Scrimping in the call center can cost you

Scrimping in the call center can cost you

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if you cut costs in the call center it'll cost you in the long runWhen is enough, enough?  During these lean economic times companies, like many households, are trying to do more with less.  At what point does all of that scrimping and saving end up costing the company more?  Let’s take head count and span of control for instance.  In our example company, the External Quality Monitoring program using a post-call survey methodology shows that customers are happy with the current span of control ratio of approximately 15:1.  The customers are not delighted, but not necessarily discontent.  What if the management team of this company decides that ‘happy’ is the new ‘delighted’ and decides to tweak the span of control slightly in an attempt to reduce costs even more? If the company increases team size, they would be able to eliminate a supervisor position.  They could simply function the same way they currently do when a supervisor is on vacation. Customers don’t notice vacation days so they won’t notice this, right?

Naturally, there are two sides to the argument on whether increasing the span of control for a supervisor is a positive idea.  One side may argue that a supervisor only has to provide guidance and leadership to the team; not actually do the job of the team members.  Because of that, they don’t see any harm in assigning ‘a few more’ people to that supervisor to manage.  Hey, if they can manage 15 people well, why can’t they manage a few more that are performing the same task?  It’s likely that the supervisor periodically already does this whenever other supervisors go on vacation or call in sick and they manage just fine.  If they manage it then, why couldn’t they manage it every day (and think of the savings)?  Meanwhile, the other side argues that the reason the supervisors are able to manage a team of 15 is because they have adequate time to spend with each team member to ensure they are properly trained and working efficiently.  By increasing the span of control, the amount of time available for each individual team member is reduced; potentially to such a small amount of time that the supervisor is no longer able to truly help the team members grow.  The team members will have to rely on the knowledge of fellow teammates for guidance.  While that strategy may work on a team of high performers, it’s unlikely that all of the teams will have the same level of experience to draw from.  Therefore, performance will likely begin to decline. Like all good chain, the team is only as strong as its weakest link.

One of our clients decided to test this theory to see if tweaking the span of control really could be a win-win solution.  The plan involved increasing team sizes by approximately 36% for four supervisors and eliminating one full-time supervisor position.  In theory, this change would be completely invisible to the customers and save a little more than $50,000 annually.  The External Quality Monitoring program using a post-call survey methodology revealed that prior to the change, customers were happy about 90% of the time.  However, the month after the change was implemented, external quality monitoring revealed surprising results.  Not only did the percentage of happy customers drop by 4%, the call resolution ratios changed significantly.  Customers went from stating their problem was resolved on the first call approximately 60% of the time to less than half of the time.

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What was supposed to be completely invisible to the customer was definitely anything but.  With fewer calls being resolved on the first call, more and more customers had to call multiple times to get their issue resolved.   At a hypothetical cost of $5 per call for the business, issues that used to be resolved for $5 (when resolved on the first call) were now costing them a minimum of $10.  In addition to the increased operational costs associated with servicing repeat calls, the customer is now spending more of their valuable time trying to get their issue resolved.  What would have been resolved in five minutes before the change is now taking a minimum of ten minutes of their valuable time because they have to call back the second (or more) time.  In today’s society, time is scarce.  Customers likely had to squeeze the first call into an already chaotic day.  How are they supposed to find even more time to call back about the same issue and be satisfied with this?

In the end, External Quality Monitoring quickly revealed that the change was not only visible to the customers; it was costly to everyone involved.  Potential cost savings gained by the company were quickly absorbed by the costs of handling increased call volume.  The remaining supervisors felt more stressed, the team members were faced with unanswered questions and the customers noticed all of it. The voice of the customer has been heard; this win-win is a lose-lose.

About Vicki Nihart

Six Sigma certified and more than 15 years experience in contact center operations. Vicki leverages contact center operations subject matter expertise and deep analytic capabilities to support clients and build relationships. Analyzing and interpreting data is a passion she converts into purpose.

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