Beware the Employee Who Volunteers for a Crappy Job

I do promise there are great employees out there. Those who do wonderful work, are easy to manage and willing to take on new tasks. But those employees aren’t any fun to talk about. So I have another story for this week instead.

I learned an important lesson in my last call centre: beware the employee who volunteers for a crappy task. Maybe they are trying to look good in the eyes of their manager and want earn brownie points. Maybe not.

When I first took over a new department, we were swamped. We didn’t have enough managers and every employee was new to this particular market/software. That meant lots of questions and errors. It also meant my partner and I spent almost all of our time putting out fires. There wasn’t anything proactive going on with our management team.

One of the things managers should do in a call centre is monitor phone calls and track call statistics for each employee. You want to ensure each phone rep is friendly, helpful and provides the right information. It’s also a great feedback tool. Looking at stats can let you know if reps are hitting their benchmarks, and wonky numbers can let you know when something is afoot.

Did we have time for any of this? Of course not. We were wading through a mountain of client complaint calls about our reps.

Our reps took both incoming customer service calls and made outgoing calls. The outgoing calls weren’t cold calls. We were calling our own clients to update credit card expiry dates, get subscription renewals etc. These weren’t nasty calls to make, but most reps much preferred the inbound calls. It meant we weren’t interrupting someone in the middle of their day. The best outcome of an outbound call for a phone rep? You get voicemail instead of a live person.

We always had more people on inbound than outbound.  And reps hated it when we asked them to move to the outbound calls. They would whine like small children. They would “forget” and stay on inbound calls. So it was curious when we had one phone rep who loved to do outbound calls. He acted like he’d won a prize. Of course, since he was the sole lover of outbound, we’d always ask him first.

We really should have questioned this mentality instead of accepting it as a gift. We didn’t have too many saints in this call centre. But we were overworked and enjoyed anything that didn’t add to our daily burdens.

I’m sure you can guess that something was afoot. Which brings me back to the call and stats monitoring that we never got around to. One day, a visiting manager from the newspaper we serviced had some time and decided to plug into a few calls to see how things were going. She happened to plug into our happy outbound rep.

Guess what? If the rep got voicemail, he’d leave a nice, professional message. If he got a live person? He’d just mute the phone and ignore the person on the other end. Eventually the customer would hang up.

This was key for his ruse, because one of the few things we did track was how many calls our reps were hanging up. Yes, you could tell which party disconnected a call, and too many disconnects by our reps always threw up red flags.

I’m not sure how long this had been going on, but it was probably a couple of months. Can you imagine how many clients received annoying “phantom” calls from us? Yeah we looked a little dumb, overworked or not.

I guess the moral here is don’t trust something or someone that appears too good to be true. And if you manage call centre reps, find time to do a bit of oversight, even if you are swamped. Better yet, hope for department management that actually supplies the right number of supervisory bodies so you can do a good job. If you’re overwhelmed, I feel for you.

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