Rules for Achieving Production Goals

Knowledge Check!Some may scoff, others may scowl, but I will tell you an open secret, if you are not quality first, production goals will never be achieved.  Sure, a company may hit a target now and then, of course a quarterly statement might come in on target, but reliable production cannot be achieved without quality focus and the following rules.

With more than 20 years’ experience in manufacturing, supply chains, logistics, call centers, and much more, the following production rules are at least a moment of your time for reading and two moments for consideration.  Yes, there are a lot of people who will claim they have the path to success mapped and if you follow it, you to can achieve success.  I am not one of them!  I have tried and true lessons, I have common sense approaches, and I offer freely information that when combined with your knowledge, and the people you have working for you, solutions can be generated to achieve success.

  1. Quality is everyone’s job! – Tell me; whose job is it to pick up trash in the parking lot? How much litter is in your parking lot, trapped against the fence, collecting around the dumpsters, and crowding the floors of your facility inside and out?
    • A colleague states the following:
      • I can tell you within five seconds after arriving the quality mindset of the facility I am visiting, by looking at the parking lot.”
    • My colleague is correct; every facility I have visited that has had a clean parking lot, where employees and managers are picking up after themselves, has a quality culture worth emulation. Unfortunately, the reverse is also true!
    • What does your parking lot look like?
  2. Never take your customer, employee, shareholder, vendor, etc., where YOUR brain has not traveled first! – I sat in a meeting where the leader openly admitted, after telling the new strategic focus, goals, and mission plan, when answering questions about this plan regarding implementation, stated, “I haven’t thought that far ahead.” That company is bankrupt.  Not because they did not have good products, customers willing to buy, or great service, but because the leadership took the business places they had not personally already traveled in their minds.
    • How can you expect any goal to be achieved if you cannot answer implementation questions?
    • How can people follow if you do not know where you are headed?
    • Where are you going and has your brain already traveled there?
  3. Data will be misinterpreted if specific explanations are not included! – New manager, fresh from school, knew all the lingo, had all the buzzwords memorized, was handed a sheet of data, and failed to comprehend what the data meant. Worse, he led others into ruin by misinterpreting data.  If data is not explained, if the why behind data is not clearly understood, if the data story is incomplete, the data is useless, meaningless, and valueless!
    • What is your data story?
    • How do you train others in your data story?
    • Can other people explain the why behind the data, or do they have to come to you for that explanation?
  4. When in doubt, trust your people! – Time does not allow me to relate even a tenth of the stories where the people have proven the data wrong, have gone above and beyond expectations, and achieved miracles. Yet too often the people are the first ones cut in a crisis.
    • Juran’s Rule – When something is going wrong, 90% of the time it is the process, not the people. Yet, how many times are the people blamed for bad processes?
    • Appreciative Inquiry – The theory that states that when you have a problem, the people already in the positions doing the job, hold the answers needed to fixing the problems. Yet, how many times are the people the first one’s lost in crisis?
  5. Data lies; humans live! – Recently the data stated that the problem in a facility was in a specific area. The specific area was encouraged to perform better.  The management thought, “Problem solved.”  Production goals were missed, more counseling to this specific area, more encouragement to achieve, more focused spending to target pain points.  Still missed production goals.  Nobody looked beyond what the data said was the problem, and the data was suffering from a pretty severe case of GIGO (Garbage In = Garbage Out).  There was no production goal problem in the area specified, the problem was on the other side of the plant, and because of the investment in the wrong area, it took longer and more resources to fix the proper area.
    • When data is purported to have “concluded” anything, first give it a reality check!
    • Data is only as good as the inputs.
    • Humans live in the real world, whereas data lives in an altered reality that mimics (rarely) the real world.
    • Never forget, data lies. Data can, at best, only support a decision direction.  Data cannot conclude, prove, or justify anything.
  6. The Rule of 6-P’s – The Rule of 6-P’s is known in various forms and words, but the sentiment is always the same, “Proper, Prior, Planning, Prevents, Purely, Poor, Performance.” Yet, how often is planning done without proper prior activities?  How often is poor performance blamed on everything but poor prior planning?
    • Do you know what proper prior planning looks like as an activity?
    • What is involved in prior planning, and how do you tell the difference between proper and improper prior planning?
    • Who is involved in prior planning and why are they there?
  7. Celebrate small achievements! – Here is another open secret, rarely implemented, always discounted, but remains the single most powerful tool in a leader’s toolbox, praise! That’s it.  Praise is better than cash gifts for the brain, research and fMRI imagery support this conclusion.  The research is fascinating.  Yet, honest, regular, sincere praise continues to be the most overlooked aspect of leadership in business today!
    • Praise is celebrating achievement with someone else.
    • Celebrating success is imperative to moral, discipline, and enthusiasm in the workplace.
    • When was the last time you showed genuine praise for your people? When was the last tangible “Thank you” witnessed?  Who witnessed that gratitude, praise, and celebration?
    • Mark Twain is quoted as saying, “I can live for two months on a good compliment.” Issue praise!  Celebrate all achievements, but most of all celebrate the small achievements.
  8. Success is a choice, but you need everyone making this choice! – Find me a successful team where one team member is not fully and wholly committed to achieving success, and I will show you a team that missed achieving the highest success. Production goals are the exact same thing, if everyone on the team does not know the goal, know the why, and are committed to achieving the production goal, that goal will be missed!
    • How do you find the person not interested in achieving the production goal; who is dropping trash and not picking it up?
    • What do you do when the person is identified; that depends, are you a learning organization or a money pit? If a money pit, that person is fired.  If a learning organization, then it is time to ask questions, discover reasons, and explore options.
    • How do you choose to lead, carrot or stick?
  9. Success is designed; who is drawing the lines? – One of the most egregious problems in today’s world is the delegation of authority to those not worthy or capable. On a consultation the boss had delegated his role to an author of a book.  Every question asked of the leader, he grabbed this author’s book and looked for an answer.  The book is a good resource, but the lack of application to direct business problems was not the author’s intent and was beyond the authors ability.
    • Who is drawing the lines designing what success looks like?
    • Why?
  10. The Pyramid Analogy – Use it, Live it, Love it!

