Strategies in Maintaining the Level of Control in Call Centers
Companies, whether they admit it or not, have certain strategies to control their employees and steer them towards achieving organizational goals. The call centers, being organizations that exist in an unstable environment, share the need to control the employees, especially in terms of performance. In relation to this, the hierarchy of the call centers provides more room for control because of its flat nature, which allows for power to concentrate in the upper echelons of the management level. Unfortunately, Joseph, like most of the call center agents, does not realize or mind being subjected to different forms of control.
The proposal of Joseph has earned the attention of several members from the Board of Directors and prompted the Operations Director to call for a meeting. While there is little risk involved from the changes proposed by Joseph, the company executives find the need to review and take these into consideration. Definitely, the plans for conducting the meeting and the agenda for engaging in one are unknown to the majority of the people in the company, except for the attendees. Neither Joseph nor Lisa is asked to attend or be informed, at the very least, about what is happening with the proposal.
The people attending the meeting included Patricia, the Operations Manager, and Harold, Drake, Bernard, and Alice, who are all members of the Board of Directors in the country. Everyone ushered into the executive conference room and made themselves comfortable in the big swivel chairs situated before the round table. Everyone greeted the person next to them and asked several questions related to work. These executives do not share the culture of their subordinates and are not defined by the principles of scientific management. Most of them adopted their own management style and are not compelled to work under certain limits.
As far as they are concerned, their corporate necks are to be protected by solving the problems presented to them as fast as they could. “Hi, everyone! ” Patricia said as she addressed the entire group. “As we all know from the e-mails sent to the group, one of our call center agents have forwarded us some concerns through one of our team leaders, Lisa. ” Patricia added in order to establish the agenda for the day’s meeting. Everyone looked anxiously at Patricia and they knew that it is going to be a long day for all of them. Chapter 1: The Appetizer
“A summary of the points, please,” Patricia said to her assistant, Grace. She was handed a single page of paper that contained the most important points of Joseph’s 20-page proposal. “Thank you,” she said as she skimmed through the document. “I guess we have a long list of things to discuss but maybe we can decide later on whether we can skip a few things or not. Agree? ” Patricia asked. “That is fine with me,” Harold responded. The rest of the group seemed to agree with that considering that they might waste valuable time in discussing topics that might not be profitable or useful for the company in any way.
“I would suggest that everyone just take turns in providing their insights with regard to the topics listed in the agenda,” Harold added that also earned the agreement of the other people in the meeting. “Before we start, I would just like to raise this issue that I have been thinking of since I received the e-mail about this proposal. I am thinking this might be a product of discontent that would just take our time without really any feasible solutions at all. We all know that changes in the company are very difficult to deliver especially in an environment like ours.
We need to live to industry standards and deviating from the norms of call center operations can possibly have an impact on how we compete with other key players,” Alice said. “Alice, that is one of the reasons why we had to convene and talk about these things. We need to determine whether there is a need to implement these changes. If none, then we have the task of finding out why this line of thinking seems to be prevalent among our agents. Lisa mentioned that most of the agents complain about the same things that Joseph outline in his report.
I feel that there is a need to check the proposal because it is a feedback from one of the vital parts of our organization, the agents,” Bernard commented. Despite the explanation offered by Bernard, Alice remained pessimistic about the proposal but decided not to pursue her interests, which is to reject the proposal altogether. “Okay, if there are no other insights that need to be shared with the group, we shall proceed with the discussion,” Patricia told everyone and asked them to turn their attention to her as she recited the main points of Joseph’s proposal.
“Basically, Joseph is asking us to review the purpose of the conversation flowchart, the shifting of all responsibility from the agents to the team leaders, the inability of the agents to think for themselves because the workplace generally does not allow for such, the need for healthier stress-relievers aside from smoking, and uniforms for the agents,” Patricia said as she enumerated the list of agenda they have based on the proposal. Chapter 2: The Main Course The group started to discuss the issues raised but did not mention anything about using the proposals of Joseph.
Most of them did not suit the interests of the company and in cases like this, the company has to consider the feasibility of each plan based on its general feasibility and the capacity of the company to implement it, not on its ability to enhance the welfare of the employees or attain the expectations of their employees. “I think that the conversational flowchart should be maintained because it is a guide that directs the agents with what they have to say when engaged in a call.
It maintains our standards and minimizes the errors encountered, especially in quality and success rates, in comparison to the absence of the tool,” Drake said suggesting his disapproval with the idea of Joseph. “Likewise, it is better if we understand the underlying processes that are behind the conversational flowchart. In fact, I do not see the tool simply as a flowchart but is an instrument that implies our adherence to deeper concepts such as industry standards and a means of unifying work processes for the agents.
