4 March 2010

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

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?


  1. Wow, this looks like a classic case where the BA is being asked to be a 'watier.' As in "I know exactly how to fix this only from my perspective. Here is exactly what I want you to build to fix my problem." Still, it seems like a tought one...

    Is it that there is a disconnect between the call centre and the warehouse, and with the sales records and the system at the call centre?

    I have a tendency to think of convoluted solutions, but I'd suggest that there's a central database that everyone has access to and is updated as automatically as possible. So when an order is shipped out to a store, that gets recorded and stores how much inventory the store has. When a store sells something, its sales records update the database showing that the item has been sold and the inventory thusly reflected.

    Is this too convoluted? Is there a simpler solution here?

  2. "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."

    This is your root problem. Whether you use a a web form or smoke signals to solve it, it has to be addressed.

  3. Problem statement:
    "Call centre overloaded with calls about stock outs"

    Customer request/requirement:
    "Shortcut the call centre by making the call centre web form for stock-outs available to the stores."

    Okay, so most of you readers are going to say this is a bad idea. You are going to want to drill into the root cause of the problem and address that rather than the symptom.

    And yes, the root cause is the lack of a lik to inventory, which wuld autoamte the whole process. hell, maybe even improve stock controls and reduce operatings costs.

    But ask yourself this; how long with the system intragtration atke adn what will it cost?

    And how long will pushing the web form out to retail outlets take and what will that cost? And you almost instaly get relief at the all centre.

    There defitely looks like a two step solution here. yes do the integration with the inventory system, but wure, deliver the tactical solution immediately.

  4. I vote that in the short term local stores should not call the online support center in this event. Rather they should be
    empowered to use this phone call to contact the customer directly to inform them that their order will not be available in
    store at the expected time. They should offer to help find another local store to serve this request or confirm that a
    later pick up date (when the items are in stock) will be satisfactory. In the long term the online order system should
    be improved to account for local stock levels, etc to reduce the number of calls local stores have to make to customers.

  5. Craig, then you are into solution evaluation. Assuming all potential solutions meet the requirement of linking inventory, then it could be about cost or speed or accuracy.

    As Red Adair said, "You can have it good, fast or cheap; pick any two."

    Is the real question, though, about how much a role a BA plays in identifying solutions?

  6. Dave, I'll give you a hint... what the call center manager came to you with is a solution to a problem, but they did not tell you the real problem. As a BA, you would need to find that real root cause issue. This is more of an enterprise analysis task to find the problem, not to come up with a solution per say.