Does a 3rd Party QA Provider Make Sense?

Third Party QA Solution. Just as there are pros and cons to utilizing front line supervisors or a dedicated internal Quality Assessment (QA) analyst/team, there are also pros and cons to considering an independent third party. It may not make sense for some companies, while for others it is a great fit.

In the interest of full disclosure, I must tell you that our group provides third-party QA solutions. For some clients, we are their entire QA program from call capture & analysis to the one-on-one call coaching. For some we have established the QA program and then trained an internal team to take it over as we help them develop the necessary skills and discipline. For others, we simply provide an objective outside assessment in an effort to audit and improve their existing internal program. It is, however, a foundational principle of our group that we will not do a project if we do not believe we can bring measureable value to the client. So, I recognize that it works for some and not for others.

Having said that, here are a few reasons it makes sense to consider a third party:

  • Established experience & expertise means that you aren't wasting precious time, energy and resources trying to develop a program from scractch. In addition, a third party brings experience from other client call centers which helps avoid common pitfalls and introduce innovations your internal team may not know about without sending them to expensive conferences. As one client told us, "I know our products. I know how to sell them. I know how to service them. But you guys know our customers (we do regular customer sat surveys for them) and you know how to measure quality. I'd rather pay my people to take care of customers and pay you to make sure we're doing it well." In addition, I commonly find that our team can analyze calls better, faster, and provide a greater depth of actionable data than internal teams. It comes from 20 years experience analyzing tens of thousands of phone calls.
  • Objectivity. A third-party analyst doesn't have the potential bias you find internally, especially with supervisors whose call analysis can be colored by personality or other performance issues. Even internal QA analysts can find it tempting to listen with an internal perspective. A third party QA provider can generally provide you with more objective, customer-centric feedback than you'll get internally.
  • Accountability. One client put it to me bluntly: "The reason I have your team do our QA is because it gives me the luxury of picking up the phone and firing you at any given moment. If I hire a team internally it will cost me far more in the long run. I'll expend far more resources in FTEs as they try to figure out how to do it well. They probably won't do it as well in the end. And then I'm stuck with them. If I'm disappointed with your team, I just pick up the phone and tell you I'm done with you." The fact is, if our team doesn't perform well, we won't be around long. I know a lot of V.P.s of customer service who feel stuck with a broken, inefficient quality process that they wish they could scrap.

That doesn't mean a third party is always the best option. There are challenges inherent to a third party approach:

  • Limited product/procedural knowledge. A third party QA provider will rarely, if ever, have the intimate knowledge of your internal products, services, systems and procedures. While a third party can give you a clear picture of the customer's perspective (who also does not have this internal knowledge), the third party analyst will not always be able to catch the correctness of the CSR's answer or know all of the possible options the CSR had available to resolve the caller's issue the way a front line superisor will. A good third party provider will learn as much as possible in order to give the best possible feedback, but will almost never be as accurate as an internal analyst in measuring the correctness of answers given.
  • Control. A third party provider of QA is a hired vendor, and does not give managers or senior managers the degree of oversight and control that comes with an internal team. My experience is that some companies and executives require a high degree of control over the entire quality process. A good third party provider will be responsive, communicative and flexible, but will never offer the access or control a manager will have with direct reports.
  • Cost. Getting a worthwhile third party QA provider will cost money that most call center managers do not have easily accessible in their budgets. I know that our team has consistently provided clients with better data analyzing fewer calls and costing less money, time and energy than would have been expended with an internal team. Nevertheless, the number one reason most call centers do not consider a third party solution is for financial reasons. If you want, or a required, to analyze a tremendous number of phone calls -the cost of a third party solution easily becomes out of reach for most companies.

In conclusion, I've found that our services as a third party QA provider have consistently worked well in a handful of common situations:

  • Small to Mid-Size Contact Centers. Companies who have 1-50 seats will often struggle to justify the expense of a dedicated internal QA program. A 3rd party QA provider can often provide effective and cost efficient solutions that fit the budget.
  • QA Start Up. If setting up a program from scratch, you can often save yourself a lot of time and headaches by having a 3rd party assist in establishing, implementing the program and training your internal team of analyst and coaches.
  • Multiple Division/Site Situations. Larger corporations often find themselves with multiple call centers in different locations who each have a quality program. It's common to find that each location measures quality differently. We have been able to help companies in this scenario by providing an objective assessment across multiple centers on a common scorecard so that the executive team can get an "apples-to-apples" perspective of how each contact center is doing in service quality. We have also assisted with the development and implementation of a "common scorecard" for multiple contact center situations.

Sometimes contact centers choose not to exclusively use a front-line supervisor, QA team, or third party, but rather find a hybrid approach that works for them. We'll explore some of those options in our next post of this series.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and barron

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