Tag: Call Centre

Who Knew Siri Can Coach Your Employees, Too?!

siri-fail-2

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.

 

 

 

An Airplane on the Tarmac Profits You Little

Plane on tarmac: Sydney NS
Plane on tarmac: Sydney NS (Photo credit: mattjiggins)

I had an interesting conversation with a call center manager the other day over breakfast. I asked him how things were going at work. After a pause and a long sigh, I wondered if our breakfast was going to become an informal counseling session. He launched into his story. His company recently made a huge capital investment in the latest technology for call monitoring and evaluation. This is good news, right?! He’s got the latest programs that allow him to do all sorts of things in capturing, analyzing, and reporting on service quality. So, why was he looking so glum?

With all the investment in technology, there was no money in the budget to hire anyone to actually use the shiny new QA program. The marching orders from the executive suite were to use the new whiz-bang technology to work more efficiently and productively. “We bought you technology so we don’t have to hire more people,” was the mantra. He went on to make an interesting statement:

“It makes about as much sense as me going out and buying a new airplane. What can I do with it sitting there on the ground? I can stare at it. I can keep it clean. I can sit on the ground, stare at the dials, and play with the controls. But, I certainly can’t fly the thing.”

My colleague went on to explain how the corporate decision not to back-fill positions while increasing responsibilities for his call center staff meant that everyone had far more on their plate than could reasonably be accomplished. He knew his skeletal QA efforts were not coming close to utilizing the new, expensive technology, but the IT department who chose the system does not have the human resources to help the get it optimized or train the call center staff on how to best utilize it. Without human resources and human expertise, the investment in technology seemed a total waste. The company can certainly brag and feel good about having the latest technology that will allow them to fly with the best in the business world. However, without the necessary expertise and investment in human capital to actually make it fly, their team will sit on the tarmac admiring the dials on their very expensive placebo.

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In Customer Service, Improvisation is Sometimes Necessary

 

from henriqueiwao via Flickr

My colleague was scheduled to present a training session to one of our client’s teams this morning. I was scheduled to attend and observe. While I was aware of the general topic being presented in the training, this was my colleague’s baby. She had written and produced the training and I’d never seen it presented before. She did, however, ask me to arrive early and set up the lap top, projector and slide show for her. Knowing that she was scheduled in a previous meeting, she realized that she would be pressed to arrive on time and needed to be ready to jump right in to her training presentation.

I was happy to help out. I arrived early, set up the laptop, projector and slide show. I greeted our client guests as they arrived and helped them all get settled. My colleague was clearly running behind. I apologized, explained the she would be there momentarily and attempted to initiate some small talk among the 20 or so team members assembled. A few minutes passed by. My colleague had still not arrived.

The Senior Manager in the room grew visibly anxious by the delay. From the oppostie side of the room he said, “Tom, will you please go ahead and get us started? We need to stay on schedule. You can start the training and she can take over when she gets here.”

The subtext of this was not a question as in “Can you start us?” but a gentle demand: “Tom, you will start this session. Our team’s time is valuable and we don’t have time to wait around.”

Ummmm… Okay. So I got up and approached the laptop praying that my colleague’s slide show was thorough and detailed. Slide one contained the objectives. Sweet. I can go through these. The first point of the training was talking about voice tone.  I quickly pulled some information from my years as a trainer and plowed forward.

A few months ago I wrote a post on my personal blog outlining Ten Ways Being a Theatre Major Prepared Me for Success. The post went viral. Well over 120,000 views to-date and hundreds of comments from around the globe. Number one on that list was “Improvisation.” I chuckled to myself as I thought about that and now found myself improvising my way through the opening slides of a training presentation I didn’t produce and of which I had no knowledge. To my great relief, my teammate entered the room a few minutes later and delivered me from having to improvise any more than I did.

I always tell my Customer Service training classes that training is all about understanding rules and exceptions. There are Customer Service rules that apply remarkably well to most service situations. Yet, for every rule there are exceptional situations to which the rules don’t fit. You don’t want to make rules based on the exceptions. You do, however, want to be prepared for the exceptional situation that requires you to think on your feet and improvise in the moment.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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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