reward each other and it's been a big hit. Each agent has 3 bucks printed with their own face on them. We have a Hero store (mostly candy but also a few bottles of wine) and you can only spend other agents money. So your money is no good to you... you are incentivized to participate and reward other agents for any reason you deem worthy.


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