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Lean operation refers to a logical way of handling processes to minimize or eliminate waste. According to Arlbjorn and Freytag (2013), lean operations consider that waste comes as a result of overburden and inequality in workloads. In essence, lean operations concentrate on “making apparent what adds value by reducing everything else” (Arlbjorn & Freytag, 2013, p. 179). Arlbjorn and Freytag (2013) define lean operation as a management stance drawn mostly from the production system that the Toyota Company employs. The Toyota Company used a lean production system to eliminate seven processes that did not add value to the clients and organization. Most people understand lean as a collection of instruments that facilitate the recognition and robust eradication of waste. Waste elimination results in quality improvement and cost and time reduction. Most call center organizations have not streamlined their operations (Arlbjorn and Freytag, 2013).
Consequently, it is hard for individuals working at the call centers to receive customer complaints and resolve them in time. In most cases, the call centers’ management blames the workers for not meeting customers’ needs. Hence, they end up laying off some workers as a measure to enhance productivity. Companies even opt to hire more workers to enhance productivity. Such moves cannot help to resolve the underlying problem. The ultimate solution is to use a lean approach to improving operations. This paper will discuss how one can enhance performance in a call center through the lean-approach.
Process in a Call Center
Call centers are established to help people address different problems. In most cases, people seek a call center’s assistance when faced with challenges that require immediate attention. For instance, one may contact a call center when they require to be linked with a medical officer. At times, operators require time to research questions that are hard to give immediate answers (Arlbjorn and Freytag, 2013). However, it is hard for the operators to leave the desk as performance is evaluated based on their availability to respond to customers’ questions. Many times, the open issues that clients raise go unattended for days, if not weeks. Arlbjorn and Freytag (2013) claim that cases of calls going unanswered are common at the call centers. Lack of adequate time to research on open issues leads to the call center representatives ignoring the questions.
In most cases, customers call again to confirm if the operator got an answer to their question. Hasle, Bojesen, Jensen, and Bramming (2012) claim that failure to respond to a customer’s question in the first inquiry prompts them to call again, leading to an increase in call volume. Additionally, it “inflates the numbers of calls that could not be resolved in the first instance and result in multiple entries in the computer system for the same problem” (Hasle et al., 2012, p. 831). Some call centers have systems that collect data aimed at enhancing employee performance. Nevertheless, most of the time, the data collected is unreliable and of little help. Call centers cannot collect random data since people are not assigned to tasks on an indiscriminate basis. A single person is responsible for tracking customers’ calls for the entire day. The next day another person takes the duty of tracking customers’ calls. Besides, call centers do not have mechanisms to determine if employees resolve all issues that the clients raise. Eventually, a call center falls short of its target. Hasle et al. (2012) contend that most call centers respond to less than 50% of the first-call complaints.
Hasle et al. (2012) claim that “the agents are the process in call centers… a company must have at least as many processes to improve as it has agents” (p. 833). A company with 20 agents that handle a particular type of call faces 20 different processes to improve. Every call agent handles a particular issue differently. The variations within the agents add to the waste in call centers. Lack of uniformity in dealing with a common type of call is a significant challenge in the call centers.
The Final Process
The objective of minimizing waste in call centers is to enhance employee performance and customer satisfaction. Adopting an appropriate lean approach can go a long way towards enhancing the transactions in a call center. Leaning out the process of a call center would help to streamline operations. By the time one is through with the introduction of the lean approach, the call center would record a significant decrease in hold time. Additionally, call center operators would have adequate time to answer customers’ questions. Resolving customers’ issues helps to build loyalty. The introduction of the lean approach in a call center would result in efficient service delivery. The lean operation would enable a call center to eradicate variations that arise when handling a direct call. Additionally, it would help to minimize the duration that an agent has to talk per day. There would be limited cases of call drops.
Wastes to Eliminate
Numerous wastes affect the efficiency of a call center. One of the wastes that would be eliminated by implementing a lean approach is transportation. Transportation refers to the shipment of products or services that add value to the customers. Call center operators to encounter cases of misrouted calls. Instances of customers calling the wrong call center are typical. Misrouted calls are waste because they consume time that the agents could use to serve other clients (Hasle et al., 2012). Apart from misrouted calls, transportation also entails intricate approval channels.
A call has to go through numerous stages before it reaches an agent for approval purposes. A complicated approval channel adds to the time that an operator takes before responding to the customer’s issue and minimizes the efficiency of a call center. Another waste is overprocessing. At times, call center agents to ask irrelevant questions. Besides, the operators talk for a long time. Every officer must fill a call escalation form before transferring a customer to the appropriate representative for assistance. Filling a call escalation form increases hold time.
Adoption of a lean approach can help to get rid of re-work at a call center. Re-work refers to a situation where multiple resources are used to handle the same problem concurrently. Re-work is a waste since it results in duplication of work. According to Hasle et al. (2012), failure to resolve customer problems during the first call results in re-work. Lean operations can facilitate the elimination of motion in a call center. The motion refers to any action that does not help to meet customers’ needs. Laureani, Antony, and Douglas (2010) associate motion with “high after call times in call centers” (p. 759).
