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Reply To: Shifting Waste – service


We contacted John Seddon, and he told us that he would be pleased to participate in this discussion.

Here is some more food for thought. It’s an extract from John’s newsletter, and is reproduced with his permission:

Is your call centre a sweat shop?

Recently, on local and national radio, we have heard announcements about the opening of new call centres. Often the journalists ask: “Will this call centre be a sweat shop?” and the response is: “Oh no, we train our people properly and we look after them well”. And that is as far as the conversation goes.

If I were asking the questions, the next question would be: “Will you be measuring the workers on calls per man per day or call duration and that sort of thing?” If the answer is yes, this will be a sweat shop. These are the measures that define a production environment; they are at the heart of the philosophy that led to alienation and industrial strife for the whole of the last century. People who work in call centres know these measures are arbitrary, they have little to do with the work. To survive these people learn to ‘cheat’; often they prosper by ‘cheating’ to win prizes.

I have no doubt the manager would offer a defence. He (and it usually is the men who find these ideas hard to grasp) would say: “While we do use such measures we don’t use them in any harsh way”. I would suggest he go home, roll up a newspaper and raise it to his dog. Don’t hit the dog, the effect is the same.

Management’s preoccupation with call measures is due to their focus on their current view of the work – they think of all calls as units of work. This is a fundamental mistake. Regular readers of this column will know that in any call centre you find two kinds of calls, calls that I describe as ‘value demand’ – the things we are here to do for the customer and ‘failure demand’ – calls the customer has to make because the organisation has not done something or has not done something right for the customer.

In call centres you find failure demand can be anything from 25 to 75% of all calls. So if you wanted to improve the service offered by your call centre and reduce your own costs, would you focus your attention on the activity of your staff or the nature of calls coming in? Which way of behaving would be most likely to engage your staff in improving the work?

A bit obvious isn’t it?