The Pyramid Analogy

Consider the triangle from geometry, there are six different classifications, all of which demonstrate production goal attainment, but only the equilateral triangle makes up the pyramid, and only the equilateral triangle can report success in production goal attainment.

Right Triangles:

Right triangle - WikipediaA right triangle has one 90° angle.

The Acute:

Acute triangle | Acute angled triangle
The Acute Triangle has three acute angles (an acute angle measure less than 90°).

The Obtuse:

Obtuse Angled Triangle | Formula and Properties | Solved Examples & Practice Questions
The Obtuse Triangle has an obtuse angle (an obtuse angle is more than 90°).  Since the total degrees in any triangle is 180°, an obtuse triangle can only have one angle that measures more than 90°.

The Isosceles:

Properties of Isosceles Triangle - Definition & Solved Examples
The Isosceles triangle has two equal sides and two equal angles.

The Scalene:

Scalene Triangle (Definition, Area, Perimeter & Examples)
The Scalene Triangle has no congruent sides. In other words, each side must have a different length.

The Equilateral:

Properties of Equilateral Triangles | Brilliant Math & Science Wiki
The Equilateral triangle has three congruent sides and three congruent angles.  Each angle is 60°.

The Pyramid is an interesting shape, it is self-replicating from a single equilateral triangle.  The pyramid is a five-sided object that represents one of the strongest shapes in the galaxy, with integrity to flex without breaking and being destroyed.  Did you know that if you drew straight lines inside the equilateral triangle, and bent the triangle along those lines, a pyramid would take shape?

Volume of a Pyramid - Assignment PointConsider the production environment and the variables generally fall into three categories, inbound, or products needed to make something for a customer; outbound, the product shipped to a customer; quality, the need to ensure the product is acceptable for the customer.

Using a right triangle, if outbound is the 90-degree angle, your quality is way out of reach, and inbound inputs and outbound deliveries are not being properly reviewed by quality.  Thus, the production environment cannot function to its fullest potential, because all three, inbound, outbound, and quality, are not working equally together.

Bobblehead DollTake any other triangle and the story is exactly the same.  When the inbound and the outbound are not equally bound to quality, and quality is not equally bound to inbound and outbound, resources are not properly shared, time is wasted, and production goals will never be met!  Arrange the variables anyway you prefer, and if the pattern is not an equilateral pattern, there is a problem in the production environment and production goals will be missed, opportunities, lost, and money follows potential right out the door.

Follow the rules and watch production meet goals almost by magic.  Fail to follow the rules and production will continue to struggle.  Production goals are effort incarnate, humans pump efforts in, looking for results.  The goals are statistical symbols reporting success, failure, and percentages of improvement towards goals.  At then end of the day, the human element is the only variable worthy of consideration in meeting production goals, and quality is the badge of honor in human efforts.  Thus, quality is the tool that promotes production goal attainment.

© 2021 M. Dave Salisbury
All Rights Reserved
The images used herein were obtained in the public domain; this author holds no copyright to the images displayed.

Why Should Your Customers Remain Customers?

