Saturday, April 28, 2012


Brech identifies the role of management as encompassing four main elements:
  1. Planning – determining the broad lines for carrying out operations, preparing methods by which they are carried out and setting standards of performance.
  2. Control – checking actual performance against standards to ensure satisfactory progress and performance, and recording as a guide to possible future operations.
  3. Coordination – balancing and maintaining the team by ensuring a suitable division of work and seeing that tasks are performed in harmony.
  4. Motivation – or inspiring morale. Getting members of the team to work effectively, to give loyalty to the group and to the task, to carry out their tasks properly, and to play an effective part in the activities of the organization.
Brech’s four main elements are a satisfactory starting point to understand the role of management; however, the success of management relies upon the accuracy in which the above four elements are executed. Drucker emphasizes this point when he defines the differences between effectiveness and efficiency. ‘Effectiveness is the foundation of success – efficiency is concerned with doing things right. Effectiveness is doing the right things.’ A good manager can plan, lead, coordinate and control work efficiently but a great manager will understand the effectiveness of the work that is being done and how that effectiveness influences the customer’s perception of the service.
The quality of management within an organization significantly influences the culture of the organization. Schein maintained that the major factors influencing an organization’s culture are:
  • what leaders pay attention to, measure and control on a regular basis;
  • how leaders react to critical incidents and organizational crises;
  • observed criteria by which leaders allocate scarce resources;
  • deliberate role modelling, teaching and coaching by leaders;
  • observed criteria by which leaders allocate rewards and status;
  • observed criteria by which leaders, recruit, select, promote, etc.
What is the one noun which links all of Schein’s findings together? The answer is ‘leader’.
Of course by the term ‘leaders’ in call centres we are referring to managers, those who have significant influence over the work of trainers, agents, planners and recruitment. Some theorists argue that leadership and management are two completely different roles. Kotter for example argues, ‘Management is about coping with complexity. . . Leadership, by contrast, is about coping with change.’ However, in a call centre leadership and management are intertwined; they should not be separated. Call centre managers have to have a vision about how they feel the call centre should work to meet the organizational objectives and they have to deal with the complexity of making those visions a reality. In this chapter we are not going to separate the roles of leadership and management as they are both equally important.
Schein identifies that the conscious and unconscious behaviours of managers determine the organization’s culture. Therefore, the greatest influencing factor in any organization is the behaviour of its managers. This works on all levels. Of course senior managers and directors have the greatest influence but team leaders and functional managers such as those running call centres exert significant influence on the culture, productivity and wellbeing of the call centre.
The importance of management and its relationship to development was reinforced further in a study by International Survey Research, which reported that levels of employee commitment in the UK are significantly lower than in most of the world’s major economies. This lack of commitment is resulting in a lack of competitive advantage for the UK in relation to other global giants. The study conducted by ISR stated that the four most important factors in determining the commitment levels of a workforce are closely linked to the quality of support and ability to do their role. The four key factors are:
  1. employees’ assessment of the quality of their company’s leadership;
  2. employees’ evaluation of the development opportunities their organization provides;
  3. employees’ judgement as to whether they are sufficiently empowered and trained to carry out their work effectively;
  4. employees’ ratings of the people management skills of their immediate supervisor.
If we examine the above findings we see two of the main factors are related to leadership and management skills (1 and 4) and the remaining two are linked to training and development (2 and 3). If we link all four factors together we come to the assumption that instilling learning within the organization, in particular management development, is pivotal in the productivity and success of the individual companies and the wider economy.
For call centres this is fundamental. It is common knowledge that the majority of call centres believe their staff commitment levels are too low, resulting in high turnover. The objective of the traditional call centre production model is to maximize volume and minimize costs, and high turnover is acceptable, even encouraged. The work organization is designed to minimize skill requirements, discretion and job cycle time, thus ensuring turnover of staff is not critical to the overall objective. However, in the modern call centre, this mass production model is obsolete. The integrity, discretion and knowledge required to do the role results in the time taken for a new agent to become proficient as anywhere between six and 26 weeks. A modern call centre cannot operate efficiently and effectively with high sickness absence rates and high turnover as a result of low staff commitment. If organizations are to compete on quality and customer loyalty as well as price, the investment in management practices that maximize the skills and abilities of the work force must become a priority.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Call Center Management is not simple

