Verizon Communications Inc. is a global broadband and telecommunications company based in New York. Verizon originated in 1983 as Bell Atlantic, operating from New Jersey to Virginia and NYNEX, covering New York to Maine as a result of the AT&T breakup into seven “baby bells” in 1984 (Hoovers, 2011). The name was changed to Verizon in June 2000 because of the merger of GTE and Bell Atlantic (Hoovers, 2011). Verizon is the number two telecom service provider in the United States with 2010 annual sales of over $106 billion and has 194,400 employees (Hoovers, 2011).
Verizon is a publicly held company; a component of the Dow Jones Industrial Average, and currently ranks 16th on the Fortune 500 list (Hoovers, 2011). According to Hoovers (2011), “Verizon Communications’ wireline unit provides local telephone, long-distance, Internet access, and digital TV services to residential, corporate, and wholesale customers. ” I work in the Dallas call center selling residential telephone, internet and television services to customers in California, Florida, and Texas for the wireline division of Verizon Communications.
I also serve in the capacity of customer service and billing. I receive inbound calls from existing and prospective customers and assist with their inquiries while reviewing their household communication services to ensure that they are receiving the maximum value from Verizon. I have worked for Verizon since May 2009 in a part-time capacity. Due to the emergence of cellular phones and enhanced competition by cable providers, Verizon wireline has faced the continuing loss of residential subscribers (Hoovers, 2011).
Verizon has invested $18B in rolling out its new fiber-to-the-premises in hopes of providing increased competition to cable providers (Hoovers, 2011). In 2010, Verizon sold over four million wireline phone and broadband internet subscribers in 14 states to Frontier Communications (Hoovers, 2011). According to Hoovers (2011), Verizon’s net profit has dropped from 12. 9% in 2008 to only 2. 4% in 2010. Verizon has decreased their work force by 29,500 or 13. 2% during that two-year period (Hoovers 2011). The Verizon call center is managed using high levels of coercive power.
Calls are strictly monitored to ensure that employees are following proper protocols. While some of this is due to strict regulations by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the requirement that employees offer on every call is about producing bottom line results. Even if a customer calls and is angry about their bill being too high, or needing their services repaired, some type of sales attempt must be made. As of February, every member of my team was on some form of discipline. This was a fact my coach, Mark Price, bragged about, and even stated that improved numbers must be because of the discipline.
In speaking with senior team members it was determined that this is the case with almost the entire call center being on some form of disciplinary action. Problem statement The problem in the Dallas call center is low employee morale. While there have been voluntary cutbacks over the last two years, there have been no forced separations. The company has excellent pay at $19. 02 per hour plus commission of $15,000 per annum if targets are achieved, with the ability to earn more if sales exceed 100%. The company also sponsors numerous contests throughout the year, which include trips, merchandise, or award perqs.
Employees redeem award perqs for merchandise or gift cards to local merchants. The company has 100% company paid benefits with the medical plan requiring no deductible and only $15 per doctor visit. In today’s society, these are excellent benefits and would be labeled a “Cadillac plan” by the recent health care act of 2010. Verizon provides paid vacation and 14 paid holidays per year. Verizon matches employee contributions to 401K up to 6% of employee income at 83 cents on the dollar. The nature of the problem is that employees are demoralized by the unrealistically high standards that Verizon employs.
Customers get frustrated due to long wait times. When they do reach an employee, the employee is required to make a sales attempt every time, even if the customer has everything that Verizon has to offer or may be calling in to reduce a bill or for a repair type issue. This creates hostility between employee and customer and gives Verizon a bad reputation. The employees are affected because there is a constant fear of loss of employment, which causes unnecessary stress. Employees are placed under a microscope as management and outside sources observe them regularly.
The coach is required to sit down with the employee to go over the results and is required to point out an area needed for improvement. Even if an employee is hitting every target but one, the one that is missed is emphasized and the praise for what is being done right is muted. I have worked in many different environments and have managed entire stores with a workforce of 30 people reporting to me, but I have never worked in a job that is as difficult as this one. The amount of information necessary to do the job is immense and the training for the job lasted 10 weeks.
Management is affected, because the center is not hitting their targets and the heat is coming from above them. They too are compensated based on results and when the results do not hit targets their compensation is negatively affected. The FCC requires certain service levels in the center and when these are not met there are penalties to Verizon. Finally, the customer is affected. The customer is required to navigate a phone system, with numerous options, to put them in touch with the correct employee, but have to wait on hold for an employee due to the high rate of employees not at work.