Bobblehead DollMy wife is mad at me; I was relating an email survey experience where a financial institution had sent me a customer service survey.  I described the truth, I have no reason to remain a customer and feel less than enthused at remaining a customer.  My wife fearing I had been insulting, derogatory, or denigrating, got mad at me.  I explained my position and how I had answered the rote questions, and she is still not happy.  But, her position and my position bring up an interesting point, centered around the following question, “Why should a customer remain a customer?”

Use My Name!

Daily I receive programmed emails from multiple companies.  Do you know how I pick the ones I want to do business with?  They know my preferred name and use it!  What an incredible concept; since the early 1990s, we have had the technology to put in names, create mailing lists, and use people’s preferred names, and businesses still struggle with this concept.  Why?

LookI have several titles, want my business, know and use my titles.  Pick one, and use it!  How can a company claim they “know their customers” when that company cannot use the customer’s preferred name or title in addressing that customer?  I have worked hard to earn a Ph.D.; I do not expect everyone to call me “Dr.,” but it sure as anything beats being called “mister” all the bloody time.  Worse, I still hold several ranks and positions that come with titles. I could be addressed using them, but even with a preferred name on many company customer profiles, I get that lazy customer service representative that calls me Mr. Salisbury!  Guess what company I am going to ditch at the first opportunity?Shhh----Don--t-Say-A-Thing--Just-Listen--Don--t-Talk.jpg (500×273) | The beauty and danger of ...

On the topic of names, if I say, “everyone calls me Dave,” and you continue to call me “Michael,” “Mike,” or “Mr. Salisbury,” you are either not listening, or your company has the worst policies for addressing customers.  Guess what company I will end my business relationship with post-haste?  I have given permission to use a preferred name, use my name.  Listen to me!

Listen!

Job Interview Cartoons ~ Silly BuntActive listening can be faked!  Customer service agents, I know active listening can be manufactured, I have been a customer service agent, I know your stress, I know your job, and I know your problems.  Thus, to your bosses, I appeal; stop the active listening drama!  If you are not stressing reflective listening to your employees, where they and the customer reach a mutual understanding, you are not doing your job leading customer relations!

My wife claims that conclusion is “Too harsh.”  I disagree vociferously.  Here’s why!  Remember how I just related how I had informed customer service agents, “everyone calls me Dave,” and the agent continued to call me everything but my preferred name.  Failure to listen remains the number one customer complaint for a reason; the agents are not listening to reach a mutual understanding.  Too often, they are not even attempting to listen actively but are listening to respond, responding to the voices in their heads and not the customer!Joke of the Day | Joke of the day, Funny quotes, Single words

Do you want better customer survey responses; try listening, then acting, then listening again.  Not speaking; listening, acting, listening, acting; it’s a pattern worth doing!  Yet, too often, what is the pattern found, maybe listening, speaking, maybe listening, token action, maybe listening, half-hearted action.  Wait for the customer to become frustrated and go away.  Guess which company I am going to be ending my business relationship with quickly?

Respond!

AP 20.96 Short-Answer Questions (SAQ) - Bello's Reference Page - Use GOOGLE CLASSROOM for all ...I have four companies who I have informed (several times) I no longer can do business with them.  They continue to send me emails asking for my business for old properties and cars I no longer possess.  Listening is but half the answer; you must also respond with definitive action.  How many times does a customer have to relate to your business they have moved?  I did business with a windshield repair company in Phoenix, AZ.  Good company, good service, but for the next three years, I received calls from them monthly, and I had moved out of their service area.  They were told this month after month, I was promised month after month this was the final call, and month after month, I received another call.  Guess whose recommendation I deleted online?

People ProcessesBusiness processes matter; honoring your word matters, displaying trust, integrity, and fulfilling a promise made all matters in the customer relationship long before the product or service is discussed.  Yet, how often are these issues on shaky ground, before the ink is dry on the service contract or the receipt for goods?  I have a cell phone provider I detest; I long for the day I can finally walk free of this provider and never look back.  Because their customer attention is deplorable, I feel used and abused every time I interact with this company.  I have the same problem with my current Internet provider.  When your customer service is so deplorable, you have to climb to become terrible; there is a problem that colors, signage, marketing, and gimmicks cannot fix!

Why Would I gladly Pay a Higher Price; Service!

Skillet Mac and Cheese with Crispy Breadcrumbs Recipe - Southern LivingI was in the supermarket, my wife asked for a treat.  To her, a treat is a bowl of deli mac & cheese, potato salad, or a bag of potato chips.  As I was in the deli and they had her mac & cheese, I bought mac & cheese.  My wife was shocked, I paid, what to her was an exorbitant price for the mac & cheese, but I was glad to pay the price.  The counter worker wrapped the mac & cheese package in plastic wrap to protect it from spilling, was pleasant, remembered me from a previous visit, and made my day.  The service was well worth the extra cost.

