Preamble

  • Skepticism is not a philosophy of disbelief. Rather it is a philosophy that suggests that there is merit in examing beliefs. A skeptical view of the world allows for faith, in fact recognises that 'faith' at some level often underlies so-called scientific theory. Skepticism does not lead us to the 'entire truth' of the universe, but it is discipline that allows us to better understand small parts of it. And for those parts that we want to grow or progress, skepticism is a tool to open the hood, check the hoses, replace the worn out parts, and lubricate the engine.
  • So why was the focus of this Blog on Skepticism and Technology, and Computer Technology particularly? Because Computer Technology (like every new science struggling for respectability) has surrounded itself with beliefs, an aura which resembles an old style religion where the priests have all the knowledge and know what's best for the humble, confused and worshipfull users of the technology. While the Computer people might enjoy the adulation and their 'special status' and while the computer users (and their managers) retreat comfortably into their 'I don't know what I'm doing and can't be held responsible for anything' attitude, the field of computing technology will largely stagnate. In such an environment we can only extend computer technology by replacing more and more manual processes. That is to say that we can use technology to replace jobs, but we have largely failed to empower the users of the technology to use technology to find creative ways of enhancing their existing jobs.

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Comments

Allan Pease

I'm interested to know if you think that call centres are inevitably going to have low status in organisations. You describe some strategies for retaining staff, but they seem to assume they don't include anything about achieving that by lifting the status of the call centre generally.

Do you include service desks and help desks in the definition of call centre?

Tban

Regarding low status, yes unless there is some change in what IT Call Centres (by which I mean Service/Help Desks) actually DO. The attitude that organisation take towards their Call Centres doesn't derive from some 'personal' disklike of the people working there, it has something to do with a view about the 'status' of the work.

In the IT business the Call Centre is the point where clients 'make first contact' with the IT service provider, and you can be fairly sure that they're not ringing up to tell you how much they enjoyed your last software upgrade. The call centre is not only known as the place where these awkward conversations take place, but it is ALSO the place that generates the request to the 'higher status' group within the IT service provider organisation that has to 'fix' the problem (or tell the Call Centre to tell the Client to 'go away'). It's very often the case that the Call Centre is the messenger and suffers the usual fate.

Despite organisations 'theoretical' understanding that call centres are important, here's what happens in practice. The day to day problem resolution stuff achieved by the call centre staff doesn't get any visibility outside the call centre. The really 'difficult and unpleasant' problems that the call centre can't deal with (like the badly managed upgrade) have to be referred internally within the IT service provider organisation. Every such referral from the Call Centre to the tech support team is (as you can imagine) not greeted with joy. In fact the tech support teams will often very openly 'blame' the call centre for not solving the problem themselves (saying 'that's what they're paid for, obviously they lack competence')

So I'd suggest its the nature of the working relationship between the Call Centre and the other 'internal components providing higer level support' that starts to 'cement' the status of the call centre within the organisation.

My Client Knowledge Base proposal suggests that if the Call Centre becomes a Client Research Centre and becomes an 'intelligence' source feeding the needs of the organisation (particularly those 'higher leverl' support components) then it will become known for doing something 'positive' rather than simply on-forwarding difficult problems.

I might add a short example. A help desk I worked in fielded calls on behalf of one of our higher level groups providing ISP services to Government. That ISP group won an award, something about being the 'most valued' service provider to Government that year. Big deal, the company threw a party, our Company Directors and Government big-wigs, speeches etc. All happening in the company board room within 30 feet of the actual call centre, which was asked to deflect any calls relating to ISP business for the duration (unless critical) so that the boys receiving the award (and enjoying the drinks) weren't disturbed. Now credit to these guys, they were doing a great job. But every single call that ever went to these guys came through the Help Desk initially, and perhaps we didn't deserve all that much credit, but it was probably worth something more than the stale sandwiches we managed to scavenge from the Board room after the party was over.

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