Quality is Never an Accident
By Dina Vance, Senior Vice President, Ulysses Learning
Henry Ford is quoted as saying, “Quality means doing it right when no one is looking.” Applying this thought to customer contact centers means that quality is woven into the fabric of an organization’s culture. This quote also suggests that quality is everyone’s responsibility rather than nestled in the QA Department or QA Manager. The challenge is, how do we accomplish this?
To create an optimal and successful quality program, we recommend four cornerstones:
1. Reporting Relationships
2. Scorecards and Behaviors
3. Meaningful Feedback
4. Culture of Continuous Improvement
The goal of quality programs is to assess the performance of agents, teams, departments, and the call center as a whole. Often, call centers separate their quality department from the rest of the organization to offer objectivity, analysis, and recommendations. To make this model successful, it is imperative to create a two-way communication and feedback process with business leaders to ensure customer needs and organizational goals are aligned.
Calibrating calls to ensure interrater reliability is important for quality analysts, supervisors, and coaches to ensure customer conversations are scored consistently and fairly. Quality should participate in calibrations with frontline leadership to ensure alignment across the organization. An effective best practice is to rotate team leaders and coaches into the quality department to ensure the understanding of behaviors and organizational ownership, and to have key stakeholders meet weekly to listen to and calibrate calls together.
The most critical function of any quality initiative is to complete monthly and quarterly trend analysis to compare all key performance indicators. By doing this, the organization can be sure that quality scores reflect voice of the customer expectations as well as first call resolution and coaching goals. Coaches can then use the breakdown of this data to determine actionable goals when they meet with their team of representatives.
Scorecards and Behaviors
Scorecards are the “holy grail” of quality. They include measures in accordance with behaviors recognized as providing excellent service. The scores are point or number based and give an overall picture of the conversation. There also needs to be a balance for the number of behaviors scored to keep the process manageable and easy for representatives to remember. Doing this helps those listening to and scoring calls to evaluate calls in a more effective and efficient manner. If your scorecard has more than 25 behaviors, it may be time for a reassessment.
Behaviors indicative of quality should be measureable and observable, and are not scripted. Ultimately, the representative needs to be guided towards having a genuine conversation with customers while being mindful of their goals such as average handle time and first call resolution. A common mistake made by quality is to score based on a literal interpretation of behaviors versus a more intuitive understanding, or intent, of how the behaviors impacted the customer experience. A method to test for interpretation is to provide the representative with examples of how they may position information and then ask the representative what they would say in their own words, or their own voice, to avoid sounding scripted.
For example, if an expected outcome is to end each call by ensuring all of the customer’s needs have been met, quality may share examples such as, “Is there is anything else I can help you with?” or “Have I addressed all of your concerns today?” When given these examples, the representative may say something along the lines of, “Have I resolved the reason for your call?” or “May I answer any other questions for you?” All of the above examples meet the intent of the expected outcome and are conversational rather than scripted.
Quality is often viewed as just a score. If you asked your reps what they remember from their last quality review, will it be a score or the feedback they received about a behavior? Representatives taking one call after another throughout a shift are faced with many possible challenges. Calls can become grueling, monotonous, and even difficult if customers are upset. Representatives crave realistic feedback based on what customers are saying and how they can best handle a call. It is important then for quality to provide meaningful feedback and focus on key behaviors to help the representative’s development.
For example, rather than just indicating a representative lost control of a call, a more helpful example is to elaborate on what they could do differently next time. The quality analyst could offer examples such as, “To keep control of the call, let the customer know you’re listening and you understand by repeating back their concern” or “When the customer starts to get upset, take a deep breath, and let them completely vent rather than interrupting them which can cause the call to quickly escalate.”
Because quality scores often tie into year-end performance reviews, and may dictate pay raises or bonuses, representatives are always aware of their scores and where they stand overall for performance. However, this “check the box” mentality without feedback does little to help representatives understand how specific behaviors resulted in either a positive or negative experience from the perspective of the customer. A good practice then is to include customer feedback along with quality metrics to better demonstrate to representatives the impact a certain behavior had on the conversation.
By providing feedback along with scores, representatives understand where in the call they did well, or where they had room for improvement. Quality can provide qualitative feedback by sharing examples from call recordings to help representatives understand how to handle their call flow and adjust their behaviors based on what the customer says. This enables them to make better judgments in the future when they face similar types of interactions. These examples also help coaches focus on specific support when they are sitting side by side, or during a one-on-one meeting with their representative. Helping representatives interpret their scores and how to be consistent during their conversations makes a grueling day seem easier to manage.
Culture of Continuous Improvement
Just as customer needs and expectations change, organizations also need to change and adapt in order to improve on how they interact with customers. Doing this requires a frequent review of behaviors and processes that support the business. The result of this review produces new behaviors that can be incorporated into customer conversations to better address the ever changing customer expectations. For example, many years ago it was common practice to put a customer on hold for a great length of time and often without their permission. However, today’s optimum hold time is 30-60 seconds and it’s critical to first gain their cooperation for the hold.
The importance of periodically assessing if behaviors are meeting the needs of the customer is vital and should not be understated. Taking a look at best practices, hearing live customer feedback, and distinguishing between the needs of the organization and the needs of the customer often show areas where quality can give important input into improvement opportunities. This review also helps discover if representatives are armed with the right information and resources to meet customer needs.
Another benefit to the assessment is the information can then feed into refresher training for new behaviors, focusing on both the “why” a specific behavior is important, and “how” it sounds when used in conversations. This means supporting representatives in continuously building skills to develop relationships and customer loyalty. By continually re-focusing on what is truly important also determines what should be measured.
An ever changing successful quality program that supports customer needs and organizational goals is never an accident. Rather, it is the result of attention and commitment to the four cornerstones of quality. Realizing a successful culture of quality requires continued effort and skillful execution, being ever mindful of changing customer expectations and being an advocate of doing the right thing when no one is looking.