I kept going back to this store, making purchases long after this deli person was transferred to another store closer to their home because the service level did not go down.  Thus, I remained satisfied to pay extra for the service I received.  Walking on a cane, with labored breathing, and having a service representative walk with me, not ahead of me, so I feel like I have to race, is a significant service I would gladly pay more for.  I felt respected and remembered from visit to visit, even if I was sporadic in visiting for over a month.2mm to Sales Mastery | Customer Obsession: Creating "Wow" Moments That Leave a Lasting Impression

Long before the product or service costs are discussed is the customer experience.  If the customer experience fails, you can have the coolest products and the best access to services and fail because you forget the customer experience!  Getting back to the financial survey I just completed, it was full of Likert-style scale questions.  If your company employs a Likert question on a survey, you need a follow-up self-directed qualitative question to explain directly after.

Likert-Style Surveys

Likert-style questions are a quantitative researcher’s bread and butter, showing the relationships between agreement and disagreement on a broad scale.  Generally, on a scale of 1-10, these questions and scales have come to be represented by emojis, colors, statements, and more as technology has advanced.Top 10 Likert Scale Examples for your next survey! | QuestionPro

I completed 15 Likert-styled questions before I was asked why I rated the company as “Neither liked or disliked, neither favorable nor unfavorable.”  Okay, so quantitative data is easier and less expensive to collect, collate, and report.  But, if your customer survey is only collecting qualitative or quantitative data, you are only collecting half the story and none of the customer experiences!  However, you cannot simply ask ½ the questions qualitative and ½ the questions quantitative and expect anything but GIGO.  Careful planning is key to customer survey results worth your time and the customers time!Likert scale questions, survey and examples | QuestionPro

A customer satisfaction survey should first be an instrument of dedicated action!  Where your best and brightest in customer relations work to analyze, report, and propose efforts to satisfy the customers.  They investigate survey findings.  They respond to survey questions and concerns, address real people, and produce tangible results.eCommerce Customer Surveys | An Ultimate Guide 2021

A customer satisfaction survey is not the time, nor the place, for cute emojis and colorful pictures depicting customer attitudes.  Can the customer survey be more than black and white; naturally.  Remember that the customer survey is not where you go to flash and spin; this is where the customer goes, tells the truth, and expects action, not to be played with.  If the customer takes the time to complete a survey, there is a reason, find the cause, know the customer, and win.

Knowledge Check!These are but three basics, fundamental points at the start of the customer relations journey.  If you cannot get these three points right, the rest of the trip will be short, painful, and not fulfilling for you or your customers.  Worse, the experiences will be remembered, and people have this nasty habit of not forgetting bad experiences.  Why do the majority of people despise the DMV; because the majority of customers have experienced the most frustrating issues of their professional lives at the hands of the DMV agents.  Governments abuse their customers, which is as bad as customer interactions get, and everyone feels betrayed when the government and bureaucrats use them.

You are in the private sector; you have competition; your first question daily should be, “Why should my customers remain, my customers?”  When you answer this question, your customers will hear the answer loud and clear!

© 2021 M. Dave Salisbury
All Rights Reserved
The images used herein were obtained in the public domain; this author holds no copyright to the images displayed.

The Role of a Call Center Trainer: A Qualitative Descriptive Study

Bobblehead DollI want to express my deepest gratitude to Call Centre Helper Magazine for the opportunity to advertise for my dissertation research.  I once asked a call center leader what a trainer does; their answer still makes me chuckle.

A trainer trains!

Kind of obvious, right.  Now, what does a trainer train?  How does a trainer train?  How does a business leader know the trainer has been successful in training?  What is the purpose of training?  What does training do for those trained?  These questions and the business leaders’ comment have inspired my professional and academic footsteps for several years now.Call Center 2

In early July 2021, I finally received permission to begin human testing for my dissertation.  I have posted several advertisements on social media for call center workers, trainers, and senior leaders to entice 17 people willing to answer some questions about training in call centers, a call center trainer, and what precisely a call center trainer does.  The following is a brief description of the aims and intents of my research to increase interest and hopefully glean the needed participants to finish my study.

Consider for a moment a teacher who has influenced you professionally or personally, and why did they make such an impact?  Could a different person have made the same impact?  Why?

The above questions are the crux of my research; to date, the role of the instructor has not been considered a variable in corporate training.  As an adult educator, I find this gap very alarming.  In academia, the teacher’s role has been extensively studied, and opinions abound regarding the role of the teacher.  Yet, in a professional setting, no researcher has addressed this gap to date.  With the push to move all training to computer-based solutions in autonomous environments, if the trainer does not teach corporate knowledge and behaviors, who does?

