Monthly Archives: May 2014

Is it immoral not to let your workers go to the bathroom?

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Some companies in certain countries don’t let their workers go to the bathroom, except during their breaks. Is this cruel and unusual treatment? Laws vary from country to country and I know very little about this situation. However, the psychological effects of being treated like a slave cannot be good. If you are working hard, particularly at a call center job, you need to relieve yourself, or the pressure can really mount up. Additionally, imagine how you will feel if someone else tells you when you may have permission to use the bathroom. You will resent such a person.

A place of escape
On a converse note, I will say that in my personal experience, the bathroom is a place of escape for uncommitted workers. This escape mechanism might be what is responsible for the oppressive rules. I once had a programmer who spent half her life in the bathroom. Every time I called, she was in the bathroom. Was she texting? What was she doing? Or was she just avoiding me? If you have a company to run, you can’t have workers go to the bathroom ten times a day and spend long hours in there. Women tend to spend a lot longer in the bathroom than men.

Employees who abuse their bathroom privilege
Having strict bathroom rules for all people is cruelty. But, for those individuals who abuse their bathroom privileges, there need to be rules. If you work eight hours a day and two are spent in the bathroom, that is horrible. For those that spend more than an average of twenty minutes a day in the bathroom, there needs to be some sort of rules. The first rule would be tracking. There should ideally be a way to track how many minutes a particular employee spends in the bathroom and at what times. If someone is abusing the privilege, then perhaps they should be fired.

I’m not sure how to handle the bathroom dilemma, but rules should only apply towards those who can’t function without rules! Gotta go. Never mind, someone else is in the bathroom. I’ll have to wait!

What is the average age of someone working in a call center?

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Many people think that to work in a call center, you need to be under thirty and live in Manila. This is not exactly true, although there are probably a few hundred thousand individuals who match your description.

Roughly half of call center workers are thirty or younger, but there are older people as well. Only 10% of call center workers are over fifty which is another interesting statistic. There are more ladies than men in the industry, and the ladies often do not have a high level of education. Based on this information, I would tend to assume that call center work is entry level, and so unpleasant that nobody would want to do it into their old age unless they had been promoted to a higher level, or unless they actually liked the work.

Call center work doesn’t have to be an entry level job. With good training, and many years of experience on the job, a certain level of mastery is likely. Additionally, if management treats their agents with kindness and appreciation, why wouldn’t more people stay at the job for a longer period of time? A third point is that call center work seems to drive people crazy due to the long hours even if they enjoy it. But, what if your job consisted of only a few hours of calls, and you could do data entry, chat support, or something else during your other hours? It might be a whole lot more tolerable that way!

Some employers prefer to hire older employees who had more life experience who can establish a rapport with a wider range of clients.

Although most call center employees are young, you might be better off hiring older people who will really take care of the end-users attentively!

Management of Labor Disputes at Call Centers

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The problem with call centers is that management wants to get the maximum amount of labor out of their workers. Many call centers don’t train their call center agents much if at all. Many of these call centers put lots of pressure on their workers to do more calls per hour and work long hours. The result is a high attrition rate, and high burnout. The management can’t handle the pressure either and they tend to quit frequently as well.

The problem is, how do you get high volume, high quality work out of your workers? Keeping them in a pressure cooker will upset them. Is there a better way?

I have a friend who works in a tax preparation center. The more returns she does, the better she gets paid. There is an incentive and profit sharing program in action. She gets paid on an hourly rate, but that rate is set based on how well she did the previous year. For call centers, you could do the same. Pay your workers based on how good their quality and quantity was in a previous time period. That way you don’t have to hassle them and you can all be friends! Work at your own pace. Since call center work has a high turnover rate, why not pay people on how good they were the previous quarter? Give quarterly raises.

If you want to keep your callers around longer — don’t mistreat them. Give them appreciation, and more freedom, and pay based on results!

