Contact Centers – Are They Really A People Business?

We hear all the time that the contact center industry is a people based business, but which people are we talking about?   If we were to go back 30 years the same issues that were faced then are still present today, not much has changed.   The industry is still chasing the same metrics like Attrition, Absenteeism, First Call Resolution and Customer Satisfaction – to name a few.  If we continue to get the same results why do most call centers continue to run their business the same way?

Scare tactics, such as threatening corrective action for high handle time, do not work.  I’ve had a lot of experience and learned this lesson the hard way.  How often do you really see a sustained improvement based on this model?  The reason results are not consistent is simple.  As soon as the words “disciplinary action” are out of your mouth you end up losing half of the person’s desire to perform as they now understand the real relationship they have with their leader and company.  It’s fear-based motivation, which may be effective in the short term, but in the long run leads only to negative feedback and disgruntled people.  Fear does not show you care for the person or their performance, it shows you feel you are superior to them, which is disrespectful.

What about stack ranking, you ask?  Take, for example, the bottom 10% and remove them from the company?  Sure, that would work; never mind that the issue may be with their tenure, poor training or the leader they were lucky enough to be given.  In most cases, unfortunately, it’s just as easy to get fired as it is to get hired.  The industry needs new approaches to solve these old problems, new ways of thinking if we are to get different results.

Command and control leadership is outdated and rigid, but is still used quite prevalently in business of all shapes and sizes.  It does not empower the employee to be successful, does not give them any ownership of their performance.  Instead, you have a group of people being told what to do by another group of people who are being told what to do.  Frustration leads to low self-esteem and push-back which has a negative impact on every aspect of the business.

First Off

I believe there are answers to these issue and it is time to truly start looking at this business in a different way.  If it is a people business, let’s create and track metrics that support that mindset.

For instance, what percentage of people are working a shift that fits within their life schedule?  A good work/life balance is essential to increased performance in the workplace.  Of course, everyone does not get to have the perfect schedule, but wouldn’t it be good to know that percentage and what the optimal shift is for each person?  As call arrival patterns change you may be able to meet the need more effectively if you have the freedom of flexible availability.

What percentage of people asked for a schedule exception yesterday and what percent were actually granted?  This would be another leading indicator of people satisfaction, which would translate to better metrics.  If you’re not approving many then that is going to show up somewhere else in your numbers, probably absenteeism and attrition.

Organizational design is another area where the industry is aligned as it was 30 years ago.  I believe there is a huge opportunity to transform this industry by changing the legacy org structure; Site Director, Account Managers, Team Leads, Agents.  Look at the job description of each of these positions, are they really people based?  You will probably find more finance or command and control based responsibilities as opposed to empowering and inspiring people to be the best they can be.  We will get to Org solutions in future blogs but until then take a look at this book: “Reinventing Organizations” by Frederic Laloux
It is a great book and will get your mind thinking about how you can organize differently for a better outcome.

If call centers are to truly become a people business we need to remember one thing:  We serve the people, ALL the people.  It’s time to start showing it.


Written by Rob Duncan
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