Payback Time

Maz Iqbal told me a great story this week….

Imagine you were an employee of a large business.  You worked in a factory, or a shop, or a warehouse or maybe you were an agent in a call centre.

A big call centre where they measured your every move:

Every single time you did something “out of adherence” your supervisor came down on you like a ton of bricks.  You were given no leeway, you were treated like a child.  There was not an ounce of trust.

How would you feel?

Would you like some revenge?

Now imagine you were asked to do some things that weren’t measured

Perhaps recording the reasons why customers have called in.  Categorising those reasons onto a call recording log.

Would you have entered those reasons correctly? Or would you have got some payback, taken the opportunity to mess with the system, exacted some revenge.  What would you have done?

How adult are you?

I’ll be honest with you, if you treat me like a child, I’m going to act like one.  I can’t help myself.  Maybe you have more moral fiber than I do.  Maybe you are better than that.

I bet your agents aren’t.

Of course the story is hypothetical

Nobody would ever run a call centre like that and if they did they wouldn’t be foolish enough to make a multi-million pound investment in a brand new, all singing, all dancing customer service website.

One based on months of statistical analysis of agent coded call reason data.

Nobody would be that dumb.

Would they?

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  1. Hi James,
    Seems to me that people are forgetting that, as Deming taught, 95% of the performance of an organization is attributable to the system (processes, technology, work design, regulations, etc.) and 5% are attributable to the individual.

    But, the key part here is that many would attribute problems to the 5% (the individual) where, in actual fact, it is the system and how they treat the individual that is the problem.

    People build systems and assume that they are right and good and then blame the individual for when things go wrong. It’s harder to admit that the system that we have built and the behaviours that support that may be wrong because that’s all about sunk costs and investment and personal reputation.

    Maybe we need to get a little more comfortable with being wrong?


    • James Lawther says:

      There is a line of thought Adrian, that you only learn when you realise something is wrong. Being right all the time simply reinforces our prejudices.

      Or to put it another way, yes.

  2. Software’s for me is needed to help you run a call center especially if you’re a big contact center. Imagine how would you manage 100 agents without a software, how to track agent breaks and schedule shifting to make sure there are available agents to receive calls, and how would you know if agents are having a long call. But datas from the software that you are using is nothing if you don’t know how to interpret those numbers. If you cannot use the data provided to motivate your agents, it’s just a waste of resources.
    Balancing your software intelligence and your people skill is important to succeed in a contact center.

  3. James Lawther says:


    I couldn’t agree more, though there is a big difference between understanding that something is wrong, and blaming somebody for their poor performance


  4. Hello James

    Some 10 years ago I did some work with Vodafone. At that time Vodafone had decided to make the customer experience one of its strategic pillars. As a result one of the projects was to get insight into why customers were calling the call-centres.

    The people put on this project were trained in six sigma type methodology and so they started listening into hundreds of calls and coding them themselves. When they compared their coding with the way that the agents had coded them they found that mostly the coding did not match. This triggered work on the historic calls. So many hundreds of calls were replayed and coded. And this coding was checked against the coding in the computer systems. And the coding here did not match either.

    The conclusion, coding of the calls in the system could not be relied on. Another conclusion, there was no definitive way of ensuring that different people coded the calls to the same coding category. Why? It was how each agent interpreted the call that determined that coding category.

    Another insight was that the top 9 categories of coding had far more calls in them then the rest. Why? Because these were the ones that appeared in the drop down box!

    Incidentally, this was the second telco at which I saw this happen. Since that time, I do not rely on any coding of calls in call-centres.


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