I believe that this is coming from the critical theory where the deeper structure is also given significance along with the surface. Likewise, the critical theory mentions that the surface is more complex than it seems. The tenets of the theory should guide us in our understanding of the issues,” Drake added. “I agree with Drake and I do not see the need of eliminating this tool simply because agents think it makes the job routine and boring or for any reason at all. The guide is there because it helps them in maintaining a perfect command of English and makes the flow of conversation easier. What is so hard with simply reading from a tool?
If I had that kind of job, I would be very glad for having a guide because it makes my work easier,” Alice argued as she seconded the idea of Drake. “Well said. It is already established from the end of the management that these are tools that are intended for the purpose of effectiveness and makes the work of agents easier. Well, it indeed makes the work easier and we specifically hired people to read these guides. If we would want people who know how to respond to clients’ needs without the guide, then we have to raise our standards, which limit the number of applicants who can be accommodated for the position.
It actually serves as a means to control the ability of the agents to respond to clients because they lack the specific qualities or know-how of the services offered by our business partners. It is not our main problem here as far as I am concerned. The problem we have is on communicating this benefit to the agents and make sure that they understand that it is entirely for their benefit,” Bernard said as a response to the arguments of both Alice and Drake. “But Bernard, we all know that these tools are intended primarily for responding to the needs of the company for better standards and to increase the call efficiency rating of the agents.
How should we turn this into a pro-agent endeavor? ” Patricia asked. The five executives continued to argue about the issue. The call center job is really supposed to be routine and repetitive, which makes the task of solving the problem a bit more difficult because it is a nature of the entire industry (Lloyd, Mason, & Mayhew, 2008). Before they exceeded the amount of time intended for the issue, they decided to come up with the solutions later after hearing the ideas from each of them, which is also done for the rest of the issues.
“Now, we have to evaluate whether moving the responsibilities from the employees to managers is right,” Patricia said that opens the second topic for discussion. “I think that it does not exist in the company,” Alice mentioned. “Call center representatives have responsibilities based on the performance indices used to evaluate how they carry out their duties. For example, they are measured based on the success rates of their calls, which means that they are given the responsibility of hearing the concerns of each client and to resolve it based on the conversation flowchart.
In some departments, the agents are responsible for achieving a particular level of sales or other telemarketing activities,” she added and showed them a sample of a performance evaluation form that she obtained from one of the departments. Drake nodded in agreement. “I think that each individual in this organization holds a particular set of responsibilities in relation to the duties listed in their job descriptions. As far as I know, these are also communicated to them during the orientation. Unless, someone from the training department and HR department failed to effectively communicate this with them,” he said.
After checking with both departments, they confirmed that they have modules that contain relevant training materials to show the agents the responsibilities they have in relation to their job. “I really do not see the need to discuss this any further if we find that there is no problem with this,” Patricia interrupted before someone else can speak any further. She mentioned that there is no real need for it because there is the tendency for the team leaders and managers to bear some conflict with the agents that make the latter think that all the responsibilities are placed with the latter (Morgan, 2006).
There are parts of the agents’ work processes that lead them to think that they do not bear any responsibility because of the need to constantly consult the supervisors for instances where there is a need to make decisions. Everyone agreed with the explanation of Patricia and did not push the issue any further. The group simply decided that the team leaders give the agents a new responsibility every now and then, such as taking critical calls as long as they can handle it and other strategies that can be used to expand the list of responsibilities to create a small overlap between team leaders and agents (Cleveland & Mayben, 2001).
“Well, we are going faster than the pace we expected,” Bernard commented. “We move on to the next interesting topic, which is on the inability of the company to foster thinking among the agents,” he said and looked at Alice for any comment about the situation. “I hope that we could agree on this as easily as we did the last time. My take on this is that it is how it serves the purpose of the organization so there is no need to change any aspect of it. I believe that if we start allowing them to think, then it would move towards opening the Pandora’s Box that could damage the current status quo of the company.
Agents are hired for responsibilities that really do not entail thinking. I suppose that they know that before they applied for the position because it is not a new opportunity. It has been offered for a long time already and we are not a new industry anymore,” Alice said as she opened the floor to further discussions. “If I may add, I believe that there is nothing wrong with the idea of not being able to think when engaged in the job because it has become a normal trend in the organization and in others, as well.
