Category: Training & Coaching

“In case we get disconnected…”

We often hear Customer Service Representatives (CSRs) providing the phone number of the associate or department to whom they are transferring a caller. In providing the phone number, CSRs will often say “in case we get disconnected, the number you need is…”

The act of providing the phone number is a good one. It provides the caller with the contact information they need and may eliminate unnecessary future calls to the wrong person or department. However, when the reason you give for providing the number is “in case we get disconnected” you plant the subtle suggestion that disconnection is probably, necessitating the provision of the number. It’s a small thing, but it plants a seed in the customer’s mind that could quickly grow into an inappropriate lack of confidence.

Keep up the practice, but choose a better phrase:

  • “For your future reference…”
  • “Should you need to contact them directly in the future…”
  • “Let me make sure you have their number for your records…”
  • “I can give you the direct number so you have it…”
Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and sharynmorrow

Don’t Let Your Communication Skills Sink Your Ship

It’s Friday and we could all use a little chuckle. Thanks to Matthew and Conversations with Life for sending this my way. It’s a great reminder for all of us in the contact center industry. When you serve others over the phone you don’t have body language, facial expressions, or other non-verbal cues to help you communicate. On the phone, what you say and how you say it is critical. Having capable langauge and communication skills can mean the difference between swimming or sinking in the mind of your customer (pun intended).

Should CSRs Perform Their Own QA Assessment?

Bigstockphoto_Customer_Feedback_Survey_1564305 Our good friend at Call Centre Helper recently responded to this series of posts on who should do the Quality Assessment (QA) in the contact center, and suggested we've missed two alternatives: CSR self-assessment and technology based speech analytics. I think both of these options deserve consideration.

Let's start with a post about CSR sefl-assessment. Many call centers allow or require their Customer Service Rrepresentatives (CSRs) to listen to and assess their own calls. It can be a great training tool:

  • Individuals can listen without the pressure of feeling someone else's judgment. In call coaching situations, some CSRs are so nervous about having someone listening to their calls or judging their performance that they tend to miss the point of the process. By listening alone to their calls, a CSR can sometimes focus in on what took place in the call without these interpersonal distractions.
  • We tend to be our own worst critics. Individuals will regularly hear things that others don't. It is quite common in coaching sessions for CSRs to point out things they could have improved that didn't even occur to me. By having CSRs critique themselves, they may listen more critically than even an objective analyst, and that can be a huge motivator for some CSRs.
  • Having the CSR go through and assess the call using the QA scorecard engages them with the process and forces them to consider the behavioral standards. Many QA programs create contention simply because CSRs do not understand the criteria with which their conversations are analyzed, and don't understand how the process works. When a CSR sits down with the scorecard and analyzes their own calls, it forces them to think through how they performed on each behavioral element.

You'll notice I wrote that self-assessment is a great training tool. I don't believe that self-assessment is a great way to approach your QA program if you want to get a reliable, objective assessment of what took place on the phone. Self-assessment has its' drawbacks:

  • Having people grade themselves is inherently biased. If you want a reliable and statistically valid measurement of what's happening on the phone in your call center, you need someone other than the person who took the call to analyze the call.
  • Based on the personality and attitude of the CSR, individuals tend to be overly critical ("It was AWFUL. I sound TERRIBLE!") or not critical enough ("That was PERFECT. I heard nothing wrong with that call."). Sometimes CSRs get highly self-critical about a minute issue that makes little difference to the customer experience while missing larger behavioral elements that would impact the customer. Even with self-assessment, CSRs often need help interpreting what they are hearing.
  • Because individuals are so focused on their voice and their own performance, they tend to be blind to the larger policy or procedural issues that can be mined from QA calls by a more objective analyst who is trained to look at the bigger picture.

Self-assessment has its' place as part of the quality process, but our experience tells us that its strength lies in the training end of the program. If your QA program requires meaningful and objective data, then a more objective analyst is required.

Should You Have a Dedicated QA Analyst or QA Team?

A dedicated listener. In the first post of our series we explored the pros and cons of having front line supervisors be the Quality Assessment (QA) analyst and call coaches. Rather than burdening an already loaded supervisory staff with the taks of QA, some companies choose to utilize a dedicated QA individual or team. As with the supervisors, there are pros and cons to this choice.

