Update: Lean Call Centers

Update on Lean Call Centers: 

I sympathized back in 2009 with Mr. Adsit, lamenting the lack of standards in call centers. Well, I got my wish - things are pretty much standardized and I'm not any happier about those after dinner calls...

a) the call starts off unnaturally friendly, b) polite refusal, c) hangup

But in true kaizen fashion, telemarketers, while following their standard work above - manage to inject some creativity into their day - here are how some recent calls went down in the Lund household:

1) Tip #1: if you sound really cheery when you greet me on the phone, try to stay that way. 

Telemarketer: "Hellooooo, Mr. Lund, how are you this fine day?"

Me: "I'm doing well, thanks! How are you?"

Tele: "Wow, nobody asks me that, thank you! I'm doing well! I'm from so and so and blah, blah, blah (still cheery!) blah, blah, blah...")

Me: ...then: "You know, I really appreciate you taking the time to make your offer, but I'm not interested. In fact, would you take me off your call list and please confirm that you did so?"

Tele: "yeah."

Tip #2: I'm not interested = I'm not interested. 

Tele: "Hello, how are you!? Can I interest you in...blah, blah, blah."

Me: Listening patiently...then: "You know, I really appreciate you taking the time to make your offer, but I'm not interested. In fact, would you take me off your call list and please confirm that you did so?"

Tele: "Mr. Lund, I completely understand your feeling on this. Would you be interested in a trial offer where you make no commitment to buy now, or perhaps you could enter into a payment plan upon credit approval it will only take fifteen min-?"


Tip #3: When somebody tells you that now is not a good time, you should probably take their word for it.

Tele-Jekyl: : "Hi Mrs. Lund, blah, blah, blah..."

Mrs. Lund: then: "I'm very sorry, I am actually interested but you have caught me at the worst time right now, a family member was in an accident (ed.-true story, he is in one piece now) and I'm waiting for a phone call to check up on him. Can you call me back another time soon because I am interested?"

Tele-Hyde: "uh...well no...let me get you signed up it will just take a minute..."

Mrs. Lund: "Uh, I can't, I really have to go, I hope you understand that this is not a good time?"

Tele-Hyde: "well , Mrs. Lund my brother was in an accident and he was just fine..."

Mrs. Lund" "Um, okay. I really need to go, I'm sorry that I can't purchase it now-"


 Somewhere along the line, standard work for telemarketers turned into 4 important steps:

1) Pretend to be friendly, but make sure the customer knows that you are pretending,

2) No matter what, DO NOT listen to your customer, despite their best efforts to communicate with you - you must make them feel like they cannot communicate,

3) Unless you convert them, NEVER, EVER, utter the following words and phrases during the call: "Goodbye, Good Evening, Thank you, Your Welcome, Sorry to Bother You, Take Care, or God Bless". This offense is punishable by termination.

4) If you see that the call will fail, your new goal is to make the client feel like he has done something wrong and that he wasted your time. This serves the purpose of getting him to forget that, in fact, it was you that called his private home and invaded his personal time and space. This is achieved by hanging up on the client, preceded by a one word salute: yup, oh, no, uh, eh, or preferably - an audible huff or sniff.


Original post:

Interesting interview with Dennis Adsit, vice president of business development for KomBea Corporation. He talks about the 40 year quality malaise within the call center industry, where he claims the root of the illness lies with lack of process standards for call quality. Given the last few calls I've taken, I tend to agree.

Mr. Adsit tells us how he wants to adopt process centric thinking, ala Toyota Production System, and adapt to the call center industry. I think this interview may serve as a good example for those departments or service-oriented areas of the business that do not think Lean applies to them. Have them take a look at this two part article:

Call Center - Part I

Call Center - Part II

In summary if you can replace the word “agent” in the following sentence with whatever role you choose in your organization, you will understand where Mr. Adsit is coming from:

“the industry has a lot of problems, but there is a single issue that the others pale against: between: agent variation.”

Now at this point, we could go into a judge and blame situation. Why can't agents do the job correctly and follow directions? Or we could go deeper and ask why can't managers do a better job of coaching? This is where Mr. Adsit chooses to lead us. He boils this problem down into two reason which helps us understand why Lean is a management system for improvement not a hodgepodge collection of tools:

1)“Consumers, call center leaders, and CEOs tolerate the fact that the quality of the experience the customer has is a function of the agent who happens to pick up the phone.” In other words, nobody cares and if they did, they feel there is little they could do about it. So, we need somebody to have the vision to lead us through the problem.

2)“Improvement model is wrong.” Given that #1 is generally true, we learn how the agent centric improvement model is inferior to a process centric improvement model, led by management.

This is the meat of the article and I'm going to let you take it from there. Your thoughts? I think this is somebody to watch. If he can do half of what he is talking about...that will turn some heads.

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At July 22, 2009 at 6:37 AM , Blogger Alian said...

More than your article, I like the picture of call center office you put in the post.

At June 1, 2010 at 1:44 AM , Anonymous philippine call center said...

Interesting topic.... You have a point there but call center is a great help in the business industry. Today marketing options differ but not all of them provide such a wide flow of information like call centers. Partnering with a call center is not only strong marketing advantage but it is also a perfect business solution that gives a chance to outsource information about your company, attract the potential clients and make deals with them.

At December 28, 2010 at 8:57 PM , Anonymous Outsource Call Center said...

Nice post! It is really good to see a lean call center. I believe that, A good agent must have a people-oriented attitude that enables him or her to handle customers as though they are the most important people in their (the agents) lives. Anyway, thanks for sharing.


At April 13, 2011 at 7:15 AM , Anonymous Call Centre Philippines said...

To have a good agent that can handle different attitudes of the different customers is a great advantage from your company since this attitude can attract potential customers..

At June 22, 2012 at 7:25 AM , Blogger google1 said...

Good post, you raise some very valid points.

I think that the average consumer is simply becoming jaded with the call centre service model, and because they are bombarded with slightly more covert methods of advertising and sales online, they have become almost entirely desensitized to telesales. This obviously is passed on to the telesales execs, as they pick up on this fact, and become unhappy in their jobs, which in turn leads to further decreased performance.


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