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29 May 2013

By: Danny Singer

Blog #11: The paradox of freedom - why fewer rules won't set you free


Philosophers across the ages have pondered, cogitated and stipulated over the relatively simple problem of the definition of freedom. Morally, in our times freedom has been regarded as a positive, liberating and all round good thing. The more freedom the better, as in freedom from tyranny and oppression, freedom from dogma, freedom from slavery, freedom of expression and of thought, and so on.

However, like most good things, when taken to the extreme freedom can go nasty. Freedom to bear arms may be a dubious kind of freedom depending where in the world you may be, whilst freedom to kill, or freedom to abuse are clearly abhorrent to most.

In a perverse interpretation of freedom, lawlessness can be viewed as more free a state than the rule of law, yet it invariably leads to piracy, brutality and ruthless tribalism. So too much freedom can paradoxically lead to less freedom as the rule of law is replaced by anarchy and its unpleasant corollaries of gang warfare and the rule of the gun.blog #11 a

In our personal lives, freedom can be just as slippery a topic to pin down. In many ways, we strive to free ourselves from the tyranny of rules and duties and busy schedules where every minute of the day is accounted for and assigned to a worthwhile pursuit. The other extreme, however is perhaps worse where each day is a blank canvass of sheer tedium free of any commitments or plans. There perhaps lies the path to true insanity as nature abhors a vacuum.

How does all this relate to call centres, you may well ask? Indeed, the debate on how much freedom should call centre agents enjoy in the course of their daily work has been raging ever since call centres came into existence.

Some advocate giving agents almost complete freedom to say and do as they see fit relying on their common sense and solid training to see them through. In all but the most exceptional of circumstances, this is a recipe for disaster and possible ruin as the cost of hiring only highly talented (read highly paid) agents and then providing them with extensive (read expensive) training in an industry where the levels of staff attrition are routinely in the high (30%) cannot be easily justified.

Even if you decide to ignore all this, beyond a certain point, more freedom paradoxically becomes less freedom. How so? By treating each call as an individual case in isolation and having to think about it afresh each time, means that agents need to constantly consult their manuals, instructions, crib sheets and support materials.

They need to remember where all this information is and repetitively digging it out each time. In doing so, they are normally forced to divert their attention from the human being they are talking to so that the conversation becomes stilted, unnatural and can lead to unnecessary confrontation. Invariably, this will lead to stressed agents who will feel less free to converse with your clients in a relaxed and reassuring manner. Thus more freedom results in less freedom.

Funnily enough, the opposite is also true. Less freedom can lead to more freedom. In what way? Well, if your agents have a clear set of rules and procedures to follow that are seamlessly embedded within the systems they use daily, they have less to remember and less to worry about. Some of these rules can even be automated so that agents are not even aware that they are happening behind the scenes (such as the sending of emails, text messages, letters, access to web services and so on).

Paradoxically, having some pre-set rules that don't need to be questioned or derived each time can be a liberating experience. For example, the rules of harmony do not limit the ability to create music but on the contrary can enhance such ability. The principles of logic and the rules of set theory are not an impediment but a tremendous aid in the study of science and mathematics.

blog #11 bIt was Jean-Paul Sartre who wrote in "The Psychology of Imagination" (1940): "It is not determinism but necessity which is the converse of freedom". By "determinism" he is referring to such rules and principles which are axiomatic, such as the rules of physics or the principles of logic, whilst "necessity" encompasses all such things that we feel a need to cling to out of some sense of duty or faith.

In this sense, providing call centre agents with a set of deterministic rules of engagement does not in any way limit their freedom. In many ways it enhances it as it removes a great deal of clutter that may have otherwise appeared absolutely necessary.

It is the ability to define and set up a comprehensive set of deterministic rules and processes that Noetica provides its clients through the use of Synthesys™. Our software is there to increase the agents' freedom by transferring business practices from the realm of the necessary to the realm of the deterministic as so concisely defined by Sartre long before modern computer technology came into existence.