By Deborah Gage Print this article Print

FedEx already saves money by steering inquiries to its Web site, so how can it justify spending $326 million a year on call-center reps?

Cries for Help

By around 2010, the call center will be the nexus for all customers who need to interact with companies like FedEx, says Mathews of the FedEx Institute of Technology. Whether a customer approaches FedEx through a PC or a phone or some other device, Mathews says software will evaluate the difficulty of the customer's problem and decide when human intervention is required.

To handle some human tasks, researchers at the institute are working on intelligent software that would certainly not violate call-center dress codes or spill liquid on the computers. After all, even though 32% of Lynn Steward's performance rating is based on the quality of her calls and 17% on her efficiency, the other 51% is administrative—attendance, adherence to scheduled breaks and compliance with regulations.

But one wonders whether researchers can make software that is so empathetic, it knows how to respond when customers cry. Steward finds these calls the hardest—the ones where FedEx has failed to deliver paychecks or life-saving medicines and she has to figure out what to do. She says it's hard to listen to these callers without crying herself because she already feels bad for them. "But then we both regroup," she says, and she finds whatever resources FedEx has to get the problem solved. This, after all, is a job for FedEx.

This article was originally published on 2005-01-13
Senior Writer
Based in Silicon Valley, Debbie was a founding member of Ziff Davis Media's Sm@rt Partner, where she developed investigative projects and wrote a column on start-ups. She has covered the high-tech industry since 1994 and has also worked for Minnesota Public Radio, covering state politics. She has written freelance op-ed pieces on public education for the San Jose Mercury News, and has also won several national awards for her work co-producing a documentary. She has a B.A. from Minnesota State University.

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