Category: Management & Leadership

QA is Important: You Get What You Measure (or Don’t)

Portrait of happy female manager with business staff working in a call center

Last night I was preparing a Service Quality Assessment report for one of our clients. For years, the team was led by a strong manager who set the bar high for his team and held them accountable for their service performance. Agents had individual performance goals based on the service quality data we provided and could check their progress monthly through our on-line web portal. The manager even committed a generous monetary bonus to agents who could consistently deliver high levels of service. Then, just two months ago the manager was promoted and moved on to a new position.

Wouldn’t you know it? The team’s sevice performance plummeted after one month.

In recent years I’ve heard a cacophany of industry voices saying that QA is old school and ineffective. Most of the time, it seems to come from the technology sector who have a new widget to sell which promises to measure quality better (without actually involving humans) with the click of a mouse – or who want businesses to direct dollars spent on quality to their latest technology fad.

Last night’s report was a good reminder to me, and to my client, why the old fashioned discipline of setting an expectation, measuring behavior, encouraging, coaching and holding your people accountable works. You can set the expectation, but without the measuring, encouraging, coaching and accountability you’re not going to know if your team is delivering on that expectation (and it’s likely they won’t). It may not be glitzy. I may not be glamorous. Because it involves humans and human interaction it can even get messy at times. But, it works.

Ask my client, who this morning can go into her team meeting with the data to know how her team performed, what they did well, and what specific service behaviors they stopped demonstrating once they thought they weren’t going to be held accountable. She knows specifically what they need to do and can efficiently communicate the game plan and expectation for improvement.

Quality is for Internal Customers, Too!

from andrewscott via Flickr

Our group just completed two pilot Service Quality Assessment projects for a client. We’ve been providing QA services for this company for several years, but our work was confined to the front line Customer Service teams. Earlier this year, the client began to notice a discrepancy between the service expectations of their Customer Service team and those of the teams who service internal customers. We thus began a project to objectively measure and benchmarch service for the client’s IT Service Desk and and internal procedural service team.

As with most internal teams we’ve assessed through the years, the results showed huge opportunities to improve service delivered to internal customers. While service delivered to an internal customer may not be as formal, there is no reason why it should not exemplify adequate levels of courteous, friendly service. In fact, it can be argued that these internal teams, who are deemed as experts in their respective disciplines, should be setting the example to their internal customers of how an end-user customer should be treated.

Along with benchmarking serveral behavioral service skills which had plenty of room for improvement, our assessment also unearthed some procedural issues that could mean significant savings and improvement in efficiency. With one team in particular, a huge percentage of the calls received were found to be simple requests to check on the status of a previous request or to see if correspondence had been received. With a small investment in available technology to auto-reply that correspondence had been received and provide status updates, this internal team stands to substantially reduce calls, reduce costs, improve productivity, and more efficiently process the work which will ultimately affect the end-user customer.

Many companies rightly concern themselves with measuring the quality of their customer interactions, but teams who service internal customers are just as critical in the service chain that ultimately impacts customer satisfaction and loyalty.

The Truth of the Tape

A typical home reel to reel tape recorder, thi...

Image via Wikipedia

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.

Enhanced by Zemanta

You Can’t Fix What You Don’t Know is Broken

[tentblogger-youtube jhKqqYuV9MU]

I’m working with several new teams for a particular client. It’s always a bit of a sticky wicket when I show up for the first time. The other day I walked into the office of a department manager who’d been ducking me for weeks. Unanswered e-mails, unreturned voicemails and missed appointments. My team has been hired by the executive team to do a pilot assessment of his team’s service, and he wasn’t too happy about it. Many times a team and their managers are a little freaked when Mr. or Ms. Big tells them that someone is coming to listen in on their customer conversations.

  • “Oh, great! Big Brother is here!”
  • “What? Do you think we’re bad?”
  • “Someone’s just looking for the dirt to fire us!”
  • “What did I do wrong?”