A whole industry has been established around the idea of simplifying management. To read some of the literature produced by motivation coaches and solutions providers we can assume management is easy and if managers do not find it easy they are doing something wrong. Those involved in management development must first of all understand the complexities of management in order to define what exactly the development needs are. Perhaps the most realistic definitions of management are those that admit that it’s a complex and messy job:
Managerial work across all levels. . . is characterized by pace, brevity, variety and fragmentation. . . It is hectic and fragmented, requiring the ability to shi continuously from relationship to relationship, from topic to topic, from problem to problem. 
Management relates to all activities of the organization and is undertaken at all levels of the organization. Management is not a separate, discrete function. It cannot be departmentalized or scrutinized. An organization cannot have a department of management in the same way it can have a department for other functions, such as production, marketing, accounting, or personnel. 
So the first conclusions we can make about management is that it is far from simplistic, it can cover everything and it effects everyone and to a greater or lesser degree we all need to be able to manage. What we also know is that in call centres there are managers. These are the people who have a greater responsibility for coordinating the work of others as well as their own. They are the ones responsible for the workforce planning, performance measurement, motivating employees and ensuring agents have the information to actually resolve customer queries.
The International Customer Management Institute (ICMI), a US-based call centre consultancy service, defines call centre management as, ‘the art of having the right number of properly skilled people and supporting resources in place at the right times to handle an accurately forecasted workload, at service level and with quality’. This definition of call centre management is weighted towards the responsibilities of workforce planning; what can be described as the management of the tangible aspects of the organization, ensuring the department is running efficiently. However, as we know this is only one aspect of management; it fails to recognize that management in practice involves coping with contradictory demands, pressures and politics. The call centre is a great example of contradictory demands and call centre managers have to manage the constant tension between the sometimes opposing goals of service efficiency and customer service effectiveness.
The majority of a call centre manager’s work is not spent on workforce planning; in fact a significant proportion of this type of work is undertaken by specialists with the assistance of automated so ware planning tools. The majority of a manager’s time is spent on ensuring the intangible assets of the call centre, such as, knowledge, capabilities, group dynamics and culture are effectively being utilized to improve the effectiveness of the service to the customer. The ICMI definition of call centre management fails to recognize motivation.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Management Development in Call Centres


Prior to defining the management development practices in call centres it is important to first of all define what exactly is meant by the term ‘management’ and place it in a call centre context. The starting point of any training and development project is identifying the training and development need. For example, the training and development need in an induction course would be for employees to be sufficiently trained in the organization’s systems, products and culture to effectively answer customer queries. In management development this may be slightly more difficult to define and it may involve the identification and development of individuals with the potential to manage departments or functions in the future. In addition, it may be the development of individuals who can supervise people to undertake predefined work processes, and also be the strategic development of individuals who are already in existing management positions.
Those involved in the design of management development should start by asking the following question: ‘What exactly is meant by management within our organization?’ A clear understanding of what is expected from managers within a call centre will allow trainers and educators to assess the management development requirements of the department/organization/individual, plan and design how the need will be met, deliver the required training and then measure the success of it against the previously defined objectives.
‘Management’ and ‘manager’ are generic terms that are interpreted differently from call centre to call centre. In some organizations a team leader responsible for the activities of a collective of call centre agents may be called a manager. In other organizations the term ‘manager’ is specific to the strategic hierarchy at the very top of the organization.
The 1995 edition of The Concise Oxford Dictionary defines management as the ‘professional administration of business concerns’. In essence, the ‘occupational group that organizes and coordinates, and makes decisions about what work is done, how it is done (and) by whom’. In call centres the term ‘manager’ is usually applied to those who oversee the administration and, in large centres, the administration of certain functions such as training, HR and planning will be overseen by functional specialist managers. These management specialists will report directly to an individual who oversees all call centre operations. They may not have the title manager but they will be responsible for the management of the centre. Figure 1 gives a basic overview of a typical call centre departmental structure.

