Tag Archives: Quality Assurance Articles

Why Call Centers Are Important for Your Branding Strategy



By Guy Dilger

For many business leaders, branding means the company logo, website, sales material, direct marketing, social media, and online content. Devoting resources and marketing activities to these types of communications is important to creating brand awareness and sales opportunities.

However, it’s not just the company’s marketing that creates a brand. Every touch point in the customer journey becomes part of a buyer’s perception of the company’s brand.

Call Center as a Brand Experience

One department that may require a portion of the branding budget but is often overlooked is the inbound call center or customer service department. For many customers who purchase products or sign up for services online, the call center is the only human interaction with a company. This is especially true for online and e-commerce companies that don’t have a physical presence.

Consumers and decision-makers are more likely to judge and create an impression of businesses based on the over-the-phone service. That’s the reason it’s crucial for businesses to incorporate their branding into their customer service and call centers.

Companies make major investments to support call centers and customer service departments. This includes telecommunications technology, customer response management software, training, and scripts. But does the call center training cover the company’s brand standards and personality? Are the founder’s story and company mission part of the scripts? Can the team easily insert the company’s unique value proposition and point of differentiation for the products and services into customer conversations? All these key message points shape the buyer’s brand experience, which influences customer acquisition, retention, loyalty, and lifetime value.

Call Center Agents as Brand Ambassadors

When an insufficiently trained call center or customer service representative focuses more on ending a customer call rather than solving the issue, the company takes a hit.

First, this tarnishes the brand. That interaction had a greater impact on the customer’s perception than a scheduled message from the company’s CEO. Second, all the marketing, product development, and innovation were made ineffective because of a frustrated call center agent. Even worse, that unsatisfied or angry customer may choose to post a negative review or rant on social media.

Ensuring that your call center and customer service department are properly trained and engaged is the best way to avoid these types of interactions. An engaged call center pays for itself in improved productivity and reduced turnover of customers and employees. This communication allows an opportunity for a resolution, rather than seeing a complaint or negative review online. Click To Tweet

Essential Training Elements

Key elements of the call center training include:

Empathy: Prospects and customers call because they need information or have an issue. Some call center agents and customer service representatives mistakenly use a falsely cheery phone voice. Call center agents and customer service representatives need to be sensitive to the fact that customers may be confused or upset. After the caller explains the reason for the call, the first response is sincere empathy. The company’s brand personality and brand voice should guide the tone of this initial interaction.

Ease Anxiety: Next, ease the caller’s anxiety by reassuring them that they have called the experts and solution providers. At this point, the call center agent should consider thanking the customer for calling. This communication allows an opportunity for a resolution, rather than seeing a complaint or negative review online. A calm, confident, and reassuring attitude will go a long way in easing communications and clearly understanding the issues.

Educate: Once the issue is defined, the call center agent can provide information and guidance for the next steps. Guidelines for various scenarios and scripts with key message points provide the greatest support for the agent and result in faster resolution. Some companies provide checklists, step-by-step instructions, links to the company website, and other resources to address their customers’ needs.

Enable Follow-Up: After the call, a brief online survey or follow-up email continues to improve the brand experience. Marketing and sales leaders may consider a follow-up phone call to make sure the issue was resolved and offer an additional customer touch point.

In some cases, business leaders “mystery shop” their own call center, take customer calls themselves, or listen to recorded conversations. Getting customer feedback and monitoring performance will ensure that the call center is part of the brand experience.

Guy Dilger is the vice president of product and marketing at Plain Green. With twelve years of experience designing marketing strategies for Fortune 500 companies and financial technology brands, he is known for generating engaging content and compelling concepts that resonate with targeted consumers.

Need Responsive, Fast-Flex Customer Service?



Get Real with On-Demand, Virtual Contact Center Solutions

By Kim Houlne

Forget real time. Business today runs on get-real time. Enabled by in-the-moment experiences. Catering to rising consumer expectations. To remain relevant, companies require fast-flex service and responsive customer care.

Contact centers operate within this immediacy and expectancy—some with limitations. For instance, brick-and-mortar call centers are restricted by square footage and number of seats. Available talent is confined to local ZIP codes. And at times these centers find themselves in harm’s way when hurricanes or blizzards blow through.

By contrast, virtual contact centers are mobile and move with the business. As demand fluctuates, they turn ever-ready expertise on or off from anywhere, accommodating upticks and downturns. More fluid, these remote resources often are outsourced as stand-alone operations or auxiliary workforces to in-house teams.Extending the brand with qualified customer reps who get it. Got it. And that’s good for clients and their customers. Click To Tweet

Get It? Got it. Good.

