I learnt about this case study from the author during an HBR breakfast event yesterday and found it incredibly inspiring, as well as on–point for innovation with AI (with its technological and organizational contingencies).

As more structured tasks are delegated to machine, organizations need to encourage agency, flexibility, and creativity with their staff.

Over the past decade, T-Mobile’s leadership team recognized that although the company’s investments in self-service had paid off well, they’d also created a challenge.

The basic transactional calls that once dominated call queues—balance inquiries, address changes, new-service activation, and the like—had all but disappeared as customers turned to self-service options for addressing those matters.

Now the queue was dominated by the complex and varied issues that customers couldn’t solve on their own—a shift that started to put real stress on the company’s reps.

Given its goals, Field’s team reasoned that a version of the account management model common in B2B settings—in which a dedicated sales and service team manages a pool of customers—could work well in B2C customer service.

To tackle this, T-Mobile devised the Team of Experts model, or TEX. This involves cross-functional groups of 47 people who serve a named set of customer accounts in a specific market.

Each rep is a generalist who can handle everything from billing, sales, and line activation to standard technical-support inquiries.

To ensure that all team members work well together, T-Mobile built collaboration into the model

To encourage collaboration and innovation, the TEX model uses a balanced scorecard that weights both individual and team performance. This is a dramatic departure from typical schemes for evaluating customer service agents, which measure only individual performance, encouraging reps to hoard knowledge and look out for themselves.

While some organizations are leveraging new technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) to bring greater analytic power and predictability to service interactions, others are using them to reinforce legacy operating models, potentially discouraging innovation.

Unfortunately, the research also shows that a high percentage of customer service organizations actively discourage reps from exercising their judgment. When managers tell reps to stick to the script,” audit their performance using rigid quality-assurance checklists, and implement screen alerts telling them what to say and do, it squelches any impulse to use judgment.


March 28, 2019