Call Center BeansIn researching the history of professional training, the model employed has not changed since a master taught journeyman who led novice instruction.  Yet, with technology, global populations, cultures, language, and globe-spanning organizations, the role of the trainer seems to continue to take a back seat.  Yet, if a corporate trainer profoundly influenced you professionally, would you not want that experience for another person?

Due to the restrictions on human testing in research, I cannot change the dry legalese of the advertisements.  I know they are long, tedious, and challenging to get through.  However, if you are interested, please get in touch with me directly using:

Msalisbury1@my.gcu.edu

Please note, to participate, you will need the following:

      • Work in an English Speaking Call Center with a home base in the United States.
      • Have a LinkedIn account (This is for verification of professional qualifications only).
      • Speak English like a native.
      • Be willing to answer demographic questions, including time in the current role, education, and so forth.
      • Be willing to elaborate upon your answers. I will ask you some questions about your experiences; please provide details, depth, and descriptions as your answer.

Knowledge Check!Important to note, your name and business will never be mentioned in my dissertation!  I am not collecting any personal data beyond education and years of experience.  Any direct quotes employed will carry no connecting data, and no one will see your details.

Thank you for considering joining me in my dissertation research.  I look forward to publishing this research and discussing the findings with you in later articles.

© 2021 M. Dave Salisbury
All Rights Reserved
The images used herein were obtained in the public domain; this author holds no copyright to the images displayed.

 

Call Center Senior Trainers – Focus Group

Date: 19 July 2021

Andragogy - The PuzzleI am a doctoral candidate under the direction of Professor Dr. Susan Miedzianowski in the College of Doctoral Studies at Grand Canyon University. My name is Michael D. “Dave” Salisbury. I am conducting a research study to explore the trainer’s specific influence on employees’ development in an English-speaking call center based on a clear understanding of the trainer’s role.

You can participate if you can answer “Yes” to all of the following questions.

      • Do you speak English?
      • Do you live and work in the United States?
      • Are you employed in an English-speaking call center?
      • Do you have an updated LinkedIn.com profile (for verification purposes only)?
      • Are you willing to answer demographic questions about your age, level of education, years of experience in the call center industry, years in your current call center, and your current job title?
      • Are you an adult over the age of 18?
      • Do you have a trainer/senior trainer title, or are you expected to train or supervise call center trainers in your current role?
      • Do you have more than six years in the call center industry?
      • Are you willing to be audio recorded using ZOOM online software?

If you answer “No,” to any of these questions, you cannot participate in the focus group. I will verify your eligibility via your LinkedIn.com Profile before the focus group meets.

The activities for this research project will include:

If you are eligible to be in this focus group, you will be asked to:

      • What:
        • Meet with other similarly qualified professionals via Zoom, approximately 90 minutes, video and audio recorded.
        • Answer the demographic questions honestly.
        • Answer a series of questions regarding how a call center trainer has influenced you. As well as what you think a call center trainer does.
        • Review a job description of the call center trainer’s role.
        • Review data collected during interviews for completeness.
      • When: On the date and time discussed via email.
      • Where:com online meeting.
      • How: Using your home computer or Internet-capable device, connecting with Zoom.com.

Your participation in this study is voluntary.

An alias will protect all data in this study during the recording of the actual interview and in the documents by using an alpha-numeric code to tie your email address and hide any potential method to track your responses back to you.  All information reported in the dissertation will be in a collated format so individual data cannot be tracked to any single participant.

If you are interested in participating in this study, please contact:
M. Dave Salisbury
(435-219-5414)
msalisbury1@my.gcu.edu

Thank you!

NO MORE BS: Government Customer Service

Duty 3As a subject matter expert on customer service, as a professional customer service provider, and as a concerned American, I have to state for the record, the government’s abuse of the taxpaying customer is beyond atrocious, ridiculous, and craven!  I am sick to death of being treated like cat vomit; when I seek customer support from the government, I pay such incredible sums to fund.  Worse, I am fed up with the bureaucratic mindset that places the customer in the wrong, the customer as a pain, and the customer as a nuisance to be endured instead of assisted professionally.

ProblemsMy local Post Office here in Phoenix was visited yesterday (03 March 2021).  The Post Office does not deliver packages to the apartment complex we live in, so the standard procedure is for the USPS delivery person (mailman) to place a card notifying the customer of a package on a 10-day hold in the customer’s mailbox.  Since we moved in, we have not gotten these indicators, and Monday, my wife was notified a package she needs was returned by USPS.  It was delivered Monday to the Post Office and returned to sender as “customer refused delivery” the same day.