Judge a book by its cover; Judge a company by its office

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My new interest in life is something completely different from my previous interests. I used to like languages, animals, nature, trees, and hiking. Now, I want to be an expert at judging a company by its “cover.” I learned that a quick visit to someone’s office can tell you a lot about the quality of their work.

What I learned is that a good service provider is generally a good communicator. When you drop into someone’s office, the first thing you should do is make small talk. Yes, you can do this over the phone too, but you see the person’s demeanor and mannerisms much better up front. If a person communicates using good English, and thorough explanations, they could be considered to be a sophisticated person. My best service providers all fall into the category of sophisticated.

One of the problems I have faced in judging people based on their communication faculties are that the people I interact with are not native speakers. I deal with people around the world on a daily basis. Americans speak English well. If they make a small grammatical error, or don’t communicate ideas clearly, that is a very clear clue that they are not too sharp. With foreigners it is much harder to tell. Their English is never that great, so you can’t judge them based on grammar. If you find that you can communicate with them and that they are making an effort to communicate clearly, that is very important. Many people live in the USA for years and feel that learning English and interacting with Americans is something to avoid — avoid those types!

The next thing you can see is how much thought someone put into their decor. If you walk into a place that is bare bones with no artwork and no plants, the quality of the service might be pretty bare bones as well. Even my chiropractor understands that bare bones need to be covered with at least something — maybe a ligament or muscle tissue. Then, there are other folks whose office looks like they put some work into it. Some people have magazines in the waiting room.

I know this blog is supposed to be about outsourcing, but the examples I am going to use here are about medical offices. Just pretend the my chiropractor’s place is really a BPO or KPO outfit.

I went to a spa that had a waiting room with zen pillows, a large plant with leaves draping down, and a very nice Asian looking desk. It was very comfy, but also made me feel relaxed. The treatment rooms had expensive carpet, sliding Japanese paper & wood doors, a towel with three carefully placed massage stones, and more! The rooms were just the right size too. Most clinics try to have as small rooms as possible so they can squeeze in as many patients as possible. This place did it right! The minute I walked in the door, their attention to detail was impressed upon me, and I knew my spa treatment would be high quality. I was right. I judged a spa by its cover, and uncovered a winner.

I went to another spa that had a huge sign saying “Grand Opening.” I later learned they had been there for over a year. Maybe it is time to lose the sign? Their waiting room had a plant and some cheap looking chairs. It was small and uncomfortable. The people working there were uptight and not smooth in any way although very nice once they got to know me. The spa treatment seemed liked the person had never been trained. It was the worst I have ever had and the least expensive. It was so bad, that they should be paying me for my time spent instead of the other way around. In any case, if I had been smarter, I would have known that the treatment would be as horrible as their waiting room.

But, my rule is not fool-proof. My chiropractor has a very plain waiting room. It is the right size and the chairs and okay. Nothing fancy, but comfy. He has magazines and a nice staff of ladies. Nothing fancy, but they do a good job. He is the best chiropractor I have ever used and I drive over an hour to visit him every two months. If an office is average, the service could be good or bad. Average offices are not an indication of quality. But, really good ones or really bad ones are a very clear indication!

Do you use the Steve Jobs principle: “Think Differently?”

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In America, people love the concept of thinking differently. We fool ourselves into believing that we are all unique individuals, that you can’t generalize and that culture is an imaginary force of nature that doesn’t really exist. The truth is that we are all unique, but not as unique as we think. Our DNA is probably 99.9% the same as other humans and what makes us different is the .1%. Sounds Kabbalistic — The 99% and the 1%. In any case, this blog article’s purpose is not to ridicule the innocent incorrect beliefs of popular American culture (even though that is fun.) I want to ask you if you think differently at your work?

It all starts with a thought…
If you want to make a small difference at work, or make a huge galaxy shaking change in the universe, it all starts with your thoughts. At least, my guru claims that all actions that have happened in the universe started with a thought. The Big Bang was started by a rather big thought, or disturbance in consciousness! So, let’s start thinking. What types of thoughts can you do to make a difference?

