Posted 2010-02-02 00:00 under simulation, customer service
Following from our earlier conceptual systems thinking diagram, here is a simple working simulation model of a company with a call centre, that takes into account various interrelated factors such as call centre volume, staff retention, customer turnover, and staffing costs. This model runs in your web browser, so you can see how changing the numbers affects the bottom line.
This dashboard contains a simple but working simulation model of a company with a call centre. The model is conceptual and illustrative, and not based on real numbers yet, but could form the starting skeleton for a project to explore the economics of a service-based organization and optimise its contact centre strategy.
You can change the key model assumptions (numbers on yellow background) by either clicking on the + or - buttons (which increase or decrease a value by 10%), or by clicking on the yellow field and then typing a new number into the input box that pops up. As you make a change, the model is immediately resimulated for 2 years (about 96 weeks), and all 8 graphs are updated.
Explaining the Model
Workload is at the core of the model, and represents the number of hours per day of workload per call center employee. It starts off at about 8, but can be changed by other factors, including staffing levels (more staff means less workload per employee, other things equal) and demand (more customers or longer calls both increase workload).
Service quality and Customers reflect the fact that high workload often impairs service quality, which encourages customers to go elsewhere. While this addresses the workload problem, it is hardly the effect you want.
Staff and Leaving represent the relationship between staffing levels and workload (more staff makes for less workload per person, and vice versa), but also the fact that sustained high workload will drive staff to leave over time, making the problem worse.
Finally, Sales per customer, Salary expense and Profit reflect the economic impact on the organization as a whole. Customers drive sales, so losing customers hurts profits, and staffing levels drive costs, which come out of profit. The challenge is seeing the balance between staff and sales, which is sometimes difficult without looking at the system as a whole.
The model, simple as it is, illustrates some interesting and very real behaviour when you start to play around with it:
- If workload gets out of control, the problem will initially get worse than you would expect, due to reinforcing feedback: staff get fed up and leave, exacerbating the problem. This is likely to cause a crisis in the contact centre, pressuring contact centre managers to hire more staff (not necessarily the optimal response for the organization as a whole)
- In the longer run, however, the staffing/workload problem corrects itself, as customers get fed up and leave due to bad service, thus reducing demand. From the call centre manager's point of view, this looks like a good thing (the workload graph goes down, and people leaving stabalizes). From the organization's point of view, this is not so good (number of customers goes down, and so does profit).
- So initiatives that seem sensible may in fact be destructive when viewed from a whole-system perspective. For example, spending longer with customers in the interest of improving customer service can actually worsen it. And trying to get more out of your call centre staff by giving them a few more calls can actually make hammer productivity by tipping the balance when more of them start to leave.
The problematic behaviour in this model stems in part from the fact that the pressures on the call centre are not the same as the pressures on the organization as a whole. For example, workload becomes more manageable as customers leave.
So one implication of this is to restore feedback between the call centre and the company as a whole, by providing visibility of company profit, and maybe tying incentives to this.
Another implication is that reducing demand is good, if it can be done without hurting profits. This is at the centre of lean service approaches, in which unwanted ("restorative") contact-centre demand can be reduced by other parts of the organization, in the form of simpler or more reliable products.