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Inside Outsourced: Office Hijinks

The beginning of this episode can make anyone relive those awkward moments in the school cafeteria: We see Manmeet, Gupta and Madhuri in the lunchroom getting bullied by another group of agents who want their table. The troublemakers assert their superiority by saying they provide tech support for Apple and Microsoft, rather than selling things like fake vomit.

There will be more of this subplot a little later, but for now, we go back to the Mid America Novelties call center where Rajiv and Asha are whispering to each other. When Todd approaches them, Rajiv tells him that they were discussing their plans for the holiday of Vindaloo Day. Upon further questioning, Rajiv tells Todd that they are all leaving early to celebrate the holiday, which involves throwing spices all around.

On his way out, Todd discuss the holiday with Charlie. Charlie informs him that Rajiv was probably playing a trick on him so everyone could go home early. In disbelief, Todd looks through the window of the office. Rather than being empty, he sees Rajiv showing some well-dressed man around the center. He and Charlie deduce that it’s a recruiter looking to take the best agents away. So Todd barges in and yells at Rajiv for letting the recruiter come in, reminding him that he is just assistant manager.

It turns out the man was no recruiter. He was actually the father of Rajiv’s girlfriend, Vimi, and was under the impression that Rajiv was head manager of the call center. Upon finding out the truth, he forbids Rajiv from marrying his daughter.

Later that day, Gupta makes a huge sale and announces to everyone that he’s beaten the sales record. Before he can celebrate too long, Manmeet announces that he’s just made the biggest sale. Raining on both of their parades is Madhuri, who politely announces that she just broke the record. Before long, they see their lunchroom rivals outside the window on their cell phones, pointing and laughing. Tired of being picked on, they recruit Charlie to help them come up with an American-style prank to get revenge.

Meanwhile, Todd goes to visit Rajiv, who has given up hope of marrying Vimi. Todd explains that he should keep pursuing her. Rather humorously, he tells Rajiv he shouldn’t give up on a woman who "looks past your temper, the lies, the cologne…your whole deal." Convinced he still has a chance, Rajiv and Todd go to Vimi’s house. Rajiv confronts her father, saying that even though he’s not a manager, he will do whatever he can to take care of her.

Despite his pleading, Rajiv is still rejected. However, Mimi runs after him and says that she doesn’t care what her father says. Rajiv then promises that he’ll become a manager one day (and this book may help him get there!). Mimi’s response: "All you have to do is get rid of that fool Todd." Todd, who was sitting in the car listening to the conversation, then introduces himself. Awkward!

In the last scene, Manmeet, Gupta and Madhuri are standing by their usual lunch table when the bully agents come up and tell them to leave. The group complies and walks away. When the other agents sit down, all of their chairs, along with the table, collapse. They become the laughing stock of the cafeteria, as Charlie looks on approvingly.

In an episode full of pranks and romance, there was still a lot of focus on the actual call center. To help us make sense of what we saw, here again is ICMI’s Executive Director of Consulting, Macklin Martin:

Q. Though the pranks we saw were a little extreme, can some milder, lighthearted pranks be a good thing at a call center (such as the many videos on YouTube of call center agents getting up and dancing)?

A. Work should be fun! As long as it is not at others’ expense and it does not interfere with our primary responsibility of serving the customer. Having been in hundreds of contact centers over the years, I’ve noticed those that seem to provide the best customer experiences do so by enabling their agents with a strong culture. Like a family, fun builds cohesion and familiarity in our work relationships that foster teamwork, trust and open communication. Again, all very important to creating a strong employee culture.

For many organizations, building a good culture for your center is often an afterthought. However, research shows that it is critical to fostering employee engagement – well known as a key ingredient in the customer loyalty recipe. Having visited some famously fun centers like Zappos, Hot Topic and Straight Forward, I’d say it is high time that we started having more fun if we want to see the double digit growth year over year that those companies enjoy!

Q. Todd gave Rajiv a little pep talk before speaking with Vimi’s father, saying how since he is great at sales, he should be able to sell himself. Can lessons learned and experience gained from the call center really be applied to real life?

A. As unique as call centers can be versus the rest of the organization, these environments are truly a microcosm of life itself. This is one of the reasons for the high level of recruitment of call center agents by other parts of the business. The communication skills gained, the nimbleness required to jump from issue to issue and the emotional intelligence that is required to serve even the most difficult customers fosters an incredible arsenal of skills that are universally applicable. I think all of our nation’s politicians should be required to work in a call center for 6 months before taking office to truly understand the meaning of service. :)

Q. Throughout the episode, the tech support agents derided our friends at Mid America Novelties. Though they worked for different companies, what advice can you give for dealing with rivalries within the call center?

A. A singular service vision and the right leadership is the best remedy for a lack of teamwork.

Q. Todd was afraid that a recruiter had come to the center looking to take his best agents away. Is that a valid concern? How should a call center manager handle such a situation?

A. This has been less of an issue with US-based centers than those found abroad. Many of our clients have reported similar issues in centers found abroad, where BPOs are the primary employers in the marketplace. Because these BPOs often operate with very narrow margins, they lack the resources to invest in people and culture. Instead, they take shortcuts and rely on independent recruiters or people brokers who "steal" good employees from other centers to replace those that attrite. Obviously, this is an unsustainable practice over time due to labor pools being finite. However, it can be very damaging and costly in the short term.

Our research into the drivers of employee attrition highlights the need for a strong culture that fosters a high level of employee engagement as the best strategy for retaining top talent in your call center.

Did you miss this episode of Outsourced? You can watch it online right here. As always, check back soon for our recap and analysis of each new episode!


Adam Mandelbaum is Associate Editor of icmi.com and Call Center Insider. [email protected]