With contracted agents on the job and in reserve, work can shift as seasons change, market trends rise and fall, and unforeseen circumstances dictate. By itself, being virtual isn’t enough, however.

Success relies on proven, on-demand processes—from recruiting to onboarding to agent development—and a steady supply of quality reps to sustain performance. Needed are industry-skilled agents who are quick studies and think fast, with rapid-fire service that’s right out of the movies. Like this:

Customer: “I’d like to get in, get on with it, get it over with, and get out. Get it?”

Agent: “Got it.”

Customer: “Good.”

Get Real

Those lines, taken from the classic Danny Kaye film, Court Jester, exemplify the essence of stellar service: delivered promptly, as expected. For contact center clients, the get it?—got it—good, or G³, approach, is as strategic as it is well-timed for their customers. This means quick-turn solutions supplied by agile agents.

Such an on-demand model reduces overhead, eliminates capital expenses, and elevates service. Unlimited in scope, agents scale up or down for everyday operations, seasonal surges, and long-range projects.

The question is: How does a business achieve such workforce flexibility and responsiveness? One answer: Outsource with an on-demand contact service provider with the wherewithal to get real.

To be sure, this requires due diligence to get, if not guarantee, a good return on investment (ROI). Clients should do vetting up front to ensure that the service provider has the means and motivation to:

  • Recruit and retain remote agents with coveted skills
  • Immerse them in a client’s culture, business, and brand
  • Invest in their ongoing development for long-term ROI

Pay the Price—Now or Later

What it comes down to is whether a service provider looks at agents as an investment in a client’s success or merely sees them as a business expense to be passed on. Whatever the perception, outcomes will reflect the level of commitment and customer satisfaction scores.

Consider this: IBM Watson reports that “the overall turnover rate for the call center industry is between 30–45 percent, and each individual turnover can cost a company upwards of $6,440.” Now, let’s multiply it out, with 100 agents on an account. A 30 to 45 percent attrition rate adds up to $193,200 to $289,800. Gone.

That’s a three-way loss: wasted money, high attrition, and sullied service. The provider, client, and its customers all lose.

An Investment, Not an Expense

Regardless of how much self-service automation occurs, high-quality agents remain core to contact center services. Why? Because customers want to talk with agents to resolve problems too complex for chatbots. So, to avoid double-digit turnover and poor service, doesn’t it make good sense and ROI to value agents?

Virtual contact center operators know that remote agents, as independent contractors, work where they want. Their skills are in demand, just like the on-demand services they provide. That’s a given in the gig economy.

So the best working relationship, then, should be quid quo pro—with benefits shared among the provider, agents, and clients alike.

A high-functioning, on-demand workforce takes three things:

  1. A caring culture to attract the best agent applicants
  2. Know-how to educate and engage agents in a client’s business
  3. Ongoing investment to retain agents and build client relationships

Caring Culture Connects

These days, with record low unemployment and savvy digital workers, a low-scoring workplace—be it virtual or brick-and-mortar—probably is at a loss to find and keep talent. If a company doesn’t care, why even apply, much less stay?

Look no further than the jobsite Glassdoor, where employees and contractors rate companies and their leaders. Not only are those reviews read by job applicants, they’re also scanned by would-be clients wanting contact center services.

Face it: if workers aren’t happy, it’s a good bet they won’t be pleasing a client’s customers. That’s why a worthwhile work environment, especially a remote one, needs intelligence on three levels: emotional intelligence complemented by artificial intelligence and intelligent agents—or I³.

G³ * I³ = (G * I)³

Together they equal customer service, which is essential.

Becoming the Client Brand

When a company outsources, it entrusts not only customer service, but its entire brand to a contact center provider. As such, agents need to be immersed in the culture and business—becoming the brand.

Brick-and-mortar call centers normally have subject-matter experts who onboard agents. That’s okay, within limits. Usually it involves one-way classroom lectures or repetitive webinars. At best, by-rote instruction creates a workforce of automaton agents, whose knowledge extends only as far as the lessons taught.

Interactive by design, a virtual contact center classroom goes further to do more. Here, teaching is led by degreed educators who adapt a client’s training to an online education platform, such as Canvas, a learning management system.