Figure 1: A typical call centre organizational chart
Peter Drucker (1974) and Charles Handy (1993), two of the most widely acknowledged theorists within the area of management, argue that management cannot be defined and a empts to do so are meaningless. This is largely based upon the idea that management, by nature, is something that permeates throughout organizations to all levels of employment. A number of authors argue that management encompasses so much of an organization that all employees, to a greater or lesser degree, must have the ability to manage. Torrington et al  argue that, ‘Management is not just a job done by people called ”managers”, it is an aspect done by all those who have to cope with the problems and opportunities of organization.’ The repercussions of this for training and development is that in essence everyone has to have an ability to manage, whether it be individuals managing their own workload or their personal development plan, relationships with colleagues or large multi-site call centre operations.
The BBC has an approach to management development that reinforces the idea that management skills are not just required for those with the word ‘manager’ in their job title. A management development information pack from the BBC includes the paragraph:
Fourth and most important, management training is available not simply for line managers, but for anyone with a management component in their job. In practice this means most of us. We all have to manage our time, our priorities, the resources we use, our colleagues and our boss.
We are all managers to a greater or lesser extent as we all have some degree of control over our life and a process within the business in which we are employed. The interdependent nature of the modern working environment means we all call on resources and employees to get the work done. Management therefore is a phenomenon that is pivotal to the complexities of modern day life.
Furthermore, despite the organizational re-engineering, restructuring, mergers and outsourcing, practices that dominated the global business climate in the last decade, the number of managers is actually increasing. A report by the Chartered Management Institute identified that the numbers of managers had substantially increased during previous decades and this was expected to continue

Monday, April 16, 2012

TIPS FOR THE TRAINER | System skills training

  • The trainer needs to sit through training as a participant first!
  • If it is a new system, use a pilot or test group before training groups of employees.
  • The trainer needs to be able to complete the work as an agent.
  • You need to have train the trainer and facilitation techniques.
  • You need to have very good IT skills.
  • You should co-tutor for all sessions at least once, but not all in the same programme.
  • The trainer needs to be assessed by an experienced trainer/training manager.
  • Conduct an ongoing review of evaluation sheets after each programme.

Trainer tips: don’ts

  • Don’t ‘chalk and talk’: they don’t want to be bored, and return to ‘school’.
  • Don’t treat participants like children: they are adult learners and you need to use learning methods suited to adult learners.
  • Don’t conduct training in isolated sections: integrate the training into other core skills training: customer service, problem solving, etc.
  • Don’t share computers: participants should work independently.
  • Don’t train on a different version of the live system: to maximize learning, participants must be trained on exactly the same version as the live system.
  • Never use ‘live data’: when training, use data that are constructed or ‘dead’ and which is not confidential.

Trainer tips: dos

  • Training approach needs to be interactive.
  • Trainer first needs to sit through training as a participant.
  • Both content and methods should be fun and entertaining.
  • Follow the profile of so -skills training.
  • Best completed in small ‘bite-size chunks’.
  • Allow plenty of time during the sessions to practise skills.
  • Conduct a practical test after each key learning stage.
  • Build in the time for the participants to understand and reflect on what they have learnt.
  • Test the skills learnt as you progress through the programme content.
  • Build skills one piece at a time.
  • Make available an online or hard copy resource for quick reference post-training.
  • Use a ratio of one trainer to eight to 12 participants if possible.
  • Devote the largest proportion of time to system skills training.
  • It helps if the participants understand the metrics they will be assessed against, so use these when testing skills development during the sessions.
  • Maintain one pace during the sessions. Keep the group working together.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

THE TRAINING CYCLE | System skills training

In order to adopt a systematic approach to your training it is helpful to use the key stages of the training cycle, and if you follow the cycle in the design and delivery of your training programme, you will create a more effective learning environment.

