The problem 1
Should I put ASPs on the desktop?
As the IT director of an organisation with over 1,000 desktops, I have read news reports of the expanding ASP market with interest. My perception is that they are primarily aiming at SMEs. Is this a fair appraisal? Or should I be including ASPs in my desktop provision strategy?
The solution 1
Assess the future situation
This is a very interesting period for those of us defining future desktop services because there are so many developments in prospect that will affect our future operating costs. Not least of these is the role of the application service providers.
There have been indications that even Microsoft may soon move towards serving applications to its customers with a "utility bill" approach, ie pay for licenses only if you actually use the software within the licensing period. If this does happen, I would expect them to be targeting the corporate market from the outset.
A manager of any enterprise-scale IT services department should already be seriously investigating this and other avenues. Any large organisation should always be reviewing their IT service models to ensure that their business remains well served. Historical cost recovery models are well and truly past their sell-by date - the only true measure for us now is market rate. It is a fact of life that if you are not competitive with third parties, you will not be around for much longer as an internal provider.
But don't forget to assess the future licensing situation from the broadest aspect possible, otherwise you may find that you have stranded costs that seriously reduce the potential savings. Security is the other very big question for such organisations. Our firewalls are there for a reason so a full risk assessment must be done before the drawbridge is lowered.
The problem 2
Staff motivation and retention
If I am honest, my strategy for call centre staff retention amounts to plugging gaps as they arise. Demotivation and boredom are conspiring to keep levels of employee turnover frustratingly high. What avenues - either cultural or technological - should I be exploring in order to slow down staff churn?
The solution 2
Department of Design and Innovation, The Open University
Carry out Pareto analysis regularly
Firstly, recognise that talking on the telephone all day, often to irate and unreasonable people, is not everyone's ideal job. A two-pronged approach is necessary - investigate the nature of the calls made, then assign appropriate staff.
A useful start is to carry out Pareto analysis (and repeat it regularly), to categorise calls into groups such as simple administration, complex tasks, technical queries, fault diagnosis requests, sales opportunities and so on. Aim to identify the 80:20 candidates - the small number of problems that cause the greatest aggravation, and the small number of calls that create the biggest sales opportunities.
Next, consider the kind and number of staff best suited to the categories and reorganise the call routing process. Some people are good at handling irate complaints, so pass those calls to them. Pass simple administration calls to trainees to get them used to dealing with customers. Use technically adept staff to answer technical queries. Use call centre service as a planned activity for developing technical and managerial staff. Six to 12 months' service will give valuable experience in dealing with customers and learning the business at the sharp end, yet not seem like a dead-end job to be endured indefinitely.
Use Pareto analysis to identify calls that can be eliminated by external action. Does a misleading fitting or running instruction result in unnecessary complaints? If so, feed the information back and get the user documentation improved. Can an advert be clarified to answer frequently asked questions?
Finally, don't forget to train, monitor, appraise and thank service desk staff. They are the key interface with your customers.
Senior principal, eLoyalty
Technology isn't the be all and end all
Too many call centres are murdering their people by metrics. Setting unrealistic maximum call lengths, not allowing for wrap-up times, or human issues like sickness and breaks all contribute to staff walking away.
Even with sophisticated workforce scheduling tools, people often don't realise that, out of an eight-hour shift, an agent will only be on the telephone for four-and-a-half, given breaks, training, sickness etc.
But technology isn't the be all and end all. Tools can't make decisions themselves - that's up to the management team, and if they don't understand it's like giving a car to somebody who can't drive. Most software of this type requires nearly one week of training, allied to a deep understanding of the call centre industry. One out of two won't do.
Call centres are unlike any other industry on the planet, and if the people in charge are equipped with just the management skills, they won't really do the job correctly. Only with industry knowledge will a call centre be a mechanism for keeping the customer and the agent happy.
This was first published in March 2000