To engage agents, curriculum is broken down into micro-learning (PowToon), interactive experiences (Umu), or gamification (educaplay). The result is agents who role-play real-life, customer situations and don’t parrot canned responses by rote.

Investing for the Long Term

Client services and products continually change. Upgrades occur. New products are introduced. Add to them e-commerce that accelerates every aspect of business. Contact center agents must evolve with these changes, if not anticipate them.

Continuing education, complemented by an agent community website, are essential for ongoing development. Remember that $6,440 turnover cost per agent? Odds are the agents who left were given short shrift or felt adrift after their initial onboarding. And bye-bye is the by-product.

High agent attrition atrophies any business. So, when contracting contact center service providers, ask them: “What’s your retention rate?” Three years is a good average. The best contact service providers have agent tenure ranging up to five, ten, and even fifteen years. Clearly, they invest in agents for the long term.

In the end, outsourcing contact services isn’t about adding bodies—be they brick-and-mortar or remote. It’s about extending the brand with qualified customer reps who get it. Got it. And that’s good for clients and their customers.

Kim Houlne, CEO and president of Working Solutions, pioneered virtual contact center services in 1996.  Before founding the company, she held senior management positions in consulting. A graduate of the University of Georgia, she delivered a 2016 graduation keynote address

Chatbots Should Learn from the Errors of IVR



Chatbots could follow the path of IVR, a once-promising technology that earned customer ire through poor implementation

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Peter DeHaan, Publisher and Editor of Connections MagazineI don’t often use web chat because I find a phone call is faster and more thorough. Recently I made an exception and learned a valuable lesson.

The email said that my new statement was available online. I might be one of the few people who still download and review online statements, but that’s what I do. So I logged in and navigated to the right page. I clicked on the link for my most recent statement, but it brought up last month’s. With more navigation, I found a list of all my statements. Alas, my current statement wasn’t there.

About this time a chat invitation popped up. “I see you’ve been notified that your new statement is available. Can I help you?”

Without giving it enough thought, I typed in, “I can’t download my statement.”

Immediately I received a reply. “Here are two resources that might help you out.”

By the titles of these links, I knew they were pointing me in the wrong direction, telling me what I already knew. I tried again. “No, my current statement isn’t available.”

Again, the chatbot responded immediately. “Here are three links that might help you resolve the problem.”

Once again, the links wouldn’t help. What started as an amusing experience with technology was becoming exasperating. Then I typed, “Can I talk with a person?”

The bot responded immediately, “I can help you.”

Obviously the bot wasn’t interested in connecting me with a real person. I typed in what I thought: “You’re worthless.” (Though I’ve never said that to a person, I often say that to technology.)

But before I could close the chat window, I got another message. “Let me connect you with a representative.”

With a potential for help only seconds away, I stuck around. A half minute later, Lisa popped up in the chat window.

Unfortunately my failed chatbot experience agitated me, similar to what happens after a futile interaction with IVR. At this point, emotion, rather than logic, dictated my first question: “Are you a person or a bot?”

Lisa assured me she was a real person. We then worked to download my statement. She had me try a different method to get to my statement, but that didn’t work either. I pasted the error message into the chat window for her to see. Then she had me try a different browser. I got the same results.

As we continued, I noticed a subtle change on the statement page. First, the proper link appeared, but it still didn’t work. A little while later the link worked. Then I recalled a problem I had with my bank a few years ago. They would send out the email that my statement was available, even though the department responsible for putting it online hadn’t finished their work. The two groups weren’t communicating.

I realized that the same thing had happened with this company. Expecting the statement to be online by a certain time, the email group sent out a notice, not knowing the statement wasn’t available. Chatbots are part of an exciting technology that can help call centers better serve customers, as well as help agents do their job better. Click To Tweet

This, of course, brings up another all-too-common scenario: a company causes customer service activity by their own actions. But that’s a topic we’ve already covered.

The point today is that chatbots are part of an exciting technology that can help call centers better serve customers, as well as help agents do their job better. Yet the improper application of chatbot technology threatens its utility by alienating the customers it’s supposed to help.

This is exactly what happened with the introduction of IVR, and that technology never recovered. May chatbots have a different outcome. Both the call center and its customers need this one to be a win.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Connections Magazine. He’s a passionate wordsmith whose goal is to change the world one word at a time.

