Developing a passion for process and breaking the rules: Interview with Eric Michrowski

Call centers are highly regulated environments. Staff are usually measured on everything from response through to average handle times. But sometimes focusing on these metrics can lead to undesirable results – as anyone who has been driven crazy by a company’s call center will attest.

So what would happen if you broke all the rules of traditional call center management?

That was what Eric Michrowski, former Director, Quality & Process Improvement (Enterprise Leader) at a Western Canadian telecoms giant, proposed to do and was given the go-ahead to run a pilot in the company’s call center.

Michrowski focused on re-evaluating traditional call centers metrics and look at the wider outcome – end to end - from the perspective of the customer. He also adopt a completely different way of managing call center staff.

In this video interview, Michrowski discusses how and why they’ve broken the rules and what results the company achieved to date.

Note: this is a transcript of a video interview conducted with Michrowski earlier this year. To watch the original video interview check out: Business Process Management (BPM): Breaking the rules to achieve successful business outcomes

PEX Network: I understand that you’ve been doing is breaking all sorts of traditional operations management paradigms. What have you been doing?

Eric Michrowski: As part of our process improvement programme [which won PEX Network’s award for Best BPM Project] our focus has been on really rethinking what are the right operational metrics to drive real business outcomes?

Our call centre type of environment is a big part of the changes we made and we really rethought a lot of the traditional call metrics. We’re not thinking about it as calls, for instance, we’re not looking at average handle time, and we’re not looking at your traditional paradigms in a call centre. In breaking those rules and focusing on transforming those people who are part of the process - tapping into their talent and making them aware of the end-to-end experience - and giving them the autonomy to drive a lot of the changes to make the right outcome happen for a customer.

The metrics are purely outcome-based and not transactional, not about internal capacity management per se.

PEX Network: Whenever you’re breaking rules it can always be a little bit riskier than just following them. How did you convince your leadership team to let you try this?

Eric Michrowski: For the most part our Business Improvement Programme has been very focused on driving a lot of pilots. We have adopted a very rapid approach – we usually do everything in six-week increments! That’s six weeks to plan, six weeks to implement, then run a pilot in a very short period of time.

We haven't spent a lot of money and we can very quickly test and diagnose and understand the impact of what we’re doing which then makes the business case a lot easier to do – so much more agile in terms of the approach, much more step-by-step changes, and extremely rapid in terms of the focus. Then we have the business case that’s delivered from the outcome as opposed to a theoretical mode.

PEX Network: What approaches did you take?

Eric Michrowski: One approach, as I already mentioned, was to undertake very rapid engagements where we looked at the customer experience and the customer journey from an outside-in perspective. So we really looked at the process as a customer would experience it and then looked at how we do it internally and map it back.

That was the first element.

The second element was involving frontline team members from every part of the process. Basically, our process was designed by frontline team members for the customer.

The third piece was we challenged a lot of the traditional management paradigms. What I mean by this is that we very much focused on how we engage our team members throughout the process, giving them the autonomy to drive change, giving them some alignment in terms of clear goals that they need to achieve from an outcome perspective for the customer, and giving them the ability to drive their own decisions in the right environments and against the questions that they face day-in and day-out.

PEX Network: What kind of results then did breaking some of these rules achieve?

Eric Michrowski: Phenomenal results! I mentioned that a lot of what we did was to tap into the talent and the passion of team members. We got huge uplifts in terms of employee engagement scores. We saw engagement scores go up tremendously high – close to 100% in some cases – which I’ve never seen in my 15 years in this space! The same result in terms of the employees’ perception of work processes. Dramatic uplift around that – and again that’s because we’ve tapped into the heart and the minds of the team members and given them the ability to drive the changes that are necessary.

From a customer experience perspective we’ve seen some very tangible lifts in terms of customer experience scores, in terms of the end-to-end experience scores - not call-related, or not transaction based. We’ve seen some shifts that are quite sizeable in terms of reduction of customer effort throughout the process.

In doing all of this, despite all the traditional paradigms of management suggesting that we should be more expensive because we are not using management expense-type accounting to drive call behaviours, we actually have seen a significant reduction of cost because we’re doing the right things. We’re doing it right the first time so we don't have to reengage multiple times.