Ep 12 – “Your call may be recorded so we can laugh at you later”

Virtually every 1800# you dial has an ominous warning – “Your call may be recorded for quality purposes.”  Half of that statement is true – there are billions of interactions on servers around the world.

These calls are dissected and evaluated but they do little to improve customer outcomes. From what I can tell their best purpose is comic relief for those of us who have worked in contact centers and occasionally they identify extremely bad customer interactions. The problem is the technology has improved but the thinking around Quality assurance hasn’t moved much.


This isn’t an innocuous problem, significant resources at contact centers are devoted to QA largely around manually pecking around looking for random calls to listen to. This approach is a loser and most practitioners instinctively know it. To be sure we did a test spanning ~113,000 calls at a call center. For the pilot group we totally stopped any QA, and compared the results with the control group.

On today’s show, my guest Chris and I throw rocks at Quality assurance and present a few viable alternatives.


Episode 2 – The End of Jobs w/ Mike Muson

I was hired as a consultant to come ‘automate parts of the operations’ – which meant eliminate as many jobs as I could, there were even incentives in my contract based on labor savings.  And by God when the project was all over, there were a few hundred less jobs than when I showed up. It was a huge success! We utilized technology to eliminate jobs, and I hope all those people moved on to other jobs created by technology – I don’t know if that’s true but that’s what I need to believe to get my 6 1/2 hours of sleep every night.




What we do for a living is the source of our identity for most of us, so I don’t comment on this topic lightly. We are in the middle of an evolution that includes a lot less jobs and this is not the first ‘robots are taking over’ era but I am a little concerned as you can tell from the article I wrote here a little while back.

For all of us as end consumers this may be mostly great news, things will get faster and cheaper – I feel lucky to be alive in the middle of all the possibilities technology affords us.

The robots are no doubt good for us as consumers but what about the folks who work in the service industry? What about call center employees? I have my theories, but instead of engaging in endless specuation I invited Mike to my Podcast – he is a smart guy whose company is at the forefront of putting all the crappy IVRs you know and hate today out of existence. He wants to replace those IVR Touch Tone torture prisons with smarter, less frustrating technology.

The good news from the podcast is one day I will be able to call my phone company in front of my young son without the risk of using profanity. What I was more interested in are the call center agents this technology will displace… Please listen to the episode and I hope the very lively conversation will leave you a little more enlightened.


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What Customer Service And Prostitution Have In Common

On one spring morning, I had 2 very upset employees in my office, they were both in tears, one was a great frontline customer service rep and the other was her manager. I couldn’t make out much of what she was saying but I heard enough to understand a customer called her an F’ing B*$%! I did my best to console them and assured them I was on the case. Within minutes I was listening to the recordings from the interactions – there was no polishing this turd. This was a really bad call, she was a saint but the customer was relentless. Let’s just say my already expansive profanity dictionary expanded by a few words. Apparently there were also a  half dozen similar unreported calls from this customer that were just as inflammatory sitting on our servers. I quickly reached out to my bosses wanting a rubber-stamp to end this customer relationship. They wanted the customer profile, and turns out he was a pretty big account. With the almighty dollar guiding our thinking, we took a left turn on rationalization street. We had come to the cowardly conclusion that the occasional customer abuse was par for the course, and a little dusting of yelling, sprinkled with mild profanity is fine for all customer service employees.  We did however decide there was a line though, and like in prostitution we used financial compensation to draw that line. So we concluded we definitely don’t pay our frontline employees enough to be called an F$%&ing B&$#! So we established that those calls should be immediately sent on to the supervisors and managers (they were paid more) – we rationalized that since we paid them more they should handle it.  So just like that we had a new policy for handling abusive customers that effectively said “everyone in customer service is a prostitute, the higher you earn the more smacking around you should be able to tolerate.”

Angry on cellphone


It is very common for senior leaders to patronize people in customer service by saying they have hard jobs that are invaluable but do little to make their overall experience. I, for one, was a terrible advocate for those ladies.  I folded like a cheap lawn chair as soon as I got push back. I chose to not buck the system – I was worried about myself interests instead of standing up for them.


The truth is, you can not be customer centric without being employee centric. This is not semantic, the formula is employees first, customer second. Companies like Amex, Southwest Airlines, Virgin and Disney have been utilizing this guiding principle to delight customers for years. The firing of abusive or otherwise bad customers is table stakes and simply good business.  The bar should be to put your employees first, even before customers. Here are three reasons why you should commit to putting employees first:

1. Increase employee loyalty. Customer facing teams are notorious for their high turnover. In fact, many call centers have annualized attrition rates of over 100%! There are many factors at play but it certainly doesn’t help when employees do not feel treated well, supported and advocated for by their leaders.  More often than not, they will flee after they are burned out or in search of greener pastures.


2. Increase employee engagement. It goes without saying that engaged employees deliver better outcomes for companies. One of the biggest drivers of disengagement is employees feeling that they are not supported and advocated for by their leaders. Changing your culture so that every leader is hyper focused on taking care of your people will do wonders for engagement.