Having a dedicated QA analyst or team had advantages.

  • A dedicated QA function generally ensures that the call analysis will receive greater time and attention. A good QA analyst will not only listen for the quality of the CSR's performance but also mine the calls for more information and detail. That detail can sometimes surface policy or procedural issues which can increase productivity and reduce costs.
  • As a result of the increased focus, the resulting data will tend to be more reliable. For companies who utilize QA data for performance management, this reliability can be crucial in ensuring that your process will meet necessary HR standards.
  • Because QA analysts do not have direct supervisory role with the CSR, the possibility of bias due to personality issues or performance issues outside of the call is greatly diminished.

Having a dedicated QA analyst role is not always a slam-dunk, either.

  • Because the QA analyst or team is typically not on the phones, they are less knowledgable of the day-to-day issues facing CSRs on the call floor. While this lends itself to objectivity, it may be more difficult in call coaching situations when the CSR questions the QA coach's knowledge or experience.
  • A QA analyst can easily create contention in the call center. Supervisors and QA analysts find themselves at odds as the supervisor feels the need to "defend" their CSRs and raise their team's quality scores. Rather than working with the QA team to improve CSR performance, supervisors regularly see the QA team as overly critical grinches who are making them (and their team) look bad.
  • For call centers strapped to stay adequately staffed, there simply not be resources available for a dedicated QA function.

Is there a compromise? Some companies opt for a hybrid approach and others choose to hire a 3rd party. We explore both options in the continuation of this series.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and personalspokesman


Are Supervisors the Best People to Do QA?

Bigstockphoto_Business_Meeting_1264154 Who should monitor your teams phone calls and do your Quality Assessment (QA)? Today we begin a multiple post series on who should analyze your team's phone calls.

We begin with the front line supervisor who seems like the natural choice, and for good reason:

  • They are the closest managerial person to the floor.
  • They usually know the Customer Service Representative (CSR) better than anyone else.
  • They usually have direct responsibility for the CSR's performance management.
  • They can closely monitor progress and keep their eye on the CSR day-to-day.

However, in over 15 years of working with call center QA programs, I've found that there are inherent problems with supervisors being the primary call analysts and coaches:

  • Quality becomes back burner issue. I've always held that front-line supervisors have the toughest job in the call center and they are usually the most stressed out level of management. I have the greatest respect for them. They have the competing priorities of helping their agents, training, mentoring, managing, taking escalated customer calls, answering e-mails, scheduling, facilitating team meetings, motivating, counseling, and we haven't even gotten to all of the things call center and upper management ask of them by way of reports, special projects, performance management, and committee meetings. And this is before call volumes spike, systems crash, and a viral epidemic spreads through the floor. This is why, in most cases I've encountered, the front line supervisor struggles as a QA analyst and coach. With all of the pressing issues demanding their attention at any given moment, QA responsibilities are quickly and easily pushed to the back burner.
  • Evaluations are rushed. For all the reasons I just stated, even when supervisors do get to their QA duties, they simply can't afford the time and attention required to objectively analyze phone calls with the required precision. Quality Assessment is done with little, well, quality. QA duties get procrastinated until the just before their report is due and then a bunch of calls are hastily evaluated just to meet the requirement. This is not a criticism of the supervisor! This is simply the reality of most call center organizational systems.
  • Objectivity is easily skewed. People are people. When you work with someone everyday, and you have issues with someone everyday, it's easy to lose your objectivity. Through the years I've had some pretty tense discussions with supervisors who are upset when a CSR's quality scores are good (you read that right). When a supervisor has issues with a CSR's attitude, attendance, or personality – it's easy for their frustration to bleed over into their analysis of the CSR's behavior on the phone. The reverse is also true. When a CSR happens to be a model employee and has the favor of the supervisor, the supervisor is apt to overlook and excuse negative behaviors that the CSR consistently demonstrates with customers on the phone. In either case, you've got problems which undermine the objectivity and validity of your entire quality program.
  • Call Coaching becomes HR Coaching. When supervisors coach calls, it is easy for the call coaching session to get sidetracked into all sorts of other productivity or HR related issues. Instead of the session being centered on how the CSR can provide better service to the customer, it ends up being about how the CSR can be a better employee for the supervisor. 

