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How Swine Flu helped us Realize Our True Potential!!!

Tue, 25 Aug 2015

It was August 2009; I was working as a Six Sigma Professional in one of the leading US Gas Light Resources Organization. The contact centre was responsible for taking Customer Service Calls to initiate/disconnect gas connections and resolve maintenance, billing queries, etc. This centre was managed by Team Leads, Assistant Managers, Manager and a Senior Manager and was owned by a very able General Manager.

The Background:

As we typically observe in the US, customers start calling their Gas Light Resources centre, just before winter, to ensure they have active Gas connection. Thus, these centres experiencing sudden spike in call volumes every 6 months. They need additional staff to handle these volumes since they do not require keeping the same headcount throughout the year. Also, as per the defined Service Level Agreement (SLA) the centre has to maintain an agreed Service Level of 80% calls to be attended in 30 seconds of their arrival.

Winter was round the corner and as per this business model; the call centre management raised a requisition to hire 45 additional full-time employees. The HR team started hunting for talent in the market. Soon they realized that this season was dry and hunting talent was becoming a grave challenge!!!

Emergence of Swine Flu and its Impact

What Happened? Just a few days before raising the requisition, the news channels had reported an Outbreak of Swine Flu in Mexico. In less than two weeks, our region was worst hit with this epidemic. Hospitals were flooded with flu patients and everyone wore protection masks on streets and at homes.

Thus, no one turned up for job interviews.

Think about the following challenges we faced:

  • Call volumes were about to surge exponentially
  • Call centre staff was short by 45 employees
  • Stiff SLA of 80% calls to be answered in 30 seconds was due for failure
  • Possible penalty for business to the tune of $1 million – $1.5 million per month
  • Angry Customers leading to competitors success
  • Reputational loss

Both the teams (Operations and HR) started fighting and putting blame on one another. No one really focused on finding a solution.

Identifying the Real Root Cause

As I belonged to the Quality team, I was a neutral party to Operations and HR and was quietly observing the entire situation. I strongly believed that they were arguing over an uncontrollable situation. There was something more important and controllable to be focused on.

I analyzed the available data. Everything looked normal initially. Call volumes were showing an upward trend, there was not much variation between team performances, among others. It was when I drilled down below the Team-lead’s level, at the level of a Customer Service Rep, I found something unusual.

Average Handle Time showed a startling variation between individuals. I made a note of this and with the help of call audit team, monitored calls of those reps who had unusually lower AHT. To my surprise, these reps released calls while talking to their customer. This was unethical and was against the policy of the call centre. As a follow-up, I discussed the performance of these individuals with their respective team leads without letting them know about my findings. Another surprise hit when the team leads talked high about these individuals without knowing that they were involved into something unethical. The Manager was on long leave and the Sr. Manager was visiting Philippines due to work.

Releasing calls led to high call volumes.

A customer took long to get connected to a rep and if he got disconnected without resolution, he became more furious. He would call back with that fury and ask for a supervisor. Reaching a supervisor took more time. Additionally, the rep had to wait with the customer to reach to the supervisor. This was a vicious circle and the process was completely entangled in it.

Implementing Solutions

The analysis and findings got over in about 3-4 hours. It was 3:30 a.m. in the morning and we only had the General Manager on shift amongst the senior management. I reached his office and told him, “Your process is hollow from inside. There are rampant integrity issues on the floor and no one is monitoring. Your team-leads are gods in the process and they don’t know what is happening beneath their nose. The quality audit team is auditing calls without guidelines. I strongly believe that we will be able to meet the Service levels with the available staff if these issues are mitigated. I can show you the math.”

I saw a raging volcano emerge when the he heard me talk about his process. He believed me as I always spoke with data. He said, “Give me the list of all those individuals and I’ll see how this process does not meet the Service Level.”

The next day, I see a General Manager changing roles and becoming an Operations Manager. In minutes, he got all the guilty reps terminated. All the supervisors were issued a warning letter. The Manager of the process was reprimanded. There was absolute discipline on the floor and guess what!!! The process started meeting the Service Levels without any additional headcount throughout the season. This was not all, we also earned bonus for performing beyond expectations.

This incidence of Swine Flu makes us realize following key factors on professional or personal front:

  • Identification of root cause is extremely crucial
  • Fights over uncontrollable factors or playing blame game is waste of time
  • Discipline is needed in anything we do
  • Don’t speak until you have your facts validated
  • Lastly, our true potential is far from our imagination... Explore, explore and explore!!!

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