Call Centers: The Paradox of Call Reduction
August 9, 2017 by Bill Rosenthal

Cartoon call center people

In 2002, the California Coastal Records Project hosted thousands of aerial photographs of the California coastline. One of those photos included a view of the home of Barbra Streisand. Streisand sued to have the photo taken down. Before her lawsuit, the photo had been downloaded a total of six times, two of those by Streisand’s lawyers. The lawsuit, however, drew public attention to the existence of the image, and 420,000 people went to the site to view the photo. Publicizing information by trying to censor it was subsequently called the “Streisand Effect” by Techdirt.

Unintended consequences are not a new idea. The Wikipedia entry on unintended consequences describes dozens of examples besides the Streisand Effect. The prohibition of liquor in the 1920s, for example, led to the growth and consolidation of organized crime. American support for the Afghan Mujahideen contributed to the rise of the Taliban (and thus Al-Qaeda). The American South’s struggle with kudzu, Australian rabbit troubles, and a plague of cobras in Delhi, were all unintended consequences of initiatives designed to benefit people.

We all have our own stories of unintended consequences. They are particularly common, it seems, in technology rollouts. An organization decides to deploy a labor-saving technology, rolls it out, and discovers that it increases demand for support, or it eats up resources in unexpected ways. This is the theme in a recent article published by McKinsey & Company about the difficulties some organizations have had in trying to reduce call center activity by deploying technology. There is no shortage of such technologies, according to the article: “These technologies begin with websites, chat bots, and apps and extend to artificial-intelligence robots that simulate human conversations — redefining the way organizations interact with customers — as well as more tried-and-tested functionalities such as improved web, app, or self-service capabilities in interactive voice-response (IVR) systems.”

But, time and again, organizations that roll out new customer support systems find a spike in customer calls that doesn’t level off. The article, which is well worth your time reading if you have any interest in call centers, cites three ways to approach new customer support technologies that may reduce the effect of unintended consequences: 

  • Take a holistic, cross-functional view of the customer and his or her experience that transcends organizational silos.
  • Segment customers as you move them to digital channels and ensure that any new technology is seamlessly integrated.
  • Maintain a focus on core call-center operations; the importance of human interactions requires continued investment in frontline talent. 

The third suggests what I like to call “the paradox of call reduction.” Reducing support calls always requires an increase in customer service skills in the support center. This is because call-reduction initiatives rely on eliminating the commonplace and routine cases. When you eliminate those, what you’re left with are the uncommon, non-routine cases, which means your support people need higher skill levels, or — at the very least — greater support for their own work. 

If you want to cut the volume of calls to your call center, whether to reduce headcount or to change the nature of the customer experience, plan on doing some training because the people who remain in your call center will be dealing with the toughest support problems, and they will need to be masters of customer management. You can count on Communispond’s solution, Call Centers: Solving Customers’ Problems™, to help them achieve that mastery.