Saturday, January 21, 2012

Politics of call centres, part three (really part three this time)

So we've looked at how they're dreadful and why. The stakes are important; a huge chunk of the economy is made up of services, and some of the places where they are located are becoming almost as much one-industry towns as they were before their one industry shut down. What if this sector was as productive and as valued as Rolls-Royce? (Especially as, all things considered, it is quite difficult to use them as a weapon of war, rather as the role of the orchestra in counter-insurgency is limited at best.)

We have the technology. Ticketing systems are as mature as anything gets, and a reader of this blog was moved to say that every software developer has at least once tried to write their own. Web-voice integration is a hugely creative field at the moment. Things like Fonolo and the Networked Helpdesk Protocol (API docs are here) show what can be done.

But the big issue is management, and I think expectations. People expect the experience to be terrible. People expect the job to be status-reducing and generally horrible. People expect that because it's a cost-centre, there's no way to improve it other than flogging the slaves harder.


Metatone said...

It's not just expectations. There's a general correlation around the world between the awfulness of the help desk and the oligopoly state (or in some places monopoly) state of the business you're trying to call.

UK utilities and banks are a classic case. There is price competition at the margins of the business, but they've made the aggregate calculation that the vast majority of their customers can be treated like crap and it won't matter.

It won't matter because while you can change to another provider, you'll be replaced by someone changing from that other provider, because of equally crap treatment.

Banks found the Pareto reason - 20% of their customers actually bring in most of the money, so the rest can go hang. With the utilities, it's worse, virtually no residential customer is important enough to warrant better service.

So - in essence - they are flogging people to drive down costs - they have no intention of improving the service.

PS - I spent a lot of time thinking about this because of my home council (Doncaster)'s enthusiasm for the places and because I was responsible for the call centre of an ISP that was only just growing into needing one, back in the day and so I had to choose and install a lot of the technology...

chris y said...

The way KPIs are selected and measured is indicative that the companies behind the call centres don't give a shit about their individual customers. 99.5% calls answered in 10 seconds? Whoopie doo. Answered with what? I had an encounter recently with Banco Santander which illustrated the problem nicely. Having failed after a fairly long time to persuade them to address my problem seriously, I threatened to close my account.

"Yes, why don't you, then?" quoth the call centre minion, thus conveying in five short words both that he was so alienated from his job that he couldn't care less if he lost it and that his employer was entirely uninterested in my business. But it meant that as a customer I had no sanction against the damn bank whatsoever.

Anonymous said...

This article tends to some of the work in Seddon's work Freedom From Command and Control. Seddon is Mr 'Failure Demand', so no wonder.

A disappointing fact, noted in an Amazon review of the book, is that:

"He has changed the approach in a few divisions in a few organisations, but he has noted that when new managers are appointed they tend, because they don't understand his systems approach and they think in command and control ways, to revert to previous ways of working and those subordinates who adopted the systems approach move on."

You can fix this. Bit it won't stay fixed. Like trouble tickets, really.

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