A related example is the rude calls we receive from customers. Agents receive them on a daily basis and we do not see this as right or wrong because it is a part of their job. They are not allowed to express their negative emotions towards the customers during such instances and would have to follow what is required of them; no thinking is expected from their end. Even if the person on the other end of the line shares his or her dramatic life story, they would have to stick to protocol dictated to them by the system.
What is expected of them is to engage in emotional labor where they have to do relate to the customers and fulfill their needs in a cheerful manner because that is what we stand for: delivery of cheerful service to the customers when they need it. There is nothing that we can do about allowing them to think. Our part for this matter is to expect them to do their jobs according to the protocol and without the use of negative emotions for they are limited to only positive emotions,” Alice said. “I agree with you.
If we allow them to start using their knowledge or expertise on their jobs, on what aspect should we do this? If we allow them to think, for what purpose would it be? I think it becomes less complicated if they start thinking. We have managers to do the thinking for the organization. I do not see any areas where we can allow them to think,” Drake responded in agreement with Alice. “I guess Joseph is not thinking at the level of managing or organizing things. He means the dialogues found in the conversation flowchart.
He, along with other agents, thinks that it is possible for them to help clients in solving their problems without having to follow the conversation flowchart,” Patricia explained. “I see. If that is the case then perhaps we should be able to make changes only for the experienced agents. Perhaps the team leaders can evaluate who among their agents can handle the calls even if they skipped some of the parts in the conversational flowchart. I know that there are some who can handle it.
Perhaps, it can lessen the pressure of having a routine and repetitive job because they can interact with the clients according to their experience with previous calls. Nonetheless, they have to limit their answers to those contained in the guide because this is one way by which we maintain our standards with our clients. Likewise, we have to remember that we handle different accounts so there may be some where it may not apply,” Bernard said. At this point, the executives decided to take a break as the administrative staff brought their food in.
“Bernard, we need to consult with our account managers on how to go about with this issue. Grace, please schedule another meeting and send an announcement addressed to all account managers. Please emphasize that attendance is a must and this might take several hours. Kindly ask them to evaluate the possibility of allowing experienced agents to skip some tasks in the conversation flowchart based on their experience. ” Patricia told her assistant and moved to open the next topic. “We do not need to ban smoking altogether,” Drake said who is also an avid fan of smoking.
“Perhaps we can simply introduce alternatives that would provide them with additional choices to relieve their stress,” he added. “I like the idea of Joseph, actually,” Harold said. “The availability of game consoles in several break rooms can be a good way to relieve them of their stress. We have to choose video games that can contribute to reduced stress levels as I know that games that allow for the expression of aggression lets the players vent out their frustrations, which leads to reduced stress levels (Weber, Ritterfeld, & Kostygina, 2006). We can buy game consoles for each of the break rooms available,” he said.
“I think that is a good idea. The provision of break rooms intended mainly for smoking cigarettes pushes them to think that it is the only stress relieving activity that the company allows. I think this is a good idea and a socially responsible move that can boost the company’s image. We can be considered as an organization that promotes the welfare of their employees. Besides, it can give us lesser costs because we can cut down on the number of utilities maintaining the cleanliness of the break room 24/7,” Patricia said as she agreed with the group.
“Grace, kindly find a way to get HR on this matter now. They should be informed of the decision and implement it as soon as possible. Ask them to coordinate with the finance department for the funding. We still have some emergency funds available and we can seek the approval of the finance director on this as needed,” Patricia said requesting her assistant to contact the departments mentioned. “Guys, we move on to our last agenda, the uniforms,” she added. “I really do not see the need to further address this concern, Patricia,” Bernard immediately answered.
“The uniforms would be another burden on our finances because we need to provide them with allowance for their uniforms,” he said as he further discussed the financial implications of having uniforms. “I agree with that. It is already a part of the company’s culture. Call center agents are known for their trendy outfits and allow them to find something fun in their work. It is an advantage that we should not dismantle because this is one of the few things that make them like this kind of job. Some of them do not stay long and the uniforms we provide them may be costly if we have to provide one for a new employee every now and then.
Mind you, our turnover rates are high. “Well, I guess that’s it for now. We just scrap the uniform proposal. With regard to the conversation flowchart, we will resolve it with the account managers. I guess it also provides solution to the first issue raised by Joseph, right? ” Patricia asked the group. She proceeded with summing up the main points in their meeting and they called it a day. References Cleveland, B. & Mayben, J. (2001). Call center management on fast forward: Succeeding in today’s dynamic inbound environment. Annapolis, MA: Call Center Press. Lloyd, C.
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