How to Properly Monitor Your Call Center with Calibration

By Marcia W. Hicks

What is calibration and why do you need it? Calibration means standardizing a process by determining its deviation from the standard, in order to determine the proper correction factors. In a call center, calibration is the process by which you limit variation in the way performance criteria are interpreted.  Calibration is a critical element of improving call-monitoring performance. To implement it successfully, you should first answer several questions:

Is your organization committed to improving call quality? Do you have a paper and pencil call-monitoring system or an automated system? Or neither? Maybe your supervisors are too busy putting out fires, answering questions, writing reports, signing off on timesheets, handling escalated calls and solving customer service problems to institute a call-monitoring program.

The first step is to recognize that you need some type of monitoring system. You have your customer service representatives (CSRs) in place, but do they know everything they should? Are they acting in a professional manner? Are they providing your customers with correct and sufficient information? Do they have proper speaking and listening skills?

Every call center needs to have a monitoring program to guarantee its success. There are several key steps to follow when designing such a program:

  • Identify the key performance criteria that result in successful calls. These include product knowledge and listening skills.
  • Select measurable attributes that support each of the performance criteria. Listening skills could include not interrupting the caller, not asking the caller to repeat information, etc.
  • Determine the overall weight for each criterion in the total call score.
  • Select the scoring method (1-to-5, yes/no, etc.) for each criterion.
  • Define the monitoring process and performance benchmarks.
  • Train all call center members – both monitors and telephone reps – about the performance criteria and benchmarks.
  • And finally, conduct calibration sessions to work out any bugs before you begin live monitoring.

Each step in the process is critical to the success of the program. However, the calibration process is often overlooked. For a monitoring process to succeed, it is essential to integrate calibration into the planning, implementation, and ongoing maintenance of your monitoring program.

      Calibration is the best way to prevent allegations of inequity and favoritism. It eliminates perceived bias by ensuring consistent scoring. When calibration is achieved, it will not matter who did the monitoring and scoring, because the outcome will be the same. Once CSRs understand this, the coaching process can focus on recognizing achievements and identifying opportunities for improvement, instead of whether a particular score is accurate.

Calibration is not a quick or easy process. It takes a considerable commitment. It may take many hours of discussion and practice before your team begins to score a call in a uniform way. While it is difficult, the rewards will be considerable.

How to Conduct a Calibration Session: Anyone responsible for monitoring and scoring calls should have an excellent working knowledge of the call center’s customer service and/or telemarketing programs. This includes quality assurance representatives (if you have them), supervisors, and managers. It is also important to involve company executives, so they understand how the standards are administered. Then, monitors should be given formal training about the performance criteria and definitions that have been established for the monitoring program. Once this training is complete, calibration sessions can begin.

When planning a calibration session, be sure to schedule at least one hour for the session, and prepare five or six recorded calls to get the most from your calibration time. If recorded calls are not available, be sure to test the dial-in access and have an up-to-date CSR list available so you can quickly find live calls.

Start the calibration process by choosing a facilitator. The role of the facilitator is to direct discussions, take notes, and keep the team focused on the goal. The next step is to listen to a call. Have all participants use your evaluation form to score the call. Have one person verbally recap what they have just heard. Recapping the call reinforces listening skills and attention to detail; take turns doing this so that everyone learns how. During the recap, the monitor will identify the areas in which he/she subtracted points, and give a final score.

At this point, the facilitator should moderate a discussion to review the score. Be prepared–these debates can be passionate! It is not important to agree on a final score. The point is to come to an understanding of the accepted criteria for a successful call, and apply that understanding to evaluating calls in the future.

At the end of the session, the facilitator should review the notes, highlighting any changes or group decisions that have been made. These notes should then be distributed quickly to all people who actively monitor calls, since it is unlikely that everyone will be able to participate in each calibration session.

Some Ground Rules: In order for any calibration session to be a positive and productive experience, you should establish ground rules and communicate them to all participants in advance. Here are some tips to keep in mind as you get started:

  • Create an environment in which everyone can feel comfortable sharing his or her opinion. It is human nature to be wary of taking risks. Voicing an opinion is taking a risk.
  • Avoid being confrontational. Allow those on your team to finish explaining their thoughts before you begin to explain your position. It is important that everyone’s opinions are heard.
  • Talk about the facts, not feelings. The performance criteria should be defined by measurable tasks, so keep the discussion focused on what can be taught, not thought.
  • When making decisions, consider what would be best for the overall success of the program. Do not make a decision just because everyone has grown tired of discussing the issue!
  • Enforce compliance. It is critical to your overall program to identify and warn any person who monitors using their own standards, and not the standards agreed upon during calibration.
  • Do not give up or become frustrated when the process gets difficult and some people seem ready to quit. The calibration process is not a sprint; it is a marathon.

Determining Your Calibration Success: How do you know that you have achieved a successful level of calibration? It is best to take a phased approach. When your team is just beginning the calibration process, set an attainable goal: strive for overall call scores to be within five points (or 10 percent) of each other. In the beginning, scores may vary greatly from person to person. To achieve the first goal, it may take from 10 to 12 one-hour sessions (or more) of calibration for a customer service application, and four to six one-hour sessions (or more) for a telemarketing application.

Once the first goal has been achieved, raise the bar by lowering the scoring variation goal from five points to three points (or a comparable variation percentage). It takes from two to four hours a month to keep the team calibrated, depending on the complexity of the program.

Solving the Puzzle: The concept is simple: a good monitoring program with coaching feedback will help ensure a successful call center. Monitoring is also a key to customer feedback. You may be alerted to a trend if you hear more than one CSR handle an unusual complaint or comment. It is important to produce reports that show performance trends by CSR, team and your entire center. The last piece to solving the monitoring puzzle is to implement an ongoing calibration process. Once you have mastered it, you will have found the secret to a successful monitoring program.

Marcia Hicks is a senior consultant at Kowal Associates, Inc. She spent more than 20 years with AT&T and New England Telephone in customer service, project management, and data center assignments. At Kowal Associates, Marcia has worked extensively with a Fortune 50 company to design and implement inbound customer service, consumer affairs, and monitoring programs. She has performed numerous call center audits, providing clients and providers with feedback on how to better manage their call center (both outsourced and in-house). Marcia can be reached at mhicks@kowalassociates.com.

[From Connection MagazineJul/Aug 2003]

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