Contact Centre KPIs & The Green Jaguar

In this short article I share the true story of my former boss, her green Jaguar automobile and how they taught me lessons about Contact Centre KPIs.

The background

Back in the early 90s I landed my first VP Operations role running Call Centre & Warehouse operations for an American entertainment company.

I had not come up through the ranks.

I was the VP Finance and I was offered the VP Operations job after the existing VP Operations resigned.

So I went straight from numbers, financials & analyses to operations.

At that time we didn’t have easy access to reliable Call Centre training – especially in operations domain.

The entire management team, including my boss the Executive VP, had to figure out how to run a large and growing Call Centre without any formal education or background in the industry.

Call Centres are very unique environments and cannot be understood purely from an intuitive or gut level.

There are some very real and complex mathematical realities which need to be mastered to perform well.

But I didn’t know those lessons and my boss at the time most certainly did not either.

We built our Los Angeles-based Call Centre from the ground 

One of the milestones of my career was watching a brand new Call Centre being built from the ground up.

Engineers were consulted, building crews were brought in, technology folks began to install, people began to be hired and it was all very exciting.

The Centre was located in a small beach town about 20 miles from the company’s chic and shiny Santa Monica based headquarters.

That gave our pioneer team a sense of independence and also some welcome distance from corporate ‘politics’.

My boss – the Executive VP

My direct boss was a life-long record company executive.

She stood about 6’1” (186 cm), wore big statement jewellery and could do multiple currency calculations in her head.

I loved her but feared her just ‘enough’ – others feared her more.

Every year she also got a new company car – and in the year our Centre went live it was a shiny green Jaguar sedan.  Gosh I loved that car.

Our new Centre was a single story building with glass windows all around.  That allowed us to see cars pulling in and out of the driveway.

And soon you will see how important this was to this story.

When the Centre opened

Our formal launch day was set.

And about 3 days beforehand my boss called me and asked if she could drop by on opening day to see the live operations.

She wanted to see people taking calls and experience what she and the Board had ‘gotten’ after spending so much money.

My answer was of course – yes, come on over.

Was there really a choice?

This is when things got a bit messy

One of the lessons I share now in my training is never let your boss walk unescorted through your Call Centre.

It’s too easy to draw incorrect conclusions based on what you see – a lot of what goes in a Centre is actually invisible!

But I let her go unaccompanied out into the Centre and here is what happened.

Armed with a little notebook, she walked around and observed each and every one of the 60 or so Agents we had in place at launch.

If the Agent was talking on their headsets or typing on their keyboards she was pleased and walked on by.   If they weren’t doing anything she wrote down their name on the notebook.

When her 6+ foot frame appeared in my doorway, she wasn’t very happy.

“Daaaaan” she drawled in her Southern accent, “You’ve got a big problem.

“You’ve got a lot of lazy people out there not doing anything.  So your interviewing skills must not be all that great.  And I’d say you’re also overstaffed.

“If you don’t fix this we are going to have a serious problem – do you really think we’re made of money?”

With that, she turned, went out, got into her car and drove back to Santa Monica.

A surprise visit

A week later, at about 10:00AM, the Receptionist ran into my office and blurted out “She’s here, she’s here!”

She had spotted the green Jaguar pulling into the front drive through the windows.

So I did what any fast thinking VP Operations would do.

I ran out to the floor, grabbed the first 3 Agents I could reach and said “You, you and you, sign off and go hide in the pantry!”

As they ran around the corner in walks my boss.

She looked at me for a moment and then strode right into the Call Centre floor.

And what did she see?

Here’s what she saw

As any good Call Centre person knows, when I pulled through 3 folks off the phone, the Occupancy rate for all the remaining folks immediately shot up.

Welcome to the Power of One.  Everyone was either talking or typing.

She wandered around the Centre for about 20 minutes in total and this time I made sure I went with her.

As she headed back to the front lobby she turned to me and said “Good”.  She then walked out, got into the car and drove off.

Here’s what was really happening 

You need to know more than just the individual definition and purpose of each KPI.

The most interesting part about Contact Centre KPIs is how they interrelate and interact with each other.

Contact Centre KPIs aren’t just dials on a dashboard to be monitored and tracked in isolation.

Why are you still talking about Average Handling Time?

So I came up with what I call ‘The Chicken Dance’ – based directly on the story of my boss and her green Jaguar.

And this has always been one of my favourite teaching moments.

To do the Chicken Dance, you start by raising your arms up so that they are parallel to the floor.


Ok here goes –

When I pulled the 3 folks off the phone – the Service level went down (flap down).

That means the Occupancy went up (flap up).

– Quality potentially began going down as the call queue grew (flap down).

– Abandonment rate likely went up as the call queue grew (flap up).

– Available time for the Agents went down (flap down).

– In the short run AHT might go down but as time goes by AHT goes up (flap up).

– Customer Satisfaction with wait time goes down (flap down).

-and # of Calls Handled per Agent went up (flap up) – but not because they were more productive!  Because we were understaffed at that time.

I dedicate The Chicken Dance to my former boss in Los Angeles

Since I introduced the Chicken Dance in my classes way back in 2003, thousands of people have sat in a training room or hotel conference room and watched me perform the dance.

I think that this has been a fun and useful way to convey the complexity inherent in Call Centre operations.

Operations training doesn’t need to be dry and boring.

It should be interesting and useful and be easily linked to the Employee experience and the Customer experience as well.

People should be able to ‘speak’ its unique language with ease.

So in closing, I dedicate the Chicken Dance to my boss with the green Jaguar.

And I thank her for the wonderful 8 years I had working with her and gaining such wonderful experience that I share with students to this day.

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