Executive Reality Check: What We Say vs. What We Measure

A while back I read a fascinating article by Lou Gerstner in the Wall Street Journal. He was examining the response of a financial institution’s CEO to the debacle in which they found themselves. The CEO said that it was the employees who failed to honor the corporate culture of “putting the customer first.” Gerstner goes on argue that what companies say they value in their mission and value statements often flies in the face of the corporate culture dictated from the executive suites:

What is critical to understand here is that people do not do what you expect but what you inspect. Culture is not a prime mover. Rather it is a derivative. It forms as a result of signals employees get from the corporate processes that structure their work priorities.

If the financial-reporting system focuses entirely on short-term operating results, that’s what will get priority from employees. If you want employees to care a lot about customers, then customer-satisfaction data should get as prominent a place in the reporting system as sales and profit.

I have seen the truth of Gerstner’s observations over and over again in our years of providing Customer Satisfaction (CSAT) research and Quality Assessment (QA) for companies large and small.

When I tell people about our group it is quite common to have them respond by telling me that their company has a “quality” program. When I ask them to describe their program, however, they explain that they get regular reports about Average Speed of Answer, Average Call Time, Call Counts, and similar metrics. In other words, they are measuring quantity (of calls and time) and equating it with quality. To Gerstner’s point, you get what you inspect. When our group is given an opportunity to do a true quality assessment for such a company, we find Customer Service Representatives (CSRs) more focused on cranking through as many calls as quickly as they can than they are providing any kind of positive customer experience. Despite their company’s well worded value statements about customer service, the CSRs know that their employer truly values efficiency, productivity and cost containment because that’s what the employer measures.

Alternatively, when our group has enjoyed long term partnerships with clients it is typically because the CEO and executive team truly believe in the long-term value and profitability of providing a superior customer experience. To that end, they understand the value of getting reliable data about what drives their customer’s satisfaction and the importance of objectively measuring the customer experience against those drivers. Front-line CSRs know that their company values providing a truly superior customer experience because that is what their employer measures.

It’s a simple exercise for any corporate executive. First take a look at your company’s stated values and mission with regard to customer service and/or the customer experience. Next, take a look at what’s truly being measured on your front-lines where customers interact with your team. Is there a disconnect?

If you need an experienced partner in finding out what drives your customers’ satisfaction, how to measure quality the right way, and how to effectively communicate these things throughout your organization then give us a call. It’s what we’ve been doing for over a quarter century. We’d love the opportunity to work with you and your team.


tom head shotTom Vander Well is partner and Executive Vice-President of C Wenger Group. Tom has written about Customer Satisfaction and Quality Assessment on previous blogs (QAQnA and Service Quality Central) and was a contributing Customer Service blogger for the Des Moines Business Record

Who Knew Siri Can Coach Your Employees, Too?!


We just posted last week about the rather disappointing realities two of our clients experienced in comparison to the bright promises on which they’d been sold speech analytic technology. In both cases they were sold on the idea of speech analytics replacing their human QA programs by analyzing every call and flagging calls in which there were problems. Our clients found that the technology itself took a much greater investment of time and resources than anticipated just to make it work at a basic level. The results were equally disappointing, requiring even more time and resources just to sort through the many false-positives that the software flagged.

It is with great interest then, that I received an MIT Technology Review article  from a former co-worker this week. The article reports on what the writers claim is the latest technology trend, offered by Cogito, to revolutionize contact centers. Apparently speech analytics has been so successful and popular at accurately analyzing customer conversations that the technology experts now want to sell technology to do call coaching, as well. Who knew that Siri could now offer us sage advice on how to communicate more effectively and connect more emotionally with our customers. By the way, according to their marketing they think their technology might help you with your marriage, as well.

I have noted over the years just how much big technology drives our industry. Go to any Contact Center Conference and look at who is paying big bucks, commanding the show floor, introducing the latest revolutionary advancement, and driving the conference agenda. C’est la vie. That’s how the market works. I get it.

I have also noted, however, that technology companies have often sold us on the next big thing, even when it wasn’t. Does anyone remember the Apple Newton? Laser Discs? Quadrophonic sound? Have you scanned a QR code lately? Ever heard of Sony Beta?

Technology is an effective tool when utilized for the strengths it delivers. I am more appreciative than most my colleagues with the advancements we’ve made in technology. I remember days sitting in a small closet jacking cassette tape recorders into an analog phone switch. I also know from a quarter century of coaching Customer Service Representatives (CSRs), Collection agents, and Sales representatives that human communication and interactions are complex on a number of levels. It isn’t just the customer to CSR conversation that is complex, but also the Call Coach to CSR conversations and relationship. Technology may be able to provide objective advice based on voice data, but I doubt that technology can read the personality type of the CSR. I don’t believe it can read the mood that the CSR is in that day and the nonverbal clues they are giving off regarding their openness and receptivity to the information. I doubt it can learn the communication style that works most effectively with each CSR and alter its coaching approach accordingly.