I get it. It’s not always comfortable doing something new and a bit threatening when you’ve never done it before. And yet, I have almost twenty years doing this for many different companies and many different teams who started out as skeptics and are now long-term partners in better sales, service and even collections. it seems comfortable and easy rolling along without really knowing what’s happening in those moments of truth when your customers are talking to your company. “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it,” they say. But we are all human beings working for human beings dealing with human beings in a system created and maintained by human beings. I therefore have come to trust more in Bob Dylan’s perspective: “Everything is Broken.”  My experience is that with any cusotmer service, sales, or collections team there are things which are broken in the system which could be easily remedied if they are simply identified. But first you have to identify what they are. If you’re not listening, then you might not know something is broken until it’s too late (and no one wants that to happen at any rung of the corporate ladder).

When our team does a first time pilot assessment with a team, we generally start by assessing the whole team. We listen from the customer’s perspective. We don’t care who is who. We don’t identify individual agents. Like the customer, when you call Acme Anvils you don’t care who answers the phone. You’re talking to Acme Anvils. By starting with a blind assessment of the team, we can quickly identify areas that the team needs to improve. There’s no finger pointing, no calling out, no working agreements, and no private converstions in the corner office. There’s just a common issue that the whole team needs to address.

I’m happy to say that the vast majority of our clients, from the front-line to the board room, eventually learn that our Service Quality Assessment benefits everyone from the customer to everyone in the organization who cares about the customer and wants to do a good job. But, I first have to prove it to them and earn their trust. And so, I begin my day.

The Check-Out Line and Hold Button Have Glaring Similarities

NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 24:  Travelers wait in lin...

Image by Getty Images via @daylife

The Wall Street Journal had a great article this morning about the science of finding the best check-out line. Within the article, it talked about what happens when you are in queue for a period of time:

Envirosell, a retail consultancy, has timed shoppers in line with a stopwatch to determine how real wait times compared with how long shoppers felt they had waited. Up to about two to three minutes, the perception of the wait “was very accurate,” says Paco Underhill, Envirosell’s founding president and author of the retail-behavior bible “Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping.”

But after three minutes, the perceived wait time multiplied with each passing minute. “So if the person was actually waiting four minutes, the person said ‘I’ve been waiting five or six minutes.’ If they got to five minutes, they would say ‘I’ve been waiting 10 minutes,'” Mr. Underhill says.

It confirms exactly what we’ve known about customers placed on hold for many years. Put a caller on hold for a minute or two and they typically don’t mind. There’s something that happens, however, between the two and three minute hold. Customers who hit that third minute on hold begin to get anxious. The perceived length of time on hold becomes inflated. They’ve been on hold for just over three minutes but if you ask them they’ll tell you it was ten.

The hold button can be a useful tool to help CSRs avoid dead air or allow CSRs a moment to get information together and confidently prepare their response before addressing the customer. If you leave the customer for too long, however, it’s going to come back to bite you. When using the hold button, remember:

  1. Ask the caller’s permission to place him/her on hold. Customers like to feel that they have control and a say in the service they receive. Forcing the customer to hold or placing a customer on hold without permission runs the risk of the customer feeling they are getting the runaround.
  2. If possible, give the customer a realistic time frame. Many customers feel lied to when a CSR said “Let me put you on hold for a second” only to be gone for three minutes. By telling the customer her or she will be on hold “for a minute or two” is more honest and better manages expectations.
  3. Check back after two minutes. If it’s been two minutes and you’re still working on the issue then return to the line, apologize for the wait, explain that you’re still working on it, and give the customer the option of remaining on hold or receiving a call back in a set period of time.

Call Center managers or supervisors would do well to find a way to give CSRs a two minute countdown timer that starts when they hit the hold button and reminds them when the two minutes has lapsed.

