the effective management of call centers

This section presents a literature review of issues regarding the effective management of call centers. Specifically, the section examines call center management in the context of effective and efficient service delivery, as well as, human resources. Some of the topics to be covered will include work design, staff motivation, recruitment and training, and performance management as issues in call center management.

 

The last few decades have seen an increase in the number of call centers established especially in the retail and financial industries. As Wegge et al. (2006) explain, call centers serve the function of acting as a service delivery channel through which customers can interact with organizations and institutions[1]. Call centers are, therefore, considered as having support functions for organizations with relation to customer service delivery, as well as, cross selling opportunities, which in turn increase business for these organizations.  Call centers have been primarily designed to serve the function of supporting customer enquiries and allowing interaction between the company and the people they call their clients or customers. However, the recent years have seen the evolvement of the function of call centers to include the customer relationship management, as well as, additional marketing initiatives for companies.

Butler (2004). confirm this in his elucidation of the ways through which modern companies have used call centers to push for the movement of other services to the clients[2]. Most of the existing literature regarding call center management emphasizes call center management issues such as capacity planning, call forecasting, as well as, queuing. This paper, however, seeks to identify literature on call center management in the context of effective service delivery and proper human resource management. As research studies explain, these two components of call center management are crucial for the success of call centers, as they assure companies of an increase in sales, as well as, the achievement of all organizational targets and objectives.  Accordingly, identifying the issues related to service delivery and human resources is key to understanding the right methods and approaches of call center management. Research studies and literature related to service delivery emphasize on the various ways through which customer service can be optimized in call centers for the successful attainment of organizational goals and objectives. As Cusack (2006) and Cleveland (2000) explain in their research studies, ensuring service delivery responsiveness during interaction with customers in call center management allows organizations to reach their targets with relation to effective service delivery[3].

Woods (2005), on the other hand, elucidate the importance of effective and efficient human resource management in call centers. As he explain in his study, human resources in call centers is examined from the benefits efficient human resource management grants call centers[4]. In essence, they explain that productivity in call centers can only be achieved through empowering the workers and employees so as to ensure the success of call centers. Fundamentally, researchers and academicians have presented various analyses regarding call center management with relation to effective service delivery and efficient human resource practices. Accordingly, their analyses provide information regarding the monetary benefits that have been associated with improved service delivery and human resources in call centers.

Effective Service Delivery

Most organization are equipped with proper tools and instruments that can be used for an exhaustive evaluation of service quality and performance in the organization. These tools and equipment can be both external and internal and those in management use them as ways of identifying the different problems and issues in organizations for change. External tools of measurement are primarily focused on identifying the different perceptions that customers to the organization have regarding the quality of service that the respective organization offers them. These can be obtained through surveys and focus groups, and as Dorf (1997) explains, they are highly effective in identifying an organization’s failure an success regarding customer service delivery[5]. Internal measurement tools, on the other hand, emphasize on identifying the various ways through which employees in the organization are intent on delivering good quality service to their clients. These tools of measurement are primarily focused on ensuring that all employees to an organization have familiarized themselves to the principles of excellent service delivery for their customers. However, a study carried out by Hamblem (1997). illustrates that not all of these tools are effective in measuring customers service delivery in companies and organizations. They may be effective in driving companies to the fulfillment of customer needs and requirements, but they do not effectively provide a good measurement across institutions[6]. This, in turn, draws attention to the importance of call centers in organizations. In their study on customer satisfaction and service delivery Dunscombe et al. (1996) explain that customer perception regarding service delivery in organizations is not founded on a customer’s past experience with the organization[7].

A customer’s perception on service delivery is based on their experience with the company’s call center. Customers value their phone experience with an organization, as they believe it is the only way that they can experience good quality service delivery form the company. For that reason, call centers are seen as the best tool of ensuring effective service delivery to customers. Call center management can also be measured across industries, thus making it the best tool of measurement for effective service delivery in organizations. According to American Bankers Association (1995) call centers can be used for effective service delivery in two main ways including ensuing proper efficiency and promoting customer focus[8].

