Marginal Gains: How Ignoring the Little Things May be Keeping Your Contact Center from Being World Class

Marginal Gains: How Ignoring the Little Things May be Keeping Your Contact Center from Being World Class

Anyone that followed the Olympic Games this year surely noticed the medal results posted by Great Britain – 67 total medals (27 gold, 23 silver and 17 bronze) – an impressive haul for a country with a population roughly equal to Texas and California combined. Most notable, perhaps, was the medal count posted by their track cycling teams who captured 11 medals. That’s over five times as many as the next closest country. All of this success from a cycling squad that struggled to put anyone on the podium just a couple of Olympics ago.

So, how did they achieve these dramatic results in such a short time? Well, let’s agree that we’ll look past the cost per medal estimates of more than $6 million per medal (which actually was better than Australia’s approximate $9 million per medal total), and talk about the concept of marginal gains.

What exactly are marginal gains?

Well, in the world of British Cycling, it is the primary philosophy of the driving force behind their success: Sir Dave Brailsford.

The concept of marginal gains as adopted by Brailsford essentially equates to seeking out small incremental improvements to any process that may add up to a significant improvement overall. In cycling this includes small changes such as spending time in the wind tunnel looking for aerodynamic improvements like better fitting clothing to reduce drag, teaching athletes the most effective techniques for washing their hands to prevent illness or traveling with the cyclists preferred pillows to improve the quality of rest at hotels.

Similar to some of the ideas employed by Brailsford and his team, a contact center may find that there are a near endless number of marginal gains to seek.

A few that I’ve seen implemented with success include:

  • Provide a separate but nearby break room. Reducing the time agents spend getting to and from the break room can increase utilization, reduce stress, and decrease tardiness.
  • Offer free flu vaccinations. Flu spreading through a facility can seriously reduce productivity or even shut a contact center down. Offering free or subsidized on-site vaccinations at the beginning of the flu season shows your investment in your people and can reduce sick leave.
  • Provide a mechanism for agents to self-acknowledge calls that didn’t go well. This reduces QA time and helps identify agent improvement areas. You could even reward them for being more customer-centric and self-aware.
  • Move team meetings to the start of the day. Trying to get agents off the phone or pulled from queues once the work starts flowing is difficult and often gets pushed to the margins of the day. Show commitment to the customer, the team, and the importance of team huddles by scheduling meetings before shifts start.
  • Eliminate one level from the IVR.
  • Make maximum use of your WFM solution to look for any possible improvement in occupancy (time agents spend actively engaged with a customer). Even a slight increase in occupancy can help improve overall efficiency.

Lastly, once you’ve implemented these (or other marginal gains) replace the carpet in the contact center. It needs to be done. You know it. I know it. The agents know it. Sounds like it won’t make a difference, but it does!

Ok, so now that you have some ideas, how do you achieve success in your center by seeking out these small improvements? From an interview with Harvard Business Review last year, Brailsford suggested that there are three main components to being successful:

  1. Have a strategy – identify critical success factors up front
  2. Create an environment for success – make the culture one that fosters success and recognizes the value of small things having an impact
  3. Continuous Improvement – don’t be satisfied with the status quo

Strive to create a culture where everyone recognizes that their actions matter. If applied effectively these small changes can add to big success. In the words of Brailsford, ‘Try for progression rather than perfection’.

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