Chapter 3 | Supposed antecedents of performance in the call center

2) Organizational elements will present five main elements (of eight elements) based on how organizations are structured and

3.1 Managerial elements and practices

3.1.2 Managerial control practices in call centers

Control can be defined as a systematic effort by management to compare performance to predetermined standards, plans, or objectives, which allows organizations to use resources in the most efficient possible way (Mockler, 1970). Control is one of the most studied topics within call center research. Given the mix of control practices exercised in call centers, it is considered “a contested terrain” (Callaghan & Thompson, 2001; Fernie & Metcalf, 1998; Holman & Fernie, 2000). The control practices in call centers generally reflect “info-normative control”

(Frenkel et al., 1999), a label in line with viewing call centers as a “socio-technical system” (Callaghan & Thompson, 2001; Mandelbaum, 2004;

Russell, 2008). Both labels refer to the fact that control in call centers is based on, and facilitated by, information and communication technologies which enable managers to monitor and control the work output (Armistead et al., 2002; Callaghan & Thompson, 2002).

Prior research stresses that the basic aim of various control functions is to reinforce and centralize target attainment, but also maximize efficiency and productivity of call center operations (Callaghan & Thompson, 2001;

Edwards, 1979; Mandelbaum, 2004; Winiecki, 2009). Control in call centers is facilitated by the general physical architecture, also referred to as the “electronic Panopticon” (Fernie & Metcalf, 1998). This widespread metaphor stems from Foucault’s adaptation of Bentham’s Panopticon, which is characterized by a “conscious architectural design that enables constant surveillance and control of employees”,13 such as timing all types

13 The architectural design of Bentham’s Panopticon (originally used by Foucault in 1977) comprises a central observation tower in a prison that is isolated. Individual inmates

of activities, including employees’ toilet breaks (Ellis & Taylor, 2006;

Frenkel et al., 1998; Houlihan, 2001).

Bureaucratic control and surveillance

Bureaucratic control refers to control embedded in the organizational structure (Edwards, 1979, p. 131), created and carried out through a system of rules and standard operating procedures that shape behavior in an organization (Mintzberg, 1983). In call centers, bureaucratic control is exercised through universal displays of individual performance (such as on whiteboards in office areas) (Bain et al., 2002; Korczynski, 2005), a practice that is based on performance monitoring (also referred to as structural control in Callaghan and Thompson, 2001).

Performance monitoring refers to the observations, examinations, and recordings of employee actions and their output (Rosenthal, 2004;

Stanton, 2000, p. 87), which enable both direct and indirect control of workers. Performance monitoring can help improve performance of work processes (Butler, 2004; Zuboff, 1988), which is closely related to output control (generally defined as an evaluation on the basis of standards that specify results) (Blau, 1956, p. 82). In call centers, this form of control is carried out by recording agents’ calls and keystrokes, listening in on conversations with customers in real time (to facilitate on-the-spot coaching), or silently monitoring calls, which allows managers to listen in without either the agent or the customer knowing about it (Belt, Richardson, & Webster, 2002; NAQC, 2010). These control practices also relate to surveillance, which prior call center research regards as a double-edged sword, since it allows tracking performance while causing mixed implications in terms of motivating agents to perform well (Callaghan &

Thompson, 2001).

Bureaucratic control in call centers has also been described in terms of using scripts, which are routinized responses of how customer interactions are to be carried out and used by all call center agents. Given that scripts regulate not just what is said, but also how it is said when interacting with customers (such as smiling, volume, and pace), whereas the latter represents a linguistic regulation (Cameron, 2000), scripts allow companies to formalize behavior for securing efficient work procedures.

Call centers do this by standardizing service delivery to customers in

could never be sure when they were being watched, since an observer in the tower could see them in their peripheral cells at any time without being seen (Fernie &

Metcalf, 1998).

consistent, uniform ways (Adria & Chowdhury, 2004; Callaghan &

Thompson, 2002; Houlihan, 2001; Mintzberg, 1983). For example, given that customers in prior research are generally depicted as unsatisfied, irrational, potentially unfair, occasionally angry and even abusive over the phone (Archer & Jagodzinski, 2015; Hochschild, 1983; Skarlicki et al., 2008), interacting with a “sovereign customer” requires scripts for emotion regulation (“display rules”) (Hochschild, 1983; Korczynski, 2003; Rupp et al., 2008; Sturdy, 2000; Totterdell & Holman, 2003; Witt et al., 2004).

Although scripts enable agents to carry out their work with minimal mental and psychological effort and emotional involvement with customers, scripts also are a restraining and normative control practice (Collinson, 1994; Rosenthal, 2004; Taylor & Bain, 1998). Scripts have pessimistically been addressed to provide low discretion over work, replace agents’ verbal and interactive skills, and downplay the value of analytical skills, interest and knowledge among call center agents in relation to customer interactions (Gamble, 2006; Houlihan, 2000;

Wickham & Collins, 2004). Conversely, scripts are rarely completely scripted, since customer service interactions can never be entirely controlled (Rafaeli et al., 2008).

