The Truth of the Tape

A typical home reel to reel tape recorder, thi...
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Since Prohibition, when recorded phone conversations with a bootlegger were first used in a criminal prosecution, the taped phone call has had a colorful history. Movies and television have made familiar the image of FBI agents hunkered over spinning reels of tape in a van or an empty warehouse loft as they listen in on the calls of shady mobsters. Go to the new Mob Museum in Las Vegas and you’ll get to hear some of the actual calls for yourself.

The recorded conversation is a powerful tool. In our training with clients, our team will often go into a studio and recreate a phone call using voice actors to protects the identify of caller and CSR, but accurately recreate the customer service conversation between the two. These calls are always a fun and effective training tool because they are based on an actual interaction with which CSRs identify. “I took a call just like that,” we hear all the time, “I think that mighta been me!” Because the pertinent identifying information is hidden, the focus can be on what we can learn from the call and how the interaction might have been improved.

Another important way to utilize recordings is as evidence of a particular procedural or systems related issue. Call recording software often includes a video capture of what is happening on the agent’s desktop during the phone call. When trying to make a point about how obtuse or cumbersome a particular system is for agents while they are on the phone call, a recorded example complete with visual can be a powerful piece of evidence for upper management and decision makers. As they sit and uncomfortably witness first hand the CSR struggling through a jungle of screens as they try to maintain conversation and call flow with the customer, it makes a much more persuasive argument than a mere description of the issue.

Of course, the recordings can also be very effective tools to highlight both positive and negative performance. It’s hard for CSRs to defend their poor service behaviors when there is a plethora of recorded evidence with which to coach them. People often think of call recording as merely a tool to catch people doing things wrong, but our team regularly reminds CSRs that the truth of the tape can also catch people doing things right and become hard evidence of an agents exemplary service skills. Many years ago a frustrated manager asked our team to do a special assessment of an agents calls. The manager wanted to fire the agent and was looking for evidence to do so. In this case, the tape revealed that the agent performed well when serving customers on the phone. The truth of the tape helped protect the CSR from being unfairly terminated.

Call recordings are tools. As with all tools, the results lie in the wisdom and abilities of the person or persons wielding them. When misused, call recording can do damage to people and businesses. When used with discernment and expertise, those same recordings can effectively help build a successful business.

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Praise or Criticism? What Works Best?

It's a classic debate in the world of call center quality assessment (QA). Do you use QA to praise Customer Service Representatives (CSRs) so as to encourage them and build their self-esteem? Do you use QA to be critical and hold CSRs accountable to keep them honest? Is there a happy medium, and if so, where is it?

When giving seminars, I often use the word pictures of the "QA Nazi" (who uses QA as a means of beating CSRs into submission) and the "QA Hippie" (who uses QA to give CSRs smiley faces and make their world a "happier place") to represent the extremes on both sides of the spectrum.

My coworker recently forwarded an article to me from NY Times Magazine about some research that's being done on the power of praise and criticism with children. While the research focuses on parents and their children, I would submit that there are some lessons for us all to learn in the QA, training and coaching arena.

The most recent research is finding that undue praise can actually have a negative effect. Those who are constantly and generally praised tend to become more competitive, less motivated and less willing to put out effort towards improvement.

Does this mean that praise isn't important? Not at all. What the research is discovering is that praise is a powerful force when it is specific and sincere.

I'm sure the debate will never end, and I'm not sure that it should. A professor of mine said, "truth lies at the tension between the two extremes," and I've found it apt in many situations. Finding that right balance between praise and accountability is elusive, but one to which all QA teams should strive. 

I continually come back to a few key tenets:

  • Know what drives your customer's satisfaction, by asking them
  • Define specific, desirable behaviors that will meet & exceed those expectations
  • Measure those specific behaviors
  • Give consistent, honest, data-led feedback to CSRs telling them which behaviors they are consistently performing, and which behaviors theyare inconsistently demonstrating
  • Train and coach CSRs toward improvement
  • Praise CSRs for the specific, documented acheivements and improvements
  • Hold CSRs accountable for specific, documented lack of performance

Customer Service “Hall of Shame” a Lesson in Management

Hallofshame2009 No less than three alert readers forwarded me MSN Money's 2009 Hall of Shame. So, I'd better pass it along! Nine of the ten "winners" are repeat offenders. Some might argue that turning things around for some of these corporations is like making a u-turn in an aircraft carrier. Nevertheless, many companies and industries have taken the recession as an opportunity to improve customer service and win market share, and clear improvements have been noted by consumers in certain sectors. In seems, therefore, that annual designation on the Hall of Shame points to a lack of true commitment from the executive and management teams of these companies to make the changes necessary.

The Hall of Shame is a great reminder of the oft forgotten edge on the double edged Customer Service sword. What Customer Service Reps (CSRs) say and how they say it is only part of solution. Positive change in customer service requires an executive management team that is committed to correcting the failed policies and procedures that CSRs are forced to manage and support on the front lines.