Design vs practice: How problematic call routing and rerouting restructures the call centre service system

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Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to investigate how customer involvement in call routing affects the internal operations of the call centre service system by examining customer usability problems with the interactive voice response (IVR) system and the practices of agents used to redirect incorrectly routed calls. Design/methodology/approach – A qualitative case study combined direct observation of live calls through sit-bys with agents and semi-structured interviews conducted with coaches and managers within 13 separate teams across all four functional areas of a call centre operation. Findings – Customer use of the IVR system involved effort, capability, and arrival forms of customer-induced variability, which produced incorrect call inputs into the call centre. Shared norms and attitudes concerning knowledge, IT use, and responsibility for different call types within teams were associated with redirecting practices which lead to the problematic rerouting of calls. Problems with call routing and rerouting negatively affected operational efficiency and undermined customer satisfaction. Research limitations/implications – The paper is based upon a single case study so further research is required to examine how problems identified are manifest in call centre operations of different size and complexity. The qualitative approach develops rich insights but these findings would benefit from a quantitative focus in the future. Practical implications – The customer experience of IVR systems should be continually monitored to identify usability problems and ensure effective design, while call centre management should attempt to increase teams’ awareness of and ability to successfully redirect incorrectly routed calls. Originality/value – The paper conceptualises the mutual influence of macro-level service system design and the micro-level behaviour of customers and agents upon each other. In practice, formal design decisions such as input uncertainty, decoupling, and interdependence patterns are continually reproduced or modified. Shared attitudes and norms of teams and their behavioural influence upon agents’ call handling practices are identified as a cause of coordination problems in call centres service systems. Internal rerouting by agents is also identified as a crucial operational process and important area for future research.




Ellway, B. (2016). Design vs practice: How problematic call routing and rerouting restructures the call centre service system. International Journal of Operations and Production Management, 36(4), 408–428.

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