• Dr. Timothy Smith

"Yes, of Course I Love Being Micromanaged!"

Call Center Agent

Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons

A new management tool is gaining traction in call centers. It uses the time-honored technique of micromanagement to try and make employees more efficient. In a recent article in the New York Times titled, “ A Machine May Not Take Your Job, but One Could Become Your Boss,” by Kevin Roose, the author details new technology that uses artificial intelligence to monitor all the calls in a call center in real time and simultaneously provide feedback on how to best address the customer on the line. (nytimes.com, 2019) Using icons on the representative’s computer monitor, the system by the Boston based company Cogito analyzes calls in real time and prompts different behavior when necessary. The system will tell the customer service agent if they respond too slowly, too quickly, without enough empathy, too little energy, etc. Such real-time feedback endeavors to get the maximum performance from everyone in the call center. The data from the monitoring also gets summarized for the manager to see the overall performance from each agent, highlighting those that need the most prompting.

A system such as Cogito’s for real-time analytics and coaching may appear to solve the problem of uneven engagement from call center customer service agents, but research does not support the suggested benefits of such continuous micromanagement. Research conducted by Debora Jeske and Alecia M. Santuzzi published in New Technology, Work, and Employment under the title, “Monitoring what and how: psychological implications of electronic performance monitoring,” concludes that, “that close performance monitoring (via cameras, data entry, chat and phone recording) had significant negative effects on job attitudes such as job satisfaction and affective commitment. Similar effects were observed for employee self‐efficacy and perceived control. Attitudes were furthermore negatively impacted when the monitoring was focused on individuals and unpredictable, which also reduced organizational citizenship behavior while continuous monitoring reduced self‐efficacy.” (Wiley Library) Moreover, in an article in the Harvard Business Review, Amy Gallo notes that “Not only is this micromanaging behavior annoying, it can stunt your professional growth” in her article titled, “Stop Being Micromanaged.” Additionally, Chris Leitch goes on to say that micromanagement contributes to health problems such as high blood pressure, chronic stress, and overeating. (careeraddict.com/the-devastating-effects-of-micromanagement) Leitch goes on to detail that micromanagement leads to high employee turnover, decreased productivity, and a sharp degradation of teamwork.

Advances in artificial intelligence have produced tools that can monitor and comment in real-time on voice interactions between customer service agents and clients, effectively micromanaging every moment of an agent-client interaction. Companies such as Cogito offer products that continuously provide feedback to employees on the quality of their client interactions and summarize all employee performance in a dashboard for a manager’s continuous evaluation of their subordinates. Such detailed control of employee performance may sound enticing for managers trying to get the maximum productivity from their employees, but research indicates that micromanagement produces negative effects in the workplace from the degradation of employee health to the degradation of employee engagement, productivity, and teamwork. Before adopting new performance enhancement technology, managers should consider the effects of such technology on their subordinates in the long run, not just possible short-term improvements in job performance.

Dr. Timothy Smith

Dr. Smith’s career in scientific and information research spans the areas of bioinformatics, artificial intelligence, toxicology, and chemistry. He has published a number of peer-reviewed scientific papers. He has worked over the past seventeen years developing advanced analytics, machine learning, and knowledge management tools to enable research and support high level decision making. Tim completed his Ph.D. in Toxicology at Cornell University and a Bachelor of Science in chemistry from the University of Washington.

You can buy his book on Amazon in paperback here and in kindle format here.

How to Profit and Protect Yourself from Artificial Intelligence