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A short break from the Android series, but still on the subject of enterprise mobility. This topic has lingered for quite a while in my mind and I thought it was time to share it to the large audience.

Not new, not the first

This is not a new idea. I first thought of it somewhere at the end of 2010, early 2011 and presented it on an SAP event in April 2011. I’m also probably not the first to think of it, as I have googled around a bit and found that multiple people had come up with the idea as well. None the less, it’s still very relevant, and nobody has actually put it to practice. Not that I know of at least. So I’ll launch it again and implement it myself if nobody else will.

Sexifying your call center

In job ads, working at a call center is always represented by a picture of a smiling, stylish, sporty guy or girl, all claiming that they have the best job in the world. It’s divers and challenging, you have a lot of social contact with the clients, enthusiast colleagues and a state of the art work environment. That’s what I call marketing!

Now for reality; Narrow desks, cluttered with a bulky old desktop pc and an equally big phone with a multitude of mysterious buttons. Post it’s stuck to every available square centimeter. Depressed looking people, who have all lost their unique touch and just blend in with the room. They are wearing a headset and answering complaint calls with a cheery voice, whilst looking as if they’re about to tie a rope around someone’s neck. Their own, or that of the person on the end of the line, they don’t care anymore.

Strangely enough, all technology is available to make their lives a lot more cheerful. Using the right tools, you could transform that office into a lounge of Zen. The best of psychologists would not be able to turn the depressed employees into the cheerful and proud individuals that they could become by giving them the right equipment. Throw out those cramped little desks, clear out the entire room, burn those old desktop, please… But surely, you wouldn’t throw away the big phones? That’s the main tool for anyone working in a call center, right?

Mobilize

Welcome to the age of mobile computing and tablets! Give all your employees a nice tablet like an Ipad or an Android alternative, or a Blackberry Playbook,… whatever. Now let’s make/receive calls using Skype and the company’s wireless network. It’s free of charge! Use an enterprise Skype dispatcher so that each employee’s time is used as efficient as possible. Now put a piece of software on that tablet which allows the employee to enter the call details directly into the SAP (or other) CRM system and integrate the Skype calls in there. Done? Good, you just replaced the expensive desktop PC and VOIP phone by a less costly, smaller and infinitely more intuitive device that your employees can carry with them.

Socialize

A lot of customers vent their frustrations on social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or Google+. Using the API’s of such social networks, you can create an integration with their information feed. You can have real-time feedback via social media, lowering the threshold significantly. You can do a lot with this information.

Emotional sentiment analysis allows you to categorize the feedback as positive or negative. You can immediately respond to a vented frustration by creating a ticket and informing the person via the very same channel. This can help you in turning negative feedback into positive feedback. On social networks, image is everything, so if you are perceived as a proactive customer friendly company, this is going to create a positive buzz.

Modernize

Happy faces yet?

Oh, they want a chair. Right, I forgot that we threw everything out the door.

Fine, let’s put some sofa’s, design chairs, lounge seats, fat-boys (beanbags) etc in the room. Decorate a bit with some flowers and plants, a central collaboration table with a Microsoft Surface where the supervisor can assist in difficult cases. Put a TV on the wall showing the KPI’s and the most productive emplyee. *BOOM* you’ve got that state of the art work environment promised in the Job Ad.

What would your employees prefer?

Just watch out not to fall in the beanbag trap. If you change the tools and the environment, you also need to change processes and culture. They all go hand in hand.

Now, What are the advantages?

For starters:

  • Happier employees
  • Flexible offices
  • Image
  • A venue for receptions and parties at the ready

But also, less obvious:

  • Flexible manpower during peak loads
  • Cost reduction
  • Recruiting talent

Some explanation may be necessary.

Flexible manpower during peak loads? That sounds an awful lot like cloud technology.

Exactly!

Because you no longer have to rely on your static infrastructure, you can easily hire extra agents for a product launch or during peak periods (holiday season?). They don’t need a desk, they don’t need a PC, they don’t need an IP phone. All they need is a tablet, an account and a place to sit. Theoretically speaking, they don’t even have to be in the office. They could be in a remote location. In practice, putting them in the next room may already be a stretch for most companies.

