How to run a call centre

The following story was provided by a fellow onion working somewhere in the world. I’ve changed the details to provide anonymity.


…there was a company that wanted to find out how to sell more to its customers.

It bought a voice recognition system that could understand what their staff were actually saying when customers rang up.

They worked out that other products were only mentioned on 40% of calls.

A chance to improve!


They then went off to implement the strategy of telling customers about other products on 60% of calls.

Staff were incentivised to hit the 60%  target. The calls were monitored using a speech analytics system to identify whether staff were now asking more .
Staff quickly identified that it was impossible to hit 60% but being a resourceful bunch figured out a way of getting around the issue .

If all they had to do was mention the name of the other products on the call for the speech analytics system to pick this up then that’s what they did.
So for example if the other products that were being sold were ‘tins of beans’then the call handler would simply shout out or whisper anywhere in the call ‘tins of beans’.


This confused a lot of customers but was quickly side stepped by the agent on the phone as background noise .

At the end of the month the management team patted themselves on the back as the ‘ask rates’ had increased significantly to over 80% . Well done everyone !

Strangely though sales had not increased .

The management response…

And round we go again .

In another call centre an incentive was ran  to improve ‘silent time ‘ on calls. This is where the call centre agent is doing some work and the caller is left on hold. They had found this was a major cause of customer dissatisfaction and was costing the company quite a bit as handling times were longer than planned.

The incentive would pay £40 for anyone with less than x% of their call in silent .

So what advisors started doing was not to put customers on hold, but keep them on the line and…

If the customer left the line to get some more details the advisor would start singing down the phone to avoid any silent time…

If the advisor had to add notes to the computer system then the advisor would talk the words that they were typing…

Strangely silent-time went down but customer satisfaction didn’t improve and handling time actually went up.

So what? As this blog asks at the end of every post, whats the pont?

I’m starting a new theme in thinkpurpose called …


Ruined by best efforts!

If you have any bizarre tales of how things muck up when people try their best to improve things, but don’t have a method, or act in ignorance, then send ’em in and I will pour scorn on them using swearing and cartoons. I can’t guarantee I’ll use them, as I’m quite lazy and they may not be very good, but I’ve used people’s stories before. Who can forget this triumph? I’m particularly interested in any local authority stories where things are ruined by best efforts like:

  • managing demand
  • CRM and callcentres in general
  • services provided by the private sector
  • lean, sorry of course I mean LEAN
  • generic change rubbish. When things are just IMPROVED by waving a wand at it.
    and of course our favourite…

I’ll change any incriminating details, or you can before you send it to me, and you’ll have the honour of appearing in Britain’s Funniest Systems Thinking Blog, and I’ll get some material because I’m running out of ideas. EVERYBODY’S A WINNER.

Click on the contact me button at top, or email direct to

This entry was posted in RuinedByBestEfforts, systemz comix, targets, tools and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.