I don’t know the call centre described in this Guardian blog is the worst call centre in Britain, but I would say that it ranks pretty badly. The trouble is most of the other call centres I have had experience of are not much better.
The problem stems from three things:
- Treating call centres as separate from the business
- Treating all calls as work
- Reducing the ability of call centres to do the work
A call centre is thought of as something you bolt onto a business or service that will deal with the communications of the business but not do any of the work. A friend was telling me that she had problems with the web site of her bank when she needed to put through a payment recently. She called the help number and was told that she had to use the web site to process that type of payment. When she tried to explain that the web site was not working properly she was told that they couldn’t help her on the phone. A not so helpful help line and it makes you wonder what the call centre is there for.
The second problem is treating all calls as work. Take again the problem above. My friend was only making that call because the web site was not working. She was calling because of a fault caused by the bank. The problem in call centres arises when that call is measured and tracked along with the calls that customers want to make. Calls they want to make are called ‘value demand’ and calls that are caused by a failure to do something or to do something right by the organisation are called ‘failure demand’. When call centre agents are targeted to take sixty calls a day, those targets don’t take into account that a large percentage will be failure demand and should not be coming in in the first place. The waste is in the organisation causing the failure demand not in the way that the agent deals with the call. But the agents still get ‘managed’ if they don’t make their targets.
The third problem is the way that call centres are staffed and the staffed trained. Agents are given barely sufficient training to log calls and pass them on to the ‘back office’ in many call centres. This means that they can’t actually deal with the calls that come in. They are glorified message takers. But this means there is a disjoint between the calls coming in and the work getting done. The better way to organise the call centres is to put people on the phones that can do the work. This either means moving the back office staff into the call centre or training the agents to do more of the value work. The upshot of this is that more of the value demand is dealt with straight away so you reduce the failure demand and then have even more time for the value calls. The other nice thing is that agents are more skilled, they feel they are doing a better job so they work harder because they now have joy in work.
Switching from being the worst call centre in Britain would not take much effort, since the physical changes in most service organisation are easy. The problem is the shift in thinking that is required. But if managers were to listen to calls to see what customers really had to go through to get a service, they might start to open up.
The irony is that providing a better service reduces the time to give the service and the failure demand and so it costs less than providing a bad service. They say Britain is now a service economy. It is about time that the service offered was what the customer wanted.