Ever wonder why you get bad service from “customer care call centers”? Blame it on math.
Often customers are talked about as being an investment to the firm. It is easy to understand; a company invests marketing and sales dollars to acquire you and through the money they make from you they can pay for the goods and services they deliver to you. This provides the ROI in the customer investment. In a commodity market such as telecom, it can take anywhere from 6 months to 2 years to see profitability; especially with these free phones that suppliers do not give away for free.
Unfortunately there is this thing called the annual budget that needs to be submitted and approved by the board of directors. These guys want to increase revenues and decrease expenses to improve profits and increase the share price. This is what their shareholders want; it is what you want; since your retirement funds depend on it. Once these budgets are submitted; all of that marketing speak gets translated in to dollars and cents and all of a sudden “You are an expense to be managed”. You are not an asset to be managed – you are now an expense.
Assets require upkeep. They are maintained and looked after by qualified professionals; schedules are put in place to massage and take care of the chunk of steel. On the other hand, expenses are dollars spent during a particular period. Expenses need to be controlled and managed. If they are not managed, spending gets out of control – and this is a bad thing for profit seeking organizations. So how does this translate into bad service? It’s all about math.
A company allocates only a certain percentage of its total spend to its operations. Math dictates that if they want customer care, they will need butts in seats to take care of customers. They can expect to field “x” number of calls over the next year. The trick is to handle all those calls with a few dollars as possible. Why? Because, Budget$ divided by “x” calls = Average cost per call. Do you see the math creeping in? They will want the average cost per call to decrease; this means that productivity is increasing and this is a good news message to send to management, the shareholders, and the investment person who sold them RRSP’s.
Assuming they do not keep decreasing salaries of their current employees (they only hire the next person at a lower salary; or ‘outsource’ to a lower labour rate country) this implies the cost per hour remains relatively constant in the foreseeable future. Other than firing current staff and hiring cheaper labour, in order to decrease the cost per call, the option is to consider increasing the number of calls each agent needs to handle.
Math Lesson #1: Increasing ProductivityIf the current agent can handle 50 calls in a day, then increasing their calls handled per day to 55 improves productivity by 10%. Out of an 8 hour day, ½ hour goes to lunch and another ½ hour goes to the morning and afternoon breaks – so 7 hours productive time is left. 50 calls over 7 hours equates to 7.1429 calls per hour or 8 minutes and 24 seconds per call. The improved 55 calls over 7 hours equates to 7.8571 calls per hour or 7 minutes and 38 seconds per call. That is shaving off an incredible 42.852 seconds of talk time. The agent probably does not need to know everything about you or why you are calling anyway.
How is this decrease in average call handle time going to be accomplished given that time is required to answer, gather relevant data to handle the call, address the issues on the call, and wrap up any action items required from the call?
Managers love metrics. It shows their boss how things are improving. Managers also have another weapon in their arsenal and that is performance management which is linked to job security and (very hopefully) potential pay increases. Performance Management sounds cruel; so let’s use the term “coaching”. Agents will be coached on how to get productivity improvements. Too much coaching does not translate well to an agent.
Here comes Math Lesson #2: Managing ProductivityAgents will be managed on their average call time. If this average exceeds 7 minutes and 38 seconds per call, then they will receive coaching. If the average call time is less than 7 minutes and 38 seconds per call, a new standard is achieved and the agent is promoted to a lead position so they can now coach those who do not meet the new standard of 7 minutes and 38 seconds per call.
Agents are not dumb, they know what the 7 minutes and 38 seconds per call means and they know the simple math equation
Calls > 7 minutes and 38 seconds = Not good
There is a saying in management accounting; “tell me how you are measured, and I will tell you how you will behave”. In response to keeping average call handle time under the 7 minutes and 38 seconds, you might find the following ‘defensive’ measures employed during your interaction:
The next time you get bad service from an agent, blame math and the management team of the organization who told you that you were an asset, not the poor agent who is trying everything to do their best in a very chaotic and a technologically abusive environment.
RK Fischer & Associates