I went to the Post Office seeking answers.  The counter-working postal representative was the epitome of rude, obnoxious, and downright unfriendly.  It took more than an hour for a supervisor to arrive, and upon discussing the problem, I was told, “Lots of your neighbors have been complaining about this issue.”  Are you kidding me?!?!?!  You have two 500+ Apartment complexes across the street from each other, multiple people from both complexes are complaining about package delivery failures, and with a smile, you can tell me this is a known issue.

Theres moreAsk yourself the following question, if you had upwards of 100 customers complaining about your work, how long would you remain employed?  Frankly, I am still stunned 24+ hours after the interaction with this supervisor.  My visit was the sixth time I had been to the Post Office complaining about not getting package notifications and having trouble with packages sitting around the post office taking up space.  One of these visits included speaking to the Post Office’s head, general, whatever, the top person in charge of a local post office is titled.  Still, the employee has maintained their job, kept the same route, and the customers continue to be abused.

After I wrote a formal complaint, I was assured that action would be taken, and the employee talked to about this oversight in their duties.  Seriously, that was exactly what the supervisor said, “the employee will be talked to.”  I understand the human resources processes, understand and have designed human resource processes, and possess a Doctor of Psychology title specializing in industrial and organizational psychology.  But, I do not know how 100+ complaints can arrive at the post office weekly, and the same mailman is only on their verbal reprimand for failure to perform their duties.  We have been complaining about this issue for a year now, and in speaking with several neighbors, they have been complaining for longer than a year about this failure.  I have some doubts that this issue will be resolved, ever!

Detective 4But hey, the Post Office is only one of the government agencies exhibiting a race to the bottom where customer abuse and customer disservice are concerned.  The Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), a state-run agency, is always in this race, and they take hostile customer service to new heights, or depths, depending upon how you look at their performance.  The last visit to the DMV ended with screaming for several minutes in my car before possessing the proper mindset to drive away safely.  The DMV is comparable to a dentist drilling before anesthesia starts and doing a poor job on an infected tooth; you just know you will have a bad day when a visit to the DMV is scheduled!

Yet, in discussing the race to the bottom, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is also a constant competitor in asinine customer service practices, customer abuse, and inept inertia.  I do not think the VA could even get bureaucratic inertia correct if someone had not taught them how.  The Department of Veterans Affairs – Office of Inspector General (VA-OIG) investigated a surgical supply program for abuses and found:

VA controls were not sufficient to ensure VA medical facility staff accurately reviewed, verified, or certified distribution fee invoices for the program. VA also did not ensure staff at medical facilities accurately established and applied the on-site representative rates and paid fees based on annual facility purchases. The pricing schedule establishes fee rates for on-site representatives based on annual facility purchase amounts.”

The amount of money involved is staggering ($4.6 Billion). The fact that the VA cannot correctly oversee a supply program, check invoices, monitor stock levels, and pay invoices properly does not bode well for integrity in customer service.

LinkedIn VA ImageThe VA is to be congratulated, the colonoscope, which is used on multiple patients for a colonoscopy, is being cleaned properly and to standard, which means that infections from one patient are less likely to occur in another patient transferred from the colonoscope.  However, the training program, certification program, and training documentation remain under considerable scrutiny for continual failure, as discovered by a VA-OIG investigation of 10 different clinics!  Training, certification of training, and documenting and tracking training are internal customer service actions that the entire VA continues to fail.  Whoever is in charge of adult education and training at the VA is not performing their jobs, and this is witnessed every couple of weeks in the VA-OIG investigation results across the entire VA.  Designed incompetence leading to customer service failures, absolutely ridiculous!

I-CareThe VA-OIG conducted a lengthy investigation at the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) Chicago VA Regional Benefits office in Illinois.

The OIG found claims processors did not properly correct administrative errors in 88 percent of cases reviewed. Errors resulted in improper underpayments of about $59,100 to six veterans, improper overpayments of $18,900 to two veterans, and $5,900 in debts VA had inappropriately collected from eight veterans through January 2020.”

Revisiting the Post Office example above, if you had an 88% error rate in your job, how long would you expect to keep your job?  Training and certification of claims processing personnel remains a failure of internal customer service and is mentioned in every VBA investigation by the VA-OIG.  As a point of fact, the failures of training and training certification were recently cited as a significant deficiency, where in 2018, no certification and training occurred due to internal technical problems with the intranet.  Yet, even with all this evidence that training is failing, certification is not occurring, and claims processors continue to abuse veterans through clerical, system, procedural, and process errors on claims, they maintain their positions.  Cited in this latest VBA investigation was the claims processors’ continual failure to communicate with the veteran.