 

Call Center Efficiency

Call centers have been used as tools of increasing organizational efficiency during business operations in a number of ways. At the outset, the time spent by the customer waiting to speak to a call center agent is directly translated to signify the company’s efficiency. In their study of Cases in Call Center Management, Feinberg, Richard et al. (2005) explain that waiting for a long period to speak to a call center agent gives the company a low core with regards to service delivery[9]. This is primarily based on the customers perception, as most customers believe that taking a short time to answer a customer’s call illustrates an organization’s ability to handle the customer call volume that it faces. However, organizations whose call centers are unable to respond to their customers within a short period are said to have low efficiency, as customers do not believe that such organizations are well equipped to respond to their needs effectively and efficiently.

 

Customer Focus

Call centers are also considered as the best tools for efficient service delivery because of their customer focus and emphasis on the ensuring customer satisfaction at all times. Call centers allow organizations to gain immediate response from their customers regarding the company’s products and services. Receiving a high number of calls from customers implies that the company is increasingly aggressive in relation to obtaining more customer input, thus the company’s ability to meet the needs of the customers. As Cusack (2000) explains, unlike other methods of customer interaction, call centers have been designed in such a way that ensures efficient communication between the customer and the organization[10]. This, in turn, allows the organization to improve their service delivery to the customers, hence increasing business operations.

 

Efficient Human Resources

The primary crossing point between the customers of the organization and the organization itself is the employees to the organization. Company employees provide the link between the customers and the organization because they are responsible for all company activities aimed at ensuring customer satisfaction. Specifically, the call center agent serves as the immediate contact between the customer and the organization, hence making human resources an important factor in call center management. As Cleveland (2006) explains, efficient human resource management especially in relation to call center operations, influences a company’s ability to deliver good quality services to their customers[11].  In essence, an organization’s human resource procedures and practices determine how well the call center successfully operates for the overall success of the organization.

Specifically, human resource practices related to call center operations encourages employees to work towards gaining more knowledge on the products and services offered by the organization. Sequentially, this allows company employees to gain the necessary empowerment to resolve the issues presented by customers effectively and efficiently. Effective and efficient human resource management for call centers is essential for assuring the success of call center operations in any organizations. Accordingly, the ability to develop and maintain service quality at the organizational level can only be ensured through the employment of well performing call center agents. This allows effective and efficient management of customer service hence achieving complete customer satisfaction. As Sharp (2003) explains, finding the right balance of employees in the organization drives sales in the organization, as well as, contributing to the assurance of customer loyalty for the organization[12].  For that reason, researchers have argued for the need for empowering call center agents so as to allow these agents to have the ability to make proper decision regarding how to resolve customers’ problems and queries. Studies in this subject  have also illustrated a link between employee performance and high involvement in call centers by employees.

Encouraging employees and empowering them to perform their duties in their respective call center stations build up and develop human capital in the organization.  However, as Woods (2005) explains, human resources activities related to call center operations have faced a number of problems, which in turn affect business operations in the organization[13]. These problems range from minor issues such as staff motivation to higher issues like work design. Fundamentally, research studies have identified four key areas in call centers that have faced a number of problems, thus affecting the activities in the call center management. These areas include work design, staffing and motivation, recruitment and training, as well as, performance management.

 

Work Design

With relation to work design, Luhby (1998) explains that poor planning of work in call centers is the number one cause of call center failure. Call center employees need to have their duties and responsibilities properly designed and planned so as to ensure that they carry put their duties as expected[14]. Specifically, maintaining a proper work design allows call center agents to perform their duties with accordance to ensuring maximum customer satisfaction at all times. Providing a well-defined work design for call center employees encourages these employees to fulfill their duties and responsibilities by empowering them towards their duties and responsibilities.  Proper work designs also provide call center employees with the information they require regarding company products and services, which in turn allows them to provide accurate information to customers during their enquiries. Without a proper work design, call center management will be a complete failure, which in turn affects the company’s overall business operations.

 

Staffing and Motivation

Staffing and motivation has also  been identified as one of the human resource components that may face problems with relation to call center management. As Woods further explains, the issue of staffing and motivation has troubled many organizations, and call centers have not been left out in this[15]. The nature of call center duties are in such a way that call center agents have limited mobility and physical activity. This, in turn, provokes possible boredom and monotony on the job, thus the need for motivating and encouraging call center agents to work as effectively and efficiently as possible.