But, I’m sure they’re working on that. Just check it out at your next conference. They’ll have a virtual reality demonstration ready for you, I’m sure.




White Paper: Why Customer Service Training Isn’t Enough

Companies often desire to provide basic customer service training for their team(s). Our group is often asked to provide a “Customer Service 101” training session that teaches employees some basic customer service phone skills, and we do provide that type of training. We have, however, always believed that training alone, without any kind of assessment or accountability, will have limited impact. A recent experience with one client allowed us to quantify this reality with data. Please click on the link below to download our white paper.

White Paper_Customer Service Training is Not Enough


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

A Little Consideration Goes a Long Way

Our group is currently working with one of our clients on a major overhaul of their quality program.  With projects of this size, it is natural for things to take longer than planned. In a meeting a few weeks ago the discussion came up about when we would go “live” with the new Quality Assessment (QA) scorecard since the original deadline was fast approaching. The initial response was “we don’t see any reason not to implement as scheduled and start evaluating calls right away.” It did not take long, however, for the team to realize that it would be inappropriate for them to start evaluating Customer Service Representatives (CSRs) before they had even told the CSRs what behaviors the new QA scale evaluated. To their credit, the quality team and management chose to miss their deadline, push back implementation, and give their front-line associates the opportunity to learn what the scorecard contained before they began evaluating the agent’s phone calls with the new scorecard.

In retrospect, it seemed an obvious decision. Why wouldn’t you want to give your own associates the consideration to view the QA criteria and have an opportunity to change any necessary behaviors before you analyze their calls? As I thought about it on my drive home, I realized how often I find a lack of consideration in the corporate contact center.

  • Marketing drops a promotion that will generate a spike in calls without ever consulting the contact centre or telling them what the promotion contains.
  • CSRs are given an ultimatum to cut “talk time’ or “average handle time” without anyone taking the time to assess and find out tactical ways to do so (like identifying new shortcuts to commonly requested information, etc.).
  • Changing a policy or procedure, then holding associates accountable before it’s been clearly communicated.
  • IT procures and installs telephony, IVR, call recording, or other system software without consideration of how it will affect the call center’s ability to serve customers.
  • A supervisor or QA team simply gives a CSR his or her “score” (e.g. “You got an 82 on your QA this month”), without any clear documentation regarding which behaviors they missed or a conversation/coaching about how the CSR can alter behavior and improve.
  • Having QA criteria that is so broad and ill defined that a “QA Nazi” supervisor can use it to beat CSRs into submission with their own personally impossible expectations while a “QA Hippie” supervisor can use the same criteria to boost the team’s self-esteem by giving them all “100”s (turning the zeroes into smiley faces, of course).

As we near year end and are looking towards setting goals for 2011, perhaps one goal for all managers should be to identify areas of our process in which we act without consideration for those our actions will affect.

Improvement Priorities: Don’t Major on the Minors

First, get across the pool. I grew up as a competitive swimmer. When I first started as a child, I literally could not swim across the width of the pool. I began by learning how to swim. As I progressed to racing, it was amazing how a few fundamental changes could result in several seconds improvement in my times. Years went by. I got better. By the time I was in high school there were no longer any quick and easy improvements. I was trying to shave tenths of a second off my time and looking for tiny improvements I could make in every aspect of the race. I even shaved my head for the conference finals so that my hair (which was then much longer and thicker) would not create unnecessary drag through the water.

I think about this quite often as I work daily in Call Center Quality Assessment. When our group begins doing a third-party assessment for clients, I can almost guarantee that the client performs poorly in some of the nit-picky details of the call like hold etiquette and transferring callers. Transfer and Hold behaviors are usually the lowest bars on the bar chart.

It's a common reaction for clients to overreact to the results in these areas. At first glance, it appears that these behaviors are the most critical behaviors on which to improve (because they are being performed so poorly). The truth is that these are relatively minor issues in the larger picture of the customer's experience. It would be like me, as an eight-year-old novice swimmer, shaving my head to improve my time when the most important issue was that I could barely swim across the pool. There were far more important and fundamental improvements I needed to make before focusing on those little details made any sense.

For most contact centers, Holds and Transfers occur on a small fraction of phone calls and have relatively small impact on customer's satisfaction. If you've got issues in basic courtesies and resolution related behaviors (which occur on every call), you're better off investing your resources in improving performance in those behaviors. When you get to the point that you're doing the major things well, then you should turn your focus on the "minor details" that make the difference between "very good" and "excellent."

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and evoo73

“Passionate About You”

Many thanks to Matthew over at Conversations With Life for sending me this YouTube video from Brussels Airlines. What a great conversation starter for your call center or customer service team:

  • What are you passionate about?
  • What is your company passionate about?
  • Who are you passionate about?
  • What do our actions reveal about our passions?

