Welcome to the new blog of Better for Everyone, the UK call centre with intelligence, integrity and initiative based in Bradford, West Yorkshire!

The traditional call centre approach has earned the industry its awful sweatshop image and reputation for terrible customer service. I knew there was potential for something much better and that creating my own company with a better, more ethical approach to call centre services was the right thing to do.

Through this blog, we’ll keep you informed of our news and let you know our thoughts on what’s going on in the industry and in management generally, so do keep coming back.

Friday, 11 December 2009

Things can only get better in the Student Loans call centre.... or can they?

The media this week have been awash with stories of the review by Professor Sir Deian Hopkin of the Student Loans Company and its inability to meet the demands placed on the call centre. There were incredible statistics being banded about, such as the company answering only 5 per cent of attempted calls at one stage!

The crux of the problem is no surprise to this blogger, and is highlighted early in the 49 page report - the Company insufficiently prioritised the customer experience and remained inward-looking and process-driven. The impact of failing to achieve this cultural change lies behind the more specific and technical failures identified throughout this report.” I’ve got to admit I was impressed – the professor seemed to have it sussed! Then I continued to read the report, and was woefully disappointed.

The professor makes 14 key recommendations – all of which are pretty wordy, relatively predictable and focusing on, for example, resource planning, contingency arrangements and training.

But knowing that the internal focus and conformance to processes at Student Loans Company was at the root of all the problems, I was surprised to find I had to read as far as recommendation 11 before this fundamental issue was addressed.

And then I couldn’t believe my eyes!!

“11. The Company’s leadership must place the customer experience at the heart of the organisation, reflected in the personal objectives of all employees. Targets and performance measures should reflect the customer experience and ensure the delivery of a significantly improved level of customer service.”


Personal objectives and targets will only exacerbate the problem – I wondered if the professor was simply trying to dress up common sense in language that government would understand, so I continued to read the detailed issues about performance measurement…

OK. I was wrong – I’m sorry. The professor doesn’t have a clue how to run a call centre effectively…

But before I tell you what he recommended, let me tell you that Professor Sir Deian Hopkin has a background as an educationalist, whose expertise lies in the labour history and the history of computing. More recently, the professor has got involved in educational policy and the UK skills agenda.


The professor suggested that the company’s SLAs weren’t typical (i.e. their “minimum standards” were too low), and suggested “a much simpler and more widely used metric to measure contact centre performance is to set a target for answering 90 per cent of calls attempted at all times.”

Oh dear – here we go again!!!

Whilst it’s important that as many calls get answered as possible and it’s useful to understand how many callers hang up, this shouldn’t be a target, nor should it be the key metric used to measure and improve the service.

Measures like this can help call centre managers the means to manage resource in response to volume. But they overlook the most critical aspect of performance measurement: they fail to address why people call and how well (or otherwise) the call centre responds to that call. More worryingly, such measures do not demonstrate calls that could have been prevented by getting things right first time!

So unfortunately for students (and workers in the Student Loans Company call centre), this blogger thinks that things can only get worse in future years because the management of the Student Loans Company have embraced the report and has committed to implementing the professor’s recommendations. This means that both call centre agents and their managers will need to work hard to meet this new target – and in “making the numbers”, they will simply focus on getting the calls answered….

Monday, 16 November 2009

Police call centre hits targets - should we cheer or be worried?

Last week, the Edinburgh Evening News reported that figures have been published to say that the police call centre at Bilston Glen has exceeded national targets (for example in terms of time to answer and the number of calls abandoned by the caller) for answering 999 calls.

Oh dear – they clearly don’t understand how dangerous having targets like this might be….

In a nutshell, whilst we’d all agree that emergency calls need to be answered quickly, the target that is in place (to answer 90% of emergency calls within 10 seconds) is at best arbitrary and at worst life threatening!

This is because setting targets like these changes the purpose of the people doing the work - effectively the focus of their work is moved from ‘do the job well’ to ‘meet the target’.

If the target is difficult to achieve, then the emergency call handlers may only be able to reach it by ‘cheating’. And they will; they will do all they can to avoid failing to meet work targets – especially if, like the call centre at Bilston Glen, they’ve been heavily criticized in the media since they opened! Don’t get me wrong, though - this isn’t because of the people – I’m sure everyone working on the phones at Bilston Glen just want to serve the public well. They just need to be allowed to!

It is imperative to a caller to 999 that their call is dealt with properly and completely, with the appropriate follow up activity delivered by the right people at the right time – not just that their call is answered quickly! After all – someone’s life could depend on it!!

On balance, whilst it’s important to understand how long callers are having to wait and how many callers hang up (after all, they are calling in an emergency, so in an ideal world we’d really like to answer all calls immediately!), they shouldn’t be a target, nor should they be the key metrics used to measure the service.

