Call Centers, A Prescription to Heal Thyself

by Jim Berkowitz on April 12, 2010

Here are several excerpts from an article by David Frenkel, CEO of Panviva, about diagnosing problems that your call center may be experiencing, Call Centers, A Prescription to Heal Thyself:

Here’s a short list of the symptoms I’d look for before writing a prescription:

  • Do your customer service reps dread picking up the phone?
  • Do 50-75 percent of your CSRs last less than six months on the job?
  • Do fewer of your new CSR recruits make it through probation than would make it through Navy Seals training?
  • Do your customers have to call more than once to get questions answered?
  • Do customers constantly get put on hold during their calls?
  • Do your CSR make costly errors?
  • Are your policies and procedures written for a paper-based world?
  • Do your CSRs have to open  a half-dozen or more windows on their desktop to answer even a basic question?
  • Do you wonder how much more complex your business will become before it implodes?

So how did you do? If you didn’t recognize most of these then you are indeed in an enviable spot or in complete denial…

These are symptoms in virtually every call center. We consider them an unfortunate cost of doing business. Sure we try to address them through education and training, help systems, intranets, search, and myriad home grown solutions, but in the end they are an ever-present feature in the call center.

The reason the problem is so wide spread is that it runs much deeper than anything that traditional solutions, such as training, can address. The root of so many of these issues is the legacy of outdated methods we use to capture and deliver policies and procedures. No amount of training will be adequate to make up for the enormous complexity and volatility of navigating through this chaos of information.

So what’s the answer? It starts by coming to the realization that our policies and procedures are living in the past. We need to re-architect the policies and procedures written for an older generation of work and workers into real-time deliverable and real-time consumable information that can be used by CSRs when and as needed. This goes way beyond just converting them to help files and short blocks of text or loading them into a searchable database. Having more, smaller pieces to pull together when a customer is waiting on the other end of the phone only makes the problems I described that much worse.

Instead, we need to architected policies that reflect the uncertain nature of knowledge work. These policies can guide a CSR through their task much in the same way that a GPS guides you through a complex set of unfamiliar roadways. The idea is that the driver and the CSR need to be free to do what they do best, focus on the task at hand, while also having the unfailing reliability of the most up-to-date guidance when it’s needed. Using training alone to solve this same problem is like trying to educate someone on the entire roadway system of the USA and all of the changes taking place in roadways across the country; it’s a waste of time and money.

Policies and procedures in the call center need to be re-engineered to work in real-time, just like a GPS. Sound like a pipedream? It’s not. It’s a prescription for change that many companies have already filled. But it’s not just a matter of a tiny blue pill. There are no panaceas here. You need a deep understanding of the problem and best practices in dealing with real-time policies and procedures, which most companies I’ve encountered lack.

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