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Shifting Waste – service

Viewing 15 posts - 1 through 15 (of 26 total)
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    John Seddon

    Shifting Waste

    John SeddonThe move by some major call centres to transfer operations to India and China to cut staff costs (Daily Mail, UK, 13.9.00) may produce a short term saving in labour costs but only shifts the deeper cost problems and will not transform them into World class operations.

    Call centres urgently need to move from a mass-production model to a systems model, the results of which produce significant and sustainable improvements in service and efficiency. On analysis 75% of calls are a result of a failure to do something or do something right for the customer. These calls only add cost, not value. The cause of failure demand must be sorted out at source, thereby cutting costs at the call centre.

    By moving operations to India and China, where staffing costs are considerably lower, the companies concerned are just shifting their waste calls and are making the problems even more difficult to see. While managers believe they have cut costs, in fact they have made the real causes of costs more difficult to remove.

    John Seddon leads the field in establishing systems principles in call centres. His clients have achieved remarkable improvements in service, efficiency, revenue and morale by adopting this thinking. He is currently writing a book on principles of lean-service – how to improve service and cut costs using examples from call centre clients. The book will be published in 2001.



    We almost always remove commercial postings from this Forum. However, we agree 100% with the sentiment of John’s message. Turning call centres into ‘Henry Ford’ type production lines is a worrying trend that contributes nothing to the quality of service that a company offers.

    The difficulty is that, in financial terms, losses arising from poor service can be almost impossible to quantify.

    Would anyone else like to share their views on this subject? What can be done to make call centres more effective (not just financially)? Is outsourcing a good idea? Should more be invested in training?

    Let’s talk!


    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?

    John P.

    This is an excellent discussion.

    Most of what I personally read on my occassional visit to this forum has to do with the monetary gains of the call center industry. I personally have worked as a CSR and now I am actually setting up a contact center for a small dot com retailer.

    What I believe, and I hope that I am not alone in this view, is that it takes a certain quality of person to be a CSR. Someone who gets satisfaction out of helping others and that is their primary focus.

    Stats on their performance is secondary. In my position, my focus is not on stats so much. My concern is the customer. I know the importance of my center’s stats, I know the costs involved but I also know that this center is not about stats and costs but is about the customer. I will never create a sweat shop atmosphere and foresake the high caliber performance and attention to customer needs that my staff offers.

    I look at it this way, a CSR concerned about customer satisfaction…all customers…will eventually clue in that customer service is lacking if so many have to wait in the queue and therefore pick up the pace as the queue grows. I think it would be very wrong of me to beat down a quality customer-oriented agent with daily stats about where they can improve when in fact their work is top notch already.

    John Seddon


    Here here! The secret is to design the work of agents against demand – something most call centre managers don’t know how to do as they take a top-down, not an outside-in view.

    Samantha Richards

    I agree in principle with what’s been written so far, but I don’t see that there’s very much I can do about it.

    As a Call Centre Manager, it is my job to manage my resources as efficiently as possible. I can do that by employing good people, training them and empowering them in an attempt to reduce staff turnover and increase their usefulness. I can (and have) put a case to my managers against outsourcing the call centre.

    What I can’t do is influence the types of calls received. I can’t make the product we sell better. I can make sure our callers don’t need to call back, but I can’t stop them needing to call in the first place.

    I agree though that outsourcing would make matters worse.

    John P.

    Yes this is all true. I agree with you Samatha. However there is still a case to be made for those companies that do have excellent products and services but yet the delivery of customer service is poor.

    Two companies come to mind, I have worked for them both. So although there is much to be said about the product quality, and I agree here totally, what about the others whose products are the best in their field? Maybe the fault is in the ramp up process. Maybe its the need to hire so many people all at once and many, who perhaps are not Customer oriented, seem to make it through the testing and interviewing only to land on the other end of your 800 number.

    To me theres still a distinct difference in representatives, those who truly care about what and how they do their job, and those who quite frankly seem less enthusiastic. Staff my center with the latter thank you. Maybe this is an HR problem. And maybe these stats, quality measures etc. are there to keep the ‘less enthusiastic’ CSRs in line but because we don’t really know whose who in large centers we rely on our stats and apply them to everyone carte blanche. Is this fair? Is it right? Can it be done better? I know how I would answer these questions.

    Its hard and takes alot of work but it should be done.