Measures like this (and others such as call volumes – offered and answered, and calls answered per call handler) help call centre managers the means to manage resource in response to volume. But they miss the most crucial aspect of service measurement: they fail to address why people call and how well (or otherwise) the call centre (or in this case the call centre and other emergency service providers) responds to that call. More worryingly, such measures do not demonstrate calls that could have been prevented.

The managers at Bilston Glen need to start
listening to what their callers say, and measuring what matters to them and how well they respond to what callers say. Then and only then, will Bilston Glen become a call centre worthy of public acclaim in its local newspaper!

But will that ever happen? – This blogger remains skeptical….

Monday, 19 October 2009

The BBC - being top of the TV Ratings or measuring what matters?

The BBC along with all the other media recently received a press release from Foundation for the Study of Infant Deaths (FSID) that told them "Latest findings by researchers from Bristol University . . . confirm that 'the safest place for a baby to sleep is in its own cot'. This four-year study . . . found that in half of all unexpected deaths of children in the south-west of England, babies had died sleeping with a parent or carer."

Of major concern to FSID, the release continued, was that 25% of mothers in a survey "were not persuaded that bedsharing can increase the risk of cot death”. Had the BBC actually dug a bit deeper, perhaps reviewing the research findings or speaking to medical experts that were involved in the study, they too may have not been convinced either!

However, the BBC did not do this, rather they whipped the story up into a frenzy, reporting on its Breakfast programme that half of cot deaths are linked to bed-sharing but many parents are sceptical about the risk.

Yet within hours, Peter Fleming, one of the eminent authors of the Bristol research, was blasting the media for their misrepresentation of his research. He is reported in Friday’s Guardian as saying

"My view is that the positive message of this study is that it says don't drink or take drugs and don't smoke, particularly for breastfeeding mothers. We did not find any increased risk from bedsharing. It is a very different message from the one the media picked up. You can say that half the deaths occurred while babies slept with their parents. You could also say that half the deaths occurred while babies were alone in their cots, but I don't see anybody saying, 'Don't put your baby in a cot.'"

es – you read this right!! The Bristol study found that 54% of cot deaths occurred while the baby was co-sleeping with a parent. However, although the risk was very high if the parent had fallen asleep on the sofa, it was actually only significant among those in a bed if the parent had drunk more than two units of alcohol or had been taking drugs.

FSID defended their position arguing that this was too complicated and a simple message was needed (I suspect if they only had a small amount of media coverage there may be some mileage in this argument). However, the Department of Health, co-writers of the release, it could be argued, have the opportunity to spend time with mums to be and new mums, in which they could give fair and accurate information.

So why, might you ask, would the BBC, whose mission statement is “To enrich people's lives with programmes and services that inform, educate and entertain”, and has its first corporate value stated as “Trust is the foundation of the BBC: we are independent, impartial and honest”, seek to mislead their viewers and online readers in such a way?

Whilst their stated purpose may be to inform in an independent, impartial and honest way, clearly there is something else at play…

I wonder how the BBC manages its performance against its purpose, because from the outside looking in (and being sick to death of “Strictly Come Dancing” being rammed down my throat morning, noon & night), it would appear that they measure something very different… perhaps TV ratings are the key measure being focused on here. But the BBC needs to be careful – if they focus too much on being top of the TV ratings, arguably something largely unrelated to their purpose, they are in danger of creating a ‘de facto’ purpose ( for example “to be number one in TV ratings”).

Before the problem gets too far out of control, the BBC needs to find out how its employees understand their purpose and how that understanding is driving their behaviour and, hence, affecting the performance of the BBC in enriching people's lives with programmes and services that inform, educate and entertain.

Whilst the press release was flawed in the key message it pushed forward, the media, particularly the BBC were negligent in their reporting. The BBC must learn to measure what matters to its viewers so it can really be considered to be “independent, impartial and honest” – but until then, this blogger remains sceptical about everything she sees in the media due to the same old issues of confusing correlation with cause, together with selective attention....

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Making outsourcing work by measuring what matters.

The Telegraph Business Club this week published research by payroll & HR outsourcers HR Access that argues that outsourcing specific skills and services carries a risk and therefore demands the business decision maker takes their time, does due-diligence, appoints the ‘right’ supplier and ensure they undertake regular performance reviews.

You might think that this appears to be sound advice – but when you dig a bit deeper, what they’re recommending could really harm the client company. For when you look closely, you find that the research doesn’t recommend developing and implementing and effective mechanism whereby the two companies work together. Rather, the research recommends that the outsourced operation is managed from a distance by senior people under the terms of a contract (with regularly reviews of a set of relevant service indicators or KPIs).

I guess the thinking behind these KPIs is well intended - it would seem sensible for companies planning to outsource parts of their business to document at length what is required of the outsourced provider so that there is a contractual obligation to deliver a clearly-understood minimum acceptable level of service for the company within defined and agreed cost parameters.

