Outsourced call centre rethink

The Chief Executive of Northern Ireland Water is having a rethink about its outsourced call centre, according to the Belfast Telegraph.

Laurence McKenzie said that,

“One of the things that keeps me awake at night is the impetus we need to give to customer service. We have far too many at the minute, I believe, hand-offs and hand overs for the customer. We have an outsourced call centre who then try and hand the customer’s problem into the organisation and I think we need to look very carefully at that, at our processes.”

Opportunity to learn

This type of situation is predictable. The problem comes when you view parts of an organisation as separate and try to split them up and then outsource parts of them in order to save cost. I have no doubt that the cost per call in the outsourced call centre is cheaper than if they kept it within the water company. But it seems Mr McKenzie is starting to realise that cost per transaction is not the most important measure.

Complaints are an opportunity to learn. You can learn how not to cause them again. What is more cost effective, dealing with a complaint call cheaply, or not causing the complaint and hence not having to take the call at all?

In order to learn you need a tight feedback loop between the complaint takers and the core systems. The closer these are the better. The ideal is if the people dealing with the problems are the people doing the core work. The have a natural sense of ownership and it is in their interest to reduce the problems since then they can get on with their real jobs.

Lock in cost

Outsourcing complaints locks in high cost. It is not in the interest of the call centre outsourcer to reduce the number of calls, taking calls is how they make money. Also the feedback loop is not only long, but must span organisations. The call centre agents have no interest in reducing the call since they didn’t cause them in the first place. Deal with this call, move onto the next. Worse, since call centre agents are measured on average time spent on a call where less time is better, it is also not in their interest to deal with the calls properly. So even if they are dealing with value calls they can create failure demand due to the management style and measures.

Mr McKenzie has the right idea and his water company would gain a lot from taking back the function in-house.

Shame that more chief executives don’t think the same.



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  1. JM Raventos -

    Good post Rob!!!
    It comes to my mind when working a in a large rent-a-car company we had 80 people in a service center dealing with customer complaints. The agents were people that have never been working in operations and therefore know nothing about the processes. Curiously the objetives were to push agents to attend more customers at hour (productivity). Nobody did anything to try to focus on the reasons why the customer complain. And it was a USA company with a huge management prestige !!! Crazy !!!