What You Should Know Before Making Your Next Call Center Headset Purchase



By Bonnie Landis

The call center agent’s best friend is their headset, but choosing the right headset for your call center or office staff can be daunting. There are several things to consider when shopping for headsets. Here are five things to think about before you make your next purchase. If you work with a reputable vendor with a knowledgeable sales staff, you’ll have peace of mind knowing you’re getting the right headset equipment for your specific needs. Click To Tweet

1. Know Your Vendor

A good relationship with a reliable headset company can mean the difference between getting the right equipment at a reasonable price and paying too much for equipment that doesn’t meet your needs. Your headset advisor should have in-depth product and industry knowledge. They will ask the right questions to uncover your needs and make the right product recommendation.

2. Performance and Durability Matters

Your staff uses their headsets every day; expect damage and depreciation to occur. Replacing headsets prematurely can be costly in terms of agent downtime and financial outlay. Make sure you are purchasing equipment that is call-center designed, as this will result in a lower cost of ownership.

3. Noise Cancelation

Call centers are noisy! Be sure you purchase headsets with good noise-canceling microphones that filter out background noise. Your agents will be heard clearly, and this results in a better call outcome.

4. Compatibility

Every headset needs to be compatible with the phone or device it’s used with. Each device has its own compatibility requirements—and the headset cord is the vital link between the headset and the device. Purchasing a headset with an incorrect cord means that it will not have adequate audio sound or perhaps none at all. Always rely on a trusted headset adviser to guide you through this critical process.

5. After-the-Sale Service

After the sale, you should feel like a valued customer and be satisfied that the equipment you purchased is the right equipment for your requirements. The sales process should have exceeded your expectations, and you won’t hesitate to purchase again from the vendor and even recommend them to your colleagues.

To summarize, if you work with a reputable vendor with a knowledgeable sales staff, you’ll have peace of mind knowing you’re getting the right headset equipment for your specific needs.

Bonnie Landis is a senior headset advisor with Comfort Telecommunications. For more than thirty-five years, Comfort Telecommunications has provided headset equipment to the call center industry. Their line of best-in-class Smith Corona headset products are recognized for its durability, cross-brand compatibility, and affordability.

IVR Optimization Improves Service and Reduces Costs



By Donna Fluss

In many customer service contact centers, the interactive voice response (IVR) system handles approximately 55 to 95 percent of the calls, depending on the vertical and the effectiveness of the system. An IVR can save companies millions of dollars; a typical customer service call handled by a live agent costs $3.00 to $6.50, while an IVR transaction costs $0.03 to $0.25 per minute.

IVRs are so good at deflecting routine calls from agents that companies often take them for granted and do not give them the attention they deserve. The issue is that over time, business requirements and customer expectations change, while many IVRs do not. This costly oversight can be addressed with a small and continuous investment in your IVR application.

DMG research shows that both baby boomers and millennials prefer to use self-service solutions to resolve an issue, but they will interact with a live representative when the automated tools are not successful. This indicates great potential for self-service solutions: Companies can improve their customer experience (CX) by enhancing their IVR. When an IVR is well designed, easy to use, and effective in giving callers the information and answers they need, it’s no longer an issue of customers tolerating the IVR; it becomes a preference instead.

A small ongoing investment in your IVR will make a major contribution to your contact center or enterprise’s bottom line. As importantly, since self-service is a valuable step in the customer journey and plays an influential role in the overall CX, keeping an IVR current, relevant, and easy to use is a necessity for your brand. An IVR optimization initiative delivers significant benefits because it enhances the customer experience while reducing operating costs and improving agent engagement.

IVR optimization efforts are intended to address many activities, such as identifying and eliminating impediments that prevent callers from completing a transaction, improving the process flow to make it easier for callers to address their needs, enhancing grammars (for speech-enabled solutions), replacing outdated and awkward phrases, reducing the number of times a phrase is repeated, and changing the pace of communication.

The enhancements required during an optimization effort depend on a business’s current needs, which change as the market and consumer expectations mature. If a company is willing to develop a personalized and adaptive IVR application, the benefits will be even greater, but this may require an investment in new technology in addition to a major usability refresh. Many callers are happy to use an IVR, and many even prefer it for simple activities. Click To Tweet

Customer expectations have changed since the early 1980s when IVRs were first rolled out. These days, many callers are happy to use an IVR, and many even prefer it for simple activities—if it is well designed and allows them to quickly and easily conduct business and transfer to an agent when necessary.

Visit www.dmgconsult.com/your-customers-deserve-a-better-ivr/e to see IVR optimization return on investment (ROI) models that show the monthly and annual savings that can be achieved by enhancing your IVR self-service solution. You can also find best practices for building an IVR optimization program to deliver ongoing benefits to your customers and organization.

