The Carphone Warehouse is the largest independent retailer of mobile communications in Europe. Its’ business can be divided into three operational areas and the strategy across its three core divisions are as follows: •Distribution – to grow through increased sales and through acquisitions of similar businesses or by building its number of stores and by growing its online sales business in order to retain and develop its market share. •Data Services – to be a market leader in the anticipated revolution of wireless data and mobile telephony.
The company assesses that this revolution has begun with mobile access to the internet, through the introduction of WAP (Wireless Application Protocol), GPRS (General Packet Radio System) and with the launch of 3G (Third Generation) services. •Telecoms Services – to use its retail power across Europe to increase on-going airtime revenues and expand its facilities management business model across Europe. This report will identify the strategic direction of the said organisation and will then mainly focus on the training and development policies of the company and its appropriateness to the identified strategic direction.
In this paper I report my personal experiences with working for Carphone warehouse and make comparisons that indicate that some working practices perhaps do not evolve as much as we might think they do. Finally, I will give conclusions and recommendations in regards to my findings. STRATEGY It is viewed as a ‘new generation retailer’ by many in the industry. It attracts people who are motivated by working for an employer who seems to share their belief in teamwork, tangible and intangible rewards, and charisma.
Charles Dunstone, chief executive officer has stated “we are developing a portfolio of related businesses and services that can deliver attractive and sustainable growth in earnings and dividends”. The organisations strategy is built on three core objectives: ? To continue to grow market share in all our geographical markets both by investing in new store openings and by generating like-for-like growth from our existing estate and developing additional sales channels; ?
To maximise the lifetime value of our customers, both by providing a level of service that encourages repeat business, and by identifying relevant new products and services where we have a sustainable competitive advantage over other suppliers; and ? To grow our business-to-business fixed line operations organically and through acquisition, and to invest in our network to provide an increasing range of communications services. In 2005, the aim was to open 200 new stores across Europe, in a concerted drive to build on their substantial retail platform and become a more significant player in all of their markets.
By the end of the year they had succeeded in opening a record 247 stores with 92 being opened in the UK. To identify and understand the strategic direction of the organisation that I have elected, one needs to examine its aims, objectives and strategies. The Carphone Warehouse is run on a day to day basis following ‘five fundamental rules’. These rules are as follows: 1. “If we don’t look after the customer, someone else will. 2. Nothing is gained by winning an argument but losing a customer. 3. Always deliver what we promise. If in doubt, under-promise and over-deliver. 4.
Always treat customers as we ourselves would like to be treated. 5. The reputation of the whole company is in the hands of each individual. ” Carphone Warehouse apply these rules to the entire organisation giving every individual regardless of what department or level they are employed in, an unambiguous and easy to understand set of rules. They have always operated on the basic premise that if they provide a good service for customers, they are more likely to be rewarded with their loyalty. Carphone Warehouse recognizes that in order to be competitive in its markets, customer service is a vital part of its activities.
They have a strong emphasis on after-sales service, Web-based help and insurance against mobile theft. The company must be careful though, over gimmicks such as having an email link to their Chief Executive. Whilst this may appear to be an inspired piece of publicity, it can be irritating to customers who believe they are getting individual attention, only to receive an automated response. For the purpose of this report I will be focusing on the call centres training and development and linking that to the organisations overall strategic direction.
I have personally experienced working in a Carphone Warehouse call centre and will give my opinions TRAINING AND DEVELOPMENT At Carphone Warehouse (CPW), your personal and professional development will be given the highest priority, whatever your role and at whatever level you join us. With our ‘can do’ philosophy, our aim will be to give you the on-the-job learning that will allow you to optimise your unique talents, grow your career and flourish within a stimulating culture. Our training budgets are substantial and are maintained year after year.
In fact, we spend more than four times the industry average on staff training – financial sponsorship is also available for our people to study for relevant professional qualifications. This is because we see training as a serious investment in our people and, in turn, a serious investment in the business. But while we will provide the support and resources, ultimately the onus will be on you to take ownership of your career and maximise the opportunities that are available. A good starting point for self-learning is the Knowledge Centre on Melon, our intranet.
Here, you can access a variety of support materials including e-learning and online assessment, and identify training courses that will be appropriate to you. Your specific training will depend on the area in which you join CPW Contact Centre A four-week training programme will launch your career within one of the Contact Centres. The first two weeks will consist of classroom-based learning to give you general information about the telecoms industry and the CPW philosophy, before concentrating on more specific departmental information.
The remaining two weeks will be spent in a Launch Team, where you’ll answer live customer calls with the assistance and guidance of Team Coaches. The Contact Centre has also developed Advisor Competency Training (ACT). This is a modular training programme designed to help advisors improve and develop the skills they use within their roles. There are a variety of courses covering the areas such as time management, assertiveness and technical capabilities. You will work with your Team Manager to decide the best options for you.
