As call centre working practices are called into question, Megan Peppin looks at managing this growth area
It is 2001 - yet how can some organisations treat their employees with no feelings or intelligence? The TUC telephone hotline set up to highlight bad working practices in call centres received 600 calls in two weeks. Military-like measures are put in place by some employers to manage sickness, attendance and almost minute-by-minute productivity monitoring (News, 27 February). In my experience from managing call centres in the past, some of these examples are real.
It seems that managers in big organisations often think call centres ought to be managed differently from other areas of business. But I would argue that good management practice is good management practice in whatever environment people work and that call centres do not need to be treated uniquely.
The problem often starts with call centre managers and how they are targeted. Often managers have set targets to achieve service levels that are not necessarily a relevant measure of success and may not be within the control of that manager.
When this happens, the manager's energies become deflected into a numbers game, counting hours and minutes worked and calls per person without considering the efficacy of the measures and activity. "Bums on seats" becomes the primary task with an alarming focus on productivity management. As the cycle continues, sickness increases, retention plummets and what management could be available to spend with individuals is then concentrated on absence management, recruitment and basic training. Clearly, this leaves no time for any targeted, quality training initiatives that could grow the business.
First-line managers in call centres are often recruited from the team because of qualities such as individual capability and maturity. This does not always lead to effective managers if they are not committed to developing their people and business.
How do we evaluate their readiness and real commitment to management, a role that requires emotional maturity and commitment more than intimate job knowledge or systems knowledge? Add inexperienced and poorly trained first line manage