Problem solving
The way I understand business is very simple. You provide a service. You either follow directions or you don’t. You either do good work or you don’t. You either get back to people (hopefully in a nice way) or you don’t. And you either finish on time, or you don’t. To improve things in the world of work, you can change when and how people communicate. You can try to enhance people’s job skills. You can try to enhance the tools people use at work (Apple computer has mastered this art,) or you can refine the art of meeting deadlines. Larger corporations try to master the art of assessing the value of each of their employees and each of their customers to optimize. My experience with companies is that they often don’t get back to you and don’t finish on time. If I were going to create the perfect company, I would focus my efforts more heavily on communication and ways to meet deadlines no matter what!

Your BPO company
How can you think differently at your BPO company? There are a million things you can think about. I would start by talking to your BPO customers. What do they like about your company and what do they think needs improving. If you talk to 20 customers, you might get 20 different opinions, but you might see that 5 out of 20 are saying the same thing. Think differently by trying to solve the problem of where you are lacking. Then, think differently again and try to do something new and wonderful that no other company of your category has ever done before! Don’t ask me, I have no idea! After all, I don’t think differently!

Google has its employees devote time to innovation, what about you?

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A book about Google
Many years ago I read a book about Google. They ask their employees to spend 20% of their time doing innovative projects that are not for profit. Sometimes the projects deliver amazing results, other times not. But, the benefit is that their employees’ minds are always expanding and become more adapted to doing effective creative work.

Most don’t try to mold their employees
Most other companies out there don’t try to mold their employees. What about your company? Do you just hire people who you think are good and fire them when you find out they are bad? Not very creative! Don’t you think that whomever works for you might do better if you molded them a bit? You could give them some type of coaching, or have them do interesting things in addition to whatever their main tasks are. That way, after a few months or years, they might turn into very much more evolved employees capable of handling much more difficult tasks!

Innovative tasks to give your staff
There are many innovative tasks you could give to your staff. You could have them devise creative new ways to schedule company business. They could change the seating arrangement. They could think of new marketing techniques, or technical ways to solve problems. The sky is the limit. Your company might be a little odd if the seating arrangement went haywire, but it would definitely liven things up a tad, don’t you think?

The point is that people will start thinking more if you ask them to think. If their thoughts will have consequences, they will think even harder, so they create positive new realities. Taking time out to innovate takes time and attention though. Your staff might need to take time away from daily tasks to innovate. So, if you really want a more interesting and intelligent company culture, you have to invest in it. But, the results could be something you can’t even dream of in your current state of mind!

I would write more on this topic, but I have to go — I have an innovation session now!


You might also like:

How to create a culture like Google’s and have fun doing it!

Steve Jobs watched his programmers carefully, so should you!

Want to be good at innovating? Start questioning everything!

Steve Jobs Principle: The more you network with people outside of your field, the better you will be at innovating.

How to develop the Google culture within you


Half Company; Half School?

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To my dismay, most employees out there just aren’t that great. It doesn’t matter what profession we are talking about (although doctors and attorneys are generally good,) but people just don’t measure up. If you only hire the best and forget the rest, then the other guy will get stuck with the 99% of people who are rejects. In the real world, to make the world a better place, education needs to continue.

Many call center operations have continuous monitoring and training. These are the call centers that do well. They get it. But, how about the rest of the world?

You can hire people based on how good a worker they would be. But, if your company devoted 5-10% of the employees hours to being trained, you might start hiring people based on how well they respond to training. If they are not receptive, you can’t use them. If you gained a reputation for being good at training, people might accept lower salaries since they know they will benefit in other ways.

But, imagine the quality of your employees if you give raises every six months, and keep training them. After several years, you might have the best people in the industry! You will get a reputation for having the best people. People at your company might be more enthusiastic too since you helped them so much!

