Industry: Answer the Call! Put our Veterans2Work
Paul Stockford, Saddletree
Research and NACC Advisory Board Member,
The number of disabled
veterans in the U.S. has increased 25 percent over the
last seven years. Today there are 2.9 million disabled
veterans in the U.S. including over 181,000 veterans of
Iraq and Afghanistan who are receiving disability as of
May 2008. A January 2007 report from the Small Business
Administration entitled "Self-Employment in the Veteran
and Service-Disabled Veteran Population" revealed that
during the years 1988 - 2005, 64 percent of
service-disabled veterans were unemployed. 32 percent of
disabled veterans were employed by an organization of
some sort while four percent were self-employed.
As soldiers continue to return from Iraq with
devastating injuries that probably would have killed
them in previous wars, they will hopefully be
rehabilitated and begin seeking gainful employment. What
better place for these veterans to find work than as
home-based contact center agents?
Veterans2Work (V2W) is a relatively new organization
that seeks to find opportunities for disabled people,
and particularly disabled veterans, as home-based
workers. Run by the contact center industry and Vietnam
veteran John Reynolds, V2W is a joint venture with the
already-established CORA, which stands for Creating
Opportunities by Recognizing Abilities. CORA is a
certified training facility that trains, equips and
qualifies disabled people for work. CORA can also
function as an outsourced facility with disabled workers
remaining with CORA but contracting for work with
another organization - the classic contact center
CORA can also train and mentor workers to become direct
hires of other companies through a set training period
that demonstrates their abilities, typically 90 days,
before the disabled worker becomes an employee of the
hiring company. V2W's job is to make sure the business
community at large knows about the availability of this
Although the contact center industry as a whole has not
fully embraced the notion of the home-based agent or
employee, it's time to get over the misconception that
home-based workers are not as productive or reliable as
office-based workers. When the idea of home-based
workers first appeared in the industry in the mid-1990s,
high-speed Internet connectivity to the home was a
relatively exotic mystery available to only the most
elite of high-tech upper crust. Today just about every
home has a high-speed Internet connection. Technology is
no longer an issue and neither is the price of
maintaining home connectivity.
Whether or not home-based workers goof off more than
in-house workers is always subject to debate, but I
submit that the particular group of workers we are
discussing in this essay offer minimal risk of not
working as hard as or harder than their able-bodied
in-house counterparts. I don't think I need to spell it
out more than that.
V2W also offers American business what I consider to be
an additional benefit in that it provides many
industries, including the customer service industry, an
alternative to sending jobs offshore in order to lower
labor costs. With the substantial state and federal tax
benefits that come with the hiring of disabled veterans
and other workers, or through contracting with
organizations such as CORA for outsourced services,
there is now a viable financial alternative to sending
contact center agent jobs to offshore locations.
As a veteran of the armed forces myself I believe it is
vitally important that we take care of our own.
Corporate America, and in particular the contact center
industry, owes it to itself and to those who have served
to consider what V2W might be able to do to help
American business, and to help those who have suffered
disabilities in service to their country. For more
information on V2W visit www.veterans2work.com or call
John Reynolds at 415-925-1515.
If You Consider Yourself a True Patriot Click on the
Well, it is not really
about patriotism. It is an appeal, like patriotism, that
makes a good transition from the first essay.
We are in our final
stages of the survey evaluating your perceptions of
vendors in the call center industry. We have run this
survey for the past two issues and this is your last
chance to have your thoughts count and to be counted.
See how patriotic that sounds?
The more people that
participate the larger the sample size and the more
valid the results. So please click above and share your
thoughts (music and flags in the background and you move
your mouse to the link above, trumpets sounding, crowds
cheering for you, the sound is deafening, you are a
Reader's Response: A Caution on Reward Programs
Art Coombs, CEO KomBea
The recommendations in
the "Rewarding Behavior" articles in the July 4th and
July 18th issues of the In Queue Newsletter were right
on the money. But I want to offer a word of caution on
over relying on them.
I have implemented agent rewards programs following
parameters and using automated tools just like Mr.
Cabrera recommended with great anticipation of success
in his essays. I would get really excited when I saw an
up tick in performance.
