Off Center
I’m only 42, but I have the mind of an 80 year-old. It’s not that I easily forget things or enjoy shuffleboard or easily forget things; it’s that I’m cranky and crotchety well beyond my years. Where I used to be playfully irreverent and relatively good-natured, I now simply complain at the drop of a hat. In fact, I get really aggravated when somebody drops a hat.

In other words, I’m no fun to be around. But I am fun to read on occasion – especially if you are a call center or customer service professional who’s been forced to keep quiet about bothersome things in the industry and your job. Customer care folk are expected to be forever positive and optimistic and cheerful and accommodating. And many of you truly are, which is why we rarely hang out.

Call centers and customer service are evolving and improving in a lot of ways, but I didn’t come here to talk about that. I’d rather rant about some of the current bad ideas and troublesome trends in our field.

Personality-based call routing. This recent call center technology development is sort of like skills-based routing on steroids. And, as all of you who do not make your living as a football player, baseball player or professional cyclist know, steroids are bad.

The thinking behind personality-based routing is this: If a company can match each customer with an agent who shares similar traits and behaviors, positive experiences and increased loyalty (and sales) will result.  Sounds good in theory, but so did Windows Vista.

There are several inherent flaws with personality-based call routing:

1) Many customers, like myself, are obnoxious jerks, and when we call with a problem or complaint, we don’t want to speak to anybody even remotely like us. Give us a sweet and empathetic sap who will kiss our butts while we roar and rant -- not some fellow cranky smart-ass who’s going to try to steal our thunder.

2) Personality-based routing assumes that your agents all have a personality. I have called your company and happen to know for a fact that this isn’t the case. What this means is that, if you deploy personality-based routing, many of your employees will be sitting around doing nothing while the members of your staff who are even just the least bit interesting or annoying will be getting slammed with calls.

3) By matching up individuals who are highly compatible, you risk having your center’s Average Handle Time (AHT) go through the roof. Rather than efficiently handling strangers’ inquiries and issues, agents could very well fall in love with some of their callers – or vice versa – thus turning your ACD into a sort of call center apparatus that fosters intimate relationships rather than profitable ones. 

(For those of you who think I’m making personality-based routing up, you can read more about it here: -- but please return to my website or I’ll come looking for you)  

Video calls. I continue to hear talk about how video is going to take customer service by storm and greatly humanize the caller experience. Keep in mind most of that talk is coming from desperate vendors who over-invested in video-over-IP software back when they were hooked on illicit substances in the mid 1990s.  

There’s nothing wrong with the actual technology that drives video interactions; it’s been ready for prime time for years. The problem is that allowing callers to see the faces of employees whom you pay $8.50/hour and whom you cram into tiny cubicles is risky business. Your agents may be able to put a “smile in their voice”, but their attempts to force an actual smile onto a face that’s attached to a body that’s suffering from wrist, back and eye maladies can end up making them look like somebody punched them while they were sucking a lemon.       

Granted, there are a few call centers that have effectively implemented video calling, but most of them are located in Europe, where agents get four weeks of vacation and are encouraged to drink wine between calls. 

“Customer Effort” as a KPI. Is it important to gauge how easy it is for customers to do business with your organization and agents? Absolutely. But good luck precisely measuring that effort in any real quantifiable way. Fanatics of the latest metric craze – “Customer Effort” – would have you believe that you can accurately track not only whether each customer’s issue has been resolved or not, but also how many times each customer smashed their head against a wall or desk while awaiting such resolution.

I’m certainly not against the idea behind Customer Effort, but I can’t imagine how it could be a formal KPI in the call center. I suggest you forget trying to put a number to something so ambiguous and subjective. It’s best just to maintain a comprehensive quality monitoring program that incorporates C-Sat results into scores (“Voice of the Customer”), and then just assume if those scores are decent, you’re making things easy enough for most customers.

If, on the other hand, you discover that customers have started a Facebook hate-page dedicated to your organization and/or some of your agents, you need to either dramatically improve the service you provide or replace your existing customers with some who don’t mind putting in a little work to get what they need. Customers can be so lazy these days.

I look forward to your comments, as long as they are extremely positive and full of exaggerated praise. You’ve already seen what happens when I get cranky.  

6/9/2011 11:55:59 pm

whoa! i've only been away for over a year and now there are technologies and processes unknown to me.

personality-based call routing? what if i don't have one? will that mean i'm free to roam around the office?

thanks for sharing. great to keep up with what's in on an industry i sooo love. :)

6/10/2011 12:04:36 am

Glad to hear you're out on parole, Alwin. Yes, the customer care landscape has changed significantly over the past year -- and not necessarily for the better.

But what do I know? I'm just an aggravated analyst with a bad attitude and a blog.

Oh yes... and an ebook, too. (hint hint)

Come back to the site soon to stay abreast of more madness emerging.



6/10/2011 02:28:36 am

Your blog is like having happy hour on Fridays before leaving the office. I haven't laughed so hard in awhile. Thanks, Greg.

And thanks for reminding us that the most measured function in the business doesn't need another meaningless metric.

6/10/2011 02:34:39 am

Wow, thanks so much for that, Tena. By the way, I start my Friday happy hour on Thursday night to get a good running start.

