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Inside Outsourced: Mid American Idol

It’s been almost six weeks since there’s been a new episode of Outsourced. What better way to come back from that drought than to see Gupta as the star of a big Bollywood number? Unfortunately, that opening scene was just Gupta daydreaming. He’ll have to put his aspirations of stardom on hold for now – he’s just plain old Gupta from the Mid America Novelties call center.

Although we see this new side of Gupta, assistant manager Rajiv is still as cantankerous as ever. He scolds his superior Todd for being late coming back from his coffee break, and purposely neglected to tell Todd that his boss Jerry was on hold waiting to talk to him.

When Todd does get on the phone with Jerry, Jerry lets him know that he’s not a fan of the music he heard while on hold. Rajiv and Todd then go over to the phone box to change it, but are frightened away by the unruly mess of wires, not to mention a snake wiggling around in there.

A little later, Todd overhears quiet Madhuri singing in the bathroom. Convinced that she could win a singing contest, he tries to convince her to sing at a nearby theater. Before Madhuri can say yes, though, Gupta jumps at the chance and steals her thunder. Though Todd explains that he was trying to get Madhuri to enter the singing contest, Gupta doesn’t listen and is convinced that he’s going to be a star.

Going back to the mess of phone wires, Rajiv calls in a professional to take care of it. It turns out that this electrician is expecting a payment before he starts the actual work. At this point, Todd’s friend Charlie convinces him not to bribe the electrician to do his job and volunteers to fix the problem himself. I think you can guess how that’s going to go over!

Meanwhile, Gupta prepares for his big singing debut and practices with Todd on guitar and Madhuri on keyboard. Once on the stage, though, Gupta freezes. Seeing her chance to be in the spotlight, Madhuri starts singing and wows the audience with her voice.

The next day, Charlie is still trying to get the wires straightened out. Realizing he has no idea what he’s doing, he ends up bribing the electrician after all.

As for Madhuri’s moment in the spotlight, she seems to be over it already. Todd tries to convince her to pursue singing as her dream, but she says she’s already living the dream. She likes her job and makes enough money to support her family. And what about Gupta’s singing career? He says, “I will build my fan base in Germany, like the Hasselhoff.” Good luck with that!

While the main plot of this episode focused on the agents’ aspirations outside the call center, there’s still plenty to discuss (not including Rajiv’s singing). Anyway, here is Linda Riggs, ICMI’s Strategic Training Director, to provide some insight.

Q. Jerry wasn’t too pleased when he heard the music callers to the center heard when put on hold. What affect does hold music have on the callers? How do centers choose which music to use?

A. As explained in Call Center Management on Fast Forward, there are seven factors of caller tolerance:

  • The Degree of Motivation- is the reason for the call urgent? Complex? Simple? Routine? Emergency?
  • Available substitutes- can the caller email, fax, use web-chat, a web page, in-person, IVR, other?
  • Competition’s service level- if the service level of a competitor is perceived to be better (true or not) by the customer, they may choose to switch to said competitor.
  • Level of Expectation- what has been the customer’s past experience with the company? What is the company’s reputation?
  • Time available- does the customer have time to wait? Calling from work on a break?
  • Who’s paying for the call- is it an 800 number? Is the customer using a cell phone with surcharges?
  • Human behavior- bad/good day? Need a cup of coffee? Calling from work and a colleague steps in while on the call? Interrupted by a friend/family member?

Any or all of these can factor in to a customer’s willingness to listen to hold music.

How a company chooses hold music varies greatly. Some don’t take it into consideration and choose the cheapest available, some actually use focus groups of customers to review and give input; some choose based upon the culture of the company and how the brand is perceived in the market.

Q. Todd was so concerned about turning his agents into superstars, but he’d probably have an easier time turning them into superstar agents. What advice would you give Todd to push his team to succeed?

A. Todd should get to know his team individually first, and schedule one-on-one time with each person on a regular basis. He should prepare for the meeting and ask his agents to do the same. Todd should find out what motivates each person to come to work every day- is it just a job or a career? Do they view their role in the organization as important? If not, why not? What goals do they have for personal and professional growth?

With each member of the team, he should review those goals regularly. ICMI recommends this start at onboarding a new hire. Once Todd has established each person’s individual goals and motivation factors, he can create a team plan as well. Todd should also review the organization’s mission, vision and values statements, and, if the call center does not have one, he should recommend that the call center create one. From there, he should hold a team meeting to have the team create a mission statement that feeds into the call center and organizational mission statements. Finally, he should have each team member create a mission statement that feeds into the team’s overall mission statement as well. This should be reviewed regularly both at the individual level and the team level to ensure its importance is emphasized.

Todd can also review reports to see where there may be issues in quality and adherence to schedule - the only two KPIs within an agent’s control. Where he sees outliers, he should assist his team members in addressing those individually and as a group.

The most important thing Todd can do for his team is to lead by example and spend time developing his people.

Q. At the end of the episode, Madhuri said she’s already living out her dream, just by having a decent job at the call center. Surely, not everyone would feel that way. How can you get more agents to be as positive as Madhuri and see the importance of their jobs?

A. Most employees want to do a good job. All of us begin at an organization with high hopes and motivation. If managers, supervisors, trainers, human resources, etc… all work together to inflame that motivation and keep the fires going, they’ll have hundreds of Madhuri-types bringing their business to a whole new level of success.