Getting Quality Right – Part 3: Motivation and Judgment: More than Statistics

By Cliff Hurst

Statistics are important to call center quality, and it is critical to apply sound statistical precepts to our work. However, stats are only part of the picture; by themselves they won’t allow you to “get quality right.” Let’s look at the principles behind a meaningful approach to call center quality management.

Motivation at Work: The results from quality monitoring practices will be determined – and constrained – by the prevailing paradigms of the organization’s leaders regarding people’s motivation to work.

I advocate a view of human motivation which holds that people seek work that is challenging and helps them grow. Doing good work is inherently satisfying. It’s the job of leadership (the job of a quality program) to help agents bring the best of who they are to what they do. This perspective is the bedrock of quality monitoring and performance feedback practices. The roots of this perspective lie in the field of humanistic psychology.

A different school of psychological thought is that of behaviorism. Pure behaviorists say that the only reason people work is to gain the external rewards offered by their employer – pay, benefits, and so forth. Behaviorist theory leads to an approach of quality monitoring by focusing on consequences – incentives for performing well and punishments for not doing well. Although punishment and rewards make a strong seasoning, a little goes a long way, while too much ruins the whole meal. Behaviorism, in its various manifestations, should play only a supporting role in quality programs. Its role is at the edges, not at the core. Behaviorism, at most, is the buffing wheel on the statue of call center performance; it is neither the chisel nor the sculptor.

Three Types of Judgment: A question heard often from call center quality managers is, “What should our monitoring form look like?” Everyone is seeking the best monitoring form. There’s even a book with sixty sample forms in it. It makes an interesting read, but don’t lean on it too heavily, because there is no such thing as a best monitoring form.

There are, however, a small handful of precepts that will enable you to create a form that best serves your purposes at your call center, because these are based on what is important to you and to your callers. With these precepts, you can be assured that your form will be both valid and reliable.

When you monitor according to valid and reliable criteria, your agents, your supervisors, and your senior managers will have greater confidence that the monitoring scores you report really mean something valuable.

So, how do you develop a monitoring form that gives you valid and reliable data? There are several steps involved. The first step is to recognize that there are three types of judgment involved in evaluating a call: the systemic, the extrinsic, and the intrinsic modes of valuation. These three terms provide a helpful lens through which to see the different ways to make value judgments.

Systemic evaluation is the realm of “yes/no” judgment. A specific part of the monitored call is whether the agent did or did not do or say something that was required; there are no shades of gray in systemic evaluation. Systemic components of a call are the easiest to select when monitoring and the easiest to calibrate among different raters. They are most helpful in identifying baseline criteria that all calls must achieve. They are not useful, however, when you seek to “raise the bar” to higher levels of engagement with the caller. To do that, you need to evaluate extrinsically.

Extrinsic evaluation is the realm of varying degrees of fulfillment of a concept. This is the world of “good, better, best.” Here there are shades of gray; you might use various types of Likert scales in the evaluation process. Let’s say that one of the criteria that you decide to evaluate through monitoring is the degree of professional courtesy exhibited by your agents. You may decide to rate these degrees of courtesy in the form of a one-to-five scale, where one is unacceptable, two is below average, three is average, four is above average, and five is excellent. Extrinsic evaluations comprise the greater part of most call monitoring forms. They are more difficult to calibrate than systemic evaluations, as the scores are more subjective and prone to argument between analysts and agents.

Intrinsic evaluation is a different animal altogether. Intrinsic evaluation plays a major role in coaching but only a minor role in call monitoring. This will be addressed in a future article. Most of what we do when we monitor calls is to analyze them by breaking the call into its component parts. What an intrinsic perspective gives us is a reminder to look at the call as an entity. Ask yourself, “On the whole, from the caller’s point of view, how well was this call handled?”  Ask, “Was this customer delighted, satisfied, mollified, or disgruntled with the process and the outcome of the call?”  The answer you get from an intrinsic evaluation may be quite surprising when you compare it to the rest of your analysis. The parts do not always add up to the whole.

Read part 2 and part 4 in this series.

Cliff Hurst is president of Career Impact, Inc, which he started in 1988. Contact Cliff at 207-499-0141, 800-813-8105, or

[From Connection Magazine June 2008]