Case Study

HGS Challenges the “Cheap, Fast, Good–Pick Two” Concept



For years, the project management triangle—“Cheap, fast, or good‒pick two”—has stood as an accepted business concept, applied to product development, service delivery, and even contact center operations. The concept describes the constraints managers often face when attempting to deliver high quality while balancing the seemingly juxtaposed forces of cost containment and speed. The model suggests that (1) if you deliver something quickly and of high quality, it will be expensive; (2) if you provide something quickly and cheaply, it will not be good or of high quality; and (3) if you develop something of high quality inexpensively, it will take a very long time. Many business process outsourcers give credence to this principle. Their beliefs, in turn, are manifested in proposals, statements of work, and operational approaches. HGS, however, believes that clients can have—and deserve—a contact center approach that can successfully balance all three. HGS has numerous examples that defy these traditional constraints, but nowhere
is HGS’s ability to deliver good, fast, and cost-effective customer care more evident than in telecommunications, where all three are critical to maintaining market share. For example, a cellular provider focused on providing speed, reliability, and good value to Canadians contacted HGS 11 years ago with a short-term request for help in providing supplementary English voice support. HGS responded by quickly engaging 50 agents in Pembroke, Ontario, to serve customers seeking answers about their accounts, plans, and devices over the Christmas period.

Our Solution

HGS leveraged a short-term, seasonal telco opportunity to delight and demonstrate a frictionless, friendly, and focused customer experience. Eleven years later, HGS manages 350 agents across two
sites (Pembroke and now Belleville, Ontario), logs 45,000 hours of volume monthly, and delivers fulsome postpaid inbound customer service, including troubleshooting, billing, account information, and upselling. Since account inception, the client has refined its target market and enhanced its offerings (e.g., free subscriptions) to hone in on a millennial customer base, and HGS has adapted in parallel. Today, HGS’s priorities include improving the Net Promoter Score (NPS), revenue, and average handle time
(AHT). The client, in effect, has challenged HGS to successfully balance call center quality (via NPS and customer satisfaction) with speed (AHT) and financial (sales) improvements—a form of the classic cheap, fast, good triangle.

Quality, Satisfaction, and NPS

HGS has adopted a one-queue approach for the client. Agents are cross-trained. An integrated customer relationship management system (CRM) and knowledgebase ensure they provide accurate account, product, and service information. Job diversity makes for happier agents and better results.

Until recently, HGS had no client-mandated quality assurance (QA) expectation. HGS’s proven call monitoring and coaching process ensures the client achieves their quality objectives. The extent of the QA program today involves having analysts review random calls remotely against HGS’s internally created “Pillars of Success” form. It’s simple, but effective.

Both the Pembroke and Belleville teams use HGS’s Customer Experience Blueprint. The blueprint outlines what it takes to make positive first and lasting impressions, as data has shown that these directly correspond to NPS. HGS mines voice-of-the-customer (VOC) surveys—every single detractor/passive survey—to implement specific actions that solve problems.

NPS results can reflect the state of the client-vendor relationship. This HGS-client relationship is built on mutual respect, authenticity, trust, and teamwork. HGS has freedom to improvise and innovate for the best outcomes. The client, meanwhile, provides a responsive vendor management team. The client’s vendor managers attend all briefings together, so there is greater consistency across sites, and a contact is always available to answer questions.

Sales-Through-Service Approach

HGS’s pricing strategy and revenue generation results offset the cost of operations. HGS’s one-queue approach ensures all agents embrace sales and upselling as an integral part of the job. HGS agents espouse a sales-through-service approach that puts customer needs first.

The sales index used by the client stems from a blended sales-per-call formula that assigns weighting of the available products to customers. HGS attributes its sales success to multiple actions:

  • The recruiting process sets clear expectations that the job involves working in a service-to-sales center and includes sales role-play exercises.
  • HGS provides in-depth product and positioning theory and 3 to 5 hours of on-the-job (OJT) sales modules.
  • HGS fosters a sales culture with high energy and high visibility recognition (prizes, celebrations, gamification).
  • Experienced agents use the service portion of the call to uncover needs and then bridge to a value-add for the customer (e.g., cost savings).
  • Novice agents apply the sow-a-seed approach to foreshadow and advise the customer of an available promotion—“Please remind me to fill you in on a current promotion available to your account.”
  • All agents have access to a tool that helps them to determine what product or service to pitch.
  • Painstaking analysis of call samples by HGS staff yields intelligence to develop scripts, segues, and tactics for overcoming typical sales objections.

Practicality in Average Handle Times (AHT)

The client experiences peak periods at Christmas (November to January) and the summer (May to July). Regardless of ramp-up requirements, HGS’s AHT results hold steady. While other vendors may see a dip in AHT achievement as new agents acclimatize, HGS‘s onboarding approach helps to smooth out AHT ripples.

Recruitment and retention in Canada is challenging. HGS finds that a 90:10 full-time versus part-time employee ratio works best. Before applicants interview, they must Y-jack with an experienced agent. The applicant then participates in interviews, background checks, and assessments, followed by 3 weeks of in-class training and 2 weeks of OJT. OJT runs with a 4:1 ratio so that agents can get to know their teammates well and always feel supported as they learn. A leadership and coaching program for supervisors has accelerated repeatable behaviors and gained agent commitment.

When required, agents receive coaching on tool and knowledgebase utilization and on limiting hold times to improve AHT. Containing AHT is not a prime focus for the client, as long as it yields sales or higher NPS scores.

By balancing customer satisfaction, financials, and AHT and by monitoring other vendors closely, HGS has managed to debunk the project-management-triangle concept.


In Pembroke and Belleville, the client’s branding and wares are prevalent and accessible to agents. The level of activity, interaction, and engagement on the call center floor is remarkable. In such a lively environment, agents and supervisors naturally collaborate to address customers’ spoken and unspoken needs. Results appear on an electronic board for all to see, and year-end examples of these results are as follows:

  • In 2016, HGS achieved an average NPS rating of 93% of the client-provided targets, whereas the client’s other vendors achieved NPS averages of 66% and 59% of the client targets. HGS’s NPS scores exceeded the two other vendors’ scores every single month and 30% overall for the year.
  • In 2016, HGS had monthly sales index targets that ranged from 0.37% to 0.42%. HGS improved its results every month. In the last quarter, the HGS team smashed the 0.37% target by achieving a 0.50% result in November and a monthly average of 0.39% from September to December.
  • AHT targets fluctuate monthly and range from 659 seconds to 756 seconds. In 2016, HGS achieved AHTs of 663 seconds to 760 seconds. HGS met the AHT target six times in 2016, while the other two vendors never met the targets in 2016 at all.

HGS autonomously initiates improvement and VOC projects. These projects often involve technology (e.g., dual monitors for agents), but also operational techniques. The client, on several occasions, has commented that HGS has taken value-adds and VOC insights to an entirely new level. Due to HGS’s excellent performance, HGS and the client are looking at many new opportunities, including adding a bilingual chat queue and exploring at-home agents. Managing the pressures of the project management triangle is possible when you have a partner like HGS.