Unfortunately, though, it is rare that KPIs achieve what they set out to. For example, in my sector, the call centre industry, complaints can be rife, even when an outsourcer is meeting their KPIs: it doesn’t take a genius to work out that this can result in an adverse impact on the bottom line, as well as lots of unhappy customers (whether those customers are internal staff members or paying customers of the business)!

This is ironically because the problem lies with the very KPIs that are put in place by the company to ensure their outsourced provider delivers a quality, efficient service on their behalf! Regrettably, the KPIs aren’t linked to the needs or wants of the customer (internal or external) which the outsourced operation exists to serve. KPIs measure things that are of little consequence to the individual customer, (for example in a call centre environment, this could be call durations or average abandoned rates), and force the managers and team leaders of the outsourced provider to focus on productivity – to demonstrate to their client that they’re delivering a quality service and value for money.

Before taking steps to put in place KPIs, companies should pause to think, take stock and consider how they can develop a longer term, more customer centric approach to their outsourced relationships. By encouraging their outsourced provider to create and use measures that help them understand customer needs and how to improve meeting them, a company can really make a difference –in fact they can enable their outsourced provider to deliver world class service on their behalf!

In summary, companies may feel they need the security afforded by KPIs to protect them against ineffective outsourced providers. Unfortunately, such KPIs tend to achieve the reverse of the desired outcome, and the natural response by many companies is to fight their outsourced provider contractually.

However, there is a better way: company and outsourced provider working together as partners, to deliver an optimal quality service, is the most cost-effective and sensible way to run an outsourced relationship. Furthermore, by listening to what their customers say, and measuring what matters to them, an outsourced service provider won’t go far wrong!

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Who thinks National Rail Enquiries needs a new call centre outsourcer?

On the same day that we hear that BT are bringing back over 2000 jobs from India, Ventura have announced that more than 100 posts at its National Rail Enquiries centre in Yorkshire would be transferred to India for "financial reasons".

It’s so bizarre, it beggars belief – in December 2003, Ventura announced they were moving the National Rail Enquires service from Yorkshire to Bombay in the summer of 2004, amid public fury and demands for the then Transport Secretary Alistair Darling to intervene.

From that time, we all heard (and some of us even experienced) crazy stories about duff advice given by well meaning and long suffering call centre agents in the Indian Subcontinent who simply didn’t have the local knowledge a UK based adviser would have… I wonder how much additional, unnecessary demand that generated for a busy helpline?

This continued and came to a head in autumn 2007, when consumer group Which reported their findings of a mystery shopping exercise they did which demonstrated that misinformation & poor advice meant that customers could be paying well over the odds for their tickets! By the time we got to spring 2008, the media was reporting that the tide in outsourcing was turning back onshore – with Lloyds TSB and National Rail Enquiries cited as having reduced their customer-contact presence in India.

It is now beyond comprehension that a little over a year on, Ventura would be doing yet another u-turn on the very day that even BT is bringing jobs back to the UK.

On their “Facebook” page, National Rail Enquiries state that their telephone service is one of the busiest telephone numbers in the United Kingdom. They quote all manner of interesting statistics, including the following:

Number of calls offered: 16,058,777
Number of calls answered: 15,153,487
Percentage of calls answered (PCA): 94.4% (meaning they missed nearly a million calls!)
Average time to answer calls (ATTA): 21 seconds

They also say that they monitor quality using mystery shopping (99.29% of calls answered “correctly”) and customer satisfaction surveys (90% customers would recommend National Rail Enquiries to family and friends).

Blimey! Look at that last statistic a different way, and what they’re really saying is that 10% of people wouldn’t recommend them!!

This can’t be good for anyone, so the challenge to National Rail Enquiries is find a call centre outsourcer that has a better way of doing things - delivering quality more efficiently to compete with offshore locations.

This blogger knows one – do you?

Monday, 13 July 2009

Beating boredom at work - why the role of managers must change!!

This month’s edition of the Chartered Management Institute’s publication, Professional Manager includes an article on boredom in the workplace (http://www.managers.org.uk/client_files/PM%20July%2009%20boredom.pdf).

In the article, Dr Sandi Mann discusses how changes in the world of work, such as the introduction of new working practices like call centres have increased employee boredom – citing that repetition, restricted autonomy & a lack of job control due to “robotisation” and scripting are major factors in the high levels of staff turnover in the industry.

Mann notes the irony that as companies strive more and more to control staff output in order to drive down costs, in spite of the fact that this can severely damage the organisation financially and reputationally because it causes poor work performance, absenteeism, stress-related health problems and job dissatisfaction.

The article goes on to suggest various solutions, including empowerment of staff and elimination of standardisation in the work, arguing sensibly that the cost savings to be made could balance any training needs.

However, this blogger thinks the solution needs to go much deeper, to really get to the heart of the purpose of management.