When they get to a representative, they may have been misdirected and still have to listen to a sales presentation, even though they may have only called in for a repair. The employee is required to make an offer to the misdirected customer even though they cannot solve the customer’s problem first. Customers are often agitated that a sale attempt is being made when they still have a problem with the service and take out there displeasure on the employee. The low morale problem is a moderate to severe problem. The problem is that it acts like a cancer in the center and the employee grumbling causes more of the same.
Aside from absenteeism already mentioned, the related problems are high average handling time (AHT), call work, and hold times. The employees practice work avoidance by either taking longer on a call than is necessary, placing the customer on hold unnecessarily, or spending too much time between calls. The center has targets for each of these areas and the numbers have been well above the stated goals over the last two years. This does not appear to be a symptom of a more fundamental problem. As mentioned before, while there have been voluntary cutbacks, there have been no forced terminations.
Verizon has recently begun to hire again and we are increasing our workforce locally by 25%. As mentioned before the wages and benefits are exceptional and the employees have adequate time off to relieve stress. How can employee morale be improved leading to a better work environment? Literature review Work motivation, organizational identi? cation, and well-being in call center work Wegge, Van Dick, Fisher, Wecking, and Moltzen (2006) performed a case study to research the effect of stress on call centre agents and investigate the relation between organizational identification and motivation.
Wegge et al. sought to determine if prior research relating to work motivation and well being applied to call centres, which are a new segment of the service industry. The study concluded there was a direct correlation between working conditions and worker motivation. Wegge, Van Dick, Fisher, Wecking, and Moltzen (2006) recognized a common misconception about call centre work being neither complicated nor demanding. Wegge et al. (2006) acknowledged the skill level required for a call centre agent to perform his job well and the tendency for management to micromanage their actions.
They also identified the monotony of tasks and short calls leading to worker stress as they deal with up to 100 different individuals per day. Employees at call centres are coached to suppress their emotions when dealing with angry customers, which happens regularly, and this suppression of emotions may lead to burnout or health related problems. Boredom may also occur, as agents may have to wait several minutes between calls due to mismanaged call distribution or unexpected low call volumes. Employees are not required to be innovative, but to follow a set pattern for each call, which causes lower motivation and health issues.
Wegge, Van Dick, Fisher, Wecking, and Moltzen (2006) were able to identify the positive effects of organizational identification in employees; which promotes the well-being of the employee. Organizational identification is when the employee feels a connection with the employer. Wegge et al. found that enhancing organizational identification might help call centres to change their negative reputation. Employee satisfaction and service quality in contact centers Adomaaitiene and Slatkeviciene (2008) performed a study to “estimate the links between employee satisfaction and service quality” (p. 70).
Adomaaitiene and Slatkeviciene (2008) identified work in call centres to be monotonous and use standardized procedures. The environment in which call centre employees work is typically isolated from peers, highly computer based, and under constant monitoring of management. In regards to employee motivation, they found that “employee involvement and satisfaction are acknowledged as two of the most important drivers of continuous improvement and satisfied customers” (Adomaaitiene & Slatkeviciene, 2008, p. 771).
Adomaaitiene and Slatkeviciene showed the correlation between satisfied and highly motivated employees and this causes good work morale and for a more efficient work environment, which is good for employee, management and the customer. Adomaaitiene and Slatkeviciene (2008) showed a direct correlation between the ways managers treat their employees and how employees treat their customers. Adomaaitiene and Slatkeviciene place the burden on management to develop systems of communication, employee relations, training, and development. This will result in better teamwork and motivation.
Linking rewards to commitment: An empirical investigation of four UK call centres Malhotra, Budhwar, and Prowse (2007) conducted a study of four call centres in the UK. Malhotra et al. (2007) compared the result of intrinsic versus extrinsic rewards on employees. Intrinsic rewards were found to be more important than extrinsic rewards. Among extrinsic rewards, only promotional opportunities were found to influence affective commitment significantly. “Among intrinsic rewards, ‘role clarity’, ‘autonomy’ and ‘participation in decision making’ were found to have a signi? ant positive effect on affective commitment” (Malhotra, Budhwar, & Prowse, 2007).
Malhotra et al. found that the more autonomy employees were given the greater their attachment to the organization. There is a problem here as most call centres are designed to be strictly regimented and not autonomous. Pertaining to normative commitment, Malhotra, Budhwar, and Prowse (2007) found that only satisfaction and benefits had a significant positive impact. Only pay satisfaction was found to have a positive impact on continuance commitment.
Malhotra et al. concluded there was a necessity for call centres to pay well in order for employees to stay with the organization. The importance of personality on training-related aspects of motivation: A test of a longitudinal model Rowold studied the effect of personality as it pertains to training. Using the Big Five personality variables, Rowold looked at how each personality type views training. The conclusion was that different personalities would react differently to different forms of training.
