The west bank Call Centre

 

Produce a report which identifies and analyses the main Human Resource issues at the call centre.

Case study:

WestBank plc is a banking and insurance group in the United Kingdom. It is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Premier Banking Group having been taken over in January 2009. The bank was established on 1 May 1870 by Sir Arthur Kettlewell of Pudsey. Based in Leeds, it was originally known as the West Riding Bank.

The corporate headquarters of the Premier Banking Group are in Birmingham, although Westbank retains its head office in Leeds, which employs 300 staff. Despite recent losses, Westbank Chief Executive Anne Jones is committed both to saving the Westbank brand within the massive Premier group and to retaining the Leeds based jobs.

Anne Jones?s vision for the bank returns it to the sector that established its formerly positive reputation in the UK market. During the 1970s and 1980s Westbank was a leading player in the student banking and finance sector. Many of the benefits students now expect such as interest free overdrafts and no account charges were pioneered by Westbank with their Leeds based student clientele. In order to make this vision a reality and return Westbank to profitability, the bank is developing a portfolio of student services and needs to attract and retain customers. With this objective in mind, Westbank have opened a call centre.

Ann Jones has successfully resisted pressure from the parent company Premier to locate this call centre in the Indian subcontinent and thus benefit from cheaper labour costs. The Westbank Call Centre is situated in the new company Head Office building on the outskirts of Leeds. It benefits from investment in the latest technology in order to provide fast and accurate services to clients, and also to monitor, record and measure staff performance. Eventually the centre must function as a 24 hour, seven day operation as it competes for customers and customer loyalty.

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Research on human resource management in call centres has produced some controversial results. The monitoring and measurement of behaviour has prompted some commentators to describe call centres as modern day versions of 19th century sweatshops, with consequent problems of labour turnover and absenteeism. Others point to organisations that have developed sophisticated human resource practices which balance the competitive pressures and the needs of employees to achieve a high degree of commitment.

The new Westbank Head Office and Call Centre has been established on a ?greenfield? site on the edge of Wetherley, a village twelve miles from the centre of Leeds. Wetherley is an affluent area with low unemployment.

The primary objectives of the call centre are to improve the quality and consistency of services, give customers access to 24 hour banking and reduce overhead costs. The importance of service quality at Westbank is demonstrated by a series of tough service-level targets, including an abandoned call rate of 2% for routine calls and 1% for the key customer group, 90% of calls to be answered within 15 seconds and 90% of calls to be dealt with at the initial point of contact. Five hundred staff are based at the site, including 200 in the call centre. The majority of the staff on the site are full-time, with the biggest percentage of part-timers working in the call centre (35% of whom are part-time). Unite, the UK?s largest union is the recognised trade union in Westbank; membership for the bank as a whole is about 50%, but much less than this in the call centre. At the moment, there is no other formal channel for communication or consultation with staff.

The management team at the call centre is headed by the Centre Manager; it discusses local policy issues and comprises the various section heads. Staff work in teams. Each team comprises 15 people and is headed by a Team Leader. The Team Leader reports to a Customer Services Manager, who is responsible for motivating Team Leaders and teams and analysing data for individuals and teams to measure and further improve their performance. The Team Leaders are expected to develop their team members as quickly as possible, to coach, train them and keep them motivated, as well as bring some ?fun? into the working environment. The team members are known as Customer Service Operators (CSOs) and are supposed to be multi-skilled, although new recruits initially handle only the most basic type of call. Productivity and sales are measured daily on an individual and team basis. All CSOs have sales and service targets; calls are monitored closely and daily sheets are displayed, showing the performance of individuals and teams. Scripting, which works through the computer, helps the operators to adhere to the standards. In addition, 98% of a CSOs time has to be signed on to the phone.

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Westbank have faced a number of problems/challenges from day one. These include considerable IT problems, an inexperienced management team (who were mostly from Westbank?s branch network, and lacked call centre experience) and centrally determined HR policies and procedures which are felt by the local management to be inappropriate for working in a call centre. Labour turnover is running at 35%, and although absence levels are not high by call centre standards, they were much higher than the average for Westbank employees as a whole.

Rates of pay are relatively low compared to the local labour market, though fringe benefits are good, but they reflect a remuneration structure based on the ?lifetime employment? of bank branch and head office staff. At the moment, there is no clear progression for staff at the call centre and it is felt that the immediate earnings are unlikely to attract and retain the calibre of staff needed for high quality customer service. There are currently few incentives for staff to achieve the level of service desired. In addition, the contractual working hours are considered inappropriate to meet the cover requirements. Staff are receiving a shift allowance despite the fact that the call centre is still not operating on a 24 hour basis.

To promote team building, team members are encouraged to mix socially outside work, although the extent to which this happens is variable. Overtime is high, which as one manager notes, is nonsense in a telephone environment where people have to be ?fresh and buzzy?

External recruitment is handled through two channels; the Westbank central HR function for permanent staff, while agencies are used on a pilot basis for temporary staff. However the focus in recruitment & selection has been on identifying good communicators with ?personality? or ?naturals?, but once employed & trained, they are ?re-programmed?

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Training is currently co-ordinated by Westbank?s central training & development function. The Team Leaders are expected to identify the training needs of their team members but the pressures of their own workloads means they have had little time for staff development. As one ex-Team Leader explains, ?I was just managing the business, not managing individual performance. I wasn?t really involved with the development of people or identifying the reasons why people were or were not performing?.

Anne Jones must resolve this situation and answer her critics with Premier Banking Group. Therefore she has appointed you as the new HR Manager with responsibility for the Westbank Call centre. You must identify and analyse the HR problems that have arisen and then recommend suitable solutions.