Let me know if there are any other topics you'd like me to rant about for your entertainment. It's what I live for! (And probably how I'll die.)

Have a wonderful weekend!


6/10/2011 03:33:11 am

Good return to form with this blog.  eLoyalty is betting the farm on sentiment and personality matching. Imagine finding agents that are competent and attractive. The NECCF was a good conference.  Will request to have you speak next year.  Any clips of you speaking to glazed eyed contact center managers and making them laugh will help the cause. Take care.

6/10/2011 09:27:42 am

Return to form? I hadn't realized I'd LOST it! Oh great, now I'm starting out my weekend all insecure -- thanks a lot JR.

Regarding the NECCF keynote opp, I'll send you some video footage of me opening for the Stones at Wembley stadium. I really knocked the crowd off their collective feet with my rocking insight on agent engagement and retention. Mick Jagger had a tough act to follow.

Thanks for your comment and support!


6/18/2011 11:00:01 am

If you really want to rant on new call center issue, look at what firms are trying to do for the measurement of social media responses. Firms are using software to look at social media sites that say bad things about them, then have a call center rep join in the conversation to try and solve the issue. To try and measure this, firms are looking for ways to say the "solved" x percent of unstructered issues. It is hilarious because the whole point of social media is unstructured communication.

Things in this industry have simply gotten way out of control and the point has been lost that the end result is customer satisfaction, period.

6/18/2011 11:28:38 am

Craig, it's Saturday evening and I generally don't respond to comments on weekend evenings because that is the time that I dedicate to family and alcohol. However, your comment was bold, if not rambling, thus I feel compelled to retort.

You can't fault a company for wanting to monitor negative sentiment about them via social media sites. I agree that few orgs have a solid handle on the whole social customer care thing, but you make it sound as if you are penalizing orgs for trying. What, pray tell, do you recommend?

Warm regards,


6/21/2011 02:15:42 am

I agree with Greg here on the social media aspect (even though "social media" is a term that makes mellow old me want to rant, scream and rave...

I've tested a few large organisations in the UK, usually tweeting whilst on hold or following instructions to "press 24 for another list of meaningless options..."

Only one of my small sample so far has made any inroads so far, and actually tweeted back to ask if they could help. My rapidly increasing frustration ebbed away for at least a few seconds. I think there is REAL potential in this area.

However, if you want to see how bad it can get in other cases, might I recommend a little read of ?

Thanks Greg - great blog and glad I've stumbled across it.


6/21/2011 02:32:05 am

I like the way you think -- and rant -- Simon. You are my kind of people, even if you do spell "center" incorrectly in your country.

Thanks for your passionate and colorful commentary!


6/21/2011 07:35:15 am

You say "tom-ay-do", we say "tom-art-o" ...

One of us is correct, and I'm happy to support your delusion(s)..(center, color, behavior...).

Golly gosh!

6/21/2011 07:53:55 am

Thanks for seeing things my way, Simon, old chap. I realiSe you are doing me a favoUr. Smashing.



7/21/2011 12:03:24 am


I am an on-again, off-again senior CC manager with an attitudinal potential equalling that of a Great White Shark after being forced to use 50-grit toilet paper....though I'm truly just a big cuddly teddy bear.

I am dismayed at the direction and confusion surrounding KPIs and I struggle with corporate execs who believe they understand CC ops better than the experts, then enforce their mis-understanding upon their newly-neutered minions.

One wonders about forming an international coalition of dis-enfranchised ornery CC leaders who sanctimoniously assert our greater knowledge and efficacy upon the dullards known as corporate execs.

Do you think we can change the world and get useless metrics abolished? Can we get those who demand out-of-the-box thinking to actually get out of their damnable boxes?


7/21/2011 12:17:02 am

Kevin, anybody who can effectively meld shark-like and teddy bear-like tendencies is a-ok in my book. In fact, I may even call on you to guest blog for me should I ever be hospitalized after getting beaten over the head with a golf club by an exec I've insulted.

Great comment!



7/21/2011 11:55:00 am


Sounds like a deal. If you've ever managed a hostile contact center, getting abused with golf impedimenta ranks up there with sandy beaches and copious amounts of smooth agave derivatives. Forgive me if I don't feel bad about your golf mis-adventures.


7/25/2011 11:43:44 pm

I'm the social media contact at my call center and I passed around the video portion of your comments above to much muffled snorting. After sorting through a vast stack of off color responses, I can only ask has ANYBODY ANYWHERE actually considered the Weiner factor in this? Because my team would be bucking for combat pay. Guess that's why it made the Bad Idea list, eh? Thanks for a great entry and considerable merriment among my colleagues. Who are hardened pros, actually. And no. They don't get no respect.

7/25/2011 11:57:17 pm

Ha, good question, kc. Again, in Europe (where most working CC video apps exist) things like the Weiner Factor only add to the allure. I mean, look at the bathing suits that men wear over there. Everybody is used to it.

Glad hear I elicited some guffaws among your team. That's why I'm here.



10/2/2013 08:55:41 am

I wasn't aware of the many ripples and depth to this story until I surfed here through Bing! Terrific job. My best wishes.


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