1. Assessing the participant’s training needs

When dealing with system skills training this is a quite straightforward stage, particularly during induction. Most organizations use customized systems, so a set of very specific learning requirements exist that are the same for all course participants. System skills training o en takes place when a modification to the system occurs or a new product is introduced and this training is essentially the same for all employees.
Once the employee is fully operational on the system, individual training requirements are normally identified through analysis of the metrics used by that department or section. This analysis indicates if training is required to raise the employee’s level of performance. When this occurs, any system skills training should be tailored to that individual’s particular learning requirement, rather than reusing the original system skills training programme. The individual may require refresher training on just one aspect of the system, or may have not understood one element of the system when trained during induction.
Unfortunately, system skills training is o en used to address deficiencies in an employee’s metrics and fails to address the individual’s actual training needs. It is important, therefore, that you have a discussion with both the individual employee and with the team leader to more closely identify the individual’s specific training needs. Remember, not all performance gaps are the result of a lack of knowledge regarding the system.

2. Designing training

During this stage you are already clear about the training needs of the participants and should use these as the basis for your training objectives for the programme. You need to now consider the techniques that you should use during the training. A key consideration at this stage is the availability of a ‘training version’ of the organization’s system. A training version will allow the trainees to practise in a safe learning environment that is as realistic as possible, while still protecting the organization’s main system and data from any errors or ‘mishaps’ that may occur with trainees practising on a live system and using live data. The choice of training techniques will depend on the training needs of the participants. Due to the nature of system skills training, the key techniques should be a combination of computer-based training, instruction and group discussion.
Each technique has advantages and disadvantages and you need to consider these when you are deciding on which techniques to include. The activities most o en used in system skills training are as follows.


You will need to instruct and facilitate the training sessions. However, in using this approach you should remember that a lack of interaction with the participants during the instruction and input stages may result in misunderstanding occurring. Success in using this method relies on a number of key issues including:
  • Providing the opportunity for participants to ask questions after each input stage. This will allow clarity to be sought where necessary.
  • The length of the input will o en determine the participant’s ability to concentrate. The longer the input, the more likely the participant is to lose concentration. Bite-size learning (Black, 2004) is one way to achieve this by delivering both instruction and practical exercises in small sections.
  • You need to sound enthusiastic when delivering instruction if you are to maintain the learner’s interest.
  • Speak clearly and vary the tone of your voice throughout each instruction section.

Technology-based training

The majority of your training sessions will involve the participant working on computer-based training systems to simulate the real working environment. You should consider the following:
  • Technology-based training needs to be horizontally and vertically integrated into other core components of the training such as customer service training and problem solving skills training. Combine the so -skills training elements (such as customer service and telephone skills) with the system skills training. This will allow you to fully train the employee by simulating real working situations.
  • The technology-based training needs to be in sync with the natural customer process. For example, if a new customer is calling to enquire about car insurance, he or she will need to be asked basic questions on name, address, age, car make and model, etc. Importantly, the operating system will need to work in the same way and allow the trainee to enter the data in a logical customer process, as opposed to requiring information such as ‘How did you hear about us?, and ‘Who is your current insurance provider?’ These questions can be asked at a later stage, once the information required for the call is obtained.
  • Break the job down into the core skills to build system skills training. For example, using a financial services context, there is no point in teaching a new employee how to process driver and/or car changes to an existing car insurance policy if the trainee does not know the basics of how to provide a new car insurance quote. In this example it is best to show the trainees how to respond to an initial request; how to provide an insurance quote; how to process payment for immediate cover following the quote; how to make amendments to an existing policy; and numerous other logical steps up to and including terminating insurance cover.
  • Teach participants the logical steps involved in a call, then practise these steps using the phone and the system, during training. The point here is that the trainees will need to be allowed time to practise the technique of talking with customers, while at the same time operating the system. It is likely that the customer will ask questions or make requests that are not typical/logical during the course of a normal call. The trainees will need sufficient experience and knowledge, therefore, to handle these instances. In certain call centre environments there may also be a requirement to inform the customers about mandatory information, eg if your customers apply for a loan or a credit card, the agents will have to inform the customer about mandatory statements that are required from the Financial Regulator. This must also be practised during the training sessions and its position in the call determined.
  • Never use live data for your training sessions. This may be both inappropriate and unethical.
  • This training needs to be practice-based, using real examples. For instance, if you are putting up an insurance quote on the system, it would be best to provide the trainees with some basic details that will be required from real customers such as name, address, age, car make and model, etc and get the trainees to enter the data and provide you with the initial insurance quote. Where possible, and at key stages, the trainees should be required to practise what has been learnt.