But in every case those performance lifts were either
noise (common cause variation in Six Sigma parlance) or
short lived signals that regressed to the long term
average. I would then look for more ideas I could throw
at the wall in hopes they would help me lift and sustain
improved performance. I implemented dozens and dozens of
programs like these over the years that I ran in call
centers all over the globe. In my experience, they don't
drive sustained improvements in performance.
Employee motivation initiatives do have a place in our
centers, but they need to rest on a solid foundation of
improvement efforts that are empirically lifting
performance and leading to sustained gains. Tools like
process experimentation to determine which steps matter
and which don't, tool automation, agent-assisted voice
solutions, error-proofing, etc.
Once your processes are performing at a high level with
low between agent variability, you can use reward
programs to do what they were originally intended for-to
build camaraderie, make work fun, and create lasting
memories. My experience in call centers has confirmed to
me that the only way to achieve measurable
year-over-year improvement across the entire center is
by first focusing on the "process" and then focusing on
Dennis Adsit, VP,
Business Development, KomBea Corporation
Before I talk about an
inside joke in call centers, I need to tell you about an
inside joke in Tucson, AZ. Tucson is teaming with
wildlife and I don't mean at the University. Many homes
are built up against mountains and washes. Some of the
denizens include mountain lions, bobcats, bears,
coyotes, javelina, hawks, owls, and rattle snakes.
One implication is that should Fluffy the cat or Toto
the lap-dog wander the property line for more than ten
minutes, there is a good chance they will end up as a
puff-pastry for one of the locals. When Fluffy or Toto
don't come back, Mom and Dad know what's happened but
the children don't. They insist on putting signs on
poles that say "Lost Cat: White. Furry. Responds to
Fluffy. Call if you find her." When you see those signs,
you feel bad, but you also kind of chuckle imagining Mom
and Dad going through the motions.
The inside joke in call centers occurs when someone
wants to make a change to a live call handling
procedure. This change could come from a regulatory
change, a best practice that has been discovered, or
because Marketing decides they want to brand calls
differently. Marketing might say, "Let's just get all
the agents to change and start doing it like this."
Though the call center leaders agree to it, anyone who
manages agents knows that getting hundreds of agents,
often in different centers, "to change and start doing
it like this" is, as they say, "a long putt." The
leaders know it is going to take a lot of effort and a
lot of time and it is never going to be 100%. At best,
without heavy policing from call monitors and big
rewards/sanctions, it will take months for that process
change to become fully adopted, which usually means it
is being done about 85% of the time.
In a center handling credit card calls, Marketing
decided they wanted to brand the end of every call
differently depending on what happened during the call.
They took 250 agents off the phones for an hour (which
turned into almost two hours off the phones). They
trained the agents on the reason for the change and the
change itself, gave them some time to practice, put them
back on the phones, updated the monitoring forms, and
began sample monitoring.
After over 500 hours of lost productivity and lots of
training/monitoring effort, the compliance rate was less
than 40% after two months.
This is not surprising. Behavior change is
extraordinarily difficult. You know this if you ever
made New Year's resolutions or if you have ever tried to
take off a little weight. Even people who have faced
death as a result of a heart-attack are very often
unable to change their health jeopardizing behavior.
Processes are constantly being changed in call centers.
It is almost impossible to put in the required effort to
communicate, change the scripts, monitoring forms and
training, and follow through to make sure all the agents
know and make the change. Some leaders just resort to
using email or a "chair drop" or a single team meeting.
In the heat of a constantly changing battle, who can
blame them? But trying to change agent behavior with a
chair drop? Let's not kid ourselves.
We have to get better at this. When a change comes down
for any reason, the rest of the organization needs to be
able to count on us to get it right, not in a few
months, not at 85% compliance, but at nearly 100% the
very day the change is announced.
Impossible, you say. We can't get agents to change that
fast nor be that perfect.
In the credit card example, a subset of agents was using
an agent-assisted voice solution. The new endings were
built right into the flow which made it almost
impossible for the agents to not play them when they
were supposed to. In fact, the pilot agents were 97%
compliant with Marketing's new endings on Day 1 and were
at 99.999% compliance after three days and stayed at
that level for the remaining month of the pilot. This
was accomplished without any effort from quality
monitoring. A simple report showed what recordings were
played on every single call.
Possible, I say. And long overdue.
Call Center Comics
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Copyright 2008 National Association of Call Centers