To Improve Quality and Profits Get Rid of "HR"

By Brendan B. Read, Senior Contributing Editor  |  January 01, 2011

This article originally appeared in the January 2011 issue of Customer Interaction Solutions Magazine.

One of the numbers in the combination that unlocks the door to customers and their spending – the others include effective marketing and supplying the right products at the right price – is the hiring, retaining and properly managing problem-solving-empowered top quality contact center agents and supervisors. They generate superior performance, both in higher profits and lower costs.

Yet, why do all too many organizations get it wrong, resulting in poor service, substandard sales and high and costly turnover?

The answer lies in “HR”: not just human resources departments, but in the corporate “cost-center” resource mentality, where employees are merely material to be sourced, self-transported, sifted, processed, used and, when finished, discarded.

This is reflected in the traditional method of hiring: selecting and jamming the irregular shapes known as people into specific molds that are too often designed to meet uniform (i.e., low) standards of convenience, rather than to effectively accomplish the intended work. Applicants are put on invisible conveyor belts, automatically screened and tested, interviewed by HR staff and, only then, do they get to meet the people they would be working with and with and be exposed to the conditions in which they will be working. All too often, hiring professionals have told me, descriptions of the work being advertised do not meet what the work entails. Knowing that, it’s no wonder agents frequently leave or are let go, for all too often, these “products” do not meet their “users’” needs.

One of the worst kept secrets in the contact center industry is that it, like the auto industry, is based on “planned obsolescence.” In this instance, too many firms’ business models informally count on employees leaving after X months to avoid paying benefits, higher wages and refresher training costs. These outfits know from experience that most staff will not stay long; they will become fed up with the boring, stressful, inflexible, dead-end and low-status work and go elsewhere.

Contact centers, via their site selection partners, can forecast labor market churn and negotiate building leases – and taxpayer-funded goodies from employment-desperate governments – around this expected depletion of readily tapped agent and supervisor “resources.” They calculate that, with a tough economy and the specter of offshoring, employees will endure wretched conditions, which keeps costs low and maximizes ROI.

It is part of the same cynical cost calculation that eschews quality for price in products and services.

Here’s the problem with this approach, one that only the smart outfits are realizing: Processing and spewing out staff no longer pays, any more than doing likewise on goods and services sold to customers.

Why? Because customers will no longer tolerate sullen, mishired, questionably competent, rigidly scripted and/or badly trained and supervised agents and poorly supplied overpriced items. Instead, they will tell the world via social media, which risks sales and profits going to the competition at the speed of light.

Customers will also check out, again, via social media, what employees have to say anonymously about their employers and wares they offer to get the inside scoop on what is going on before opening their wallets. They know that quality is impacted by how workers feel about the firms that hire them.

The lesson is this: Outfits that treat their employees as disposable broadcast that their products are likewise and will find themselves fit to be treated in the same fashion.

By the same token, those firms and contact centers that focus on total quality – in customer service through hiring and treating staff as worthwhile individuals – as well as delivering well-made, right-priced products and services, will be rewarded handsomely by customers. They are the ones that, for example, involve managers in setting criteria and job descriptions and expose prospective agents to contact centers and managers early on. The smart outfits have limited HR to what it does best: checking new employee credentials and informing them of pay, benefits and corporate procedures.

If bad news travels fast, the raves of fans – with the heartfelt support of employees – move faster and, with them, greater returns to organizations’ bottom lines.

Brendan B. Read is TMCnet’s Senior Contributing Editor. To read more of Brendan’s articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Stefania Viscusi