Group discussion

By building in time for short group discussion sessions (5 to 10 minutes) after each section has been covered, participants can learn from each other. It is important that you structure each of these sessions to ensure that the discussion does not diverge too far from the topic being talked about. These sessions can be particularly useful when held after instruction sections and after practical assessments. You can also gather information from the discussion that can assist you in adapting information you might include in future training sessions, to ensure clarity of instruction and to maximize learning. Building on the previous example you could consider asking the trainees, what is the price of their insurance quote? Where the trainees have different quotes, explore why. It is also possible to explore with the trainees the importance of getting the information right and accurate, as it will impact on the insurance quote provided.

Role plays

These are particularly important learning mechanisms for developing interpersonal skills. Employees can role play with each other, one acting as the customer and the other acting as the employee.
It is useful to record these role plays and allow the participants the opportunity to listen back to their own call and then make suggestions on how they could have improved the call. You can also provide participants with the opportunity to re-enact the same call after their first attempt has been played back to them. This then consolidates the learning from their first attempt.


Using videos and DVDs can be helpful in showing examples of good and poor practice to a number of people at the same time. Using short discussion sessions after showing an example will also allow you to gauge the level of understanding in the group. There is a tendency to more easily recall what not to do, so those videos/DVDs that emphasize this aspect are particularly useful.


This is a general term used to refer to computer-enhanced learning. It has many obvious advantages for conducting system skills training. Additional advantages include increased retention and application to the job, and consistent delivery of content is possible. According to Colvin-Clarke and Mayer (2003) e-learning should promote psychological engagement between the learner and the lesson content, in ways that help learners to select, integrate and retrieve new knowledge.
A path that can be used to achieve this learning process is the use of practice exercises. Wilcock (2002) believes that one of the strengths of e-learning is its ability to provide instantaneous feedback to learners by means of online tests and quizzes. These exercises are o en referred to as ‘interactions’ in computer learning environments. Based on empirical evidence, Colvin-Clarke and Mayer (2003) recommend four principles for effective practice in e-learning:
Practice Principle 1: interactions should mirror the thinking process and environment of the job. E-learning designers should create transfer-appropriate interactions. These are activities that require learners to respond in similar ways during training as they will on the job. Therefore problem solving skills should be learnt within the context of realistic problem solving situations. For example, a hotel switchboard operator may be asked how to deal with a call from a hotel guest, saying that she has just dropped her ring down the plughole!
Practice Principle 2:critical tasks require more practice. For critical tasks, for example safety consequences, it is vital that the participants are exposed to many different practice elements prior to working with live data. An example here is that for some aspects of financial services, ie obtaining a loan, the call centre agent will be required to read a number of mandatory sentences to the customer. It is important that the agents do this and it is important that the agents practise these statements and the answers to any potential questions they may get asked during the training sessions.
Practice Principle 3: make sure that the practice exercises are specific to the instruction material being covered. There needs to be a match to assist with the transfer of learning.
Practice Principle 4: train learners to self-question by showing examples followed by practice that requires learners to self-question the instructional materials.
It is vital that your system skills training builds knowledge and skills that are needed on the job. This means you must integrate system skills training with other core activities such as so -skills training, eg customer service and reward mechanisms, so that individuals are rewarded for the right performance each time. This point cannot be over-stressed. In call centre environments it is possible to train employees in many different skills, referred to as multi-skilling. This is an important beneficial aspect of training for the employee, as multi-skilling means that you will encourage career progression and achieve retention, an area acknowledged as being problematic for call centres.
During system skills training, multi-skilling is crucial, as agents have to learn how to use the system while at the same time listening to what the customer is saying and how he or she is saying it. They also o en need to ask questions and guide the conversation, all at the same time. This is an exceptionally difficult skill to master, particularly when the line manager may also be measuring the average call duration and telling the individual to reduce the amount of time spent talking to customers. System skills training therefore needs to incorporate the development of multi-skilling, in the classroom environment. While this skill can be one that is a by-product of experience, if it is not initially included in the training programme, it will be more difficult to develop once live.
An additional aspect for inclusion here is the impact of customers buying online. Customers who buy goods and services online on a regular basis are more likely when they place a call with a contact centre to require a greater degree of knowledge and experience from the agents. Calls of this nature may require ‘second level support’ and this increases the amount of system skills training that agents require in order to solve the customer’s problems. The integration of so -skills training, such as problem solving skills, is vital in this type of situation.