Thoughts from the Calibration Trenches

Yesterday was calibration marathon day. Three different calibration sessions with three different teams with a staff meeting scrunched in between. It's not exactly what most people would consider an enjoyable day at the office. Granted, compared to countless calibration sessions I've endured with many different client's, our calibration sessions are a cake walk.

Nevertheless, as I was driving home I got a call from one of my teammates struggling with discouragement after the session and we had a great conversation about the calibration process. It got me thinking about some basic lessons I've learned through the years in calibration:

  • Calibration, by its' very nature, is a conflictive process. When you try to get a group of people to analyze the same call the same way, there are bound to be disagreements. The calibration session is not focused on the 90-95 percent of the call a team agrees on, but on the handful of things on which they disagree. You have to accept this going in and keep it in perspective. It's always wise to try and bring some levity and laughter to the session. Remind people of all the things that you agreed on which weren't conflictive. Keep the big picture in front of the team.
  • Calibration is often not about who is "right" and who is "wrong" but how we are going to consistently and objectively approach and analyze a given behavior or situation. People will see things differently. Often, I recognize that our team is grappling with multiple, legitimate ways to analyze a given situation. Because a manager or a team decides to do it a particular way does not mean that another person's way of doing it was "wrong," it just means that someone had to choose the method that works best in that moment. A good manager will regularly encourage his or he team with this fact.
  • A constructive calibration process will not get mired in a singular circumstance, but look for patterns and principles to apply across all calls. Many calibraiton sessions turn into a war over a small piece of one call. I am always asking myself, "what's the principle we can glean from this discussion that will help us be more consistent in scoring all of our calls?" Our team will keep a "Calibration Monitor" document that tries to summarize the general principles we discussd in the session which will aid all analysts with future calls.
  • You have to choose your battles. I will sometimes feel very strongly about a given situation when I was the lone person in the room who seemed to view it that way. Making my argument and stating my case is only met with blank stares. Despite the tremendous personal effort it takes to let it go, I have learned that it makes no sense to keep arguing. If it is a worthwhile and relevant issue, then I will have another opportunity in future calibration sessions to make my point when more people might see it. If that opportunity never emerges, then I was making a mountain of a mole-hill anyway.

What Would You Add to the Leadership List?

Call Center Cafe recently posted Theo Gilbert-Jamison's top ten commandments to effective leadership:

  1. Purpose
  2. Respect
  3. Excellence
  4. Teamwork
  5. Accountability
  6. Character
  7. Change
  8. Communication
  9. Self-development
  10. Vision

Thanks, Theo! You've given us a great list, though even she admits that it's not inclusive. So, where does she hit the mark? What is she missing? What do you value in leaders that you don't see on the list?

Here are a few things I value in leaders that I'd add to Theo's list:

  • Faith – Great leaders have faith in their teams, believing in their value and capability.
  • Perseverance – Great leadership emerges out of great difficulty. Leaders endure tough times.
  • Positive attitude – As a Vikings fan (don't hold it against me), I've noticed this year that when his team is down late in the game facing impossible odds, Brett Favre always walks to the huddle with a smile on his face. Leaders are motivators through their smile, and their joy in the task.

What would you add to the list?

Great Resolutions for 2010

Looking ahead to a new year. Looking ahead to 2010? What are you going to accomplish? What are your goals? How are you going to make this year a banner year?

Here are a few suggestions to make 2010 a year of continuously improving quality:

  • Survey your customers. The most fundamental mistake that companies make in assessing quality is ignoring what your customers think, want and expect. The second most fundamental mistake is making educated guesses about what your customers think, want, and expect based on questionable data. Make an investment in a truly random, focused survey of customers right after they've called your company. Get some good data that will allow you to make tactical, actionable decisions which will impact satisfaction, loyalty, and the bottom line.
  • Clean up your QA process. Many companies have a QA process that was hobbled together on the fly just to get it done. It's got problems. The scale has issues. The CSRs have legitimate complaints. The QA team and supervisors fight like an old married couple. Make this year the year that you get the program streamlined, cleaned up and effectively working for you.
  • Get calibrated. You know you've got "QA Nazis" on your team who are using the program to bludgeon CSRs into submission. You've also got "QA Hippies" who are letting CSRs get away with murder in an altruistic effort to boost their self-esteem. You know you need to get everyone on the same page and get them working together, but it's been too easy to just ignore it. It's a new year. It's a new decade. What a great time to start getting everyone working together and analyzing calls consistently.
  • Increase QA's reach. QA data can be utilized for so much more than agent evaluation. What are you hearing from customers about the latest promotion? How can you correlate spikes in talk time to call types? What issues drive the most unresolved calls? Many call centers struggle with getting upper management to support investments in QA. What if QA provided more than just a CSR scorecard? What if QA provided tactical data that helps operations, marketing, IT, and sales make better decisions? It's a great year to start thinking outside the box with the things you're measuring!

A very Happy New Year to all of our readers and subscribers. Here's to a prosperous, high-quality year in 2010. If there's any way our group can help your team achieve your goals, please let me know!

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and optical_illusion