Shortly after leaving university and joining 1-800-GOT-JUNK? the company welcomed a new leader to my department, the call centre.
This leader’s name was Patrick Louis.
The 1-800-GOT-JUNK? call centre consisted of a team of 100 call centre agents (not all scheduled at the same time) answering 1,000,000 calls per year (if my memory serves me correctly).
When Patrick came into the company he inherited a team of young individuals. A few people were making $100,000 per year as call centre professionals. If you know anything about the call centre industry, this is extraordinarily unusual.
The company was and still is great! This description isn’t a bash on the organization, it’s a description of the reality at the time. This is likely why Patrick, a seasoned professional was brought into the company.
During my first year, many of my peers and I called in sick regularly. We performed well as a team but we often operated outside of the guidelines put forth to us, and likely made the life of our Workforce Management Team (WFM) very difficult. The WFM team is responsible for scheduling agents in the call center to ensure there was enough coverage to answer 80%+ of calls within 20 seconds.
To summarize, Patrick had a few challenges ahead of him:
- The profit and loss statement of the call centre was likely in the red because wages weren’t sustainable.
- Some (maybe most) of his inherited team didn’t have many responsibilities outside of paying rent and earning money for the bar.
- He needed to find a solution, fast. This key department within a recognizable company couldn’t keep operating this way.
Now, let me tell you something…I was one of those agents that called in sick when I wasn’t.
Sorry, Patrick! I hadn’t fully matured yet.
But, aside from that, I think I was one of the better agents (this was before transitioning to the operations side of the company). I paid attention to the changes that were happening and when I didn’t understand why changes were happening, I’d ask Patrick to tell me directly so I could learn.
Since I left business school to learn how to grow a company and make operational decisions – this was my real-world MBA. I knew I had to pay attention and acquire wisdom.
These are some of the changes I witnessed and their cause and effect:
He Changed The Pay Structure
Before his arrival, we were largely (and generously) paid on commission with a modest hourly rate. Receiving a loan from the bank with this proof of income wasn’t very likely. He changed the compensation plan so that our commissions were dissolved but had an opportunity to earn a very nice hourly wage, which financial institutions would favour for loans. There were other opportunities to earn more income by way of sales contests but not direct commissions. Not only did this save the company money, but we also performed better as a department!
He Changed the Employee Profile
Before Patrick’s leadership, we were largely a team of 20-25 year-olds. He had the experience to recognize that the company needed a team of people with true responsibilities other than buying beer. These individuals needed to come to work every day to pay their mortgage, support their children and other things that held high value. This new demographic of team members rid the call centre of the absenteeism issue it previously struggled with.
I can’t tell you firsthand how long Patrick conceptualized the plan but it appeared to happen after attentively observing then following up swiftly. Naturally, there was an objection from tenured employees.
Mostly from the individuals who were used to making six figures (or close to). I remember peers of mine requesting one-on-one meetings with Patrick to voice their displeasure.
Although Patrick’s decision was unpopular, he always stood by it.
I shared this story with my girlfriend, Sophia. She hung onto every word because she was fascinated by the example of leadership and making tough decisions. As I shared this story with Sophia it reminded me of something I’ve always known…
…1-800-GOT-JUNK? really was my real-world MBA. Scenarios and case studies like this may be taught in business school but it’s not comparable to watching it play out right before your eyes.
Patrick must have known that this major change, one that would impact individuals’ bank accounts (a sensitive topic), would cause some of his team members to quit. But, the decision needed to be made.
I learned to measure risk, think of contingency plans, how to make swift decisions and stay the course.
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