SERVANT LEADERSHIP TRANSFORMS
A Call Center Case Study
A call center, at peak times, had an average customer wait time of 8 minutes 15 seconds and a call abandonment rate of 48%. The call center manager repeatedly requested additional staff. The CEO felt the manager was doing a poor job, so the staff was not well trained or motivated. A consultant was hired to “document that the department is mismanaged and the manager is lazy.”
Instead, the consultant applied servant leadership principles to analyze the true condition of the department and develop recommended improvements. The consultant met privately with each call center staff member and told them his purpose was to “improve their work quality of life,” and he needed their expertise and recommendations regarding how he could do that. By stating his concern for their personal work environment and his respect for their expertise, he earned their respect, trust, and frank responses.
He listened closely, asked penetrating but constructive “5 Why” questions, and then prepared a report that consolidated, synthesized, and prioritized their list of challenges and recommendations for improvement. He issued the report to the staff and department manager and solicited their recommendations for improving it. Once the report was approved, the consultant presented it to the CEO.
Based on the consultant’s findings, he recommended prioritizing:
- Soliciting volunteer staff from other departmental sections to be trained to provide support staff during lunches, absenteeism, etc. This would not only provide a “free” supply of support staff, but also create a pool of cross-trained staff who were more flexible in how they could be maximized.
- An initial brief recorded message. During interviews, staff had discussed how roughly 33% of all callers ask the same three basic questions (e.g., office hours), which could be answered in a 20-second welcome message. While the message would only reduce staff/hour time by about 5% (since those calls tend to be very quick), it would resolve about 33% of total calls and significantly improve staff members’ quality of life, as they would be repeating simple mundane responses less often and would have more time available to deal with more complicated requests.
- A performance bonus plan. The consultant recommended implementing (on a trial basis) a monthly performance bonus program that would pay staff bonuses for: 1) 91% or higher attendance during that month, 2) averaging 120 seconds or less per call for the month, and/or 3) averaging 85% or higher on “quality of service” call monitoring by supervisors. The staff helped develop the criteria, and its intent was to positively recognize and reward “B+” or higher performance. Performance data was gathered for one month without staff knowledge to create “before and after implementation” numbers. During the “before” month, only one staff member exceeded the standards in only one of the three categories (93% attendance). Staff members were then informed the program would formally begin and were trained in how it worked and what their target goals were. A ceremony would be held each month at which the manager recognized staff members and awarded bonus checks.
One year later, every member of exactly the same staff (there had been no turnover) was earning an average of $83/month in bonus pay.
As a result of this improved performance, the same staff reduced peak customer wait time from 8 m 15 s to 3 m 37 s, and call abandonment dropped from 48% to 28%. The improved performance convinced the CEO the consultant had “cleaned up the place” and the CEO agreed to increase the number of volunteer support staff that could be called during peak times to further improve quality of customer service.
This is just one example of the positive effect that can be achieved by implementing servant leadership actions designed to positively, constructively innovate improvements to customer and staff satisfaction as well as organizational performance. There is often mention of striving for “win-wins” or 2Ws. Servant leadership consistently and repeatedly delivers 5Ws, with the winners being the organization’s performance, the CEO’s reputation, fulfilled staff members, customer satisfaction, and an increase in the CEO and staff’s desire to contribute more constructively to society as a whole.
David Childs, PhD, is a results-driven performance improvement consultant who combines extensive management experience with a wry sense of humor and strong leadership skills. He is the author of The Organization Whisperer. David recognizes the power of servant leadership as demonstrated in this case study he shares with us.