Armed with the knowledge of what we know to be true about customers, we can better manage the process of asking the customer to hold while we serve them.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Year-End QA Considerations

Calendar

Image by studiocurve via Flickr

For many companies, the months of November, December and January signal the end of a fiscal year. With the end of the year comes annual performance management reviews which often include a service quality component. It is quite typical for this service quality component to be a score from the call monitoring and coaching QA program (e.g. “your call may be monitored to ensure quality service”). After almost two decades of doing QA as a third party provider as well as helping companies set up and improve their QA programs, I can tell you that year end reviews bring heightened scrutiny to your QA process. This is especially true if monetary bonuses or promotions hinge upon the results.

Not to be a fear monger (it is Halloween as I write this), but now is a good time to do a little self check on your program:

  • Sample: If you’re QA process is intended to measure a CSR’s overall service quality across the entire population of calls, make sure your sampling process is robust and you’ve collected a truly random sample of calls. This means that calls were not excluded for time and that they are representative across hours of the day, days of the week and weeks/months of the year.
  • Objectivity: Make sure you’ve checked your internal call analysts objectivity. This can be done by a simple analysis of the data. Run averages of each analysts results for both the overall score as well as for each element on your scorecard. By comparing individual scores against the group average, you will see where there may be objectivity issues that clouded results. This can also be checked through a robust and disciplined calibration program, though that is not done quickly.
  • Bias: Make sure that your program is not set up in such a way that those who analyze the calls have an inherent interest in the outcome. A classic example of where this happens is when supervisors score their teams calls. The team’s QA results reflect on the supervisor (in some cases there are incentives for the supervisor that hinge on the quality scores), so it is often hard for supervisors to be completely objective in their analysis. A good quality program will reward analysts for the objectivity of the results, not the results themselves.
  • Collusion: If, month after month, the QA results consistently show that your entire team is performing at 98-100% of goal, then one of two things is likely true. 1) Your QA program has the bar set so low that almost anyone with blood pressure and a pulse can meet goal or 2) Everyone in the organization from the front-line CSR to the executive suite has colluded in making the company’s service quality look a lot better than it is. I get it. Sometimes it’s easier to pretend a problem doesn’t exist rather than doing the work to address it. Every organization that has more than a handful of CSRs can count on having a wide range of quality across their front-line ranks. It’s a human nature thing. If everyone is scoring almost perfectly, then something’s definitely rotten in the state of Denmark.

If your year-end is coming up, it’s a good idea for Call Center Managers and executives to start asking some questions now so that there are no surprises when CSRs, unhappy with the results of their performance management, begin asking questions. If you’re interested in an independent 3rd party audit of your current program, contact me. It’s one of the things we do.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Getting Started with QA: Getting Your Feet Wet

BOSCH 90303 PLUNGE ROUTER BACK JPG

On the workbench in my garage is a router and router table. I bought it several years ago. It’s a nice one. I even bought a bunch of jigs for creating different kinds of edges. In all the time I’ve had it, I’ve turned it on less than five times. The problem is, I am not very proficient with the whole carpentry thing and I don’t have a lot of time on my hands to dedicate to learning the craft. I have the desire and I have the tool, but I don’t have the time, energy or expertise. Am I alone? I imagine you have a tool, gizmo, or gadget you purchased that is collecting dust for similar reasons.

Technology has made the ability to record and monitor phone calls simple for business. Many companies have the ability through the suite of services they purchased along with their phone system. However, like me and my router, the things that keeps many companies from entering into a Quality Assessment (QA) or Call Coaching program is the lack of time, energy or experience. Starting a QA program can seem like a daunting task for the executive or manager who has plenty of other daily fires that urgently require her/his attention. Resources are scarce and we don’t have the staff to dedicate to it. If that describes you, you’re not alone.

I may not be ready to build a fancy looking entertainment system with the unused router in my garage, but I could certainly pay a competent woodworker friend a few bucks to spend one evening helping me finish that one shelf for my office. Not only do I get the shelf done, but I can also learn a few things to build my knowledge and confidence so I might tackle another small project on my own.

