On March 14, 1757, the British admiral, John Byng, was executed by firing squad for failing to win a battle against the French Navy in the 7 Years War. It turned out that his punishment was unfair, he had lost the battle because his ships were in a poor state of repair, the result of logistics issues.
It’s not uncommon for some contact center managers to adopt a similar principle for resolving issues. An employee is found, made responsible and dismissed. The unfortunate employee is not always the cause of the problem.
In the name of both fairness and effective problem solving, other methods of investigating issues have been developed. A common practice in industrial quality management is root cause analysis. The principle behind this is that the cause of an issue is likely to be a process rather than an individual. There are many techniques, but two can be easily applied to the world of contact centers.
The first is to create a detailed timeline of the events leading up to the issue. Where issues are related to calls or customers, the specific calls can be identified easily and played back to see what was actually said to the customer. At this point it makes sense to look back at training materials and coaching records. This may contain clues to explain aspects of agents’ behavior that contributed to the problem.
The second technique is often called the “5 Whys” technique. Let’s imagine a case where a number of agents have knowingly registered an outbound sales call as being a sale, even though the customer made no commitment. The first “why” would be asked of the agents: “Why did you register the call as a sale when you knew it wasn’t?” The agent’s answer might well be: “To get the commission.” The second “why” might seem obvious, but it serves a purpose: “Why did you risk losing your job to get the commission?” The agents might well answer: “Because we don’t get paid a basic salary.”
The third question might then be to the contact center management: “Why don’t you pay the agents a basic salary?” The contact center management might answer: “Because we have a risk and reward contract with the client.”
The fourth question would then be to the senior management: “Why did you agree to a risk and reward contract with the client?” The answer to this might well be: “The client told us this is what they were offering, it was a “take it or leave it” situation.”
The fifth question at this point would be: “Why did you take on a contract at such disadvantageous terms?” The answer might then be: “Because we needed the work.”
The fundamental root cause of the issue is the risk and reward contract the contact center agreed with the client. This cannot be changed at short notice, if at all. What can be addressed is the fact that the agents don’t get paid a basic salary. They have no incentive to be honest. Failing to sell will have the same result for them as being dismissed from the company, a loss of income.
There is no doubt in this case that the agents should be dismissed. They deceived their employer in order to get paid. To reduce the chance of the issue recurring however, the organization would be wise to look into how their agents are paid.
Next time you face an issue in your contact center, it might be worth finding out the root cause before dismissing someone.