What Business Analysts Can Learn From Call Centers

Numerous studies, including those by Oracle and American Express, indicate that consumers are willing to spend more, following an excellent customer service experience.

There’s no denying that an effectively managed call center can improve customers’ perception of a business. No business could have gotten where it is today without its customers. For the simple fact that call centers handle customer interactions, it’s no surprise that they contain a mine of information that Business Analysts can tap into.

So, What’s The Problem With Call Centers?

Call centres get calls, lots of calls. Their aim is to deal with customer queries as quickly and effectively as possible.

The standard solution is twofold:

  • Train staff on the most obvious questions
  • Incentivise them with a call handle time target to get maximum utilisation.

These measures only take us so far, particularly as most of the calls are caused by mistakes of our own making like sending incorrect bills and products going out of stock -- which we didn’t train the agents to handle as we didn’t plan to make those mistakes. 

Secondly, any call center agent certainly knows how to misrepresent his call handle time stats to get his bonus.

Design against demand

A far better solution is to design your process and systems against the customer demand you actually receive. This can be achieved by removing the obstacles customers face instead of blaming staff for poor customer service.

How do you achieve this?

Designing against demand sounds like an intellectually sound thing to do. Why wouldn’t you want to work out what demands are placed on your centre?

Where it gets difficult is the “How?” How do you work out what the demand is? If you get thousands of calls every hour, how on earth are you supposed to sift through them?

Fortunately, there is no need for some fancy (or expensive) “big data” solution…

The solution can be achieved with a pen and paper:

Fold the paper into a 2 by 2 grid and label the axes:

  • Did the customer call because they wanted to? (Yes – they wanted to change their name and address) (No – their bill was wrong).
  • Did you fix the customer’s issue there and then? (Yes – all resolved, No – we asked the customer to call back or handed them off)

It should look a little like this:


Of the four boxes, only the calls that a customer wanted to make that were resolved are good calls. Everything else is waste of one sort or another.

After a couple of hours of call listening and a bit of judicious 5 bar gating, you will have a list of most of the things your customers are asking for and an understanding of whether or not you can meet their demands.

I guarantee that you will be shocked by what you find but you would at least know what to go and fix.

Is this relevant to a Business Analyst?

Probably not if your organisation doesn't have a call centre, but assuming that it does, and assuming that you want to write business requirements that meet customers’ needs, then designing those requirements against demand has to be a good place to start.

What do you think?

Author Bio

James Lawther is a middle aged middle manager. To reach this highly elevated position he has worked for multiple organisations, from supermarkets to tax collectors in lots of operational roles including running the night shift for a frozen pea packing factory and doing operational research for a credit card company.

He has also written a free course about business process improvement. You can get it here. As you can see from his CV he either has a wealth of operational experience, or is incapable of holding down a job. If the latter is true the course isn't worth a minute of your attention. Unfortunately, the only way to find out is to read it and decide for yourself.