The same principle can apply to your QA aspirations. You don’t have to create an entire QA program to benefit from the available technology. One of the ways our group serves companies who are new to world of QA is by providing a one-time pilot assessment.  The investment and risk are minimal. The process is simple. The value and ROI are potentially huge. 

Here’s how it works: We work with our client of QA novices to define their goals and develop a QA scale unique to their particular business, brand, customer, and call types. Our experienced call analysts then analyze a relatively small yet statistically valid sample of phone calls over a period of a few weeks. A few weeks later we deliver a detailed QA report that details:

  • Customer types (Who is calling?)
  • Call types (What are they calling about?)
  • CSR skill performance (How did our team do at serving the customer?)
  • Resolution rates (How many calls were unresolved? Why?)
  • Training priorities ( What do we need to work on?)
  • Policy/Procedural Issues (What policies & procedures are negatively impacting resolution and the customer experience?)
  • Brief call summaries of every call assessed (What did your team hear in each phone call?)

In addition, we always provide a follow-up session with management to review the data and discuss recommendations. We also provide a front-line training session(s) designed to effectively communicate the SQA data to your team and provide key service skill training based on the results of the assessment. In some cases, we also work with a company’s internal training/coaching personnel and help them leverage the data to set training priorities.

The Service Quality Assessment (SQA) Pilot Assessment is a great way for a company to get their feet wet in the world of QA, to help companies who have struggled to successfully implement a QA program, or to give executives/managers an outside perspective with which to audit and compare their internal efforts. You walk away from the SQA with:

  • a QA scale designed for your team which can be utilized/amended for future internal efforts
  • an objective benchmark of your current team’s service performance
  • a prioritized list of training/coaching opportunities which will help you maximize your training dollars
  • effective communication of pertinent data and training for your management team and front line CSRs
  • a knowledge of policy and procedural issues that are negatively impacting customers and/or needlessly wasting resources
  • a blueprint of how QA works and a hands on participation in the process which will increase your knowledge/confidence and can help you realistically proceed in jump starting those internal QA efforts you’ve been putting off
  • a low risk experience to measure the cost/benefit using a third-party to do QA for you.

You don’t have to dive into call monitoring or Quality Assessment and risk drowning. You can easily and reasonably get your feet wet. If you’d like to explore what an SQA Pilot Assessment would look like or cost for you and your company please give us a call or drop us an e-mail.

Now, does anyone know a capable woodworker in my area who has a free evening?

 

 

Enhanced by Zemanta

Beware of “Metrics Deception”

Histograms help analyze metrics

Image via Wikipedia

When talking to managers about their contact center’s quality program I’ll often ask what they are currently doing to measure quality.

“Well, we generate reports each day that give us various quality metrics which we then track. Those metrics then go into a monthly quality report to senior management and are broken down by Customer Service Representative (CSR) and tracked for their performance management.”

“Great,” I’ll answer. “Can you give me an idea of the metrics you use?”

“Sure, Average Handle Time (AHT) and Calls Per Hour (CPH) are the primary ones, but then we also track After Call Work (ACW) and amount of time spent on the phone ‘available.'”

At that moment, I know that this manager has fallen prey to the “Metrics Deception.” So, here’s the deception. Each of the metrics mentioned, while important to track as they relate to the cost of doing business, are not “quality” related metrics. They are quantitative metrics (number of minutes, number of calls, amount of time, and etc.) but they tell you nothing about the quality of the interaction that took place between the customer and the CSR. For managers it is really easy to fall into the Metrics Deception because the reports and data off of the phone switch are easily generated, easily quantified and easy to track. When the Executive Vice President of Operations asks for a quality report, it’s easy to provide a nice chart showing that your “quality” efforts have reduced Average Handle Time by ten seconds which will translates into a net savings of dollars over the course of the fiscal year. Well done. Cost savings is good. Everyone is happy.

