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.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

What's happening in charity fundraising is what's happening in many call centres - and it needs to stop!

Last Sunday, the News of the World ran an exposé on the “shocking hard sell tactics” used by call centre company Pell & Bales to raise money for some of the UK's biggest charities.

The story told of lowly paid workers being put under massive pressure by commission driven bosses to meet their targets. The tactics reported by the News of the World as employed by Pell & Bales are unfortunately the same as those you’d find in a majority of the call centres you might deal with in your day to day lives: heavily scripted conversations, monitored constantly by managers giving “feedback” on how better the call centre worker might have handled the call in order to achieve the desired outcome (in the case of Pell & Bales getting someone’s bank details for a charity donation).

Maybe the charities concerned should look at a different way of working…. Perhaps using a call centre with a different approach, and look at paying a daily rate rather than £60 per donation. Whilst it needs to stack up financially for the charity and the call centre operator, it needs to be a sustainable approach in the long term for all concerned too.

As for the call centres, they should actually trust their staff to get on and do their work –Don’t get me wrong, I’m not having a go at Pell & Bales here – I only know what I read about them in the News of the World and what their former employees commented on the story. Rather, I’m having a pop at 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 what the company needs to deliver in its financial plan (in the case of Pell & Bales, this is probably the number of £60 commissions it needs to get for each man day). But whilst that’s useful for the bean counters to know how profitable the work they do is, it really doesn’t help operationally at all.

Since call centre companies like Pell & Bales manage people in this way, they spend a lot of management time ensuring staff to meet their targets and follow scripts (the News of the World reports a former employee as saying “But one boss, who monitored nearly all the calls, said I should have asked her for money at least three times”). Unfortunately, since meeting targets is often outside of staff members’ control (after all, they can’t influence who they call next – for example, if they have no money, don’t support charities, if it’s convenient time to talk to them and so on), so achieving targets becomes more of a lottery. Moreover, constant monitoring and management pressure to perform better puts staff under stress, de-motivates them and has an adverse effect on staff turnover, sickness and absenteeism. A quick read of the comments at the bottom of the News of the World story gives a real insight into how call centre workers often feel - hating the work, listening to heartbreaking stories, staying because they need the money and so on.

To survive in such an environment, call centre workers need to do something – if they don’t leave the situation (which of course in the current economic climate isn’t so easy), they have to either fight (a dangerous strategy whereby you could lose your job)or submit to the system in which they’re operating. In submitting, however, the unfortunate worker (and their line managers or team leaders who are often subject to the same pressures) becomes desperate and often has to lie, cheat or bully. And when the client (in this case Cancer research) comes to listen in to calls “to ensure that our strict supporter care criteria are met at all times”, everything will be done differently. That’s not because the line managers or front line staff are bad people – they are simply operating in a very bad system. Precisely what the News of the World describes in its article.

As the News of the World says – this IS shocking! However, it is not unusual.

We need to see a bit more common sense in call centre management to improve this situation – for charity fundraising as well as every other sector: surely it’s better to trust people and allow them to take the time to just get on and do their jobs properly, allowing them to have the conversation that’s right for the person they’re talking to with the purpose of generating the best they can for the charity?

And if then it doesn’t stack up financially for the charities, then everyone involved should simply admit that an outbound call centre approach doesn’t work in this case, and revert to more cost-effective approaches. Surely that would be
Better for Everyone?

Monday, 8 February 2010

Toyota – once hailed as the right way to work – but is it any more….?

Oh dear – it’s all gone square in Toyota… The company is currently recalling millions of cars due to concerns about a sticking accelerator pedal. A bit of digging behind the scenes of this story, and I’m reaching the conclusion that Toyota have foolishly changed their management focus from quality to growth and are now paying the price… a predicted $2 billion, not withstanding the cost to the Toyota brand!!!

In 2002, the president of Toyota (Fujio Cho) declared Toyota’s intention to be the world’s No. 1 carmaker by 2010 with a 15% share of the global car market.

In striving for this vision, they lost everything that they stood for as a business, and became the same as everyone else in the industry.

Unfortunately, Toyota forgot what it was good at (being the best through its work culture) and focused on growth (just like everyone else) – then suddenly, just like any other car manufacturer, they found themselves looking for ways to cut costs – including a move to common components in multiple vehicle models and outsourcing to and sharing global manufacturing and production.

Toyota always bought all its parts from long term partners - a small group of Japanese suppliers. However, like almost all car manufacturers, Toyota more recently has outsourced much of its manufacturing and production. The recalled accelerator pedals were produced a factory in the Czech Republic - pedals made by Toyota’s original manufacturer in Japan have not had any problems at all.

What is particularly worrying is that the issues caused by the change in direction were raised in 2008 by former Toyota president, Katsuaki Watanabe (now vice chairman), in his speech to Japan’s National Press Club, when he is quoted as stating that Toyota was becoming infected with “big company disease” – arrogance and complacency due to its own success. According to the Associated Press, Mr. Watanabe commented, “The fact that Toyota is growing globally suddenly shouldn’t be used as an excuse [for problems].”

It’s obvious to anyone with eyes that this is all about the basics in management thinking in Toyota. Quite simply, Toyota became the best because of how the company worked – their work culture, operating model and management focus. They had no problems until that focus changed to ambitious growth.

The jungle drums say Toyota once again is being led by someone committed to the traditional Toyota Production System model concepts and who will focus on taking the company back to the fundamentals – that can only be good news for Toyota… even if it does cost them $2 billion to work out that focusing on quality takes you where you want to be, rather then chasing the dollars….

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Doing more with less - meeting the management challenge of 2010

This week, FT columnist Stefan Stern wrote an interesting piece entitled “Your task for today is doing more with less”.

Predicting “more with less” as the new management mantra for Stern cites worrying trends in recent research from both Roffey Park (the number of managers that felt performance management was handled badly in their organisation had doubled since last year) and Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development (reported UK job satisfaction at record lows).


The upshot of the article is that the management challenge of these times is for business leaders to get their teams to work smarter & harder by delivering efficiency savings and increased productivity. Stern has really hit the nail on the head with this, which applies equally to leaders in both public, private & third sector organisations– but unfortunately the article failed to offer the answer of how this might be achieved…

Ironically, Stern did allude to the reality that rather than bashing fewer employees to do more of everything they do, doing “more with less” may simply mean taking a proper look at what organisations do, and choosing what to stop doing, and what to do more of.

But in order to do that, your typical business leader will really need to change how they think – they need to stop focusing on the necessity to reduce costs, instead seeking to look at their organisations as systems.

Firstly, and without judgement, leaders need to work with front line staff to understand what they do now and why they do things that way: consider their purpose (what do they exist to do as an organisation?); look at the efficiency & effectiveness of their processes from their customers point of view; and things that get in the way (e.g. traditional performance management, legislation, interpretation and attempts to prevent potential problems).

Only when they have a clear picture of their organisation as a system in this way, can leaders see what needs to change in their organisations – what they can stop doing to improve the work they do to enable them to do more with less.

This isn’t easy though, and it’s certainly not a quick fix – it involves leaders’ commitment and understanding to make a successful change. They need to change the principles they follow in terms of, for example, customers’ experience, job design and how they’ll use measures to continue to improve the work they do in the longer term.

In 2010, these can no longer be leadership choices – they are fundamental to survival of our economy. They are leadership necessities… let’s hope government and business leaders work this out before it’s too late… unfortunately this blogger isn’t too optimistic…