I find that at many companies, the workers have bad communication skills. English language skills and general communication skills are often overlooked. When I go for spa treatments, only 10% of spas have staff that speak good English over the phone. How much business do you think they are losing due to their bad communication skills? Wouldn’t it be worth it to have two ninety minute sessions where people could be coached in their English skills? That way you will understand me when I say,

Me: “A little to the left… harder…”
Spa worker: “Harder? What that word mean?”
Me: “More strong!”
Spa worker: “Oh, more strong. I know that word, but I don’t know the H word because I dropped out of my English class because I had to work to support myself.”

How can someone survive in the Shiatsu profession when they don’t know what left, right and harder mean? Training is expensive, and time consuming. Perhaps it will even be frustrating for you and your employees. But, most other companies have incompetent workers. If you have smart, well trained people working for you, you will be able to gravitate more clients and charge more!

Don’t be a company
Be half company, half school

You might also like:

Why your sitar & tabla lessons are the most important training for business

Should your company have a pre-hiring training program?

Should India’s government be involved in employee training?

My business goal for my newest travel blog

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I like writing about outsourcing, but the audience just isn’t there. I am trying to write about general business concepts in an interest way, but the traffic just never grows beyond a certain limit. But, I started tweeting about travel topics, and got lots of new followers and great interactions right away. Maybe God is trying to tell me something. I love writing about business concepts, and I feel I shed light on important and interesting issues which others may enjoy reading about. I love writing Notary stories, and we get very healthy traffic on our notary blog. But, travel — that could reel in a huge audience if I play my cards right.

Everyone likes reading about travel, and everyone likes pretty travel pictures. I see no limit in the amount of traffic that could be generated. My notary blog has grown from 10,000 visitors per month a year ago to 18,000 per month recently. I’m not sure how much more growth is possible. But, a travel blog could get a million visitors a month or much more if it were fun to read.

I’m not a great writer, but I have a passion for travel, and make my writing quirky. Maybe the travel blog will become popular and maybe it could become huge. But, what is the overall monetation strategy here? If I have tons of traffic, I could sell programs to travel sites. A travel site could purchase a section in our blog that would be tapped into our regular flow of traffic. They could get links to their site, and lots of exposure for a monthly fee. I could sell them a few articles at some exorbitant price, and they would get lots of traffic in return. I’m not sure who would pay what for my service, but it could work. Or, I could just have my own travel site and promote hotels and travel destination while publishing lots of cool articles.

In real life, most of the travel sites are big players. I’m not sure they want to get involved with small players like me. But, you never know. Maybe someone of the medium players on their way up might want to play ball. The world of the internet is a mystery. You never know who will want to do business with you or when, and new players are entering the market place daily which adds a new dynamic to the mystery. It is like life in the cyber-jungle!

Companies that just don’t give a damn

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In the competitive world of business, it seems that many companies deliver unfriendly and mediocre service and don’t even care. Employees stay a much shorter time at jobs than ever before in recorded history. It is only in Japan that a cultural type of loyalty exists between employee and the mother company. They have to be loyal for life — or lose a finger. Maybe I’m confusing corporate culture with the Yakuza — I get confused sometimes when I don’t get enough sleep.

In any case, putting bad jokes aside, I just can’t figure out why most service providers just don’t put much effort into customer retention. One trend I noticed is that small companies want to attract big clients and don’t care at all about little ones. This makes no sense because a few little clients add up to a big one, and if you lose a little one you are still in business. But, if your business only has two big clients, lose one, and you are done! But, putting big and small aside, why would a company want to lose any client? Clients bring in revenue, why wouldn’t you want all the revenue you can get?

Why do so many companies have people who just won’t call you back. People who just won’t get work done on time. People who tell you not to be so demanding? Do I have unreasonably high standards or am I just asking for the combination of respect and functionality?

If you want your company to grow, or keep its meager existence, start giving a damn.

On a brighter note, there is a huge company in India that gives a dam. Tata. They have built at least one large dam in India!

Components of a good blog

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People think that blogging is just about writing great content. Nothing could be farther from the truth. It is about capturing an audience, and not about being a great writer — although being a great writer doesn’t hurt.

