Rethinking Call Centers

Customer Relationship Management
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Jaap de Jonge
Editor, Netherlands

Rethinking Call Centers

Experiences of callers with help desks and customer service representatives are typically not positive. At the same time, customer service jobs are typically not viewed as very attractive.
The main reason for that is that call centers are typically organized like a manufacturing factory, with many people in large rooms with headsets on, following detailed, predefined scripts and fighting to decrease the waiting queue and their individual handle time per customer. There is little room for initiative and service reps typically work individually, unless escalation is needed to a second line rep. Management is done by "supervisors". No wonder also that turnover rate among call/help center personnel is very high, around 27% annually.

Matthew Dixon explains in an HBR article how T-Mobile has taken an interesting, very different approach, giving reps better training, putting them together in shared spaces so they can collaborate easier. Managers are given more time for coaching. Reps are allowed more initiative and flexibility to solve client issues as they believe is best. They are freed from traditional metrics like handle time, but rather focus on improving customer retention, share of wallet and customer loyalty (both individual and group targets).

It's no wonder that the service reps and clients are benefiting from this more human-friendly approach. But Dixon writes that T-Mobile benefited too; it dramatically decreased its customer churn rate, cost to serve, employee attrition and absenteeism. The article has some interesting further technicalities of the various organizational improvements.
I am happy to see that after 90 years the Hawthorne Experiments have now reached call centers as well. Yes, it's that simple: if you treat people better, they work better. And everyone benefits - customers, employees and their employer.
Source: Matthew Dixon, "Reinventing Customer Service - How T-Mobile achieved record levels of quality and productivity", HBR Nov-Dec 2018, pp.82-90.

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