Resurgence of Six Sigma in the Call Center: Decreasing Customer Churn

One of my clients, a wireless B2B telecom company, was experiencing a significant problem in their call center. They were absolutely inundated with calls—most of them problems. They were spending a significant amount of money trying to manage the call center—adding new call center representatives, training new call center representatives, bringing in new call center supervisors, figuring out how to limit the duration of calls, developing escalation plans, etc.

The call center was deemed crucial since they were running about a 50 percent customer churn annually, which they considered simply as a cost of doing business. Their unwritten strategy was to "outsell churn." In addition, there was no real effort to retain customers—no provisions for doing so in the system. When customers were ready to leave the company simply told them how to do it, either by e-mail or fax.

Six Sigma Marketing and Measuring Customer Value

Someone in the organization got smart. Instead of trying to attack the symptom of the problem they decided to go after the problem using Six Sigma. The call center executive adopted a Six Sigma Marketing approach to the issue that began by identifying who the call center was trying to serve. Six Sigma was a new phenomenon to the organization since no one on the executive team believed in market segmentation. The call center then got rid of their nonfunctioning customer satisfaction system and brought in a system that measured customer value based on its strong link to market share growth. The call center then captured how their customers defined value and one of the key CTQs (critical to quality) factors was called "customer focus."

Elements of the Six Sigma Call Center Marketing Strategy

  1. Being responsive to your organization’s questions and service needs
  2. Being a company that consistently delivers above and beyond expectations
  3. Call center representatives promptly making changes to the organization’s service when requested
  4. Call center representatives resolving problems to your satisfaction
  5. After the sale, call center representatives resolving problems the first time you call
  6. Call center representatives accurately representing products and services
  7. Call center representatives providing clear and concise explanations about the bill
  8. Call center representatives providing timely training on how to use the products and services
  9. After the sale, the ease with which you can reach the right call center representative to solve your organization's problems
  10. After the sale, Customer Service was easy to do business with
  11. Being a company that provides business solutions to satisfy all your organizations’ needs
  12. Being a company that understands the needs of your business
  13. Proactive communication on promotions or new product and service offerings
  14. Provides easy access to products, service and/or accessories at a convenient retail location
  15. Renewing contract is a fair and simple process

Put Six Sigma To Use In Your Call Center

The call center’s performance on these attributes was abysmal—they were the worst in the market. The call center’s competitors were beating them like a drum. The wireless company used this information to map out the order to delivery process to see where they might improve. While many of the problems showed up in the call center, they soon discovered that the seeds of these problems were sown earlier in the sales process.

Here is a quick rundown of what the call center discovered by using Six Sigma marketing in their improvement efforts:

1. Call center salespeople were being paid a commission on the number of customers they signed up. In doing this they were failing to collect the proper information making it impossible to process applications and get the systems in the hands of the customers. Virtually every time an application was reviewed it was sent back to the call center sales representative for more information or information requiring correction. Since the call center salespeople were so focused on "headhunting" and not getting paid for fixing the application (the call center reps were already credited for the sale) applications were lost, stuck into what the company called "trouble basket" for further processing. The result, many calls to the call center asking about the status of their system.

2. Call center salespeople were failing to explain or teach customers how to use the features of the system. These are complex systems requiring a fair amount of explanation. Again, because of the "head hunting" nature of the call center job (outsell churn) they were not spending the time to make sure customers could actually use the systems. The result, the call center was inundated with calls claiming that the product did not work properly as advertised. Call center personnel were forced to become trainers.

The Six Sigma Solution

Their solution? First, the call center introduced an electronic order form that could not be submitted until all fields were properly filled out. This greatly expedited the handling of applications and reduced the call center order to delivery time significantly. It also cut down the number of calls into the call center regarding the status of the call center’s orders.

Second, salespeople were brought in and their job descriptions were changed to make sure that the call center’s training component was emphasized. This was tracked in the call center by linking customers to the right salespeople. Salespeople with large numbers of customers calling for training were flagged and interventions made. Again, the numbers of calls into the call center were reduced.

Finally, call center personnel were reduced in number and trained to retain customers. The result of this was that churn dropped from 50 percent to 25 percent, below the industry standard but not sufficient for this company that continued to work on the problem.

The moral of the story is important and teachable. Customer service is not solely the responsibility of the call center but is the responsibility of everyone in the organization, especially those who touch the customer. Problems that show up in one part of the system are often created elsewhere. This is an important function of the call center—track problems and use this information to conduct system reviews.

First published on Customer Management IQ.