3. Evaluating training

Many organizations fail to evaluate training interventions due to the difficulties involved. Evaluation of a training programme is, however, a necessity to gauge the success of the programme. This data collection and evaluation process must be planned as part of the design and development segment of lesson preparation. Otherwise, it is possible to miss an opportunity to collect data needed for the evaluation process.
The most o en used type of evaluation is what is referred to as ‘first level evaluation’. This takes place at the end of the training and focuses on the reaction level. The basic questions that it seeks to answer are: ‘Were the participants pleased with the programme? How did they feel about such things as lesson or course material, the instructors, the facilities used for the class, the methodology, etc?’ Think of reaction level evaluation as measuring your ‘customer satisfaction’. Remember though, that a positive reaction to a lesson does not ensure that a person has learnt anything, but a negative reaction to a lesson almost certainly reduces the chance for learning. There are a number of reasons why measuring reactions is important. First, it provides you with valuable feedback on the training session. Second, it provides quantitative information about the training that can be used for management review. Finally, it provides information on the session that can be used to establish standards for later classes.
In addition, a more complex type of evaluation needs to take place. Evaluation at the learning level is viewed as problematic by many trainers, but it provides vital information for the trainer and is therefore worth the effort. Learning is o en referred to as the extent to which participants change attitudes, improve knowledge, and/or increase skill as a result of a ending a training programme. To effectively evaluate the learning that has taken place, the training must have a specific objective against which evaluation can be undertaken. For example, in a sales environment it will be quite easy to measure the ability of the new agents to achieve targets. In more product and customer service areas, measures such as quality, mystery callers, errors, recalls, etc can all be used to evaluate the training.
It should be possible to obtain data from the system in relation to errors, call length, etc, which are all useful indicators and if tracked over a period of months and weeks should show a gradual improvement in a new call centre agent’s ability. Methods such as mystery callers will be able to determine the agents overall ability to handle the conversation and manage the interaction with the customer. In fact many contact centres record all calls, and these could also be used for evaluation purposes. In addition, it is also possible on most systems for the team leader to listen in on calls and provide feedback and coaching to the agent at a later time in the day.
One of the key ways in which evaluation can be conducted for those individuals who have been targeted for training by their team leader, as a result of quality or quantity metric deficiencies, is to evaluate job performance both before and after the training. Through this comparison any change can be observed and the change attributed to training.

Key points in the design and delivery process

  • Delivery needs to be interactive and use participative mechanisms.
  • Ensure you have clear objectives for the programme at the start.
  • Design needs to follow the logical customer process.
  • Ensure employees can use the phone system and give information at the same time.
  • Provide information in small chunks with appropriate time allocated, eg if it takes five minutes for a customer to give the information, there is no point in allowing them to take 10 minutes to input the information during training.
  • Provide an accompanying manual for both trainer and participant
  • – this could be paperless and online.
  • Systems training needs to be integrated with telephone skills, customer service skills, and problem solving skills training.
  • If using a manual or online tutorial, it will need to have screen shots to illustrate.
  • Make sure you are informed of any system changes as they will need to be incorporated in future training sessions.
  • Ensure any legal requirements/considerations are included.
  • Inform participants of the details of refresher training.
  • Begin refresher training with a test to see where any gaps in knowledge or skills exist: your call centre stats or customer feedback should tell you where gaps are.
  • Regarding how much detail to go into, work back from what is the objective of the training.
  • Employees can role play with each other, one being the customer the other the employee – record these and let the participants listen back to their own call.
We have included below some tips that we hope you will find useful in the design and delivery of system skills training.

Sunday, April 8, 2012


Figure 1: DP mind map
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