    John Seddon

    I’m certain it is not an HR problem – a lot of money is wasted on HR practices in call centres.

    This is a design and management of work problem. If the call centre is designed and managed as a factory you’ll get one kind of behaviour; if it is designed as a system you’ll get another.

    It is as Senge taught. The system influences behaviour.

    Of course it is true that you do get amazing people in a ‘bad’ system. But we should not make the mistake of assuming we should therfore work on the people.

    Chris McCoy


    I just stumbled across this site by accident, but I’d like to join in. I don’t really know anything about the call center industry, but let me relate a short story to you:

    I called a major car rental company recently. I was presumably connected to one of their call centers to handle my booking requirement. I wanted to rent a car overseas, and I had an idea of the type of car I wanted. The person I was speaking to me could tell me the exact availability and pricing in the city I was travelling to. I couldn’t remember my arrival time, but that was no problem. He took my flight number, and immediately knew what time I would pick up the car.

    Then, things got a little difficult. I have a six month old son and a two year old daughter, and I needed car seats for them. But the booking person was not able to advise me on the availability of car seats. Worse, he didn’t know that different types of car seats were needed for each of my children, because of the difference in ages. Worse still, he couldn’t help me when I asked about the legal requirements in that country for child restraints.

    His suggestion was that I discuss this with the representative when I arrived to pick up my car. I was expected to travel 4000 miles without even knowing if I would be able to drive away from the airport!

    I finished the call with a bad impression of the company, but whose fault was it? I can’t blame the person I spoke to; he was very courteous and as helpful as he could be. So, it has to come down to one of two things. Either, the product he was selling (car rental) is not clearly defined within the company’s business. Or, that definition has not been communication to the staff taking the bookings.

    I reckon it’s the second reason. But isn’t this all too common? If you phone a call center and you have a standard enquiry which follows their scripts nicely, then all goes well. If you ask anything non-standard, they’re lost. I don’t think it’s a problem with the people. It must be something to do with the way they are trained.


    Sorry to intrude, but I have an urgent question. My data entry company recently was challenged to put a small call center in place by a customer. We have been doing their data entry for years and recently took over the email help desk for them with great success. They now want me to take over all of the telephone help desk needs as well with a start date of 1 Febuary 2001. The Call volume, using last years numbers, is 35550 calls with a weekly peak of 3600 calls a day. Any suggestions? Data entry is my core business not call centers. I am just now investigating how to pull this together. Is it possible to set up solid system in 1 1/2 months and what is best system to deploy?



    Herb, I’m an Account Manager with a Call Center in Minnesota who does outsource help desk capabilities along with inbound and outbound telemarketing services. If you would like to talk about opportunities for us to support you with your needs, please call me.


    Is your call centre a sweat-shop?


    As a Center Manager, I centrainly agree that there is alot to be said for treating employees like SweatShop pawns.

    However, there seems to be a point that was overlooked: Availability Ratings. I constantly measure how often any specific rep is Available to take a call, and if he/she is UNavailable, it’s important that I know why. It’s important because if there is a practive that takes them away from the phone…a practice that I can alter…then more customers can get served per hour.

    Now, much of my staff rolls their eyes when I measure this sort of thing, and I DO understand that some activities that help a customer require stepping away from the phone to process paperwork or pull samples. But the Call Center as a Team needs to be available for every customer who calls in…and I think quantifying and measuring these standards is just good business.

    Chris Taylor

    Does anyone have any opinion on the quality of call centers in the Western world compared with those in countries like India and the Phillipines?

    R. Viswanathan

    Hello friends,

    I am the founder & CEO of an IT project consultancy firm in India. We have recently diversified into setting up Call Center projects for our clients.

    I fully agree with John that Call center should not (and cannot) be turned into a mass product unit. Every customer call is like an uncut diamond – handle it very carefully, you end up with a glittering diamond piece ; if you do not, you are left with just a piece of carbon !

    GE Capital and British Airways are perhaps standing examples of how the call center business can be outsourced from India – without any compromise on the caliber of the Agent or the effectiveness of his/her handling the customers.

    Outsourcing per-se is not wrong, provided only professionals who understand this business, be it India or China are at the helm of affairs. Training, retaining and orienting the agents the right way shall certainly add value to the Company and the client.

    Which obviously means that the savings in costs or value addition can sure be a long term support solution.

    I welcome readers’ views !

    R. Viswanathan

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