Well, not everyone is happy. The customers who got poor, rushed answers that didn’t resolve their question were not happy. The customer who got hung-up on while on hold by a CSR who was trying to reduce his AHT was not happy. The CSR who feels pressured into short-changing the customer for the sake of making their “quality” metrics look good on next month’s report is not happy.

If your “quality metrics” don’t correspond to your customer satisfaction ratings, then you might just want to double check that you haven’t been  deceiving yourself into thinking that quantitative metrics are qualitative in nature.

Enhanced by Zemanta

New CSRs and the QA Question

Call Center Taxis Libres

Image via Wikipedia

The other day I received an email from a subscriber asking about my thoughts on how to transition new employees into the Quality program. For every Customer Service Representative (CSR) there is a period of training prior to getting on the phones to work with customers. Well, let me say that for most CSRs there is some kind of “nesting period” in the contact center. Every client I’ve ever worked with has struggled to figure out how to handle this nesting period. In my experience, there are three typical scenarios, and I believe one of the methods is better than the others.

  • Don’t Assess the CSR. This is a very common way to handle the new CSR question. The CSR will be on the phones for 30-90 days taking calls from customers without ever being recorded or assessed. On the surface this may seem like an act of kindness to the CSR, but there are two major drawbacks. First, you have very real customers who are having a very real customer service experience which will impact their satisfaction, loyalty and future purchase intent. If nothing else, you owe it to your customers to be monitoring the newbie’s service delivery. Second, you aren’t doing the CSR any favors by letting him or her develop unmonitored bad habits that will have to be corrected when the nesting period ends.
  • Listen and Coach, but Don’t Analyze. In many cases, the call center supervisor, QA team, a coach or trainer will listen to the new CSR and provide feedback and coaching, but they won’t actually analyze calls utilizing the quality form or scorecard. Often, the coach may jack in to the call and provide immediately side-by-side coacing. Again, this seems like a gracious way to transition the new CSR onto the floor. The CSR gets feedback and coaching but does not fear having some of the common rookie mistakes count against them in their probationary period. The problem with this approach is that the coaching and feedback is usually not documented and the feedback often centers around individual call-specific situations rather than preparing the CSR for the larger behavioral habits that will be expected of them. The new CSRs are also not getting prepared for what the scorecard or QA Form is going to look like or expect from them. They don’t get a chance to benchmark where they are against the standards to which they will be accountable when they get placed in the program.
  • Assess the calls but don’t count it. A compromise that many call centre quality teams will employ is providing a probation period or nesting period in which customer calls taken by new agents are sampled and scored just like everyone else. The scores, however, may not count against the CSR’s permanent record or be considered a simple benchmark prior to being held fully accountable when they transition out of the nesting period. My experience is that this is the best solution to the new CSR dilemma. The customer’s experience is being measured and not ignored. The CSR is able to quickly understand what is on the QA form, what behaviors matter and built habits during their nesting period that will give them the greatest opportunity to succeed once they are fully  transitioned to the call floor. Coaches can use the form to provide data-driven feedback about what will “count” for the CSR in the long run instead of providing haphazard or situational coaching that may have little measurable value for the CSR in the long run. In addition, CSRs usually enjoy seeing the progress they make in the first few months as their quality improves over the “benchmark” score they received during the probation period.

The key, I believe, is for managers to consider who you are serving with your QA strategy. Companies often rely on their QA program to simply be a CSR management tool and so consideration is only given to how the process  and program will affect and be perceived by the employee. When effectively utilized Quality Assessment should also provide you with an accurate, objective, and honest assessment of the experience your customers receive when they are engaged with your employees on the phone (not just the experience with trained veteran employees but with new CSRs, as well). Because customer interactions with new, untrained CSRs generally represent the greatest risk to your customer’s experience you need to be honestly assessing what is happening in those moments of truth. Doing so serves the customer, your company, and the new CSR well.

Enhanced by Zemanta