3. Improve customer loyalty. Companies like Costco & Southwest Airlines have embraced this line of thinking for years and for their efforts Costco employees generate twice the sales of Sam’s Club.  Southwest Airlines continues to reign as the number one domestic airline in the country.



In one of my favorite scenes from Mad Men, an employee asks her manager  (Don Draper) for recognition and praise, he responds with “that’s what the money is for.” Commoditizing your employees or treating them like prostitutes is an obvious loser, but I will go a step further by saying prioritizing profits over your customer experience is also a mistake. Long term Profits are a by product of delivering a great experience for your most important customer –  your employees.

Join the conversation by following me on twitter: @amastenumah #experiencefirst

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My name is Amas and I’m a Metricaholic!

If you have spent a day in corporate America, you know better than to even question the truism, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.”  Apparently, the contact center industry decided to make this mantra a religion and worship at the temple of measuring every single thing.  Almost every practitioner I meet feels obligated to tell me about a new metric he or she is measuring.  At times I feel like I died and woke up in Metrics Hell!  I say it’s about time to end the metrics arms race; it’s been going on for decades, and the impact on customer outcomes are dubious at best.



Full disclosure, I have done my fair share of escalating the metrics madness.  I once actually started white-boarding all of the metrics I was responsible for and ran out of space (the board was 4’ X 5’!).  I have even come up with my own metrics, one of which I called Cruise Time.  Cruise Time essentially measured how much excess personal time was used in any given day.  Like everyone else, I wrapped it in the “what’s best for the customer” flag, but this ended up being another unnecessary metric. I happen to believe that in almost every industry, winners and losers will be determined by customer experience.  So focusing on how well efforts like these are doing is critical.  Having said that, adding more speedometers to a car has never improved its performance.  I certainly am not of the opinion that we should eliminate metrics, as advocated by some.  I only argue that it doesn’t have to be so many.

In the end, customer facing organizations should care about a handful of customer outcomes.  How accessible are you to your customers?  How much revenue are you generating for the organization?  How efficiently are you operating?  To that end, here are a few suggested metrics that can help you get back to metrics sanity:

 1.       To gauge accessibility, I favor service level as measured in percent of calls answered in x seconds.  The determination of how many seconds to set your target should be guided by the sweet spot for your customers – set it too low and you overspend; too high and you frustrate your customers.

2.       Customer impressions are generally determined from voice of the customer programs.  I am biased toward the customer effort score, but whatever you choose just be sure it captures actionable impressions.

3.       On the revenue front, I favor revenue per contact, particularly if the contact center is a sales center.

4.       For an efficiency metric, I like utilization.  Nothing impacts cost per contact more than labor.  Make sure you steer clear of average handle time, encourage your staff to talk to customers, and discourage them from avoiding customers.

Whatever metrics you choose, make sure they are few and really measure the outcomes you have set for your business.

Are you tracking any unnecessary metrics?

Customer Wait Times Don’t Matter

Ask any customer facing professional what they are most worried about and customer wait time will be top of mind. While overly long wait times can be a driver of dissatisfaction, truth is customers don’t mind “just enough” wait time, in fact almost anything beyond that has no return on investment. The trick is finding that sweet spot.



The other day I went to a grocery store I frequent to buy shrimp, waited my turn, asked for 2 pounds and was headed for the cashier before I was stopped by the manager. He asked “What do you think?”, after he noticed the puzzled look on my face he said “the lines are shorter now!”  He went on to brag about hiring and training staff to reduce wait times and I complimented him for his efforts.

Truth is that too many customer experience enhancements efforts involve a lot of resources but do not improve customer loyalty– here is a great article on that point. The reason for this is that they are made based on bad information, take the case of my local grocer, while it was nice of them to improve my wait time by 15 seconds, it did nothing to improve my satisfaction with the store, and even worse I didn’t notice! If you have been responsible for customer wait times whether that be service levels at a contact center, or at a brick and mortar store, you know how expensive even marginal improvement can be.

Before you commit resources to improve wait times here are a few questions you should ask yourself?

1. How big of an issue is your current wait time? Asking customers if they will like shorter wait times is no way to answer this question. Be more deliberate, for example, ask customers their feelings about current wait times, and then measure its relative importance to their loyalty. If your wait time is objectively too long, it will be apparent not only in customer feedback but in other customer behaviors. The question is where is the point of diminishing returns?

2. What will be the ROI of this reduction? When your wait time is 30 minutes, reducing it to 2 minutes has an obvious payoff, what is the payoff from 2 minutes to 45 seconds? Do your customers care?

3. What is the opportunity cost for this enhancement? Sure you can now brag about how quickly you respond, but what if you spent those resources on a topic that is more critical to your customers?

Bottom line– certainly fix chronic wait times, but before trying to eliminate all wait times, make sure at the very least your customers will notice and they will be more loyal. For someone who is familiar with the cost of improving the last mile or the last few seconds, before you make that move make sure it is worth it.

Do you agree that not all wait time is bad?