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Productivity Behind the Hold Music

Posted on February 2nd, 2015 by Gerhard

Call centers have long been an essential component of customer service operations, providing a critical touchpoint for customers seeking assistance, information, and support. To ensure efficiency and effectiveness, call center operators often rely on various performance metrics to assess agent productivity. However, these metrics can sometimes have unintended consequences, leading to behaviors that don’t align with the organization’s goals or customer satisfaction. One such metric is “productivity,” a measurement that has been widely used in the call center industry, but which can lead to some surprising outcomes.

In the early 2000s, many call centers measured agent productivity by calculating the percentage of an agent’s workday spent on inbound calls. This approach made sense on the surface, as it seemed to provide a straightforward way to gauge how effectively agents were handling customer inquiries. However, this productivity metric had some significant drawbacks.

Firstly, the metric didn’t account for outbound calls, meaning that agents who took the initiative to call clients back to resolve issues or provide further assistance would see their productivity scores suffer. This created a disincentive for proactive customer service, as agents were discouraged from making the extra effort to ensure customer satisfaction.

Second, the metric didn’t fully capture the quality of the agent’s work. Agents who were able to handle calls efficiently and quickly would, ironically, end up with lower productivity scores. This was because the time gaps between calls added up more quickly for these high-performing agents, resulting in less time spent on calls and a lower overall productivity score.

Given these issues, some agents found ways to manipulate the productivity metric to their advantage. By extending the length of calls, agents could artificially inflate their productivity scores. One technique involved placing callers on hold for extended periods, either immediately upon answering or after obtaining the customer’s information.

This manipulation of the system had some serious consequences. In some cases, the average number of calls handled by agents dropped significantly, with anecdotal evidence suggesting a decrease from around 150 calls per day to just 90-100. This decline in call volume meant that fewer customers were being served and overall customer satisfaction likely suffered.

For those agents who chose to game the system, the consequences could be severe. In one case, an agent was fired after leaving a customer on hold for more than seven hours. While this might have temporarily boosted the agent’s productivity score, it ultimately led to their dismissal and damaged the company’s reputation.

The lesson from this example is clear: call center metrics must be carefully designed to incentivize the right behaviors and accurately measure agent performance. Relying solely on productivity as a measure of success can lead to unintended consequences, as agents may prioritize their own scores over providing exceptional customer service. To ensure that call center agents are truly serving customers effectively, organizations should consider adopting a more holistic approach to performance measurement, incorporating metrics that account for both efficiency and quality.

The story of the flawed productivity metric in call centers highlights the importance of carefully designed performance metrics that incentivize the right behaviors and accurately assess agent performance. By doing so, organizations can ensure that their call center agents are genuinely focused on providing exceptional customer service and contributing to the organization’s success.

Posted in Systems