Eeny-meeny-miny-moach, Which Call Do I Choose to Coach?

I was shadowing several call coaches today as part of a call coach mentoring program for one of our clients. It was interesting to watch these coaches select the calls they were going to analyze. Most often, the coach quickly dismissed any call shorter than two minutes and any call longer than five minutes, gravitating to a call between three and five minutes in length. The assumption was that any call less than two minutes had no value for coaching purposes. Dismissing longer calls was done, admittedly, because they didn’t want to take the time to listen to them. Unfortunately, this is a common practice. There are a couple of problems with this approach:

  • You are not getting a truly random sample of the agents performance. If you are simply coaching an occasional call, it may not really not a major issue. If you are using the results for bonuses, performance management or incentive pay, then your sampling process may put you at risk.
  • You are ignoring real “moments of truth” in which customers are being impacted. Customers can make critical decisions about your company in thirty-second calls and thirty minute calls. To avoid listening to these calls is turning a blind eye to, what may be, very critical interactions between customers and CSRs.
  • You may be missing out on valuable data. Short calls often happen because of misdirected calls or other process problems. Quantifying why these are occurring could save you money and improve one call resolution as well as customer satisfaction. Likewise, longer calls may result from situations that have seriously gone awry for a customer. Digging in to the reasons may yield valuable information about problems in the service delivery system.

Capturing and analyzing a truly random sample of phone calls will, in the long run, protect and benefit everyone involved.

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flickr photo courtesy of lotusutol

Making Allowances for New CSRs

 Many call centers struggle with how to handle new CSRs as it relates to quality assessment. There is more and more pressure to get CSRs out of training and on the floor. The result is that CSRs are often taking calls before they are fully knowledgeable and there’s going to be a period of time when they struggle to deliver a level of service expected by the QA scorecard. So, what do you do?
First, you always want to be objective. Communicate the QA standard or expectation and score it accordingly. If they missed an element – mark it down. If it’s on the form then you should always score it appropriately.
The customer doesn’t care that the CSR is new – they have the same expectations no matter who picks up the phone. Giving the CSR credit and simply “coaching” her on it will ultimately do a disservice to everyone involved. It tends to undermine the objectivity, validity and credibility of the QA program.
To sum it up, let your “yes be yes” and your “no be no.” It does, however, make sense to give new agents a nesting period to get up to speed. Rather than dumbing down the scale or pretending that they delivered better service than they actually did, it makes more sense to me to have a grace period. Some call centers will have a graduated performance expectation (e.g. by 60 days your QA scores have to average 85 by 90 days they have to be at 90, etc.). Other call centers will allow new CSRs to drop a set number of QA evaluations from their permanent record to account for the outliers that frequently occur (e.g. “We expect you to perform at an average QA score of 95. I realize that newbie mistakes cost you on this evaluation, but over the first 90 days you get to drop the lowest three QA scores from your permanent record, so this may be one of three). Either one of these strategies allow you to make allowance for rookie mistakes without having to sacrifice your objectivity.

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It Only Takes One Experience to Make a Customer for Life

 Customers walk away from every call with a perception of your company that will impact their relationship with you. It only takes one experience to make a difference, that’s why they’re called “moments of truth.” When a customer’s expectations are exceeded you might just win a customer for life.

Here’s a true story that happened to me.

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How Many Calls Can You Analyze Before Your Brain Turns to Mush?

Tattoo-1 Originally uploaded by Atilla1000I had a ton of calls to score this week. We had a deadline for one of our clients and a perfect storm of circumstances conspired to leave us with a host of calls that had to be analyzed over the past two weeks. You know how it is, no matter how hard you try to schedule things out so that life is nice and even and manageable, daily life has a miscellaneous host of ways to screw up your best intentions. So, I spent much of my week chained to the computer, slogging through a pile of calls.
The thing about doing a good job with quality assessment and call scoring is that – it takes what it takes. If you’re going to be objective and give a quality analysis, you have to give each call the time it requires. If you listen to a call once through and think you heard it all, you’re probably wrong. Trying to keep tabs on what you’re hearing while remembering what the CSR just missed and, at the same time, scrolling to the right place to mark the scoring tool – your mind can’t possibly catch everything with one listen. Besides, you can only analyze and score a certain number of calls before they all start bleeding together in your mind and you forget what you just heard – or you think you heard something but you’re really thinking of the call you previously scored. Arrrrrgghhh. I’ve learned that I need to limit the number of calls I score at one time and then take a call scoring sabbath.
Because I’m dealing with different clients and different types of calls, the number can vary from client to client. I generally won’t score more than a few calls at a time before taking a mental break. It doesn’t have to be a long mental break. I might just get up to grab a bite of food or a drink and let my thoughts wander. I might listen to some music while checking my e-mail or take a minute to check out a few links or the latest blog posts on my weblog list. Whatever it is, sometimes you need a mental break so your brain doesn’t turn to mush. I always go back to my call scoring with just a little more energy and clarity.