Boris & NatashaConsider the following analogy.  A 100% disabled veteran gets paid once a month and budgets those monies very carefully to last the entire month.  A claims decision is made, and without any communication for why, the amount the veteran is expecting to live is cut in half.  The veteran is then responsible for wading through the various call centers to find why, how the decisions were made, and what to do, which takes time, lots, and lots of time on the phone.  While bills go unpaid, food goes unpurchased, financial difficulties mount, and correcting the situation takes more time.  Sure, the VA will pay back pay, but that is never sufficient to cover all the accruing costs and losses experienced.

Hostile customer service by the government is the most inexcusable example of customer disservice imaginable.  Why; because there is no competitor to move your business.  There are no pathways for holding customer service representatives accountable when even talking to a supervisor is not worth the time and effort.  I spent four hours on the phone chasing a claims processing error; at one point, I finally got so mad I demanded a supervisor.  I waited on hold for just under 120-minutes for the supervisor, who said had I worked better with the agent, I would not have had to wait, and the problem could have been resolved, as their opening statement!

Survived the VABy this time, I had worked with four separate agents who were confused or refused the call by hanging up.  I had been sworn at, I had been told I was a liar, and I was told my office could not handle your request.  Each call required anywhere between 30 and 50 minutes of hold time waiting for an agent.  As the supervisor reviewed the problem, they discovered that their agents could not have handled the situation, and a specialist was required.  But, I never got an apology from the supervisor for the waste of my time, the issues experienced with previous agents, nor the loss of my time and resources it took to handle the problem.

Gadsden FlagGovernment employees beware; how you treat customers is a problem, and you need to be held to task for your insolence, depravity, ineptitude, inertia, and uncaring attitudes!  When discussing the BS of government, the customer service issue is the most egregious.  I will call you out publicly every time you abuse a customer.  I am done being abused!

© 2021 M. Dave Salisbury
All Rights Reserved
The images used herein were obtained in the public domain; this author holds no copyright to the images displayed.

Communication – A Tool of Improving Call Centers, a Leadership Guide

A call center recently asked for some help. They have an “open-door” policy for employees to use. The call center meets all the designated training directives and compliance mandates. They believe they are the “best of the best” in providing customer support and have won awards from third-parties to back up these claims. Yet, employee churn remains high, employee morale remains low, and the leaders are becoming wary of the employment pool attracted to the call center.

ProblemsIn making observations, the consultant team tested the “open-door” policy and found that those sought were never in their offices even though the doors were open. The training was occurring, but the training offered had little to no value for the front-line customer-facing staff. It was generally considered a zero-sum game, providing time off the phones and causing stress and overtime costs. Worse, the front-line supervisors and employees’ perception was the existence of a chasm, separating them from higher organizational leaders.

Yukl (2010, p. 7) stated the definition of leadership as a “… multi-directional influence relationship between a leader and followers with the mutual purpose of accomplishing real change. Leaders and followers influence each other as they interact in non-coercive ways to decide what changes they want to make.” Fairholm (2001) built on the definition by Yukl (2010), insisting that leadership is a social event specific to the group of followers and leaders. Leadership and followership is a social contract; a call center is one of the most unique social environments possible. Due to this social environment, the leader who inspires communication is the call center leader who will be highly successful and train others to be highly successful.

Inherent to a fruitful and lasting social environment that promotes growth and development, leadership requires non-coercive methods to inspire and empower and provide aid to followers during change. Leadership in call centers is a social event specific to that group of followers, and leaders requiring mutuality in action to influence objectives being appropriately met. Coercion is a poison that infects like cancer into social environments; unfortunately, coercion is an easy trap to fall into as it is effective in the short-term.

Using the definition of leadership by Yukl (2010), we find why coercive leadership is ineffective; coercion cannot touch the followers’ hearts and minds to empower action towards objectives. A coercive action is any activity performed to harm or ensure the compliance of the action’s target. Coercive practices take many forms, from withholding benefits, including praise, to overt action, including threats and force. Coercive measures are used as leverage to force an individual or team to act in a way contrary to their individual or team interests. Covert coercion is rampant in many call centers and takes the form of restrictive policies, carrot/stick incentives, and human treatment policies that allow favoritism to rule instead of results.

Coercion is pernicious, and coercive practices are preventable. Yukl (2010) further elaborated that the follower only gives the coercive leader power out of fear or acts as a coercive agent to oppress others.  Furthermore, Yukl (2010, p. 137) specified that coercive leadership produces fear as the only motivator, and fear is dysfunctional, making nothing but more dysfunction in followers. Academic researchers often use the military as an example of coercive power and coercive leadership. Yet, having served in the US Army and the US Navy, I can attest coercion does not work in the military just as it does not work in any other industry. Coercive power is an acid destroying everything, building nothing, and dehumanizing people into animals.

