61
3
Organizing and Managing the Call Center
You don’t know what you don’t know until you know itthe right
solution is a continuous search for the right solution.
Dr. Ichak Adizes
3.1 Overview
The turn of the 20th century was the dawn of a new age in communica-
tions. A few decades earlier, in 1876, the telephone had been invented and
telephone service was proliferating rapidly. As telephone services expanded,
the public began to depend on and even expect reliable service from tele-
communication providers.
As the subscriber base grew, telephone companies were contending with
new resource-planning problems. Automated central offices hadn’t yet been
invented, so human operators were required to establish connections for
callers. One big question was how many telephone operators were necessary
to run the switchboard. Too few and service levels would be unacceptable
to callers. But too many would be inefficient for telephone companies and
would drive up costs for subscribers. Further complicating the issue was the
fact that calls arrived randomly, driven by the myriad of motivations indi-
vidual callers had for placing calls. (see Figure 3.1)
In the years that followed, many bright people would grapple with these
resource-management challenges. One of the first was A. K. Erlang, an
engineer with the Copenhagen Telephone Company, who in 1917 devel-
oped the queuing formula Erlang C. The formula is still widely used today
in incoming call centers for calculating staffing requirements and is
described in greater detail later in this chapter. Others who followed Erlang
focused on developing disciplined forecasting techniques, scheduling meth-
odologies, and system report parameters; advances in the development of
forecasting and scheduling methodologies continue to be made.
62 3.1 Overview
The management challenge
Managing a call center operation successfully requires a multitude of
skills—managerial, troubleshooting, negotiating, and patience, not to men-
tion a personality that works well under pressure and is able to handle the
different types of CSRs who will work at the facility over time. Some famil-
iarity with computer and communications technologies is an asset as well,
although most internal call center facilities should have ready access to tech-
nical support for resolving hardware, software, and communications prob-
lems. The steady growth in the call center industry over the past 10 years
has resulted in a requirement for new job-related management skills. As call
center personnel have developed these skills, the position of call center
manager has evolved and is now a portable, definable position, recognized
from company to company and across different sectors of industry.
The global growth of call centers as a significant element of customer-
centered business has led to the employment of a large number of people in
call centers, estimated to be between 3 and 4 million, in North America
alone. From a labor market perspective, the industry is not saturated, since
the growth of call centers outpaces the supply of employees. Historically,
the industry has had a difficult time attracting a steady supply of qualified
workers. Turnover in the call center industry is a major problem as well.
Turnover rates are significantly higher than those of other industries. A
recent benchmarking study of call centers by the Purdue University Center
Figure 3.1 Typical call center infrastructure.
Voice
mail
Telephone
network
Terminal
devices
Predictive
dialer
VRU
Fax
server
E-Mail
server
S
w
i
t
c
h
Mainframe
computers
and databases
LAN

Get Call Center Operation now with O’Reilly online learning.

O’Reilly members experience live online training, plus books, videos, and digital content from 200+ publishers.