Contact Center Solutions Featured Article

Computer Systems Do Not Substitute for Leadership in the Call Center

January 25, 2007

Computers and the technology that they make accessible in the contact center have greatly impacted the level of information, functionality and service that can be delivered to the customer. The computer system can also be used to facilitate training, monitoring and coaching in order to progress the skills of the contact center agent and promote overall efficiency in the center.
An interesting element of study is whether or not computer systems are serving as a substitute for leadership in this capacity. And, if this is the case, does the system provide effective leadership or merely a means by which individuals can be micromanaged?
The concept of the computer systems substituting as a leader was studied by Catriona Wallace with the Australian Graduate School of Management through the University of New South Wales. To gather adequate information to make an intelligent assessment, an analysis was made of the perceptions of front-line agents in call centers.
Although expectations were that some correlation would be found between the theory of computer systems substituting for leadership and agents’ perspectives, researchers actually found that there was no evidence that the activities of the computer system were seen to substitute for hierarchical leadership. Instead, the activities of the computer system were perceived to supplement personal leadership.
Managers should instead view the computer system as a way in which to improve performance and affect. Despite the fact that the system cannot operate as a complete substitute does not mean that it should not be used to benefit the manager or the organization. Using such systems can actually enhance the effectiveness of the manager, producing better overall outcomes.
The aforementioned study also challenged the assumption that non-personal control can have a negative impact on employee affect and performance. Professionals tend to be less likely to accept formalized control systems, but the current study of call centers indicates contradicting evidence. When computer systems were used to structure and schedule tasks, higher satisfaction levels were realized. Only when the computer system was used to provide both positive and negative feedback was it associated with performance.
Researchers advise that instead of thinking in terms of supplements and substitutes as a way of decreasing their involvement and thus increasing administrative efficiency, management should be focusing on getting away from the routine. By working closely with the supplements and substitutes that have been identified, management can use spare resources to shift leadership activities to those that add more value.
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Susan J. Campbell is a contributing editor for TMC and has also written for To see more of her articles, please visit Susan J. Campbell’s columnist page.