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Why is a Lean Call Center like the Tour de France?

Imagine two call centers.

One is ‘traditional’. That means that the call sequencing goes to the least busy operator or the first available operator. (Those options area actually listed on a website for a major call center system manufacturer).

The other is a Lean call center. They always have the first operator answer the call. If he is on the phone, the second one answers. But if the first operator gets off the phone, he will get the next call coming in. The calls get front-loaded, leaving the first operator winded, and the last one with hardly any calls. Think of it like a pace line in the Tour de France. The riders at the front of the pack are doing all the work, and the ones at the back are hardly breaking a sweat.

Of course, in a Lean call center, those operators at the back of the line are not going to be left idle. They are going to be entering orders, doing quotes, filing, faxing, and doing a bunch of other tasks that can fill the time. But when call volume spikes a bit, they are still available to provide outstanding customer service.

The first system probably seems more fair. Everyone is answering the same number of calls. But the problem is that fragments of down time are spread out into unusable and unpredictable chunks. This is more pronounced in small call centers than large ones.

The second system-the Lean call center-puts a heavier call burden on part of the team, but people at the end of the queue are available for other work. It is an easy way to find a few extra people on the payroll that you didn’t know you had.

Fortunately there is a way to mitigate the unfairness of the pace with a little programming magic. The sequence of operators can cycle through the team, just like bicyclists would take turns at the front of the pack.

If you are familiar with Lean on the shop floor, you probably recognize this as the least operator concept. I’m always eager to learn-have any of you applied the least operator concept in any other unique ways?


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