In Control or Out: How Human Process Control Can Make a Difference

Lately, I have written a lot on call center points of interest, as I have just rolled off three back to back projects in that space. These are some of the hardest six sigma project types, that is, when compared to manufacturing from the control perspective only. Now, I am not at all claiming that manufacturing projects are any less significant. But, in reality, when you are “controlling” a machine using control charts, and watching for deviations outside of your control limits, you can go and tweak a knob here or pull down a lever there, as based on your control plan, and immediately see the results in your SPC charts.

In human processes, however, it is a bit trickier. When a process goes out of control due to human variation, there is no level to pull that can quickly show results in a set of SPC’s. Instead, one often has to look deeper into the root causes that they are controlling, for the potential of multi-colinearity between inputs, or inputs that were not surfaced during the DMAI of your project. Many things affect human performance. In fact, have you ever done a process the same every day, whether getting dressed in the morning or the classic, making toast example? I dare to guess that the answer is NO, if you are like me.

The frustrating part of this for black belts is that often deployment leaders expect similar results as they saw in manufacturing companies which again isn’t an apples to apples comparison. Instead, one must look into the softer motivational tactics that keep these agents coming to work, and most often, will need to look into how your incentivize their work. You get what you pay for, in soft dollars (i.e. free food, recognition programs like Agent of the Month, etc) as well as hard dollars (i.e. salaries), so make sure you align your performance management goals with your incentives.

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For example, if you are looking to reduce AHT but incentivize your centers for high C-Sat, you are shooting yourself in the foot. Quality often slows down a call, because agents are truly “listening to needs” and proactively driving suggestions that will help them appear more knowledgeable and willing to assist a customer’s request. If you incent time, you will find agents doing what ever they can to get off the phone by the target time, in order to get incentive, even if it means taking a QA hit (if that was how you were thinking of controlling the C-Sat situation).

Instead, look at building in controls that band behavior, like a scorecard would. Instead of having an AHT incentive, look to rewarding low hold time or ACW time (two components of the AHT calculation) because talk time is the true driver of C-Sat. Hold time, BTW, is not the time it takes for an agent to pick up the phone, a.k.a Average Speed of Answer, as that is a C-Sat driver, but isn’t part of the AHT calculation. Don’t confuse the two. Hold time during a call, is when an agent asks to put you on hold while they (…call the carrier for you, process your request, waive fees etc). This is seen as VA time if you look at your own VOC. I promise you…Just dig deeper, and know that you can control human variation but you must align your incentive and performance management structure to do so.

Comments 2

  1. Robin Barnwell

    Hi Laura

    Agree with a number of the points e.g. matching incentive system (AHT) to desired process output (C-Sat) and sheer amount of variety available human process-steps, but I am not sure of the contrast back to manufacturing.

    I have absolutely no experience of how LSS is deployed in manufacturing as I have only ever worked in transactional (financial services) deployments.

    But I cannot imagine their deployments are based on tweaking a knob or pulling a lever. I bet there is much more to it than that. My guess is manufacturing businesses have all the issues of transactional because they do such things as run call centres and handle customer payments plus they have manufacturing issues as well. And that getting a final product delivered rapidly and near defect-free is a significant challenge.


  2. deepan

    Very true of all the facts mentioned by Laura.I would also like to Aux Adherence as part of the incentive system. In our call centers we give one 30 min break and two 15 mins break but agents often used to abuse break timings – no discipline!.. Hence we tried to incentivise the AUX.. If people dont have any AUX defaults then we pay them incentive and so on and so forth and it has been a success because it helps in better ASA and reduced abandonment rate which are two most importance items in a call center…

    Focus should also be on Login/Logout times and Staffed time..

    Regarding hold times,ACW agents might even put on hold/ACW for taking a breather!Monitoring usage of hold times and ACW times by the team leads are must.. Any high usage of Hold and ACW should be probed into…


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