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….