Our Retail Division, like our e2Save business, has recognition as an Investor in People, which it gained in October 2003. Overview In the past year, our Contact Centre business has answered a phenomenal 5 million calls from customers, and to deliver this service our team has grown to over 1,000 people. Typical Roles: Customer Service Advisors deal with customer queries, resolve problems, and provide advice on a range of products and services – all to deliver the perfect customer experience for which CPW has become famous.
Customer Service Team Managers are responsible for the smooth, day-to-day operation of the Customer Service team, making sure quality standards are maintained on every call to achieve service levels at the Contact Centre. Everyone begins as a Customer Service Advisor and we always try to promote our Managers from within. . This is some very well worded literature regarding training at the Carphone Warehouse and it would have to be considered as extremely appropriate in relation to the strategic direction of the organisation.
Two week class room training learning about the company and the telecoms industry in general seems exceedingly suitable and would give one the precise information. The strategy of Carphone warehouse can be made apparent and the further two weeks would act as an induction with ‘the assistance and guidance of team coaches. ’ In reality, this is incredibly far from the actual training that takes place. PERSONAL EXPERIENCE I am no longer with the organisation but have spent six months in their call centres.
My first appointment was in the summer of 2003 at their head office in Acton, west London. This was in the credit control department and my training with ‘budding up’ with an existing employee. This is just simply listening in on their phone calls and seeing how they handle the calls whilst using their personal computers. This lasted for two days and varies depending on how long it takes for one to get familiar with the phone calls. Once you feel fairly comfortable you start to take phone calls and let the existing staff member do the computer work.
This goes on until you fell comfortable enough to take the phone calls and operate the computer but you still have a member of staff listening in to make sure you have grasped it and they can also handle any unique queries. On the third or fourth day depending on how comfortable you are, you are allocated a desk with a phone and computer and you are expected to carry out the duties. There was a maximum of approximately 2 hour’s classroom training which was purely for a new computer system that we were expected to be fully comfortable with from then on.
We were shown how to use the system, allowed to play around with it for a while and expected to remember everything about the system within those 2 hours. I was frankly disgusted at the level of training they offered and the attitude that went along with it. If we had any problems in the job, for example coming up against a query from a customer that we were not shown how to deal with, we were advised to consult with one of our nearest colleagues who were not busy at that particular moment.
This seemed fairly logical and in my experience worked well at first, but after a few days some of the staff became quite indignant. I thought this was rather ignorant as they had been in my situation when they first began this role and unfair on us as the new employees as we felt that we had done nothing wrong and had actually been encouraged to seek assistance from our colleagues. This had a number of consequences that were not favourable for either party. For me, it made me feel quite inadequate as I was made to look as if I could not carry out my duties properly.
For the few that had this sour attitude it did not bring any sort of team environment but a number of very segregated groups consisting of new employees on one side and experienced employees on the other. At times I did not ask for any assistance and probably gave out the wrong information to customers, which in hindsight was obviously the wrong thing to do but at the time I felt it was the only option with the animosity that existed. Situations like these are quite surprising as call centres are rather repetitive and tedious jobs with high staff turnovers, so I expected experienced staff to try and make it as relaxed as possible.
This is an issue that needs to be addressed as it can create a number of adverse problems, one that I have already mentioned and others could include increased staff turnover. This training method is comparable to the model of developing competence developed by Reynolds, 1965: 1. Help 2. Have a go 3. Hit and miss 4. Sound 5. Relative mastery 6. Second nature This shows the stages from the help required when you have no idea about how to perform the job to having a go. For me, this was the ‘budding up’ process when I literally needed help to having a go myself; to hit and miss i. . sometimes I handled the call correctly, other times I didn’t. The next step entitled sound is the description of being fairly competent to relative mastery, which is of above average competence but not fully capable, this could be likened to having the confidence to do the job but still at the stage when there are queries that I could not handle myself. The final stage is second nature which is self explanatory; one can perform the job without having to actually think about it and they have fully mastered the role.
My second spell with the company was in the summer of 2005 with TalkTalk in Northampton. This training programme lasted for one week and was classroom based. It was quite a systematic approach and logically began with the introduction of the organisation as a whole and then specified to TalkTalk which is a sub division of Carphone Warehouse that supplies a landline service, the most significant competitor is British Telecom. Small tests were given throughout the week that ensured we had learned the appropriate material and if one did not achieve 80% on any given test, they were forced to retake it.
This was a much improved training method as it made certain that employees knew the correct information before we were sent to the live call centre and gave all the new employees a chance to bond and form friendships. This also reflected a number of different aspects within this particular branch of the organisation. There were organised team nights out on the last Friday of every month with vouchers given by the company that allowed each employee a maximum of two free drinks.
This was a sales based position and there would be friendly organised competitions between some of the teams and the winning team would have some confectionery to share amongst ourselves. With the mundane job of a call centre agent, this was a much better organised environment to work in, with a pleasant colleagues who were always willing to help and many competitions and perks that help distract us from the monotonous occupation. The intranet was used to display each employee’s bonus for the month and the use of whiteboards to display what employee’s individual and team performance was for the day.