The introvert will be more inclined to learn on a computer-based training while the extravert would prefer role-playing and group training. The conclusion was that companies would benefit by knowing their employees’ personality type and providing training in a manner that best suits their personality. Coping strategies in call centres: Work intensity and the role of co-workers and supervisors Deery, Iverson, and Walsh (2010) performed a study on the stress relief benefits of supervisors having lenient absentee policies and providing co-worker support. Deery et al. dentified that call centre work is stressful. This stress can lead to emotional exhaustion. Deery et al. found through the study that a lenient attitude towards absences could help to relieve worker stress.
They observed that employees find other ways of coping, such as taking excessive time off the phones or deviating from company scripting. They identified that “employees have been able to identify weaknesses in the organization’s control systems and deliberately minimize their contact with irritating or offensive customers” (Deery, Iverson, & Walsh, 2010, p. 83). Deery, Iverson, and Walsh (2010) identified the importance of co-worker support in handling the emotional strain of call centre work. Dealing with hostile and angry customers through humor helps to alleviate the stress. Deery et al. also noted that social networks in the workplace would alleviate some of the stress and emotional exhaustion caused by their work. Boosting work productivity The Human Resource Institute (1997) discusses the keys to a productive workforce. The Human Resource Institute defines performance as ability times motivation.
Thereby, if an employee lacks either ability or motivation than the productivity result will be zero. In the same way, if either factor is weak than the results will be poor. During a recent survey, The Human Resource Institute (1997) determined that what employees want most out of work is “to be held responsible for the business results of their own work” (p. 58). General Electric offered advice to managers regarding how to achieve the best results when setting stretch goals. Among those were rewarding employees when they do well rather than punishing failure, providing adequate training and tools necessary to succeed, and sking people to work smarter rather than harder. Using an example from Motorola in the 1980’s, The Human Resource Institute (1997) showed the changes Motorola made to reduce their defects from 7,000 to 30 defects per million opportunities. The key changes were hiring the best-qualified applicants, setting goals for the team and providing rewards for success, and allowing the teams to self manage by empowering them to make decisions. Finally, Motorola fostered a team spirit, by encouraging open communications within and between teams.
Why is employee morale so low in the Dallas call center and why do employees use avoidance tactics, even though such tactics cost them opportunities to earn higher commissions? Analysis “A common stereotype regarding call centre work is that managing phone-based customer interactions all the day is neither complicated nor demanding as most interactions are basic, simple, and scripted” (Wegge, Van Dick, Fisher, Wecking, & Moltzen, 2006, p. 61). According to Wegge et al. (2006) the work of inbound call center agents is more demanding than that of their outbound counterparts.
A call center agent is required to master a number of skills including: listening skills, questioning, operating a computer, and accessing information from various databases while conversing with the customer (Wegge et al. , 2006). All of this must be done in a very short period; at Verizon, calls are expected to last 550 seconds on average. Due to long wait times to reach an agent, many customers are already agitated when they reach the agent. Call center agents are trained to maintain a pleasant demeanor regardless of the customer’s disposition (Wegge, Van Dick, Fisher, Wecking, & Moltzen, 2006).
According to Wegge et al. “Recent research shows that the control of one’s own emotions (e. g. , by suppression, hiding, or overplaying emotions) can have serious consequences. This form of emotion regulation consumes volitional energies and often leads to the development of emotional exhaustion, a component of the burnout syndrome” (2006). This emotional burnout will cause absenteeism to rise (Deery, Iverson, & Walsh, 2010). Call center agents at Verizon are expected to handle about 50 calls per day.
They are required to follow a predetermined script, which can lead to monotony and boredom (Wegge, Van Dick, Fisher, Wecking, & Moltzen, 2006). Employees are expected to stick to the script and are not given much leeway in regards to how the call flows (Adomaaitiene & Slatkeviciene, 2008). According to Wegge et al. , this can lead to “lower work motivation and health problems” (2006). Verizon provides a pre-determined script as to how the call is expected to flow and dictates that certain greetings or methodologies must be used every time.
At Verizon, a call flow card must be followed on every call. In addition, a sales attempt must be made on every call, regardless of whether the customer has all three primary products that Verizon offers (phone, internet, and television). In that case, the Verizon agent is required to offer a value added service or an upgrade. Due to the long hold times customers experience, they are often reluctant, or even irate when sales attempts are made before there problem can be resolved.
Due to a complicated voice response system, customers are often times misdirected to the billing and sales queue; they may have been misdirected several times before and do not intend to listen to a sales pitch. This dissonance creates further stress on the employee. The most often misdirected call is a repair call. Many times the customer goes through the entire problem with a billing agent only to learn that they are not talking to a repair representative. At that time, their frustration understandably rises, as they have to wait on hold and go over the problem with another agent.