As studies explain, the likelihood of call center agents to get de-motivated is higher than other employees especially because call center agents perform their duties on telephone. They have limited outside connections, and for that reason, managers and those in top level positions need to formulate policies and procedures that encourage these employees to perform their duties with minimal disruptions owing to monotony. Without proper staffing and motivation, the probability of call center management failing in its operations is high[16]. This is because call center employees will not be motivated to perform their duties and responsibilities accordingly. A lack of proper staffing and motivation in call centers also risks the possibility of losing customers as employees will not respond as effectively and efficiently to customer needs as expected.

 

Recruitment and Training

In their study, Measuring the bottom line impact of inbound call centers: a financial services Example, Goodman, J. et al.  (1995) explain that recruitment and training is another area of human resources that has been faced with various problems, especially in call center management[17]. Arguably, the characteristics and qualification of call center agents is much different from other employees in the organizations. Most employees in the organizations do not have direct contact with company clients, and for that reason, there are hired based on their qualifications, as opposed to, their characters and temperaments.  Call center agents, on their other hand, need to be of a specific temperament and characteristic as they have to deal with difficult customers at all times.

They also have to be pleasant enough to engage company customers, hence, ensuring customer satisfaction at all times. A company’s inability to conduct proper recruitment and training of call center agents risks the possibility of failure with issues regarding call center management. As Wegge et al. (2006) explain, improper recruitment and staffing directly affects customer satisfaction, as it affects the ways through which customers relate to the organization[18]. It also affects business sales, as customers are likely to be put off by unfriendly and unhelpful call center agents. For that reason, there is a need for those in management to ensure that their respective companies conduct proper recruitment and training for the success of call center management.

 

Performance Management

The last area of human resources that has been identified as having the possibility of having issues with relation to call center management is performance management. Performance management is an area of human resources that focuses on ensuring proper performance by employees in an organization. Specifically, this area of human resources emphasizes the need for having a balanced performance by employees in an organizations.

As Cleveland (2006) explains, all employees, especially in call centers, need to perform equally in their duties and responsibilities[19]. Employees need to perform their duties and responsibilities in accordance with the goals and targets of the organization if they are to ensure proper service delivery and customer satisfaction. For that reason, managers need to formulate policies and procedures which promote proper performance of call center agents. Companies that do not properly conduct performance management activities have been identified as the most likely to fail in their call center management functions. This is because such companies do not ensure consistency of performance in their organizations, which may result in customer dissatisfaction with the company’s service delivery.  This, in turn, forces such companies to lose their business as they will not be assured of customer loyalty due to dissatisfaction by customers.

As research explains various negative effects arise from a mismanagement of these areas in call centers, which result in overworking, stressing, as well as, worked out call center agents. Workers who are exposed to working environments that bring about psychological stress, resulting from the mismanagement of the above named areas of human resources are highly susceptible to failure in their service delivery. This is because such employees are more likely to suffer from emotional dissonance, thus failing in the proper application of their duties and responsibilities. As Dunlap and Volpe explain in their study, maintaining a healthy work environment for employees is crucial for the assurance of a successful call center management program. Failure to do this, also leads to a failure of the company in relation to the business operations and activities. Accordingly, the call center working environment should be maintained at healthy and satisfactory standards. This is because such an environment will assure the company of having highly motivated employees who will perform their duties accordingly with minimal disruptions. Without this, companies are highly likely to experience a high turnover of employees during to stress at work, and the inability to perform their duties as required for the attainment of organizational goals and objectives. Wegge et al. (2006) confirm this by explaining that maintaining a proper human resource balance is crucial for reducing the turnover of employees in organizations[20].

Further research illustrates that over management, in other words, tightly controlling and monitoring employee activities also contributes to the failure of call center management in relation to human resources. In their study, Holman et al. explain that proper call center management involves balanced monitoring and control of human resources, and a reduction of excessive control over human resource activities in all centers. They suggest various models and approaches that allows increased participation by call center agents, hence building a more positive work environment. This, sequentially, promotes an effective and efficient work environment thus improving business activities in call centers.

Bibliography

American Bankers Association. Call Centers: Moving Beyond Call Centers to Full Service

Delivery, Issue 5, 1995.

Butler, Lawrence David. Bottom-line call center management: creating a culture of

accountability and excellent customer service. New York: Elsevier Butterworth-Heinemann, 2004.

Cleveland B. Call Center Management on Fast Forward. New York:  ICMI Press, 2006.