The current operating model in most organisations (and that which is so prevalent in the dreaded call centre!) is that managers exist to police the work that staff do – ensuring they achieve their set (numerical) targets and conform to procedures & scripts…

Yet what managers really need to do is to optimise their team’s efforts to achieve business aims whilst recognising and understanding individual differences, strengths and interests & the benefits of co-operation and losses of competition.

Instead of encouraging a culture of blame, where everyone conforms, managers need to create trust and an environment in which freedom & innovation flourish.

Then and only then can organisations become truly successful (and have staff that are empowered, with high job control, and doing an effective job)!!

Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Customer service - arrogance or ignorance? You choose.

BT, British Gas, Sky, Virginmedia & Vodafone were named and shamed this week in the findings of a survey of 5000 people across the UK into their views about 30 companies with call centres. Other major corporates featuring in the survey report include HSBC, AOL, Barclays, O2 and HMRC.

There are no real surprises when it comes to what people complained about - "the language barrier" and "call centres based abroad" were identified as one of the most infuriating aspects of call centres. And consumers said they hated the use of automated systems and having to answer numerous security questions as well as being passed from pillar to post and needing to repeat themselves.

There were no good guys coming out of the survey, either – banks and retailers seemed to come out just as bad as the communications and utility companies! But BT really took the top prize – the survey found that BT was almost twice as bad as second place British Gas when dealing with issues and complaints, even being accused of leaving callers on hold or struggling to get through its automated system to make complaints. And BT came top for longest holding times, with 18% of people complaining about the company!!.

The managing director of BT's consumer division was quick to dismiss the findings of the survey as “twaddle”, explaining that BT’s own “extensive surveys” demonstrated customers were far more satisfied! He even went on to brag that "the time it takes BT customers to get through to an adviser has dropped by 65 per cent over the last year and is now 32 seconds on average.” And that "customer complaints have reduced by over 40 per cent in the last year.”

Blimey – if they think that’s good, how bad was their service last year!

Unfortunately, however, as we can see from this survey, BT is not in isolation in the customer service hall of shame…

Maybe it’s time the senior people in responsible for the dire state of service offered by call centres became aware of what really matters to their customers’ and encouraged their call centre managers to focus on serving the customers they exist to look after instead of managing staff targets, using fantastic new technology to deflect their calls or sending calls to offshore call centres just to save a few quid.

But such a fundamental mindshift would take a strong, confident and magnanimous leader – after all, they’d have to admit they got it wrong, before they could improve things.

So, this blogger wonders if the repeated denial of any problem is a sign of corporate arrogance or corporate ignorance… or even worse, a bit of both?

Monday, 15 June 2009

The Observer needs Caulking!

After 16 years this week's column in The Observer by Management Editor Simon Caulkin was the last. I understand this is a decision made by management at The Observer as a cost-cutting measure…

If you’ve never read Simon’s brilliant yet appropriate and relevant column, then you really don’t know what you’ve been missing! Simon has written about ideas this blogger holds dear – indeed his column has been a must for anyone who understands that traditional management ways of thinking have largely created the mess the economy is in! His column has always been a refreshing and insightful read that appealed yet was relevant across the political spectrum, both public and private sectors, as well as different industries.

I am dismayed and disappointed by The Observer's bizarre decision to axe this column. And I’m not alone in my thinking… over the last weekend, over 50 distinguished signatories (including little old me!) gathered to produce not just a letter of protest to the powers that be at The Observer, but also an earnest recommendation that they reinstate Simon’s column as a matter of urgency!

The letter, signed by a diverse group - ranging from entrepreneurs, SMEs, management consultancies, large corporations, academia and renowned authors across the globe was sent to the editorial team at The Observer this morning and we await their response.

In the meantime, we’ve set up groups named “The Observer needs Caulking!” on both Facebook and LinkedIn.

This column must continue. Please show your support by joining these groups and posting your comments for all to see!

Thursday, 11 June 2009

Q - Do call centres face increasing competition from the web? A - Only if they're not very good...

In a recorded message played to attendees to the Call North West conference this week, Beverly Hughes MP said that call centres face increasing competition from the web.

At first glance, this observation might seem a bit left field, but on reflection I think she could have a point…

I was talking recently to a contact of mine about call centres, specifically a well known UK bank. This company is one people used to always recommend (yes, you can probably guess who it was). I probed a bit deeper when she said their service was always excellent… After all, having seen a fly on the wall documentary on TV that featured that bank not so long ago, I figured that their new increased focus on individual staff achieving sales targets and throwing squidgy toys at colleagues on the phone to a complaining customer to improve staff morale might not be conducive to a fantastic customer experience…

I was disappointed, but not surprised, then, when the lady explained that she mostly dealt with them over the internet…. I guess then, there’s nothing that can go wrong - if you do it yourself, you do it right first time…

On that basis, then, I can understand where call centres could face competition from the web… Computers can replace transactional relationships (and save the companies money), but they can’t replace everything. Sometimes as customers we need to talk to someone, have a dialogue – after all business is about people, how they interact with you, how well they respond to the demands you place on them and the value they create in serving you… if we get to the stage where we only stick with businesses because their online capability works for us, then there is no longer any customer loyalty or value in our brands.