Ok, so you can equip them very fast, but don’t they need a couple of weeks training to work with the system?

That’s the beauty. Tablet devices are very user friendly and if you build your CRM capturing and assistance app in a user friendly manner, your newly recruited puppies won’t need a lot of training. Half a day may be enough for the basics. Your more experienced staff can easily move more to the complex issues while the newbies handle the simple cases and capturing.

So how does this help in attracting talent?

It’s obvious that, if I would like to work in a call center and had the choice out of a traditional one, and a beanbag one, I’d go for the latter. The impact will not be only on your call center. It will be much broader. If your company is known for such a good working environment, and has such an innovative image, than it automatically becomes a magnet for talent. Investing inyour people is key for attracting talent.

Okay, I’m convinced, gimme the shiny stuff!

Ehr… well, as far as I know of, it doesn’t exist yet. Mainly because every call center has different requirements for capturing and data entry. So either we streamline the process and come up with a single solution, or we build a custom solution for each call center.

Secondly, most companies don’t really care about their call center.

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4 Comments

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  1. Thomas Bezak

    Are we on the same planet? “Puppies” can be thrown into a new work situation and be functional within “Half a day” all because of a beanbag chair, fake palm tree, and a tablet device? I’ve never even worked in a call center and I find this blog post insulting.

    SAP can barely scrape together single function mobile apps to demo and you are proposing off-the-cuff to just make a user friendly app the will perform numerous call center functions on a tablet.

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    1. Tom Van Doorslaer Post author

      Thank you Thomas for your valuable input.

      Although my imagination may be a bit off the charts and my sense of humour a bit weird, I am still on this world. If I have offended you by voicing my idea of a better place to work, than I would like to expres my deepest regrets.

      If we however banish imagination because it may seem strange and unearthly, than we might as well reïntroduce the Spanish inquisition and put a stop to all innovation. By doing so, we will prevent SAP from ever putting together a single function app, as they will surely be deemed heretics, like that guy who claimed our world is not flat.

      Remember: something is only impossible, until someone proves so otherwise.

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    2. Vilhjalmsson Bjorn

      What you should add Tom is also gamification (just to get further out in space according to some people), why not have a leaderboard of processed calls which would include some feedback from customers (number of likes if you will by clicking 1 for like at the end of the call for example.  Tie bonuses or awards to the performance or retraining for those that tend to score badly or handle unusually few calls. It is not going to be a perfect system since not all calls or customers are the same so it should not be something that is the main way of measuring employees performance.

      Call centers are not all created equal so while you can easily add X new people with minimum training for certain call centers, you might really struggle with other types.  Also what you describe is also very possible without tablets, you can create a website or web app that those that have authorization can enter and use, the tablet is not any better in skype then a laptop so your very good idea is also very possible in a PC environment.  The key difference is going to be in building the UI/UX that people have come to expect on tablets/smartphones and finally giving users a way of working that they love.  Looking at some of the UI that is already out there, including from SAP on tablets, I have no doubt that when people have a choice they will pick the tablet UI close to 100% of the time. 

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      1. Tom Van Doorslaer Post author

        Ooh yes definitely. I hadn’t thought of gamification yet when I first came up with the idea. I already had some form of statistics in mind, which could be shown realtime on a tv screen. Adding gamification in the mix makes it much more interesting. (because we can)

        That the idea is not specifically for tablets is spot on. In fact, I’m involved in a rather large callcenter project where we are creating a standalone, user friendly front-end, which consumes CRM data via Web-services.

        The reason I initially created this article, was to prove a point that enterprise mobility goes beyond marketing and sales, or fieldagents. That it could also benificial for area’s you would never link with mobility.

        The main problem with the idea is exactly that no 2 companies have the same process for their call-centers. So the idea of a tablet (or web-app) callcenter could probably only serve the first line capturing and scripted help. Anything more complex should still flow through to Back-office. But it does make life more interesting.

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