Maths Class

Stick TeacherHere’s Stick Teacher. Today Stick Teacher is going to run through a few sums with the Stick Children. Adults might find his case studies useful too. Stick Teacher is going to demonstrate how to save money whilst providing a better service – what’s not to like? 🙂

To do this, he’ll use the example of a generic public sector call centre (*police / ambulance / fire / tax office / housing department / other). *Delete as applicable.

The idea that these call centres save money seems to be based on the premise that if you put a lot of people in a central location and give them a specific function that forms part of the overall service provided, it’s cheaper.

Let’s try and understand how this concept works, using characters that Stick Teacher has invented to help explain things to the Stick Children…

Here’s Employee 1. Employee 1 is an enthusiastic call taker and a hard worker, who always assists the public the very best he can with his level of training and experience.

Employee 1

And this is Employee 2. She is also enthusiastic and hard-working, but more senior, more highly trained and experienced; plus, she is empowered by the organisation to make decisions about stuff.

Employee 2

Here we go then…

Case Study: Option One

For this example, Employee 1 answers a call, asks basic details and creates an electronic record. He is paid 10 Stick Coins per hour (this is the currency in Stick Land) and spends 15 minutes dealing with the call.

Time elapsed so far = 15 minutes.

Total cost so far = 2.50 Stick Coins.

Employee 1 then forwards the electronic record to Employee 2; being more senior, more highly trained and experienced, she is paid 20 Stick Coins per hour. Her role is to review the electronic records, identify any additional actions and make a decision about what to do.

On this occasion, she identifies that Employee 1 has covered most of the basics, but thinks it would be helpful to ask a few more questions and do some background checks before a resource is allocated to deal with the case, so she details these requirements on the electronic record and returns it to Employee 1 to complete.

She spends 15 minutes doing this (costing a further 5 Stick Coins).

Time elapsed so far = 30 minutes.

Total cost so far = 7.50 Stick Coins.

Employee 1 then completes these tasks and sends the case to the appropriate resource. This takes another 15 minutes, costing another 2.50 Stick Coins.

Total time elapsed = 45 minutes

Call rate per hour = 1.33

Total cost = 10 Stick Coins

So, that’s the traditional call centre model then.

Case Study: Option Two

An alternative approach would be put Employee 2 at the point of contact with service users, where she can maximise her skills and experience to do a more thorough job from the outset, thereby negating the requirement to pass the job backwards and forwards for review and remedial actions. Due to her enhanced ability, she is able to deal with the entire case in 15 minutes.

Total time elapsed = 15 minutes

Call rate per hour = 4

Total cost = 5 Stick Coins

So, although it costs twice as much to employ her, the job gets done more quickly and effectively. Oh, and the whole process costs half as much as in Option One.

Case Study: Option Three

But perhaps your organisation wouldn’t want to use a raft of ‘Employee 2s’ at a higher rate of pay, so a third option could be to employ Employee 3, who is just as enthusiastic and hard-working as his colleagues. Employee 3 is quite capable of handling 95% of calls without assistance; he is more highly trained than Employee 1, but isn’t trained to the highest level of specialism, like Employee 2.  This means he is paid 16 Stick Coins per hour. He is able to deal with most cases to the same level as Employee 2, and at the same rate.  Therefore, he deals with this call in 15 minutes, costing 4 Stick Coins.

Total time elapsed = 15 minutes

Call rate per hour = 4

Total cost = 4 Stick Coins

On those few occasions where Employee 2’s specialist training is required to make decisions on the most complex cases, this model would allow for a small number of such experts to be available, commensurate with the demand for their enhanced skills.

So, this model is also faster and costs much less than the traditional model; the only consideration is there will be a handful of occasions where some calls need to be passed to Employee 2 to complete. If the cost / benefit considerations of this model are acceptable, then this configuration could be the most cost-effective of all three.

Stick school

Stick Teacher’s Conclusions

Therefore, the result of today’s lesson for the Stick Children is that conventional wisdom about things like centralised functions is not always that wise. Whichever way you look at it, Option One is actually the slowest and most expensive to operate; Option Two is the ideal model from the caller’s perspective, and Option Three is probably the most cost-effective and suitable configuration for the real world.

The illusion of savings under Option One comes about because of the focus on cost-per-operator, without understanding end-to-end flow or whether purpose is achieved. It builds in waste, unnecessary handovers, disempowers staff, creates delays and COSTS MORE, whilst providing a WORSE service!

Therefore, maybe more people should try one of the other options instead.

If the Stick Children can understand this, so can you.

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About InspGuilfoyle

I am a serving Police Inspector and systems thinker. I am passionate about doing the right thing in policing. I dislike numerical targets and unnecessary bureaucracy.
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6 Responses to Maths Class

  1. Dave Hasney says:

    Reblogged this on Dave's Bankside Babble and commented:
    Having spent many years involved in the emergency service call centre process I have to say… if only our leaders had been to ‘Stick School’???😕

  2. Well explained Simon, thank you, but the NHS would never make such an obvious mistake. No wait, isn’t that what NHS 111 does? That service which everyone hates because they get lay people to fill in lots of questions from the computer. Then 10% of these “non-urgent” callers get sent an ambulance, so that service can’t cope and they take them to A&E so that service can’t cope either. The vast majority of these cases could have been dealt with by a doctor on the end of the phone to start with… but they thought that was too expensive. #doh

  3. Sioned-Mair Richards says:

    But will you be ensuring that Employee 1 is trained up to become Employee 3. Otherwise all that enthusiasm & already built knowledge will be wasted. Developing existing workforce should be the key.

  4. Adrienne says:

    Rather than Employee 3 handing the tricky ones to Employee 1, why doesnt Employee 3 get Employee 1 to come and help him? That way he could start to learn about how to handle those trickier cases.

  5. Adrienne says:

    Or should that have been employee 2? I’ve lost track! Anyway, pull expertise in, don’t hand off!

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