Too Many Calls (Y.M.t.C.)

This was originally a two part post which appeared on on March 4, 2010 and March 8, 2010.

Part 1

This is the start of an irregular (in more ways than one) series that we’re calling ‘You Make the Call!’ The idea is that we’ll present a situation that you might find in any given project. These situations will come from real projects but with the names and details changed to protect the guilty.

In the comments section, you answer 1) Your opinion on the real problem and/or 2) How you would go about solving it. After a few days have passed and everyone who wants to has had a chance to comment, we’ll post a review of the answers, will explain what actually happened in the situation and, most importantly, what should have been done. So, with no further introduction, here’s scenario #1…

Too Many Calls
You work in the corporate office of a medium sized retailer. This retailer has franchise locations all over the country, along with a large presence in online sales. What makes this retailer unique is that products ordered online are not shipped to the customer, but are picked up at the local store. The products ordered are very customizable by the customer and the stores pride themselves on their quick turnaround time for orders.

The call center manager for the website asks to speak with you about the large volume of calls they receive on a weekly basis for stock outs in the store. Stores will run out of product to sell, will call the online support center and ask for the products to be put on hold in the online system until the next replenishment order is received from the warehouse. The manager estimates that half of their CSR’s time is involved with handling stock outs.

The online ordering system has no knowledge of the stock levels at a store; it only knows which items the store can sell, not which the store is able to sell. The call center manager suggests that it would be great if the store manager could be given access to an abbreviated web form, similar to the one used by CSRs, so the manager could update their own inventory availability without needing to call the online support team.

You Make the Call!
The ball is now in your court. What is the underlying problem in this situation? What do you suggest to the call center manager to help with the large volume of calls?

Part 2

Last week we started a series entitled 'You Make the Call!’ with our inaugural entry being an problem for a call center manager having a difficult time with their call volume. If you haven’t read the original article yet, read it before you read our solution below.

Misdirected Solutions
To the call center manager, the problem was call volume. There were too many CSRs needed and as more locations came on line, the call volume would only increase. The manager’s suggested solution would cut the number of calls, thus decreasing the manager’s cost, but it wouldn’t really solve the underlying problem. The call volume is only a symptom of the real problem which would not be solved with the presented solution.

Others might suggest that having the point of sale system in the store keep a running count of inventory level and automatically notify the online system when it has reached a stock out or reserve stock level. By doing this, the calls are eliminated and the manager doesn’t need to use their time to notify a stock out, either. While this solution could work, there are two issues with it: such an integration is expensive, especially if the inventory software in the store can not keep such a running tally. Second, this also implies that when products are sold in the store that the store knows exactly which items are sold. If the store sells nails by the pound, for example, it is considerably more difficult to know exactly when the store is truly out of nails.

What Really Happened
So what was the real problem? We’ve been alluding to it the entire time, but the real issue here is inventory management. The store is suffering from stock outs, but no one at the store level seems to be concerned that they are potentially forgoing sales because of a lack of product. If the store doesn’t have the item in stock that the customer wishes to purchase, they are potentially missing out on sales.

In this situation, you should start by enlisting the store operations team and helping them determine the exact reason the stock outs have been happening. Is the store not managing their inventory correctly? Is the incentive for the store to maintain a minimum inventory amount keeping them from being able to sell products the customer wants? Is the store intentionally not stocking certain items they don’t want to sell and then repeatedly calling those products in to the call center as 'out’ in order to never sell them?

Your Turn
So how did you do? Did you come to the same conclusion we did? Do you like the idea of this series? Do you have a great scenario you would like to write and present? Let us know in the comments!