Normative control in call centers

Normative control refers to control through the indoctrination of norms (Mintzberg, 1983), which is also associated with behavioral control (the exercise of influence and authority over human behavior [Eisenhardt, 1985]). In prior call center studies, normative control shapes agents’

behavior and performance outcomes in predictable ways. It is practiced by middle managers through coaching, mentoring, and correcting agents in their work (Callaghan & Thompson, 2002; Frenkel et al., 1999; Russell, 2002). Given that normative control includes aiming to transform workers’ personalities and attitudes into the performance demands of the company and standardize work behaviors, normative control is also associated with creating a specific culture in call centers (Batt &

Moynihan, 2002; Deery & Kinnie, 2002; Russell, 2002).

Organizational culture, which refers to a stable set of basic assumptions, shared beliefs and meanings that form a backdrop for action in organizations (Smircich, 1985, p. 58), is highly particular to industries and organizations (Smircich, 1983). According to prior research, the organizational culture is controlled by instilling certain values (criteria for

selecting the goals of behavior) and shaping norms (the generalized rules for governing behaviors that specify how to pursue goals [Davis, 1949]) among workers. Middle managers can shape attitudes and enable call center agents to identify with, and be ambassadors for, the call center goals through value-based training and targeted performance appraisals (the system of review and evaluation of individual or team performance [Mondy, 2014]) that emphasize the right values (Bain et al., 2002; Belt et al., 2002; Deery & Kinnie, 2002; Raz & Blank, 2007). Prior research shows that call center agents as ambassadors are critical to the performance of the entire business, given their close contact with customers (Frenkel et al., 1998; Hutchinson et al., 2000).

Prior call centers studies also highlight that managers instill norms by encouraging humor and playfulness (the locus of fun) in relation to creating a performance culture of high commitment to the team and the work (becoming a team player) (Fleming & Spicer, 2004; Fleming &

Sturdy, 2011; Kinnie, Hutchinson, & Purcell, 2000). Given that managers initiate games, competitions, and awards for emphasizing certain values (Russell, 2002), a pessimistic approach views normative cultural control as a manipulation tactic for smoothing over inherent tensions in call centers and distract agents’ attention away from the low discretionary work setting (Bain et al., 2002). These managerial maneuvers (“discourses of distraction” [Fleming & Sturdy, 2011, p. 178] “to smooth chaos”

[Houlihan, 2001, p. 212]) also homogenize agents by provoking organizational groupthink and generating short-term solutions that rely on ad-hoc skills among call center managers (Fleming & Sturdy, 2011;

Houlihan, 2001, p. 212). However, there is a great deal of difference in how agents respond to these types of normative controls (Peccei &

Rosenthal, 2000) (further described in Chapter 3.4).

Managerial support

Similar to many other types of organizations (Tengblad, 2012), middle managers in call centers handle many complex, interrelated issues with a specific emphasis on dealing with human relationships. In prior call center studies, managerial support has primarily been associated with emotional support provided by middle managers, such as encouraging and motivating agents by having an open-door policy (literally and metaphorically) (Butler, 2004). Managerial support is indirectly linked to performance (efficiency, customer satisfaction, and productivity) via an effect on their attitudes (Batt & Moynihan, 2002; de Ruyter et al., 2001;

Holman, Chissick, & Totterdell, 2002; Rowold, 2008). For example, managerial support influences agents’ emotional well-being, level of commitment, and turnover intentions, by shielding them from burnout, which influences performance (Deery, Iverson, & Walsh, 2002; Singh, 2000). This relationship is found within human resource management literature addressing the fact that leadership influences organizational performance through culture and supportiveness (Ogbonna & Harris, 2000).

Other studies point at a more direct relationship between managerial support and performance. For example, having a good relationship with the middle manager is the most important element for performance since their support facilitates interactions with customers in call centers, implying a positive link to service quality and customer satisfaction (Dean

& Rainnie, 2009). This is in line with studies highlighting that middle managers also provide important peer-based learning to agents by identifying training needs (Armistead et al., 2002; Frenkel et al., 1999).

This has been linked to work effectiveness in organizational behavior14 research (Jackson & Schuler, 1985). However, further research for examining direct and indirect performance outcomes of various managerial strategies and practices in call centers is greatly needed (Houlihan, 2002).

Managerial feedback

Managerial feedback refers to the modification or control of a process by its results or effects (Oxford University Press, 2016b). Given that middle managers in call centers are responsible for communicating the goals of the organization, usually accompanied by constant re-interpretations to assess their relevance to agents, feedback influences performance (Arzbächer, Holtgrewe, & Kerst, 2000; Rowe et al., 2011). The predominant view in prior call center research is that managerial feedback helps agents succeed in providing sales offers and good service quality to customers (Renn & Fedor, 2001). Managerial feedback also improves agents’ abilities to reach their pre-determined overall targets, specifically regarding efficiency. For example, by keeping constant track of individual- and group-based performance (with help from ICTs and statistical reports across a wide array of KPIs), middle managers can help

14 Organizational behavior, defined as the study of how individuals and groups act within the organizations they work (Bauer & Erdogan, 2010), includes informal activities and behavior normallyhidden from the outsider in work settings (Noon et al., 2013).

agents tackle underlying tensions in call centers between providing good customer service and being efficient (Chapter 1.1.1) (Aksin et al., 2007;

Callaghan & Thompson, 2001; Houlihan, 2001; Korczynski, 2003; Rowe et al., 2011).

I dokument From performance management to managing performance An embedded case study of the drivers of individual- and group-based performance in a call center context Larsson, Nathalie (sidor 44-49)