Demand is rising. Definitely, maybe.

Following on from last week’s blog A Christmas Tale of Targets and Cheating , I was pondering how those failed deliveries affect the productivity and effectiveness of businesses. The scenario is one I see repeated across a variety of sectors…

“Good news – the number of calls we’re receiving is continuing to grow. Our marketing department are delighted and have asked for their bonus to be triggered.”
“Crime is rising and we can’t keep up with the increase in calls we’re getting from concerned citizens”
“Our repairs service is so successful that more and more people are contacting us to use it”
Or, of course, “Wow, we’re inundated with customers wanting our Christmas delivery service – we need more drivers”

These are all reasonable reactions to a rise in calls. In the above graph, demand into a call centre is above capacity from April onwards and this puts pressure on staff. It is a reasonable assumption that call wait times would be lengthening and calls will be dropped. Understandably, managers will press to fix this by increasing capacity to answer calls and will often look at certain performance measures:

• call length
• wrap times
• time unavailable to answer.

Managers will pressure the existing staff to do more – work them harder, faster!
Over-worked and under-resourced, the contact centre staff will be pushed into cheating the measures to comply.
Customers will be the biggest losers.

When this happens, either the managers will come under pressure themselves, or they will convince leaders to take further steps to boost capacity; increase overtime; recruit more staff, maybe even open a bigger, better contact centre. All these are rational but costly responses. Looking at the rate of growth in demand on the chart above, you might expect to increase capacity to 3,000 calls per month.

Looking at the demand in a different way though, might show these responses to be fundamentally flawed…

When you take a listen to customer calls and understand the substance rather than just the quantity, you start to learn some surprising things about your organisation. Some of the calls will be the ones you want to receive – new customers who need the service you offer, but many others are different altogether:

The new calls define what your customers need from your organisation – your purpose from their perspective. Understanding this is essential to make sure you are offering the right services.
The chase calls are a brilliant way of learning about what’s going wrong and where to start looking for improvements. Consider then what would happen if you were able to get the service right first time. The more you get the service right, the fewer chase calls you receive. If you can stop enough of the chase calls, you have more than enough capacity to meet demand…

John Seddon defined these two types as Value Demand (what we are here for) and Failure Demand (caused by a failure to do something, or do something right in the eyes of the customer). For any learning organisation, categorising calls in this way is the first step in understanding current performance. The answers tend to lie somewhere further down the workflow, but the problems present themselves wherever customers contact the organisation.

If 20% of the calls from customers are all asking why the plumber has not turned up, then it would be an excellent idea to jump in the passenger seat of a plumber’s van in the morning, to see why they can’t keep an appointment.

If lots of customers are contacting you to ask why their delivery did not turn up as expected, then it’s probably time to get out in the field and look at what is actually happening to prevent drivers arriving on time.

As an insurer, if you get 1,000 calls every month asking to explain a quote, then maybe you need to look at your quote documents to see how they are set out. You might then look at whether you are using the right medium to explain quotes in the first place?

In most service organisations, failure demand accounts for more than 50% of calls answered, yet this is invisible to management and decisions are taken on flawed data. Some expensive mistakes have been made by failing to understand the basic point that organisations are generating extra calls all by themselves. Customers know this, as they are getting increasingly frustrated, stuck in loops going round and around the system. Someone should listen to them.

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About Ian

Perfect Flow specialises in logistics, but good service is far too rare across all sectors in the UK. That is why I am driven by a strong desire to improve customer service levels. The Vanguard Method of Systems Thinking is my chosen methodology to achieve that aim. Why Vanguard Method? Because it works. I know it does, because I have used it myself. Perfect Flow have been named in the Smarta100 2012 - the 100 most innovative and disruptive small businesses in the UK

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