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The Call Center Gopher Game: How To Stop The Cycle of Mediocrity

by Michael Schein, Vice President of Product Development, The Results Companies - June 22, 2011

By Michael Schein, Vice President of Product Development, The Results Companies 

Average Handle Time. Customer Satisfaction. Quality Assurance Scores.
These are just a few of the Key Performance Indicators that are the common currency of the contact center industry. It is by examining these metrics (and others like them), that many call center leaders manage their operations. If you’ve ever tried to interrupt a certain breed of call center veteran who was hunched over a spread sheet full of these statistics, you’ll know what I mean. Once you get the grizzled vet to look up at you, he’ll launch into a speech about how the numbers tell him everything he needs to know about what is working at the facility and the areas causing its problems.

While a strong understanding of a program’s KPIs is important, there is another part of the story that is all too often overlooked. Sometimes in concentrating so much on data, call center leaders lose track of what it is that this data represents – the behavior of people interacting with customers on the phone.

The Gopher Game

Think back for a moment to when you were a kid and used to go to the amusement park. Remember the Gopher Game? The goal of the game is to take an oversized hammer and hit as many gopher heads as you could before the clock ran out. The game, however, is more difficult than it sounds. The problem is that once you hit one gopher head, another one pops out at other part of the board. And when you hit that one? Two new heads pop out somewhere else. Almost nobody hits all the gopher heads.

Cycle of Mediocrity

When a call center leader focuses solely on metrics, it is in many ways like trying to beat the gopher game. A typical scenario goes something like this. Management sees that average handle time has gone above goal. They send out the frantic order to get that metric under control. Supervisors, coaches and team leads run up and down the aisles barking at agents about the importance of reducing their call handle time. Fueled by anxiety, agents begin cutting their call times by whatever means possible. As a result, they begin to take shortcuts in their handling of calls, which causes their CSAT and QA metrics to suffer. The manager poring over his report notices that these two metrics have slipped. He shouts to his subordinates to get these indicators under control, who then run around the center yelling for agents to improve their service. Without the proper foundation, the agents overcompensate and spend more time on the phone again. The cycle begins anew.

The Solution

In order to avoid this firefighting mentality, it is essential to look beyond the spread sheet to the people and processes that are driving the numbers. By putting a standard of success in place that is backed by a plan for continual improvement, management can ensure a self-perpetuating consistency of performance.

Hallmarks of a Plan for Success

A sustainable plan for call center success must be based on the following five tenets:

1. Hiring the Very Best Every Time
2. Developing People for Unprecedented Results
3. Creating the Highest Employee Satisfaction
4. Building Strong Teams
5. Driving Key Metrics for Maximum Impact

Hiring the Very Best Every Time

The key to a sustainable program of success is having agents that have the raw talent with which management can work from the very beginning. A robust recruitment and screening program is critical.

Developing People for Unprecedented Results

Throwing an agent on the phone the day after training ends and expecting them to perform is a guarantee for failure. It is essential to work with agents throughout their entire tenure.

Creating the Highest Employee Satisfaction

Happy agents make for happy customers. Take the time to find out what makes your employees happy and where they would like to see improvements.

Building Strong Teams

A strong support mechanism is vital to the goal of having a center full of agents who can work effectively and autonomously.

Driving Key Metrics for Maximum Impact

It is important for site management to keep in mind that KPIs are a way of managing the service they are giving to customers, rather than an end in themselves.

Selecting a System

The more your contact center can systematize processes to ensure that the above five benchmarks are implemented and carried out on a consistent basis, the easier it will be to ensure that your center is exceeding your metric goals at all times. Even more importantly, a systematic approach to service will create a happier customer base.

About the Author: Michael Schein is Vice President of Product Development at The Results Companies. One of Results’ major initiatives is the ReadiAdvantage System, a process framework that drives continual improvement of people, technology and expertise, resulting in consistency and excellence in service and sales. ReadiAdvantage includes many of the best elements of Six Sigma, Lean and Kaizen, with definition, measurement, innovation, deployment and sustainment at its core. Results has applied the ReadiAdvantage methodology to all aspects of its organization to enhance the way they lead their management, collect and report data, mentor talent, launch new programs, and improve program metrics.
Michael Schein,, 954-926-4132

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