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The Benefits of Managing Smaller

Posted on  21 May 10  by 

Comment (3)

I recently worked with a member to determine optimal service organizational structures and staff counts.  I began my research with our new benchmarking data for 2009, attempting to find relationships between center staff size and various productivity and quality metrics.

The most concerning relationship I found was a strong correlation between larger staff size and a higher average number of contacts to resolve issues.

While this was a quick-hit analysis, and not an intensive deep-dive, I believe it highlights one of the most difficult challenges larger centers face: decreased individual ownership of issues, leading to unnecessary repeat contacts.

While we don’t have a comprehensive model to understand why this relationship exists, my hypothesis is that larger operations, foster a “just a number” mentality among staff.  The outcome: reps believe if they don’t give 100% one day (but still passably handle calls, meet QA requirements, etc.) they’re doing their job, especially as it pertains to the thousands of customers who have issues.

I know you’re asking, “Brad, are you suggesting we get smaller?”  Let’s be realistic here – that’s not going to happen. But, I do think you should be asking, “How do I make my center feel smaller?”Here are a couple ideas our best practitioners have shared on this front:

1)  Co-locate more senior reps with your frontline. Physically bringing your tier 2/escalation staff into your frontline team – either on a permanent or rotating basis, increases knowledge sharing as more senior staff can coach frontline reps in real-time.  It will save you an escalation now, and allow the senior staff to teach the frontline new skills so they can fully resolve issues on their own in the future.

2)  Design co-located team spaces for maximum collaboration. The actual design of team spaces is a great way to increase knowledge-sharing. Data shows the probability of communication between two people exponentially decreases as the distance between them increases from 0 to just 100 meters – so we’ve seen companies create spaces for teams where each team member sits together with a center ‘huddle’ table for impromptu problem-solving sessions.

3)  Create a team incentive program. Even with the right structure in place, you can’t always expect the knowledge to just flow on its own.  Establishing a program around rewarding teams for resolving issues and sharing knowledge creates a more collaborative team culture – and helps team members hold each other accountable for owning issues.

The key learning here is to not lose sight of your reps as individuals, regardless of your center’s size.  There may be a correlation between center size and number of contacts to resolve, but with these strategies, there doesn’t have to be.  What have you done to establish/maintain that “small center feel” in your organization?

CCC Members interested in reading further on this topic, I recommend viewing the case profile, Multi-tiered Support Clusters which demonstrates how NetApp, a B2B storage and data management provider, used principled incentives and co-location to increase team knowledge sharing and improve issue resolution.

Comments from the Network (3)

  1. David Cross
    on May 27, 2010

    I was quite suprised by the ideas put forward to deal with the decreased individual ownership due to large staff numbers. The ideas are great, but appear to be cosmetic and do not really seem to address the issue.
    I wonder how segmentation of the customer base and specialisation of representatives to caqre for these segments might address the issue?
    For example, in a Financial Services Industry Contact Centre, you could separate you Credit Card customers into a segement, and further break that down into business and personal / platinum, gold, standard / Lost Cards / Verified by Visa & Mastercard Assist, etc….
    In that way, specialist operators become responsible for certain segments or certain call types.
    What do you reckon?

  2. Brad Fager
    on June 7, 2010

    David, thanks for the response. You raise a good point regarding an adjacent topic of this post, which is the that of generalist vs. specialist reps. When writing this, I must say that I was partially inspired by one of our forum posts on transitioning to multi-skill reps in an increasingly complex environment. With transfers adding to customer effort (and in turn, disloyalty), I set out to promote quick-win fixes to encourage knowledge sharing among reps, which is a goal of the generalist model. It’s important for me to convey, though, that the appropriate strategy is very dependent on your specific environment. Specialist models have their advantages, which include less burden on training/coaching, since reps are only responsible for a limited set of issues. Additionally, I would say specialists are effective in an environment where issues are inherently difficult and specialization would lead to more frequent first contact resolution.

  3. Customer Service Buzz » Observations from This Year’s Benchmarking Results
    on September 8, 2011

    [...] be a little closer knit.  And while larger organizations will likely always have higher attrition, there are techniques larger companies can use to enjoy some of the benefits of smaller ones. While turnover can have many different causes, this [...]

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