We have been looking at issues around customer call centres, of which there are over 5,000 in the UK alone. It's clearly a challenge to balance cost with customer service, but there are also wider benefits to call centres that are probably not being realized in many places. Here are four feedback loops we found which apply to call centres large and small:
The first loop is a reinforcing loop that describes how workload can cause service quality to collapse.
Bad service quality decreases the number of problems that get resolved, resulting in more calls, thus increasing the team's workload. This will probably degrade service even further, setting off a vicious circle.
Note that like all reinforcing loops, this one can go in reverse. If service is good, it can increase the number of problems that get resolved, resulting in fewer calls, and thus reduced team workload. This allows a less-hurried team to provide even better service.
The second loop is about learning. It is a balancing loop, meaning that it will seek some kind of equlibrium, and resist efforts to break out of that equilibrium, unless something is changed outside of the loop itself.
Basically, the loop describes how lots of customer calls give you the opportunity to learn about customer problems with your product or service, or about latent customer needs. If you act upon this learning (and that's a big if), you can improve the quality of your product or service, which should result in fewer calls.
The third loop is about the effect of call centre service quality on attracting and retaining customers. It is also a balancing loop, that tends to stabilize at an equilibrium. This loop describes how resolving problems increases customer satisfaction, which ultimately increases the number of customers (through positive word-of-mouth, which helps attract new customers, and by causing fewer customers to defect). But more customers increases the workload in existing staff (unless new staff are recruited), reducing team effectiveness and the number of problems that get solved.
Finally, the fourth loop is a reinforcing loop about staff retention. It suggests that high workload increases staff turnover (decreased retention), hurting skill and experience. This reduces call centre effectiveness (since new people are still learning), increasing workload even more.
In conclusion, there are obviously trade-offs here, and interactions between the various feedback loops which we have not explored. In particular, we would love to model a joined-up version of these phenomena with a company, to help determine the most effective actions for getting the most out of the call centre, and an optimal cost.
Please tell us your views by leaving a comment below.