Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Next Productivity Boost

Throughout history, great advances in productivity have come about when business systems thought to be discreet by design were brought together.  Henry Ford’s assembly lines brought together various discreet steps in the manufacturing process to produce large gains in factory productivity.  Today’s multi-modal shipping systems put containers on ships and transfer them directly to trucks without having to unload the contents of a single container.  The productivity gains have been tremendous.

Today’s business world is filled with software systems that are discreet knowledge-based tools designed to produce productivity gains in every part of the enterprise.  Computers have provided a means for connecting discreet systems into a more powerful unitary model that has driven these gains. 

The challenge facing every business today is how to continue to produce performance improvements.  What will bring about the next performance boost?

Taking a look at what brought about the prior increases, it is pretty clear that the bringing together of discreet systems is common to almost every productivity boost.  In the case of the call center, there is a large opportunity that has gone largely ignored; connecting learning systems with performance measurement systems.

Today’s call centers are heavily wired to track and report on just about every action an agent takes in support of a customer.  Stopwatches measure virtually every duration possible.  Outcomes of each and every call are recorded and tracked.  Even words spoken and voice tone are tracked and analyzed in today’s call centers.  All this is being done in the name of performance management.  Sadly, little attention is paid to the knowledge level of the agent as an instrumented system.

Therein lies the next wave of performance improvement.  Through instrumenting the agent education process, call centers will be able to identify the impact knowledge is having on the overall performance goals.  In today’s model, agents are continually receiving coaching as the “go to solution” for so many performance problems when, in fact, the problem may well be a gap in knowledge.

Connecting an instrumented education system to an existing performance management system will produce insights into performance outcomes that will open the door to entirely new levels of understanding.  A fully connected performance system will allow for correlations to be identified between training and performance.  Knowledge erosion, a naturally occurring process, can be identified alongside other performance inhibitors.  Resolving the real underlying performance problem rather than the symptom will bring about lasting performance gains.

Imagine being able to have a system that prescriptively identified the various options for correcting performance drops that have statistically proven themselves to be effective.  Imagine being able to boost the performance of the agents in the second quartile to a 3rd of 4th quartile level through systematic efforts that have been proven effective statistically.  No more guesswork.  No more hoping that coaching will solve everything.  Combining an instrumented education system with the existing performance analytic systems will produce exactly that.

History has shown time and time again that big gains come from connecting together disconnected systems that share common resources.  In the call center, that resource is the agent; the most expensive resource in the call center. 

Instrumenting the agent education process and connecting it to the existing performance measurement systems is the next productivity booster.  It is time for the innovators to step up and deliver this boost.