It’s Time for a Monitoring Makeover

By Matthew Hoffman

The traditional model of call center monitoring needs a major overhaul. While call centers want to ensure that callers’ requests are handled politely, knowledgeably, and to the callers’ satisfaction, too often call center managers use an inadequate system to measure their representatives’ performance. You can’t measure all aspects of a call simply by checking off a box or assigning a numerical value. Other factors that are just as important exist. Therefore, it’s time to make a few changes.

A good quality monitoring program allows supervisors to measure the performance of their Customer Service Representatives (CSRs), ensuring they are providing service according to the standards established by the call center. It will also confirm that CSRs have the necessary skills to perform their jobs and will identify any areas where additional training is needed. It also evaluates the overall quality of the customer service provided, but more importantly it helps identify caller expectations and where call center policies and procedures may need to be updated.

Why Traditional Systems Fall Short: Many contact centers use a “tick box” sheet listing specific criteria, checking off whether the CSR performed the various functions correctly and adding up their points. While “tick boxes” can measure the quality of interactions to some degree, many factors go overlooked.

This type of monitoring does not accurately measure quality or complete the goals of an interactive and innovative monitoring program. Tick box mentality only looks at the specific criteria listed, which does not always allow your quality team to really listen to the entire interaction between your CSR and your customer. For example, you cannot predict every scenario on the evaluation form. Also, not all questions will apply to the various departments within the call center. While an appropriate evaluation criterion for sales may be “CSR offered additional merchandise to the caller,” it would not apply to someone handling a help desk call or taking a call requesting that information be mailed.

It is easy to isolate the observations from the interaction into a limited perspective while losing sight of the big picture. The CSR might exhibit some nuances, both positive and negative, that you cannot accurately measure with a number value or a “yes/no” question. Monitoring in this fashion does not provide a springboard for the CSR to understand and improve his or her behaviors, which is the ultimate goal of monitoring.

The New Method Yields Better Results: When assessing the CSR’s tone of voice, the normal choices on a tick sheet would be either “Yes, No, N/A,” or a number, such as one through five. However, just how would you assess whether the CSR is speaking too slowly or too rapidly? Was the CSR curt with the caller? Or did the CSR seem disinterested? You can’t measure such qualities on a numerical scale.

A better way to monitor involves evaluating the CSR’s behavior and skill set. Rather than isolating single actions, you take the entire interaction into account and focus on high-level behaviors, such as overall rapport with the caller or whether the CSR did what they said they were going to do. Such an approach coaches to specific areas rather than relying on specific point values. Ultimately, it is a method that encourages CSRs and their supervisors to think outside the “check” box. This new philosophy involves three distinct elements:

  • New evaluation categories: Program Knowledge, Systems Knowledge, Connection with the Caller, and Accountability.
  • New scoring values.
  • Incorporating customer sentiment.

Let’s examine these various elements and the part they play in the overall success of this new monitoring system.

New Evaluation Categories:

1. Program knowledge: This means that the CSR understands the clients’ various offerings, policies and procedures, and is capable of conveying them to the caller. It also indicates that the CSR demonstrates appropriate decision-making skills to best aid callers.

2. Systems knowledge: This refers to the CSR’s knowledge of when and how to effectively use various system tools, how to navigate within the system, and how to use help resources.

3. Connection with the caller: This is one of the most important categories and involves treating the caller with care, sincerity, compassion, and empathy. It also means conveying information at the right time, in easy-to-understand terms, without a language barrier.

4. Accountability: This involves displaying ownership by actions and word choice when resolving the customer’s issues. Additionally, it means ensuring that the caller is left with a complete understanding of what happened during the call and the next steps to be taken, if any.

When employees are monitored in these four categories, CSRs and their supervisors will have a comprehensive picture of how well CSRs are interacting with callers and in what areas they can improve.

New Scoring Values: Just as call center managers need a new way to monitor CSR performance, they also need a new way to grade that performance. Rather than using numbers to assess a CSR’s worth, a more subjective scale will be far more effective. A rating system like the following would be ideal:

  • Excellent: The CSR did everything possible to assist and went “above and beyond” in assisting the caller.
  • Satisfactory:  The CSR exhibited most of the desired attributes and handled the caller’s inquiry well.
  • Development Opportunity  The CSR exhibited only some of the desired category attributes and didn’t handle the caller’s inquiry to a satisfactory level.
  • Unacceptable:  The CSR failed to meet the basic behavior attributes and the caller’s needs.

These ratings will give CSRs a clear picture of how well they handle customer calls. This is something that can’t be conveyed as well using a numerical score.

Incorporating Customer Sentiment: While monitoring your CSRs is a valuable exercise, is it really enough? To complete the monitoring picture, you need to add caller sentiment. While you should not use this information as part of your overall assessment of your CSRs performance, it is very useful in making certain that callers receive the best possible service. Monitoring callers’ attitudes identifies how they felt about the call. It also serves to confirm that your CSRs are resolving issues and utilizing the correct tools while conveying sincerity, empathy, and a positive attitude.

In evaluating the caller’s sentiment, be sure to answer questions such as:

  • How did the caller respond?
  • What was his or her attitude at the beginning and close of the call?
  • What key comments did the caller emphasize?
  • What did the caller not say but subtly express in his or her interaction with the CSR?
  • In the end, was the caller happy to interact with your company?

Customer loyalty is a big predictor of a company’s success. Make sure that callers have satisfying interactions with your CSRs so they have another reason to stay loyal to your clients.

Time for a Change: Monitoring calls by this method provides contact center supervisors with a wealth of information on many levels. On the CSR level, it provides feedback that is more individualized and specific to each CSR. On the caller level, you will find out what they are really saying. For your call center, you will gain feedback that will allow you to determine whether you are truly providing callers with what they really want or need.

You may think your current system is doing an adequate job of monitoring CSRs’ calls, but adequate isn’t enough anymore. Competition is tough today. You need to have every edge you can. Helping your CSRs better satisfy callers is the ultimate goal of monitoring and the lifeline of your company’s future success.

Matthew Hoffman is a Consultant and Quality Assurance Manager at Kowal Associates, Inc., a customer service consulting firm located in Boston, MA. Working with Fortune 500 companies, they focus on customer service strategy, quality monitoring, IVR, security, and speech recognition technology implementation. For more information, call 617-892-9000.

[From Connection MagazineJune 2004]

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