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The birth of the customer intelligence centre

The last five years have been the most disruptive the industry has ever faced. Remote working, the war on talent, digitisation, and AI are all transforming the contact centre.

Despite all the advancements, they still battle with a legacy of being seen as a cost centre and a customer help desk. It’s time for contact centres to step out of the shadow to play a strategic role in the customer experience.

Contact Centre

About 10 years ago I discovered a concept that changed the way I look at the role the contact centre plays in influencing the design of customer experiences.

It was so powerful that once I saw it, it couldn’t be unseen, and from that moment on my role in leading contact centres also changed.

Let’s take a few steps back to understand my journey to this realisation.

I had grown up in operations and contact centres and, like many leaders, felt like I had a clear mandate—to provide fast and efficient customer service and reduce costs year-on-year.

As each year went on, this became harder and harder to achieve and to believe. I always had a voice in the back of my head saying, ‘There has to be a better way’.

The contact centre's role created a perception that it was just a helpdesk and a cost centre. This perception made it difficult to get the Executives to see the problems we faced and prioritise investment in new tools and the headcount we needed to keep our heads above water.

My primary concern every day was how many people were away and whether there had been any resignations.

Any day with lower than expected absenteeism and no attrition felt like a win, a relief.

There must be a better way.

Then, one day, I visited a different kind of contact centre and saw a metric on a whiteboard I had never seen before. It was called Failure Demand1. Curious, I asked what this was and then stood both stunned and excited as the definition was explained.

‘Failure Demand is basically all the calls we don’t want to receive’... say more?

‘Anytime we don’t do something for the customer or don’t do something right. This happens when there is a breakdown in the online experience, or products don’t work in the way the customer expects or our systems go down’

I thought, wow, this all happens in my contact centre.

Before I go on it’s important to understand that most failure demand is created outside of the contact centre. The design of products and channels is by far the biggest reason for failure demand.

They went on to explain how they capture the call volume and types of Failure Demand and then quantify the amount of money the organisation is wasting as a result.

My mind was blown, and my way of looking at the contact centre forever changed.

They had created a framework around this concept that meant that they could get the attention of the entire organisation, and they saw them not as a helpdesk or cost centre but as a customer intelligence centre, a place that was of strategic value to the organisation.

Imagine thinking about the contact centre as a feedback loop between the organisation and their customers, a way to see where the experience is breaking, a way to see the product performance in real-time, using the data and insights to build up a backlog of opportunities to innovate.

Customer Intelligence Centre

Let’s shift the role of a contact centre to a customer intelligence centre.

They achieved this by gathering failure demand data, analysing the patterns, and identifying thematic call drivers and customer quotes to bring the insights to life. Every week, the Executive team and key stakeholders in Product, Marketing and IT would visit the contact centre, stand in front of the whiteboard and listen to the Failure Demand insights.

They were never asked about Abandon call rates, Absenteeism, AHT, Adherence or Attrition. They knew, as did the Executive team had come to learn, that those metrics are outcomes of answering customer calls and hiring, training and leading people to manage these calls. And when a big chunk of these calls are failures, you can see how much of an impact this has on the quality of the experience for customers and employees.

As much as you can reduce everything down to numbers in the contact centre, it’s a guessing game based on unpredictable events. Call volume, the types of calls, how long it takes to resolve them, and customer behaviour are all unpredictable. A quick look at forecasting data will tell you that these predictions are often wrong, and then we spend a lot of time trying to work out why. Then add to this the unpredictable nature of absenteeism and attrition, and it’s a wonder how contact centres make it all work.

‘The best thing we can do is focus on eliminating the need for them to call in the first place. We used to focus all our effort on managing these other metrics and dealing with the frustration of angry customers calling for the same things all the time. Our people were not happy, and we spent so much time in crisis. Then we started measuring Failure Demand, and it’s changed everything.’

I asked them about the benefits they had seen, “Does this actually work?”

“We have been able to keep our headcount flat for 4 years”

“Wow, that’s pretty great”

“And the organisation has been growing at 40% a year over that time”

Finally, there is a better way.

They said one key reason for the improved product performance and growth is the feedback they receive through the contact centre and the relationship with product and marketing. The organisation is starting to see that by working cross-functionally, it can see the whole customer experience and make better decisions about where to invest.

I was already sold, but this now had a clear commercial benefit. I took this all back to my contact centre and got to work on educating my team on the concept and setting up a framework to capture, analyse and share Failure Demand.

Within a year, we helped the organisation understand a key problem with one of its flagship online products, which drove almost every customer to call at some point in the product's lifecycle. We started making investments to fix the problem, and call volume started to come down in the areas we focused on.

Fast-forward to today. Callo is working with organisations across many industries to gain these insights so they can see the whole experience and help customers achieve their goals.

By measuring failure demand, a client whose product is delivered through an online booking portal identified that 50% of their contact centre interactions were driven by a problem with the log-in step and the booking management functionality.

We mapped out the service lifecycle stages so they could understand the goals customers had as they interacted with the product. Then, using failure demand data and online drop-off rates, we could show where the experience was breaking and quantify the impact.

We followed this up with customer research to better understand their preferences and needs when interacting online. Then, using customer journeys to visualise the steps in the experience, they designed new online features that they could test with customers to make sure customers could achieve their goals.

The result, they reduced calls to the contact centre by 23%.

If you’d like to learn more about Failure Demand and turning your contact centre into a Customer Intelligence Centre, you can email sean@calloconsulting.com.au

Sean McGinn is the Director at Callo Consulting, a service and experience design company.



1 Failure Demand is a concept pioneered by John Seddon, who specialises in change in the service industry. He is the managing director of Vanguard, and the inventor of 'The Vanguard Method'.






Daniel Harding
Post by Daniel Harding
Daniel is the Director of MaxContact Australia. Since launching the business in Australia with its first clients in 2019, it has rapidly grown to become the solution of choice for businesses across Australia and New Zealand. Daniel has a comittment to ensuring that MaxContact Australia continues to grow whilst delivering value for all customers.