Picking a great title is something that is very valuable in blogging. I hired professional writers to work for me before. They wrote great content, but their titles didn’t really give any insight as to what their pieces were about. Additionally, their titles didn’t attract traffic. I had to go in and manually change the title so that it would be popular. The quality of their content was excellent. There were no spelling mistakes either. But, there is another area of expertise that these professionals lacked. They didn’t know how to pick topics that would consistently be popular with the readers, even though they wrote well.

Breakdown of a popular blog entry:
(1) Great Title (30%)
(2) Popular subject matter (30%)
(3) Great points of view examined (30%)
(4) Professional writing skills (10%)
(5) Writing great tweets from content within the blog entry (n/a, but important for promotion)
(6) Linking to other related content. (n/a, but helps get traffic to your other content)

I’m guessing here about the percentages. But, a professionally written piece with a lame title, an unpopular subject matter (which means unpopular with your audience regardless of how popular it is on another medium) and dull points of view regarding the topic, will be a blog article that doesn’t get much traffic.

My assistant is very knowledgeable about notary work. She is the queen of the industry and the entire community seeks her out for knowledge. She writes a few blogs for me from time to time when she has something inspiring to share. There are many technical and spelling errors, but her work is often popular because she writes about things people want to read, and makes some salient point.

To sum it up, if you want to do well in the blog industry, learn to be very refined in how you write your blog titles. You might even try different variations and check your stats to see which got more traffic. The science of title picking is fascinating. It is an art form that is endlessly complicated and will never leave you bored!

Social Media: The winning content happens by accident

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I have read hundreds of articles about social media. The advice is very vague and looks more like a point by point and blow by blow guide to a big question mark. Yes, certain social media channels might work better with your audience than others, and yes you have to pay attention to which works better. But, it is about having winning content.

Sometimes you will write one thousand blog articles and a handful will just be popular. They might be your worst written articles, but people might just like them. And some articles might do well if tweeted on Twitter. Of five thousand tweets on Twitter, we have a lucky three that we found by trial (twial) and error (twerror) that worked like a miracle. The stuff that worked was not serious material at all and very poorly written. It was just ridiculous content we drummed up by reading facebook posts about industry specific goofy content. Funniest things that happen to signing agents is our all time hit. I write it a few years ago. It is a random assortment of rewritten Facebook commentary. It’s not even a real article. Honey, I notarized the kids is our other best seller. It has no valuable information and is just one big dumb joke — people love it.

So, my advice is, read less blogs about how to do well on social media, and EXPERIMENT, EXPERIMENT, EXPERIMENT. You won’t know what works until you find out by accident one night at 3am when you are going through your analytics reports!

What if your outsourcing company spent double on customer service?

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Hey buddy, I’m trying to make more money, not spend more money! I want more customers and less customer service!

That is how much people in India think, and many people in America are on the same track. But, are you on the right track? In the world of business you make more by giving more. Do you like to go to a restaurant that wants to charge you double, yet give you shrimpy portions? If it is a sushi joint, then maybe, but for other types of restaurants no! People want to go to a restaurant that offer reasonable sized servings, with above average food, and great service. So, don’t give less, give more, and then people will want to use your service more.

Instead of asking, how can you make more money, ask how you can offer a better overall experience for your customers.

At outsourcing companies, customer service is almost always low on the priority list. I have never gotten good service from an outsourcing company. Although I run an outsourcing site, I don’t really like outsourcing to companies. I prefer to get my own individual who I know and trust to do tasks for me. Maybe I might like outsourcing to companies a whole lot more if it were easier to get good quality customer service?

Good customer service is not rocket science. It just means having more people to answer your phones at more hours of the day who speak English clearly and who are trained to answer basic questions. It also means having people get back to you and give progress reports. And don’t think of it as spending double on customer service — think of it as STOPPING spending half of what you should be spending on customer service and finally spending what you should be spending. You might be able to raise your rates if you were offering the best service in town — think about it!

(1) Instead of asking, how can you make more money, ask how you can offer a better overall experience for your customers.