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Inside Outsourced: Dueling Call Centers

As this week’s episode begins, Todd learns that it is a special holiday in India. The holiday is called Holi and is celebrated by dumping colored powder or paint on other people. Todd is introduced to this holiday by being pelted with water balloons full of paint.

Unfortunately, this paint attack was just the start of what would become a rough day. He enters the office to learn that the air conditioning isn’t working properly. And things just keep getting worse; pretty soon, the computer system goes down as well. So Todd calls tech support, only to find that the tech support center is located within the same building. And, it turns out, the guy on the phone is one of the snobby call center agents that our gang has butted heads with in the past.

Anyway, the agent fixes the computer system but makes a snide comment about how Todd’s team can go back to work selling pointless novelties. Todd decides to go to the tech support call center to tell the manager about how rude the agent was, and since their office still has air conditioning, he asks the manager to share it with the rest of the building. Well, Todd got a half-hearted apology about the rudeness of the agent. He didn’t have any luck convincing the manager to share the air conditioning either. And just like the agent, the manager said how important his team is, compared to Todd’s who just sell novelties.

Well, the two call centers are officially at war. Todd has Manmeet crawl through the ventilation system to divert the cold air down to their center. As the tech support team deals with the heat, the manager comes down to call a truce. He says he’ll double the speed of their computer system if Todd agrees to share the air conditioning. Todd says he’ll only agree to that if the manager admits that the Mid America Novelties team is just as good as his own. (If Todd is so concerned with making sure his team feels good about themselves, perhaps he could benefit from this ICMI training course?) Anyway, the manager refuses and ends up shutting the computer system down.

Meanwhile, the other tech support center is still without air conditioning, so it’s only a matter of time before they do something else. Todd decides to have a spy go to their center to figure out their next move. Who does he choose? Madhuri, since she’s so good at blending in with her surroundings and not being noticed. Well, she reports back to Todd that the center is having some big clients paying a visit later that day. That’s all the information Todd needs and he comes up with a plan to get revenge.

In the next scene, Todd pays a visit to the center to try one last time to convince them to turn the computer network back on. When the manager refuses, Todd’s plan goes into action. He and the rest of the gang swarm in with water guns full of paint. They cover all of the agents and the center itself with paint, just in time to embarrass them when the important clients come in.

This was certainly an action-packed episode, and I didn’t even get into the subplot about Rajiv proposing to his girlfriend! To help us make sense of it, here’s ICMI’s panel of experts, consisting of Rose Polchin, Linda Riggs and Paul Pope.

Q. With the computer network down, Todd spent his time thinking of ways to get revenge. Can you recommend some more productive ways to spend downtime at a call center?

Rose: There are so many, many productive ways to spend downtime (a rare, rare occasion to be sure!) so my first suggestion is to truly sit down, take a minute and think about what would give the center and its staff the greatest bang for their buck…that might be taking the opportunity to:

  • Have a team meeting
  • Allow representatives time to ask questions or share ideas
  • Conduct a training session
  • Have some one-on-one coaching sessions
  • Brainstorm ideas on some key challenges representatives face
  • Discuss ways to communicate the value to the call center (if that is an issue as it appeared to be in Todd’s center)
  • Revisit the disaster/business continuity plan to ensure situations like this are adequately covered in the future
  • Play some great quality call examples
  • Have a team-building exercise
  • Recognize key strengths of the team/center and identify one or two improvement opportunities (for the team/center)
  • Work on a quality process improvement

And I am sure all of you have some great ideas and suggestions as well…would love to hear them!

Paul: If the call center allows it, some agents like to fill brief periods of downtime with portable hobbies such as crossword puzzles, knitting, crocheting, drawing, writing, or reading. Simple projects are best as the constant interruption of random call arrival can make this aggravating.

If agents aren't allowed to fill time with quiet hobbies, then maybe all they have to do is sit there quietly and stare at a computer screen, or perhaps talk to people nearby. Clearly, this is not the best work environment, so giving agents options is the key to success.

In the real world, some centers experience downtime in seasonal cycles. In this scenario, try establishing a work share relationship with a call center that has seasonal fluctuations opposite to your own. Agents are trained to handle both types of calls, so one site can step in when the other is overloaded or if there’s an outage. Either way, both centers win.

Unfortunately, Todd’s problem was what to do during an extended outage. Sometimes, the only way to react is to invoke your disaster recovery plan. Good business continuity plans will keep your company up and running through interruptions of any kind: power failures, IT system crashes, natural disasters, supply chain problems and more. However, if you don’t have a plan in place in advance, you’ll probably just wind up looking foolish, like Todd.

Q. Todd was so concerned with making sure the tech support center recognized the importance of his agents – maybe he should have just done this himself. What can call center managers do to make sure their agents feel appreciated?

Linda: There are so many things a manager can do to let agents know their importance. First, educate agents on how a contact center operates. The more they know, the more they understand the critical function of their role. If you’re one of those managers who, like so many of us, refers to the agents as the “front line,” you may want to re-think that. Front line is a war term, which refers to soldiers who are directly facing an enemy- the first line of offense/defense. This portrays a mindset that your agents are “holding the line” against customers, rather than serving them. I always get this image that the agents should be dressed in camouflage and given rifles when someone says “The front line.”

The agents are the ambassadors of your company. When they can see themselves in this light, they understand the great importance of their position. Make sure you listen to them. Give them opportunities for input into how to make things better. Praise more; don’t correct less. Respect is a two-way street. Be sure you’re giving it as well as requesting or requiring it.

For information on agent training on contact center operations: http://www.icmi.com/Training/Courses/Contact-Center-Basics-An-Agents-Role-in-Contact-Center-Success

Paul: Management should be constantly praising agents who are doing well, and the entire team for positive progress toward company-wide goals. Training and coaching sessions should be structured with this in mind. Too often, we see supervisors and managers who don’t have enough time to devote to agent and team development.

Make time to impress upon each and every employee what their strengths are. Reinforce good habits, and don’t incentivize improper behavior. Helping agents get better at what they do is critical for continued employee engagement.

And don’t forget to celebrate achievements! If an agent feels that their efforts are paying off, they will most likely work harder to reach bigger goals.

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]