Reviews were made after the first two weeks of employment and your ability on the job was assessed along with your punctuality and any issues you wanted to raise. Another review was made after a further two weeks addressing the same issues. These reviews were particularly helpful for both parties as the employee could see how their performance was and identified areas in need of improvement if any. There were also trainers that would listen in on some of your phone calls and grade each call against certain criteria.
This was a method of ensuring that you remember to mention all of the appropriate information and handle the call with the utmost professionalism. The training approach of TalkTalk was far more organised and I could see the concept of the competence steps which begins with unconscious incompetence to unconscious competence. This is to say that I began with not being aware that I had a particular deficiency in the area concerned to the skill becoming so practiced that it enters the unconscious part of the brain, (it became second nature).
Although this was a much improved experience of the training methods, it still did not live up to what the website had illustrated. There was class room training but it only lasted for one week and not two weeks. The overall training length was stated as being four weeks, but in reality it was only one week. When examining my experiences in relation to the strategic direction of the organisation, I am still rather astonished by how successful the organisation has been. One would have to think the training in the other areas of the organisation, perhaps considered more important departments is far more superior in both length and thoroughness.
TAYLORISM Call centres have evoked comparisons with the sort of assembly-line working in manufacturing associated with Henry Ford and Taylorism. Some have described call centres as the electronic assembly lines of the twenty-first century. The degree of surveillance necessary has also invited unfavourable comparisons, for example with nineteenth century designs for prisons, or even (by one call centre worker) with Roman slave ships: “You feel like you are on a galley boat, being watched, answering calls every thirty seconds, monitored and told off if there are mistakes”. Channel 4 TV, Special Report, broadcast 14/12/99) This is perhaps a rather extreme comparison but identifiable with many as there are many similarities between call centres and Taylorism. Taylor believed that monetary reward was an important motivating factor that would drive the system. Higher rates of pay could be offered as an inducement for increased rates of output. Skill requirements and job-learning times being reduced to the minimum, work performance being closely ‘time-studied’ and monitored, pay being tied directly to individual output to encourage each worker to maximise their efforts.
Conceivably Taylor’s principles were rarely followed in their entirety, the basic scientific management approach to work design was widely embraced in the industrial and industrialising world as it moved into the twentieth century. At the same time that Fordism was spreading, attention was beginning to be paid to the arguments of Roethlisberger and Dickson (1939) and Elton Mayo (1933) arising from the research in the Hawthorne plant in Chicago. This research was said to show the importance to them of people’s social involvement at work and it was alleged that employees worked more effectively when managers ‘showed an interest’ in them.
These arguments kept alive in some managers’ minds an awareness that employees’ expectations at work were complex and would not necessarily be straight forwardly satisfied by monetary rewards alone. CONCLUSION Ultimately, I interpret call centres as a return to Taylorism and deskilling service work. However, although deskilling has taken place the notion of deskilling depends on the observer’s standpoint and notion of skill. There is a wide agreement that call centre agents are not an unskilled workforce.
The demands of the work can require considerable skill along the lines of diverse types of knowledge, cognitive and communicative flexibility and emotional labour. In spite of that, skill in call centres is no longer understood in the traditional sense of formal qualification. Evidence clearly establishes that target-setting lies at the heart of management strategy in call centres. Targets are applied not only to ‘hard’, orthodox Taylorist measures of employee performance such as number of calls answered, average handling time, etc. but also to ‘soft’ aspects deemed essential to the task like ‘rapport’ and ‘pride in the company’. A range of practices are utilised which are consciously designed to reinforce the imperativeness of target attainment as mentioned earlier; intra-company competition, company promotion criteria, and the universal use of whiteboards amongst others. The mix of these managerial approaches to target-setting varies within call centres, and sudden changes in emphasis and direction are commonplace.
It could be argued that these changes reflect, on the one hand, continuing management uncertainty as to the best way forward and, on the other, the seriousness with which resolving this problem is viewed by the companies which employ them. In this light, whilst the range of services, functions and tasks carried out in call centres will ensure that some of the jobs will require high levels of skill, knowledge and experience, for most call centre workers the future appears likely to continue to be characterised by target-setting and Taylorism.
RECOMMENDATIONS The most fundamental recommendation I will put forward is to carry out the training that has been specified on the company website. Many potential employees are attracted to the organisation because it is very well known and would expect it to have an adequate if not exceptional training procedure. These thoughts are reinforced by the easily accessible information published on the website. Many theorists should be considered such as Elton Mayo’s work on the importance of human relationships in the workplace and Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.
Deskilling has proved to be a major pitfall of being a call centre agent; one should consider adding responsibility and expanding individuals’ job scopes which will demonstrate that call centre agents are valued and their position does not resemble 1920’s assembly line work. The improved training and development will also validate that employees are vital components in the strategy of the company as this is not the current situation.