Is the quantity-quality trade-off in call centres a false dichotomy?

Citations of this article
Mendeley users who have this article in their library.
Get full text


Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to examine the existing conceptualisation of quantity and quality in call centres as conflicting or contradictory, and through qualitative analysis, demonstrate that quantity and quality may not necessarily operate as a trade-off. Design/methodology/approach: Existing literature is reviewed to show how quantity-quality has been conceptualised to date, followed by an analysis of quantity-quality manifestations based upon an in-depth field study of work and service in a large and complex call centre operation. Advisors' work practices were observed during their interactions with customers, which provided rich insights into the nature of live calls and service provision in 13 different teams, supplemented with informal semi-structured interviews with team managers, coaches, and centre managers. Findings: The paper demonstrates that quantity and quality operate as a trade-off when the unit of analysis is the individual advisor or individual call fragment. However, if the entire customer enquiry is examined, quantity and quality are manifest differently: emphasising quality may also simultaneously support efficiency; favouring quantity may not only undermine quality but also ultimately circumvent efficiency gains. Research limitations/implications: The paper is based upon a single case study so further research is required to investigate whether findings concerning quantity-quality are manifest in other call centres, particularly of differing size and complexity. Practical implications: Call centre management must recognise the negative consequences of focusing upon quantity, the potential benefits of instead emphasising quality, and also acknowledge the limitations of conventional quantitative and qualitative measures. Management should also consider attempting to foster and improve relations between teams and functions within call centres. Originality/value: The paper provides a qualitative study of quantity and quality in call centres. Quantity and quality are examined beyond the conventional unit of analysis of the individual advisor or call, to explicate interdependence between past, current, and future actions and events involved in customer enquiries. Thus, quantity and quality are analysed in terms of the immediate focus during call handling and the longer run consequences for the efficiency and effectiveness of service provided by the call centre operation. © Emerald Group Publishing Limited.




Ellway, B. P. W. (2014). Is the quantity-quality trade-off in call centres a false dichotomy? Managing Service Quality, 24(3), 230–251.

Register to see more suggestions

Mendeley helps you to discover research relevant for your work.

Already have an account?

Save time finding and organizing research with Mendeley

Sign up for free