Yet ironically, that’s where the call centre can come into its own – by creating value and building long term and sustainable customer relationships and brand loyalty.

Unfortunately, so many companies miss this trick… they spend so much time in call centres focusing on targets and silly games to motivate their teams, that they forget the very customers they exist to serve. What businesses need to do is to start looking at the world through their customers eyes, design their processes to meet the demands their customers place on them, whilst encouraging their staff to take the time to do things right first time.

If they did this, then they’d find they could really make a difference to their reputation and the loyalty of their customers…. Now does that sound like a good idea, or what?

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Observations on the importance of customer service...

Chey Garland speaking at the IoD recently talked about offshoring and how some work will always be done abroad to reduce cost. She also commented about getting things right first time and the importance in a recession of a quality service, retention of existing customers and doing things to a higher standard. All fantastic points I would agree with, but unfortunately, Chey’s subsequent observations about call centres needing to “do things rapidly” because time is what’s most important to customers these days let her rhetoric down.

We all know that from a customer’s perspective it’s most important for things to be done right than to be done quickly.

Instead of focusing on speed (or how many customers can be processed during the course of a shift), call centre managers need to learn to focus on responding to their customers demand, and empowering call centre staff to take the time to do things “right first time”, and creating a work environment in which service excellence can flourish.

If all call centre managers did that, then they could reduce complaints and repeat calls: ironically taking the cost out and improving service…. Hmm – perhaps there could be a better way of working?? This blogger thinks so...

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Well done, Carphone Warehouse!

Carphone Warehouse has this week announced it's scrapping commission in its stores having completed a successful pilot of a new pay scheme!

Hurrah for common sense!! We all know that commission drives the wrong behaviours in people, encouraging them to do whatever it takes to get the sale at the expense of customer needs.

Carphone Warehouse’s UK Sales & Customer Director, Steve Blan said of the pilot ‘We’ve seen that the selling techniques people were once protective of are now being shared. Great salespeople understand it is in their interest to share knowledge and skills.’

In addition, because everyone working in a store gets 2% of profits each quarter, if a customer decides to cancel or return, the store profit decreases, so it’s now in their interest to sell the correct product to meet the customer’s needs.

Andrew Harrison, Carphone Warehouse's UK Chief Executive said that staff retention in London had gone up since it introduced the scheme, helped by a rise in basic salaries from £11,000 to £17,000 – yet ironically, some staff are angry… Probably the ones that learned how to cheat and lie to achieve excellent sales figures - they’re saying things like “if there’s someone bad in your team you are handicapped”….

Full of team spirit, those boys, eh?

They should push off and work for someone else – if Carphone Warehouse is genuinely committed to its customers and giving them impartial advice, they’re best rid of commission driven numpties out to make a sale at any price!!!

It’s not complicated, but it’s certainly a new phenomenon in mobile phone sales.

Well done Carphone Warehouse for turning your back on the traditional image of the mobile phone salesman – this blogger is watching with interest to see whether you really mean it...

Friday, 15 May 2009

Come on, Suralan! Don't you think it's time you set a better example?

OK.  To be quite frank, this has gone far enough!!

Commenting on Debra’s ham-fisted, obvious endeavours to lie her way out of bother this week, Suralan observed, “Thinking on your feet is good, but sometimes you’ve got to tell the truth!”

To my mind that’s tantamount to saying “Lying is usually best…”

To use a phrase coined in the same episode by the eloquent James, that’s cods**t!

If senior business leaders like Suralan are giving out that message, is it any wonder that call centre workers tell the occasional fib (or even bare faced lie)  in order to meet their performance standards …

Call centre managers set targets and keep watch over agents’ performance against them.  If the target is high and therefore difficult to achieve, agents may only be able to achieve it by telling the odd porkie (after all Suralan says that’s OK….)

And they do – I’m sure you’ll have experienced it as a customer…  agents will do everything they can to avoid missing work targets or standards. 

These aren’t bad people, they’re just managed using a bad system….  a system that is perpetuated by the likes of Sir Alan Sugar.

Come on, Suralan!  Don’t you think it’s time you set a better example?

This blogger does…

Saturday, 9 May 2009

The Apprentice - Get real, Suralan!!

Watching my regular fix of “The Apprentice” did make me chuckle this week!! It just reinforced some of the crazy management beliefs that are out there, yet ironically demonstrated why the thinking behind them is so nuts!

The wannabe executives needed to make appointments with retailers in order to sell their wares. Unfortunately, they didn’t make as many appointments as project manager, Lorraine expected: “Only one appointment – I’ve lost my job for that before now!” she criticised.