Waiting is another form of waste that is common in call centers. At times, the resources of a call center remain idle without serving the core function. Waiting can come as a result of numerous factors. For instance, the agents may stay for a long time without receiving any call. On occasion, the system of a call center may be down, resulting in delays. Underutilization of agents’ intellectual capacity is a common form of waste in the call centers. Many call centers do not give the operators a chance to exploit their intellect. They require the operators to stick to the established formalities, which in some cases result in poor service delivery. A lean approach may help to eradicate intellectual waste by encouraging operators to be imaginative in handling customer issues.
How to Eliminate Wastes
The initial step in streamlining operations of a call center entails standardizing the processes. The primary objective of the lean operation is to establish standard procedures that can enhance efficiency. Laureani et al. (2010) argue that it is easy to eliminate waste in a call center after establishing a standard process. Standardization of a process does not amount to optimization. The next step in waste elimination entails doing away with waiting time. For a call center to be efficient, there must be a continuous flow of activities. Eliminating waiting time helps a call center to minimize inventory costs.
Laureani et al. (2010) aver that waiting time can be eliminated by dealing with factors that contribute to dead air and pauses when handling a call. The waiting time can be purged through “re-recording calls and tightening up starts, stops, and pauses” (Marr & Parry, 2004, p. 57). Eradicating unnecessary steps can facilitate waste elimination in a call center. One can eliminate unnecessary steps by evaluating the importance of every step to the client. For instance, there is no need to ask clients to give their email addresses since most of them not have one. Apart from eliminating unnecessary steps, one ought to reinforce the critical steps that facilitate efficient communication between an agent and a client. One may alter phrases, words, and sentences to reduce word count and minimize dead air.
After reinforcing the necessary steps, it is imperative to scan through the process and ensure that it is devoid of mistakes. The law requires that appropriate disclosures are communicated to clients. One can eliminate errors in a process by creating the best call flow. Marr and Parry (2004) argue that creating a perfect call flow would guarantee that all the necessary disclosures are not left out. The success of a call center depends on inherent quality. At times, agents may deliberately circumvent playing the necessary recordings. Establishing a proper workflow would eliminate such instances, therefore ensuring that clients get efficient services.
Moreover, it would be easy to detect when operators deliberately fail to pay the required recordings. Another way that one can eliminate waste in a call center is by stopping the line upon detecting a problem. Stopping the line gives the management of a call center room to rectify the problem and identify its cause. According to Marr and Parry (2004), stopping the line enables the management to institute countermeasures to avert a problem’s reoccurrence.
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In a call center environment, the line refers to the different agents that handle clients’ issues. Stopping the line entails identifying and removing an agent that does not serve customers as required. Modern call centers are unable to halt the line since they cannot monitor every agent-client conversation. The problem can be resolved by installing software that enables the management to follow all calls as they take place. Piercy and Rich (2009) allege that software tracks and reports on keystrokes that every agent enters during a conversation. Therefore, the management can identify the actions of each agent and discover the inefficient ones. In addition to software, one can install a dashboard that monitors the activities of all operators. The panel would help to review a call immediately after detecting a problem, thus minimizing errors.
Eliminating waste in the call center would have numerous benefits for the overall operations of the organization. It would help to curtail operations costs. Eliminating waste would contribute to reducing the time that an operator takes to speak with a client. In return, a call center would not require hiring many operators as there would be limited call volume. Inefficient call processes lead to an increase in call volume (Piercy & Rich, 2009). Call centers are forced to hire more agents to minimize congestion. Adopting lean operations would ensure that a call center does not incur a cost by hiring agents.
Sprigg and Jackson (2006) maintain that a lean approach would help a call center to “increase first-time-right results” (p. 201). Adopting lean operations would reduce cases of agents not resolving a client’s issue in the first call. The lean approach would help to enhance the first-call resolution rate. Additionally, it would curtail multiple entries of the same problem into the system as most issues would be resolved on the first call. According to Sprigg and Jackson (2006), a call center can benefit from lean operations by establishing the right organizational structures and duties of all employees.
Adopting lean operations would enable a call center to define the operators’ functions to allow them to deliver the desired results. Implementing lean operations would equip agents with the requisite information, therefore enabling them to handle official complaints. The Lean operations would not only enhance performance but also save a company from high employee turnover. Employees are likely to leave a call center if they do not have control of their responsibilities. Equipping employees with requisite skills and information allows them to take full responsibility for their duties. In return, it motivates them, leading to quality service delivery and low turnover.
Lean operations refer to logical approaches to handling processes to minimize or eradicate waste. Lean operations focus on improving what adds value to a process and getting rid of what is redundant. Lean thinking can help to streamline operations at a call center. One would require identifying and eliminating waste. Among the prevalent wastes in a call center include transportation, overprocessing, re-work, inventory, and intellectual, among others. Waste elimination entails identifying and getting rid of unnecessary steps. It also involves strengthening the necessary measures. Scanning through a process helps to ensure that it is flawless. Monitoring calls can contribute to identifying and purging unproductive agents. Eliminating wastes in a call center contributes to enhancing performance. It not only enables a call center to optimize on its employees but also reduces operations cost. Implementation of lean operations enhances employee satisfaction, thus minimizing turnover.
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