Many customers have told me they pressed repair only to be routed to sales. It causes the appearance that Verizon intentionally routes repair calls to billing so that a sales attempt may be made on their account. Employees work in relative isolation from co-workers as there is little interaction between employees. When an employee finishes one call, another call is right behind it leaving no break for the employee to breathe. Verizon employees deal with a wide range of call types: from new sales, billing, and problems with accounts. In addition, Verizon sells two types of service, copper, and fiber.
There is a vast amount of product knowledge required to complete this job at an optimum level. The stress level of the unknown variable of what their next call will entail, and the buildup of weeks’ worth of irate customers causes employees to take time off between calls in work avoidance in order to relieve this stress. Work avoidance can take many forms. Employees are allotted 30 seconds per call to perform after call work. This is designed to provide times for unique situations where one cannot complete work while the customer is on the phone.
When employees experience extreme stress, they avoid calls to cool their emotions after a difficult call. Employees may also take excessive time chatting with pleasant customers to avoid taking that next call which may be a difficult customer. This causes AHT to rise above the accepted 550 seconds per call. They may also place a customer on hold excessively, if the customer is difficult, to avoid dealing with the customer while they solve the problem. When AHT rises, the number of calls taken per day goes down and the customers have longer wait times.
Coaches observe employees regularly by inside and outside sources to measure quality. Coaches are required to perform four observations per month on an employee either side by side or remotely. According to Deery, Iverson, and Walsh, “systems of technical control are more likely to be associated with forms of worker resistance or coping that focus on escape or withdrawal from the work environment such as tardiness and absenteeism” (2010 p. 185). Upon conclusion of the observations, the coach meets with the employee to go over the results. The coach is required to find an area targeted for improvement.
There are numerous areas that an employee is rated in; from sales attainment, to call metrics, and first call resolution. A sales agent may hit every target but one and the one area is the focus of the coaching session. If a sales agent misses one sale attempt, he is placed on discipline. An agent could be terminated for as little as three missed sales attempts. The culture in the center is punitive by nature. As mentioned before almost every person in the center is on some form of discipline. This includes consistently high performers, and employees who have been in a supervisory position before.
When I went through training two years ago, it was almost a daily discussion topic of being “walked out,” referring to an employee being terminated. Coaches use threats of discipline to keep the employees in line. These threats create a fear of loss of employment and while it is understandable that sales are vital to the future of Verizon, the perception is that an employee must be perfect on every call or face discipline. As discussed in our text, there may be a difference in perception between manager and employee (Schermerhorn, Hunt, Osborn, & Uhl-Biehn, 2010).
The manager does not perceive a need to reward the employee with comments about good behavior and he focuses primarily on areas necessary for improvement. The employee perceives the manager only sees what is done incorrectly, while ignoring all that is done correctly. This difference in perception can cause serious emotional burnout, call avoidance, and absenteeism. According to Schermerhorn, Hunt, Osborn, and Uhl-Biehn (2010) chapter on motivation, Verizon does a good job of filling the physiological needs of Maslow’s pyramid. There is a breakdown after that, as the need for security is not fulfilled.
The constant threats of discipline cause the employee to fear loss of income and the prospects for further motivation are muted due to the culture of discipline. In chapter 11, Schermerhorn, Hunt, Osborn, and Uhl-Biehn (2010) discuss the best means for giving feedback in OB savvy 11. 1. There are two items on the list, which may be leading to this problem: give it directly and in a spirit of mutual trust, and limit how much the receiver gets at one time. Employees have four calls listened to over the course of a month, while the average employee will field over 1000 calls in any given month.
Four calls is a very small sampling at just . 04% of total calls handled and typically, observations occur all at once so these calls are typically one half hour of time within a full month’s timeframe. Secondly, there is not a mutual trust when the employee perceives it as a gotcha scenario: the coach looking for something done wrong and disciplining rather than praising correct behaviors. Feedback is important, as discussed in the text, but the feedback is delivered only once a month and often times the employee knows when they are being observed so they can modify their behavior for that short period.
According to Cornell University ILR School (2011), employee turnover in telecommunications’ call centers averages 26% per annum and absenteeism averages 4. 8%. Cornell University ILR School found that union call centers, such as Verizon, have half the turnover of non-union call centers, but absenteeism remains the same. The Dallas call center current turnover rate is 11. 8% and employee absenteeism averages 20%. Employee turnover at Verizon is about average, but absenteeism is well above the national average. This is a disturbing trend as employees are not showing up to work and causing lost productivity and wages for them and management.
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