Clearly Lorraine had in mind a target number of appointments which her team should achieve. As in all telesales environments, the members of Lorraine’s team wanted to do well. They wanted to make appointments - they weren’t bad or lazy. And Lorraine went on to give us a fine demonstration of how managers demoralise their teams when they don’t achieve their targets…

Originally, I wasn’t keen on James, but he did explain his side of things quite eloquently when he compared the responses to his calls to opening a funeral parlour and people stopping dying! James was smart enough to understand that the call outcomes weren’t entirely down to him: “I had a bit of bad luck in that no-one I rang was interested,” he lamented.

Then, as if the guys that had been doing the calling didn’t feel bad enough after their verbal bashing from Lorraine, “Suralan” swaggered in with “My people rang six people and got in!”

Yeah right!!! That’s a fair comparison, isn’t it? Let’s just look at these two opening lines from a telesales operative:

A - “Good morning, I’m calling on behalf of Sir Alan Sugar and we’re filming The Apprentice at the moment. May I make an appointment to come and see you tomorrow?”

B – “Good morning, I’m calling from a company you’ve never heard of. We’ve got some great products that are really different from those of the hundreds of people like me that ring you each day. May I make an appointment to come and see you tomorrow?”

I wonder which appointment you’d arrange?

What business owners need to learn from this week’s bout of public humiliation if that if people are set an unrealistic target, they may only be able to achieve it by “cheating” (e.g. booking bogus appointments, lying to or pressurising people into taking appointments and so on). Alternatively, workers will become increasingly demotivated as they believe their managers’ accusations it’s their fault.

Perhaps if Suralan used his programme to demonstrate how businesses should really operate, then things might improve in British industry. But then I guess that wouldn’t make good television…

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

I agree - it's definitely time to get rid of all IVRs!!


Finally some research that shows what we already knew - that customers are very unhappy with IVR systems (where you press 1 for this, 2 for that, 3 for something else, and there's never an option for what you want!)…. (http://www.callcentrehelper.com/time-to-get-rid-of-your-ivr-2854.htm)

When this technology first came along, call centre managers argued that it was just resistance to change - customers would eventually adapt, and accept IVR when they got used to the technology. Unfortunately, customers still find IVRs frustrating, confusing and downright annoying – and as this research shows, they’re not adding much value for the organisations that have implemented them either…

Maybe it’s time call centre managers wised up and focused on what really matters to the customers they exist to look after instead of trying to deflect their calls or prevent them from speaking to a member of staff in order to save a bit of money.

If they actually looked at the world in their customers eyes, designed their processes against the demands their customers place on them, and trusted and empowered their staff to take the time to do things right first time, then they’d find they could really minimise the costs of transactions with customers, whilst giving customers what they want.

Monday, 27 April 2009

The FSA could really make a difference to the quality of service we get from the banks... but could it ever really happen...?

Currently, the Banking Code Standards Board (BCSB) monitors and enforces voluntary Banking Codes which govern banks’ day to day relationships with their customers. From November, these arrangements will be replaced by new FSA rules which all banks, building societies and credit unions must follow.

The FSA claims that through regulation, they will also ensure that the quality of customer service is maintained long after becoming a new customer. Apparently, there will be a new rule to make sure service remains prompt, efficient and fair for the duration of the relationship with the customer. And it looks like the FSA may fine firms if they fail to comply with the new rules to the detriment of their customers.

I dug a bit deeper and read the policy statement (Financial Services Authority Regulating retail banking conduct of business - http://www.fsa.gov.uk/pubs/policy/ps09_06.pdf), and was amazed to find that a few respondents to the consultation requested guidance on what is a prompt, efficient and fair level of service!!! The policy statement did not address this.

It’s a sad fact, but I really don’t think the banks know how to do this. They’ll probably respond to the rules by agreeing wholeheartedly that they need to care about their customers, and arguing that well-trained staff who are following the appropriate procedures are best placed to deliver excellent service. I should imagine then, that they’ll set in train a number of initiatives such as customer care programmes, training staff, and changing procedures to avoid the fines. Well that should improve service, eh?

Unfortunately, whilst approaches like these might seem initially to be the answer to improving service quality, none of these lines of attack will be effective in the long run, because they simply don’t address the root cause of the matter. This is because an integral part of the problem lies with the targets that are put in place by the banks to ensure they deliver a prompt, efficient and fair level of service.

Regrettably, these targets aren’t linked to the needs or wants of the banks’ customers, usually measuring things that are of little consequence to the individual customer, like call durations or average abandoned rates, time taken for each aspect of work activity and force the managers and team leaders to focus on productivity – to demonstrate they are delivering a quality service (and now we all own many of them, value for money)!

