Category: Training & Coaching

The Check-Out Line and Hold Button Have Glaring Similarities

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

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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.

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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?

 

 

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Defiance is More Work Than Behavior Change

Image by PaulDCocker via Flickr

Years ago I went back to visit some old teachers and to thank them for their influence in my life. I enjoyed some great conversations. When I asked one teacher how things were at my alma mater, he sighed and shook his head. “If students put have as much energy into studying as they expended trying to find new ways of cheating, they’d be successful.”

Over the years I’ve coached and trained a dizzying number of Customer Service Representatives (CSRs). The vast majority of them have proven to be a pleasure to coach. I’m proud to watch their development and advancement within their respective organizations. The ones who baffle me are those rare few who approach the quality process with bad attitudes and outright defiance. I’ve known CSRs to audit every evaluation and prepare lengthy excuses, arguments and petitions against any infraction no matter how blatant. I will be the first to admit that QA is a human enterprise and mistakes will be made. I have no problem with CSRs checking to make sure that calls have been evaluated properly.  I have also observed some crazy employer expectations that deserved vigorous pushback from the front-line, and I have become their advocate. Most of the time, however, the quality expectations asked of CSRs is quite reasonable.  No matter how reasonable the expectations, I find that there are some CSRs who expend more energy fighting the system and aruging any critical mark than it would take to simply change their behavior and adhere to their employers standards.

For example, I knew one CSR whose employer asked that every employee include an “inviting question” as part of their greeting. There was no script and the company was generous in giving their team latitude in making whatever “inviting question” they chose both personal and conversational (e.g. “How can I help you today?”, “What can I do for you?”, “May I help you?”, and etc.). This particular CSR had a stock greeting she used whenever she picked up the phone. She would abruptly provide the name of her company followed by her name. Period. To be honest, it was abrupt greetings like this CSRs which prompted the company add an “inviting question” as a mandatory element of every phone greeting. Adding a “May I help you?” would have really softened this CSR’s greeting and help start the conversation with a more inviting tone. She refused, however. She argued the point vehemently ad nauseum. She felt it was silly. She said it wasn’t natural. In a desperate attempt to avoid simply adding a few words to her greeting, she hatched a plan to give customers her cell phone number. By asking them to call her cell phone she avoided being recorded and evaluated.

After coaching CSRs like the one I just described, I find myself sighing and shaking my head just like my old high school biology teacher. I wish I had a magic bullet for coaching these rebellious spirits. I have know some defiant ones who finally changed their behavior, their atttitude and have become exceptional service providers. I’ve have known others whose defiance finally led to their resignation or the termination of their employment. I’ve always approached my coaching sessions with a positive attitude and the desire to encourage the success of the CSR by empowering them to provide service that will satisfy customers. As the old saying goes, “you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make them drink.”

New CSRs and the QA Question

Call Center Taxis Libres

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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.

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Addressing Team Differences in QA

Standardization can sometimes be a bit of a holy grail for corporations. We have several corporate clients who have multiple divisions and teams across one or more contact centers. It is understandable that a company would want to have a common scorecard by which Customer Service Representatives (CSRs) are measured. This not only ensures equitable performance management, but also helps drive a unified brand to a wide customer base.

All teams are not, however, the same. There are differences in function and procedure necessitated by a company’s business. Having diverse business functions sometimes drives the belief that there must be completely different QA programs or forms. Our experience is that companies can create standardization while addressing the internal differences.

Scorecard Considerations

A common way that companies approach unique business functions across teams is to divide the QA scorecard. One part of the form addresses common soft skills and behaviors expected of all CSRs to communicate the company brand and deliver a consistent customer experience. The other part of the form addresses procedural or technical aspects of the CSRs job which may be unique to each team.

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.

Video Clip: Do What Your Customer’s Love

In this video clip, Tom Vander Well presents to a small group of front-line Call Center Customer Service Representatives (CSRs). He illustrates why doing simply what customers expect may not result in higher levels of customer satisfaction. If you want to improve customer satisfaction, you have to consistently demonstrate on the phone the behaviors and service skills that customer’s love (and may not expect).

Improving Your Team’s QA IQ

Central Call Center - Library101
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One of the common, unrecognized problems our group sees in many contact center quality assessment (QA) programs is simple ignorance. Front-line Customer Service Representatives (CSRs), supervisors and managers simply don’t understand the QA scale/scorecard, nor do they understand the process of how calls are captured, analyzed, and scored. Over the years, whether we’ve assisted clients in establishing their QA program or provided QA as an objective third party, we’ve learned that improving knowledge of the process across the enterprise is important to the overall success of the program. But, it doesn’t happen over night.

Here are some suggestions for improving your team’s QA IQ:

  • Have CSR score call using scorecard before they come to coaching session and review. There’s no better way to get to know the scoring process than having to do it yourself. Even if calls are scored in a software package that is not available on the agents desktop you can still print a copy and let them do it the old fashioned way. This allows the CSR to think through the process before they even get to a coaching session.
  • Analyze a call together in a coaching session. Another alternative is to analyze a call together in the coaching session. Once again, it can be a great training tool because it walks the CSR through the scorecard one item at a time and allows for questions and discussions along the way. Be careful. I’ve witnessed situations when a particularly pushy CSR can intimidate the call coach, and the coach will end up making allowances that they wouldn’t have made were they to analyze the call independently. This can create problems down the line.
  • Take time in team meeting to discuss process. Most contact centers have some kind of team meeting with some regularity. Taking time during a team meeting to discuss the quality process can be advantageous. It ensures that everyone is hearing the same thing direct from an authoritative source.
  • Temporarily assign CSRs to quality team. One of our clients started a program in which CSRs are temporarily assigned to the quality team for a period of a few weeks. It gave CSRs a break from the phones, provided an incentive to do well (only CSRs who did well in quality got the opportunity to participate), allowed them to experience what life is like on the Quality Team, and helped management identify talent and train CSRs to quickly fill in if the Quality Team was short staffed.

If and when the quality assessment process and the QA scorecard cease to be a mystery, everyone wins.

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Eeny-Meeny-Miny-Moach, Which Call Do I Choose to Coach?

I was shadowing several call coaches 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. 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 not an uncommon practice. Yet, 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, this may not be a major issue. If you are using the results for bonuses, performance mangement or incentive pay, then your sampling process may put you at risk. What you’re really doing by eliminating calls based on time is reducing your sample to a census of calls in a certain time range, but it’s not a true picture of an agents performance over their entire sample of calls.
  • 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. I have, unfortunately, witnessed situations in which CSRs rushed customers off the phone. I’ve even known a few CSRs to routinely placing callers on hold, immediately after answering the phone, and then releasing the call. In the case of my client today, the QA team would never catch it. It always happened in less than 30 seconds.
  • You may be missing out on valuable data. Short calls often happen because of misdirected calls or other process problems. Quantifying why these are occuring could save you money and improve one call resolution as well as customer satisfaction. You might also discover simple questions that aren’t currently being handled by your IVR. Likewise, longer calls may result from situations that have seriously gone awry for a customer. Digging in to the reasons may yeild valuable information about problems in the service delivery system that will save you time and future calls.

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