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Combat the Excuses of a Monotone CSR!

It’s a classic coaching situation. The CSR sounds like a monotone robot on Valium (kind of like Marvin the Paranoid Android in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy for you sci-fi fans). You beg, you cajole, you implore the CSR to put a little inflection and enthusiasm in his voice. They usually give one of two excuses. Either they were having a bad day and couldn’t help it, or they can’t do it – “it’s just not me.” When I hear that, I always give the CSR this example:

How Many Calls Should Your QA Analyze?

I spoke a few weeks ago at the LOMA conference on Customer Service. LOMA is a great organization that caters to the insurance and financial services industry and my workshop was about Avoiding Common QA Pitfalls.” I’m always interested in what I learn from these conferences. You get a feeling for the hot issues in call centers.

The question that seemed to raise the most discussion at LOMA was “How many calls should I score and coach per person?” A book could probably be written on the subject, but let me give you a couple of thoughts based on our group’s experience.

Are you using QA results in performance management? If you are, then the question really needs to be, “do we have enough calls to be statistically valid and hold up to scrutiny?” If you are giving any kind of merit pay, incentives, bonuses or promotions based on their QA scores, then you’ll want a valid number. Assuming your QA scorecard has a valid methodology (which is a big assumption based on the fact that most QA scorecards we audit have major problems with their statistical validity), you’ll want at least 30 randomly selected calls. More is great, but there is sort of a rule in statistics that once you have more than 30 of anything, you’ve got enough that you know they can’t all be outliers. Let me say again, I’m talking minimums here.

The “Wait ’til Mom & Dad are Gone” Syndrome. Many call centers coach each agent religiously once a week. That’s fine from a feedback point-of-view. But like kids who wait until they see their parents pull out of the driveway to start the party, agents often know that they only have to watch their service until they’ve been coached for the week. After that, all bets are off. Sometimes a seemingly random coaching schedule that keeps agents guessing is a good thing.

It might depend on the agent. In our politically correct world we are conditioned to do the same thing for everybody. Yet, some agents need little feedback or coaching. Score the calls, make sure they’re still stellar, and then let them know their scores and give them their bonus.

Why waste time, energy and money coaching them? That’s like the guy who washes his car everyday whether it needs it or not (then parks it diagonally across two spots in the parking lot…I hate that guy!). Seriously, the number of coaching sessions is a separate issue from how many calls should you score to have a valid sample. Spend your coaching energy on agents who need it the most. It even becomes an incentive for some agents who dread the coaching sessions: “Keep your numbers up and you don’t have to be coached as much.”

From the discussion I had with some QA managers at the LOMA conference, there were several who – in my opinion – were coaching their people more than was necessary. We’ve seen agents greatly improve performance with quarterly and even semi-annual call coaching. Still, that’s not going to be enough for other agents.

There’s the challenge for you – finding out which agent is which and tailoring your QA process to meet each agent’s needs.

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Cracking Call Coaching’s Hard Nuts

Business CoachingIt was a classic moment. It was my first call coaching session with an agent who provided a service/inside sales function for his company. He came in, shut the door and exploded:

“I just want to say right now that this whole thing is a bunch of [expletive]. You don’t know my [expletive] job and there’s no [expletive] way in [expletive] you will make any difference in what I do.”

Great. Have a seat. Let’s get started. I was thinking to myself “with that attitude, I might just have to agree with the last bit of what you just said.”

These are the coaching sessions we dread and with good reason. Most call coaches are well-intentioned people who really want to see their team succeed, their customers satisfied, and their charges improve. Then there are people like this guy who can make the job a nightmare.

To be honest, there are people who I’ve coached through the years that simply were not teachable. They were angry and frustrated in life, they were not a good fit for their jobs, and the best move for them would be to another position. I believe there are nuts you won’t crack.

Yet, there are hard nuts you can crack. With people like the agent I just described, I’ve been able to succeed by finding out what really motivates them. I listen to them. I make small talk. I try to observe what it is that the person really wants. With some people its recognition, so I find the slightest improvement and hold them up before their peers/supervisor for their accomplishment. When I go from critic to fan in their eyes, their attitude changes. Others need to have a stake in the process. They want to lead. So, I make them their team’s “quality captain” and watch them go from critic to cheerleader. The guy I described above was motivated simply by greed. I found it kind of sad, but after listening to him rant for a while I said something like this:

“Look, I know you don’t believe in this whole process but give me a chance here. I know what your customers want (we did the reasearch). I can help you to deliver service that will make your customers love you. If they love you they will want to do more business with you. If they give you more business then you’re going to be more successful. You’ll exceed your sales goals and you’ll make more money.”

BINGO! He wasn’t an instant believer, but I at least had his interest. He’s still a pain to coach at times, but it’s gotten better. He’s actually improved and begun to employ the skills I’ve coached. The guy will never become a raving fan and will never admit that the QA process helped him. His pride won’t let him. That’s okay. We both know it’s true.