Before taking steps to using regulation and fines as a stick with which to beat the banks, the FSA needs to think about the impact of such action on customer service. They should pause to think, take stock and consider how they might encourage the banks to develop a longer term, more customer centric approach to their relationships and dealings with customers.

By encouraging the banks to work to understand what customers are saying when they contact them, customer needs and how best to meet them, and assessing aspects of service delivery that are of importance to customers, the FSA could really make a difference to the quality of service we get from the banks… but could it ever really happen…?

Unfortunately, this blogger isn't optimistic....

Friday, 24 April 2009

T Mobile should try to save money and offer a better service to their customers!!!

So, T Mobile is thinking about sacking call centre workers in Scotland and outsourcing over 400 jobs to the Philippines. It doesn’t take a genius to work out the financial attractiveness of the Philippines with its lower cost base. And suppliers argue their case by talking about better quality and improved processes, flexible work practices and pools of well-educated staff as well as exploitation of different time zones. But is it really as good as it sounds?

The benefits

The Philippines is an up and coming location for call centre outsourcing and has a workforce with many English-speaking graduates. As a general rule, large savings on salary costs are reported. For example, a call centre worker in the Philippines might earn 50% less than their counterpart in the UK. The Philippines are 7 hours ahead of GMT, which is excellent for back office processing, analysis and programming as turnaround time can be reduced in the UK as work is done ’during the night’.

Excellent financial incentives are offered by the governments of offshore locations keen to attract UK business. For example, the Philippine government is offering significant fiscal and non-fiscal incentives to attract foreign direct investment in these industries as part of the 2006 Investment Priorities Plan (IPP).

The disadvantages

Political instability in many offshore locations results in a need for special provisions for disaster recovery and force majeure events. For example, plans may need to be in place for electronically moving all data and staff out of the country to a ‘safer’ location with the same connectivity capability.

The legal systems of offshore locations are not the same as ours: for example, whilst India has contract law and copyright protection in place, the legal processes are very long and drawn-out. Furthermore, it can be difficult to comply with UK requirements.

Whilst the costs of salaries are lower than at home, total labour cost savings are much more modest. Deloitte and Touche have suggested savings are as low as 10%. This is due to ‘hidden costs’ associated with doing business in, for example, the Philippines that consume the bulk of the savings. Such costs might include travel, communications, equipment, and management of the offshore operation as well as costs of redundancies in UK managerial oversight are some of these. Furthermore, pay is increasing due to increased demand which is in turn driving costs up.

Public perception of offshoring is not good: DTI research shows that UK consumers have a negative attitude towards offshoring, with “a significant minority” that have either moved or plan to move suppliers away from those organisations which provide offshore customer service.

Many problems encountered lie with the service level agreements companies put in place to ensure they get what they’ve paid for! SLAs force the managers of the outsourcer to focus on productivity - and quality goes out of the window. Furthermore, cultural and language differences are cited by many as a major challenge for dealing with offshore locations. If work needs to be undertaken during UK working hours, this might be the night in the Philippines, which causes issues for getting staff: hot climates make sleeping during the day less straightforward than at home!

Finally, the impact of job losses on the Scottish economy should not be forgotten.

So what should T Mobile do?

In the light of a smaller than anticipated cost saving and increasing salaries, it seems sensible to suggest that increasing productivity at home would offset the cost saving advantages afforded by the Philippines and similar offshore locations. Not only that, but the issues associated with offshoring would be avoided.

So the challenge is to change the way they work… They need to find a call centre outsourcer that has a better way of doing things - delivering quality more efficiently to compete with offshore locations.

The answer is not something new – it lies in what happened in the Japanese automotive manufacturing industry over 50 years ago. Instead of focusing on productivity, T Mobile need to find an outsourcer that will focus on quality, and doing exactly what’s needed first time, every time, then their productivity will be better as a natural result.

Better quality means lower operating costs, lower prices, improved market share and company growth – without having to offshore!

Come on T Mobile – save money and offer a better service to your customers!!!

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Come on RBS - rise to the challenge!

The Financial Times today has reported that Royal Bank of Scotland is cutting up to 9,000 jobs in areas such as call centres as a means of reducing costs.

If only the top brass at RBS realised that by having a different management perspective, measuring what matters to customers, and empowering call centre staff to take the time to do things “right first time”, they could reduce complaints and repeat calls. Not only would this improve service, but morale would improve, as would productivity.

Blimey! That would mean RBS could save money on recruitment, training and covering sickness absence and only make redundant the additional and unnecessary headcount they’re carrying. And while they’re doing that, they could claw back market share by being the best, which, let’s face it, wouldn’t be too arduous!

If RBS did that, it would really shake up the market and address the issues faced by the financial services industry, whilst improving the experience of end customers… come on RBS – rise to the challenge!!!

Saturday, 14 March 2009

Sunday Times best companies to work for? I don't think so....

Each spring, the Sunday Times churns out its definitive list of the best companies to work for. The winners all promote their flexible benefits packages and having fun at work. Or how they offer a great work-life balance and how well they motivate staff.

