In response to an Observer article on Vanguard’s approach to transforming call centres, the following was received from a call centre worker:

I found the feature on call centres very interesting, as, for the last 30 months or so, I have worked in a call centre.

Quite frankly, I was amazed how much importance is put on statistics that tell the management term how quickly each call is dealt with. These stats can only provide information as to how many calls, on average, each employee deals with per hour. Unfortunately – and this is the crux of my many discussions on the subject with the management – these stats do not give any idea of how WELL the call has been dealt with.

The company I work for is a telecommunications company and the number one criterion is how quickly the customer can be got rid off. (Although they will never admit this!)

My point that the management has great difficulty in appreciating, is that this system gives the employees the incentive NOT to do a good job. Any call that is vaguely more involved than a simple ‘Yes we have received your cheque, ignore that rather threatening letter we sent you!’ gives the employee a great temptation to forget about it – and deal with an easier call.

This practice gives the employee much better stats, gives the call centre much better stats – but does NOT give the customer the service they require. It also generates more calls simply because the customer then has to call back when it becomes apparent the original call has resulted in absolutely nothing happening! Naturally, this also results in very unhappy customers.

The evidence of this happening in the call centre where I work is ( I think) blatantly obvious. Every day customers are on the phone for the second, third or umpteenth time trying to get a problem resolved. I spend the time sorting out the problem. If it takes me 30 minutes, I sort it out. I consider that is my job – sorting out customers’ problems. However, when my stats are looked at by management, their main concern is why my AHT (Average Handling Time) is higher than last week. My explanation that the AHT varies due to the type of calls taken (which is the luck of the draw) and the time it takes to sort those falls on deaf ears.

There is also the Big Brother is Watching You problem.

The other day, a management person came over to me asking if there was anything wrong. I said not. “Well, you have been on this call for 20 minutes and I was just wondering why?” (Although I had finished speaking with the customer, I was raising credits etc. etc. to rectify the problem – which SHOULD have been dealt with some weeks earlier when the customer first raised the complaint. Needless to say no action was taken at this time!) I made the point that I would be dealing with this call for about another 10 minutes. To this, the management person said that there were lots of calls queuing. I asked if they wanted me NOT to do what was required to settle the query I was dealing with and take another call – because this is what had happened the LAST time this customer had called. No wonder there are lots of calls coming in – most of them are REPEAT calls.

I have repeatedly raised these points in my time at the Call Centre – but nothing changes.

Dealing with the customers – some of whom are very rude – I can handle no problem. The biggest cause of low morale and poor efficiency is the management and the blinkered view they have of the situation. The second biggest problem is the computer systems/procedures the employees have to deal with.

I hope you don’t mind – but your article has been given to the management to read. They ignored the points when I raised them, I just hope a feature in The Observer carries more weight than a whinge from the front line!