The opposite of coercion is persuasion. Persuasion is the mode of being effective in collaboration, and persuasion requires trust and communication. Trust is an operational factor that builds the relationship between followers and leaders. It is the single most crucial factor in collaboration; but, collaboration and trust, as operational concepts, require two-directional communication to reach maximum effectiveness (Du, Erkens, Xu, 2018).

Internal-CS-Attitude-Low-ResCommunication as a tool in expressing confidence in the follower/leader relationship gains strength to clear misunderstandings and reach the desired consensus to meet organizational goals and operational objectives. The operational concept of trust and communication requires the third leg of the trust relationship agency. The follower needs to possess agency to act, informed agency requires training to employ, and the power and support of leadership to feel confident in action as detailed by Boler (1968), Avolio and Yammarino (2002). Which is where concepts meet reality, where theory is tested, and the leader is needed.

The following are proposed actions to build trust in organizations, improve communications, and empower the agency in employees to act. One of the worst things a leader can do when coercion is suspected is “trust exercises.” Trust exercises like standing a person on a chair and having them fall back into the team’s waiting arms. A call center leader colleague tried holding team and department meetings using “trust exercises,” and the result was best described as a catastrophe. The actions proposed are practical and can be employed in all call centers, including those working remotely due to COVID.

  1. Employ praise! Honest, truthful, fact-based, and reasoned praise is the most powerful tool a call center leader can employ to build people. With many call center workers working remotely, using praise as a recognition tool is critical to improving employee performance.
      • Use QA calls to issue praise.
      • Use non-cash incentives to recognize powerful deeds.
      • Make praise public through company newsletters and leadership emails.
      • Be specific, direct, and honest in your praise.
      • Be consistent in offering praise.
  1. Saying you have an “open door” is not enough, be the support mechanism your people need.
      • Respond to emails. Even if you cannot offer a substantial response immediately, personalize the email response, set a follow-up date, and meet those follow-up dates for additional communication.
      • Respond to employee questions with enthusiasm for listening and acting, not merely speaking.
      • Stop active listening; begin immediately to listen to meet mutual understanding through reflective listening. Mutual understanding and a promise to act on a concern are essential to support “open-door” policies; failure to listen and act is the number one failure of “open-door” policies.
  2. Training must change. If training is not a value-added exercise to the person receiving training, training has not occurred, resources have been wasted, and problems are generating.
    • Does your trainer know how to gather qualitative data from front-line workers to make curriculum developments?
    • Does your trainer know how to collect quantitative data from the training program to gauge decision-making in curriculum improvement?
    • What adult education theories are your trainers employing to instruct, build, and motivate adult learners who are employed?
    • How do you measure training effectiveness?
    • Does a “trained” employee know how to use trainers’ information to change individual approaches?
    • Do team leaders take an active role in training, or are they just “too busy?”

All these questions and more should be powering your training of the trainer discussions. If these questions are not being addressed, how will you, the call center leader, know your training investment dollars can return a positive investment? Training remote workers, especially, requires training programs that can motivate learners to change personal behavior. Thus, the training must have the ability to reach the student’s honor and integrity.

Leadership CartoonCOVID has provided many opportunities, and only through collaboration, communication, trust, and empowered agency, can help call centers to survive this difficult period. Regardless of how long the government shutdowns occur, your call center can survive, and call center leaders can prosper, provided they are willing to be leaders indeed, not managers in disguise.

References

Avolio, B. J., & Yammarino, F. J. (2002). Transformational and charismatic leadership: The road ahead. San Diego, CA: Emerald.

Boler, J. (1968). Agency. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 29(2), 165-181.

Du, F., Erkens, D. H., & Xu, K. (2018). How trust in subordinates affects service quality: Evidence from a large property management firm. Business.Illinois.edu. Retrieved from https://business.illinois.edu/accountancy/wp-content/uploads/sites/12/2018/03/Managerial-Symposium-2018-Session-IV-Du-Erkens-and-Xu.pdf.

Fairholm, Gilbert W. Mastering inner leadership. Greenwood Publishing Group, 2001.

Ruben, B. D., & Gigliotti, R. A. (2017). Communication: Sine qua non of organizational leadership theory and practice. International Journal of Business Communication, 54(1), 12-30.

Yukl, G. (2010, April 23). Leadership in organizations [Adobe Digital Edition Version 1.5] (7th ed.).

© Copyright 2020 – M. Dave Salisbury
The author holds no claims for the art used herein, the pictures were obtained in the public domain, and the intellectual property belongs to those who created the pictures.
All rights reserved.  For copies, reprints, or sharing, please contact through LinkedIn:
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