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Taking the Focus off Lateness

Published on 19 February 2020

Taking the Focus off Lateness

A lot of time and effort in Contact Centre Real Time Management is spent focussing on schedule adherence.  A resource-heavy occupation, the focus is on making sure that people are doing what they should be doing, when they should be doing it.  Real Time Adherence Monitoring is a key function for Contact Centres all over the country.

Much of this attention is focussed at the start of advisor’s shifts.  Lateness is tightly monitored and managed and frowned-upon by those who monitor and manage.  I have seen many teams where a fairly high proportion of a team’s bandwidth is occupied by monitoring, tracking, recording and acting upon any instance of late arrival.  The thinking behind this is understandable – the plan has been painstakingly built and, according to the old favourite ‘The Power of One’, every single reduction from planned supply numbers is a bad thing for customers and the business alike.

What is really interesting to note here are the slipstream impacts of this amount of control and focus, which are often unseen or unconsidered when policies are originally created;

  • Administration – to monitor and communicate lateness requires administration. To collate reports, identify trends and offenders and record actions takes even more.  Administration requires headcount and headcount equals cost, especially when the headcount involved would be better off adding additional value to the operation in another way.
  • Customer Experience – when an advisor scurries into the office late, apologising and flustered and trying their level best to log onto systems as quickly as they can to minimise their negative impact, the person who suffers is the customer.  If the advisor is panicking and hurried, the customer is not going to get their best attention or their best work. The customer experience is going to be impacted.
  • Stress – an agent worrying about the consequences of lateness may be motivated to try to attend on time, but they will suffer the ill effects of the stress that this worry will bring. Some agents, fearing the worst when running late, resort to absence instead, which at least defers their problem to another day.
  • Engagement – if an agent is late, they know that they are going to be challenged and spoken to.  If the business is not putting the same focus on making sure that shifts FINISH bang on time, this may be perceived as unfair. Unfair practices lead to disengagement and heightens the risk of attrition. Skill, knowledge and experience can walk out of the door because of this issue and can bring additional recruitment costs as well as reduction in quality and productivity.

Closely monitoring lateness also does not address one vital issue – the cause.  Why are people late?  It’s tempting to think it’s because people are lazy or disorganised - or both - but it is equally likely that it is an unfortunate side-effect of other aspects of life.  It may be that public transport logistics mean that this is as early as they can make it to the office.  I’m sure that every business has at least one person whose bus or train can get them to work at either 8:03 or 9:03 – where is the incentive for them to be 57 minutes early rather than 3 minutes late?

And also, in all honestly, how bad IS lateness?  Three minutes late means that they will miss the first call of their shift, but they are unlikely to miss any more than that.  Is being punctual really the be-all-and-end-all of Contact Centre life?

What we have seen recently (at Tesco Bank) is a radical and effective new way of dealing with late arrivals – simply by ignoring them.  The concept is ‘flexi-time’.  For those of a certain age, it must be pointed out that this isn’t the same as the flexi-time that was prevalent in the 1980’s - this innovation is rather simpler to administer than that and is effective of addressing some possible causes of lateness as well as the slipstream impacts.  In a nutshell, if agents arrive 30 minutes early or up to 30 minutes late for their shift, it is OK. They won’t be marked as late and deal with the consequences or they won’t have to sit in the canteen for half an hour waiting to start work.  There is no need for them to sprint to their desks and impact the customer experience – they can relax and give all of their attention to the task at hand. It’s clever.  It’s counter-intuitive.  But it is working – the pilot group have reported large increases in productivity, quality, accuracy and, above all, staff engagement. The reduction in manual workload has meant that the Planning Team has had increased bandwidth to perform analysis and increase their effectiveness and understanding.

So maybe it is time to take the focus away from lateness and turn the lens instead onto providing a quality solution to the customer’s call.

Author: David Preece
Date: 19 February 2020

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