Cusack M. Online Customer Care. New York: American Society for Quality (ASQ) Press, 2000.

Dorf, B.  Phone-to-phone marketing: telephone call centers are an underappreciated means to

that elusive grail of one-to-one marketing.  Brandweek, 38.33(1997):  25.

Doucet, L. Responsiveness: emotional and information dynamics in service interactions.

Working Paper, Department of Management, The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania Philadelphia, PA, 1998.

Dunlap, P. & Volpe, P.  Performance Support Systems, White Paper, RWD Technologies (10480

Little Patuxent Parkway, 1998.

Dunscombe, V., et al. Moving from basic call centers to world class call centers. Bank

Marketing, 28.2 (1996): 19-22.

Feinberg, Richard et al. Cases in call center management: great ideas that work. United

Kingdom: Purdue University Press, 2005.

Goodman, J. et al. Measuring the bottom line impact of inbound call centers: a financial services

example.  Working paper, TARP, 1997.

Hamblen, M. Bank call center system pays dividends. Computerworld. 31.45(1997): 55-56.

Luhby, T. Call centers failing to ring the bell, survey finds. American Banker, 163.1 (1998): 11.

Sharp Duane, E. Call Center operation: design, operation, and maintenance. USA: Digital Press,

Wegge, J., et al.  Work motivation, organizational identification, and well-being in call centre

work. Work & Stress, 20.1(2006): 60-83.

Woods, Rosa Gnabasik. Call center management: creating internal leadership bench strength

for the future. Denver: Regis University, Denver, Colo., 2005.

[1] Wegge, J., et al.  Work motivation, organizational identification, and well-being in call centre work. Work & Stress, 20.1(2006): 60-83.

 

[2] Butler, Lawrence David. Bottom-line call center management: creating a culture of accountability and excellent customer service. New York: Elsevier Butterworth-Heinemann, 2004.

 

[3] Cusack M. Online Customer Care. New York: American Society for Quality (ASQ) Press, 2000.

 

[4] Woods, Rosa Gnabasik. Call center management: creating internal leadership bench strength  for the future. Denver: Regis University, Denver, Colo., 2005.

 

[5] Dorf, B.  Phone-to-phone marketing: telephone call centers are an underappreciated means to that elusive grail of one-to-one marketing.  Brandweek, 38.33(1997):  25.

 

[6] Hamblen, M. Bank call center system pays dividends. Computerworld. 31.45(1997): 55-56.

 

[7] Dunscombe, V., et al. Moving from basic call centers to world class call centers. Bank Marketing, 28.2 (1996): 19-22.

 

[8] American Bankers Association. Call Centers: Moving Beyond Call Centers to Full Service Delivery, Issue 5, 1995.

 

[9] Feinberg, Richard et al. Cases in call center management: great ideas that work. United Kingdom: Purdue University Press, 2005.

 

[10] Cusack M. Online Customer Care. New York: American Society for Quality (ASQ) Press, 2000.

 

[11] Cleveland B. Call Center Management on Fast Forward. New York:  ICMI Press, 2006.

 

[12] Sharp Duane, E. Call Center operation: design, operation, and maintenance. USA: Digital Press, 2003.

 

[13] Woods, Rosa Gnabasik. Call center management: creating internal leadership bench strength for the future. Denver: Regis University, Denver, Colo., 2005.

 

[14] Luhby, T. Call centers failing to ring the bell, survey finds. American Banker, 163.1 (1998): 11.

 

[15] Woods, Rosa Gnabasik. Call center management: creating internal leadership bench strength for the future. Denver: Regis University, Denver, Colo., 2005.

 

[16] Wegge, J., et al.  Work motivation, organizational identification, and well-being in call centre work. Work & Stress, 20.1(2006): 60-83.

 

[17] Goodman, J. et al. Measuring the bottom line impact of inbound call centers: a financial services example.  Working paper, TARP, 1997.

 

[18] Wegge, J., et al.  Work motivation, organizational identification, and well-being in call centre work. Work & Stress, 20.1(2006): 60-83.

 

[19] Cleveland B. Call Center Management on Fast Forward. New York:  ICMI Press, 2006.

 

[20] Wegge, J., et al.  Work motivation, organizational identification, and well-being in call centre work. Work & Stress, 20.1(2006): 60-83.

 


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