But how many of the winners have actually taken the time to go back to basics: how many really engage staff and are supportive? Furthermore, how many actually trust their staff to get on and do their work, take their input to improve performance and appreciate them when they do a good job?

In my opinion, the answer to this is very few – organisations tend to be secretive and hierarchical in their design, and staff are rarely valued. Managers monitor and control their staff, and measure individuals’ performance against arbitrary targets that have been derived from the annual financial plan, paying attention to “poor performance”, but ignoring genuinely good work and effort.

An interesting insight in the Sunday Times best companies to work for this year is that the ‘best in class’ in some categories, just aren’t very good.

It is worrying to read that in the category “how many staff feel that their managers are supportive”, the best result is almost 16% of the workforce feel that their managers just don’t support them. Moreover, when looking at how well managers motivate staff to give their best”, the company with the best result has almost 30% of its workforce thinking that managers simply don’t motivate them. And when considering how many managers express appreciation for a job well done, we find that the best performer has almost a fifth of its staff saying that their boss doesn’t say thank you! In terms of allowing the people that know how to improve things to do so, the best companies don’t fare well either… 15% is the lowest proportion of workers that have indicated that they don’t feel able to make a difference at work. What a sorry state of affairs in our “best companies to work for”!

We need to see a bit more common sense in operations management to improve these numbers: surely it’s better to measure what matters to customers and to trust staff and allow them to take the time to work together to improve the work they do and do things “right first time” every time and then thank them when they do?

Then maybe the Sunday Times will be able to produce a list of companies that really are great places to work!

Sunday, 1 March 2009

BBC Money Box - Have Your Say: Call centres

The BBC Money Box programme this week tells the story of the problems Gordon Love of Stirling had with Barclaycard’s call centre, and on their website, the Beeb is asking for people to tell their experiences of call centre complaints, both as customers and as call centre employees… here’s what I say…

Often, solutions such as delivering customer care programmes, training people, or changing procedures are used to tackle issues of increasing levels of customer dissatisfaction. On the face of it this sounds sensible - after all, organisations need to care about their customers, and well-trained staff who are following the appropriate procedures are best placed to deliver excellent service.

Regrettably, whilst approaches like these to dealing with the problem of customer complaints might appear to improve service quality for a short period of time, none are effective in the long run, in view of the fact that they don’t address the root cause of the matter.

This is because a fundamental part of the problem lies with the targets by which the call centre manages its staff.

Unfortunately, targets in call centres aren’t related to what customers want – instead they focus on productivity measures like call length, sales made or average abandoned rates.

All call centres need to take more customer centric approach to people management and work with their staff to understand what customers are saying when they contact them, what customers need and how to deliver it, and assessing what is important to their customers.

If they do this, a call centre can really make a difference and deliver world class service!

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Admiral Insurance is using vocal coaches to motivate staff...

I read today that Admiral Insurance has appointed vocal coaches to provide vocal health sessions aimed at “motivating staff, team-building and reducing sickness and absenteeism”.

What a waste of money!! Maybe they should actually trust their staff to get on and do their work – that would surely be more motivating than someone teaching them how to sing!!!

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not having a go at Admiral – just call centres in general! This is because how staff do their work is decided by senior management that aren’t close enough to the front-line and team leaders monitor and control their staff, and measure individuals’ performance against arbitrary targets that have been derived from the annual financial plan.

The use of targets like this suggests that managers think staff are holding something back from their performance when they come to work… which is odd, when you think about it. After all, most people want to do a good day’s work each day, so why might managers assume they don’t?

However, since companies manage people in this way, they have to use competitions or incentives and nonsense like “vocal health sessions” to “motivate” staff to meet their targets. Unfortunately, since meeting targets is often outside of staff members’ control, winning becomes more of a lottery. This whole situation puts staff under stress, de-motivates them and has an adverse effect on staff turnover, sickness and absenteeism.

We need to see a bit more common sense in call centre management to improve this situation: surely it’s better to trust people and allow them to take the time to just get on and do their jobs and do things “right first time” every time?

Then companies like Admiral could offer better service from happier staff at a lower cost – how neat a solution to the effects of the “credit crunch” would that be…?

Saturday, 14 February 2009

Business is about people

I set up Better for Everyone to offer a complete alternative to the problems in the call centre industry. After all, business is about people – people buy people before they buy products or services.

At Better for Everyone, we promote collaboration between our staff so they can share ideas and learn from each other and improve the work they do for our clients. And we always ensure our staff represent us and our clients’ products or services honestly and truthfully. Similarly, we don’t give our staff target numbers of calls, appointments or sales to make – our clients would only get poor appointments, cancelled orders or inaccurate research! People are the bedrock of a business and an empowered and trusted workforce produces better results and excellent customer service. It’s not magic, just common sense!