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Inside Outsourced: Scared Silly

In order to get his staff in the mood for the Halloween season, Todd plants some of the Mid America Novelties products around the office. After Rajiv freaks out about a fake spider crawling across his desk, Gupta runs away screaming from a fake hand in a bowl of candy and Asha attacks the Frankenstein-costumed Charlie hiding in the broom closet, Todd realizes that his agents have no idea what Halloween is.

After giving a brief lesson on the holiday and testing his agents on which items they should upsell to customers, Todd announces that he’s having a Halloween party. While planning the party with Charlie and Manmeet in the cafeteria, we find out the real reason Todd wants to have the party: so he can get Asha over to his place. Todd’s other love interest, Tonya, then comes over and invites herself along, too.

Later on, Todd speaks with his boss Jerry, who happens to be at a money-saving corporate retreat…in Hawaii. Jerry tells Todd that in order to save money, he’ll have to move out of his corporate housing apartment and find something cheaper. That also means that the plans for the party are up in the air. Although Gupta volunteers to have the party at his place, no one is too excited about that. Rajiv helps Todd find a new place at a boarding house (and, thanks to subtitles, we see that Rajiv demands 10% of Todd’s rent from the landlady). Now that he has a new place, the party is back on.

For a group of people unfamiliar with Halloween, the agents all showed up with some great costumes, courtesy of the Mid America Novelties catalogue. Asha was Cleopatra, Manmeet was a "chick magnet" and Gupta came as a wealthy American businessman (his description, not mine). The best costume of the night, though, belonged to Rajiv. He dressed as Todd and had an accompanying impression: "Is this safe to eat? Where’s football? Where can I get that toilet paper that has the lotion in it?"

Todd and Asha spend some time dancing with each other. But at the end of the night, Tonya goes up and kisses him as Asha storms out. Back at the office, Todd explains to Manmeet what happened. Madhuri pops out of nowhere and tells Todd that’s not why Asha left. Todd and Manmeet had no idea Madhuri was even at the party. Turns out, she dressed up like a lamp and stood in the corner the whole time. How typical of Madhuri! Anyway, she explains that Todd’s landlady, who knows Asha’s parents, lectured Asha about how she shouldn’t go to parties and dance with other men since she is arranged to be married.

With that knowledge, Todd goes to talk to Asha about their feelings for each other. After she says it’s wrong since he’s her boss, the two kiss. Though thrilled about this, Todd’s happiness doesn’t last too long. Reveling in his newfound Halloween spirit, Rajiv puts a live spider on Todd’s back, throwing the center into chaos.

This was another episode where most of the plot takes place outside the call center. But there were still some lessons for the call center professional. Here to make sense of it all is ICMI’s Executive Director of Consulting, Macklin Martin.

Q. After Jerry tells Todd and Rajiv they have to save money, Rajiv suggests his idea to make Saturday into "Friday, Part 2." What advice would you give to a company considering keeping their center open on the weekend?

A. For profit centers like our fictional Mid American Novelties, the decision really boils down to net operating profit. Process-mature contact centers know their operating cost and weigh that against the expected increase in sales for the same period to determine the gross profit for operating during the extended hours. For example:

Looking at the call reports for Saturday we determine that we are receiving an average of 400 calls on Saturday. We determine that approximately 65% of those calls are unique dials to us over a 30-day period immediately following the original contact attempt. This is a time consuming but important step in the analysis. Simply assuming that because you are currently missing 400 calls on Saturday means that you will get 400 calls on Saturday does not take into account that customers adapt. Those who contact the center on Saturday and do not get connected to you may well be calling back on Monday! In this example, the center has estimated that 260 of the average call volume are unique to the day in question. The next step would be to determine the average call volume per interval and finally to identify all of the operating costs for Saturday including labor, facilities, telecom and even utilities. These costs should then be spread across the expected call to determine your estimated cost per call. Assuming that each call is worth approximately $75 in revenue for Mid America Novelties while each call costs roughly $28, the gross margin would be calculated as follows; (75 -28)/75 = 62.6, expressed as a percentage and then rounded to the whole number - 63% gross operating margin. A solid margin like this is a good indicator that you are missing out by not remaining open.

The prior example is rather specific to identifying the benefits of extending hours for a profit center. Determining whether or not to extend the hours of your customer service center as a stand-alone decision or as part of your multi-channel customer access strategy should be based primarily on customer needs and expectations. What is expected of us from our customer? What is the strategic value of the expected contacts? Do you offer the customer alternative access points?

Q. Though Manmeet was too shy to talk to a girl at the party in person, he had no problem talking to her over the phone. Is it common for some agents to be shy in their real lives, but more social when speaking with customers on the phone?

A. The first call center I worked at allowed agents to use pseudonyms. Many agents would take on a whole new persona to match their new names! Shy Larry would become a more confident Charles, our meek Melinda transformed herself into effervescent Gabbie! It was not uncommon to find agents deep in character, some with even an occasional accent for flair. What was most interesting to me as a young call center manager was that those who actually got into character seemed to have more successful interactions and, frankly, more fun!

Q. Frustrated that no one notices her, Madhuri comments, "If no one is going to notice me, I should just take longer breaks." What affect can extended breaks have on the entire operation?

A. As we all know, extended breaks are one of the more common agent adherence challenges. Lack of adherence is one of the most critical symptoms of deficient real-time management practices and workforce optimization processes according to ICMI’s recent whitepaper on Agent Schedule Adherence. By not having the right number of resources available in your center, customers cannot gain access, and the risk of customer disloyalty increases exponentially.

Q. And what actions can you recommend to make agents like Madhuri feel more "noticed"?

A. Build inclusiveness into you culture. Dedicate activities to expanded collaboration and sharing. Solicit input from others and encourage your co-workers to do the same. Take time to connect with everyone on at least one common point every chance you get. Ask yourself; do I know that person? If not, challenge yourself to know your co-worker.

Communicate like I am a BEE!

I’m intrigued by the term often used to describe today’s office workers: "worker bees." Of all the lessons that we can learn from bees, communication and inclusiveness are among the best.

Foragers, bees scout the fields in search of food. Once the food is found, the bees perform a waggle dance that communicates the quality and location of the food. Once the food is gathered, the bees perform a tremble dance to recruit workers to carry the food in, kind of like the shipping and receiving team at Target. Lastly, after all that messy work, the bees perform a grooming dance that communicates it’s clean up time and a massive mutual grooming ensues. What makes this so intriguing is that it lacks a single point of leadership, the queen has no responsibility in the communication.

The communication model of the bees, that is to say worker driven, viral and undirected, fast and incredibly efficient is taking shape today. Our wiki posts, blogs, and tweets are fast becoming our workers’ waggle and tremble dances.

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!