While many call centers utilize supervisors to analyze calls and provide quality coaching, the issues I've just related usually have some degree of impact on the effectiveness of the quality program. Call Centers must actively work to minimize these problems or take their QA progam another direction.

Next post: The Pros & Cons of having a dedicated QA team.

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?

When You’ve Already Dropped the Ball

They call because something has gone wrong. One of the more subtle service skills employed by world-class service providers is recognizing when customers are expressing their dissatisfaction. Customers often call because something has already gone wrong in a previous interaction with the company. Perhaps the customer called before and has not received the promised call back or follow-up. Perhaps they tried to self-serve on the web or through the IVR and didn't receive resolution for their issue. It's important for Customer Service Representatives to listen for the customer's words and phrases which indicate the company has already dropped the ball:

  • "I haven't received…"
  • "I called yesterday. Someone was supposed to call me back…"
  • "I'm still waiting on…"
  • "I tried to find it on-line, but…"
  • "I was in your automated system, and…"

The customer is trying to tell you something. You didn't meet my expectations. Something went wrong. I've already been inconvenienced. You already dropped the ball.

As soon as you hear it, employ an empathy/resolution statement. Quickly and sincerely apologize for exactly what went wrong, then focus on what you can and will do for the customer.

  • "I'm sorry you didn't receive it. I will be happy to check on that."
  • "I apologize we didn't get back to you. Let me look that up and we'll get this resolved for you."
  • "I'm sorry for the delay. I can check the status of that for you."
  • "Sorry for the confusion. I'll help you find what you're looking for."
  • "I apologize for the trouble you had. Let's get that information for you."

This simple technique quickly acknowledges you'ver heard the customer's dissatisfaction, communicates you empathize with their inconvenience, but quickly focuses on the number one priority of resolving the issue.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and realestateclientreferrals

Why Monitor Your Company’s Phone Calls?

Bigstockphoto_Making_the_call_817508 While it seems that everyone is monitoring phone calls these days, and it is certainly the norm in the call center industry, the reality is that there are many small to mid-sized companies who have not entered the world of call monitoring. Some companies are unaware that the technology exists and is easily accessible to companies who have just a few people serving customers on the phone. For others, the idea of call monitoring and Quality Assessment (QA) seems a daunting idea. The thought of recording and assessing phone calls brings to mind several uncomfortable questions. Many executives and managers are overwhelmed with the idea of trying to figure out what to do with it and how to figure out how to make it work for them. Others prefer to remain blissfully unaware.

Nevertheless, for a business of any size, there is value in call monitoring. When it’s done well, the recording and assessment of customer interactions provides:

  • Valuable Knowledge. Monitoring and analyzing calls between your business and your customers is far more than playing Big Brother and grading the performance of your agents. Within those recorded conversations is a plethora of valuable information. From monitoring calls you find out why your customers are calling, what problems your customers are commonly experiencing with products and services, what customers are saying about your business, and who your customers are. You discover clear opportunities to improve efficiency, productivity, and improving your customer’s experience.
  • Accountability. Call monitoring also provides you and your employees with accountability, ensuring that your brand is being consistently communicated and your people are performing to their potential. Monitoring calls and performance allows you to reward those who you know are contributing to your success and address those who are impeding it. Without call monitoring, you’re blind to the hundreds or thousands of “moments of truth” that are impacting your customer’s satisfaction and future purchase intent on a daily basis.
  • Tactical Improvement. When our group performs employee satisfaction surveys for our clients, we find employees consistently desiring more communication and feedback from their superiors. The vast majority of employees want to know know how they are doing and how they can improve. Call monitoring provides a company with the means to make that communication and feedback happen. A successful Quality Assessment (QA) process gives employees specific, behavioral goals for improvement, tracks their progress, and gives managers the data they need for productive performance management discussions.

There has never been a greater opportunity for businesses of every shape and size to benefit from the available technology to record, monitor and analyze conversations between your company and your customers. Companies who take advantage of the resulting data and information will find themselves a step ahead of others who continue to trust their gut.