Donna Fluss is president of DMG Consulting LLC. For more than two decades, she has helped emerging and established companies develop and deliver outstanding customer experiences. A recognized visionary, author, and speaker, Donna drives strategic transformation and innovation throughout the services industry. She provides strategic and practical counsel for enterprises, solution providers, and the investment community.

Six Steps to Implementing a Contact Center Quality Program

By Greg Bush

From a customer experience perspective, a quality interaction is everything. How many times have you spoken with contact center agents and wondered if they understood what you really needed? Did they get your order correct? Were they even listening?

While we’ve all had these experiences and we all agree quality should be the focus of any contact center, it’s not as easy as telling your agents do ten things on the checklist. Below are six critical steps needed to successfully implement a quality program that will influence customer experience.

1) Think about Customer Experience First: Habit number two from 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey is “Begin with the end in mind.” We must think first about the kind of customer experience we desire. What is the purpose of your contact center? Is it sales, customer service, help desk support, or maybe a combination? What do customers hope to get when they contact you? Are they ordering a product or service? Do they need help with a product they have already purchased? When you think about the types of reasons customers contact you and the purpose of your contact center, you can begin to understand what makes up a quality customer experience. Also, do not limit your quality program to phone calls. Your program should be multi-channel, including all customer interactions such as email, chat, and social media.

2) Agent Acceptance: When implementing a quality program, it’s important to have the buy-in from those doing the job. Get your agents involved in deciding what quality looks like from the beginning. Agents should have input in the development of scripting, what will be evaluated, and the evaluation process. Form a task force comprised of a few agents, supervisors, the contact center manager, and the training manager. Participating agents will become advocates for the program to the rest of the agents. In addition, the agents on the task force will gain a better understanding of management’s expectations, and other agents will feel their voice is being represented in the process.

3) Training: Don’t assume that agents understand and know how to incorporate all the criteria in the new quality program. During the rollout process, it’s not only important to communicate what the new quality program looks like, but training should be given on all aspects of the quality criteria. During this time it’s important to communicate the expectations of a quality interaction and how often agents will be evaluated.

4) Calibration: Once the quality criteria are agreed on, you’ll need to make sure that the evaluators are consistent. Anyone who will be performing evaluations (supervisors, mangers, trainers, or the quality team) should review and discuss customer interactions to ensure that the evaluation process is standardized. It’s best to have the participants review several calls on their own and submit their evaluation sheets and comments before the meeting. This will prevent anyone from falling victim to peer pressure and changing his or her evaluation during the meeting and then not apply the same process later. During the calibration meeting, everyone should listen to the calls and review their evaluation notes. The outcome of this process should yield clear guidelines regarding the evaluation process.

5) Ongoing Training: The purpose of implementing a quality process is to ensure that each customer has the same experience by standardizing the agent interaction. Those evaluating agents will need to provide feedback and training on the steps the agents need to take to improve. If there are several agents needing training in the same areas, then it’s usually best to involve training. Another good way to train and further gain agent buy-in is by implementing a mentor program. Have your best agents mentor the ones that need help (often this will be new hires). The agent receiving the help will feel more comfortable with their peer, and the mentor will become more accountable to the quality process.

6) Recognition: Recognition is the lifeblood of contact centers. You can never provide too much recognition and rewards to keep your staff motivated and reinforce positive behavior. You’ll need to design a recognition program around the quality process. You can do this by recognizing the top performers in quality over a set period, such as a month or quarter.

A fun way is give spot recognition when you observe a great customer interaction. The recognition does not have to be monetary in value; however, it should be public. One way to publically recognize quality is to email a file of the call and specifically state in the email the areas agent did well and how it influenced customer experience. In addition to recognizing the great performance of the agent, you’re also providing a good example for others to hear and implement.

While a new quality program will not prevent bad customer experiences, the goal is to minimize them. A quality program that is embraced by everyone involved is your first step in creating a better experience for customers. Following these steps to introduce a new quality program to your contact center will not only create a better customer experience, but it will also provide a better experience for everyone on your team.

Greg Bush is a call center executive with over fifteen years of industry experience. His background includes both sales and customer service. He is experienced in call center start-up and turnaround, driving revenue by placing a strong focus on best practices and innovative technology. You can contact Greg at gbush73@gmail.com or 972-822-9283.

[From Connection Magazine Jan/Feb 2013]

Improving Quality of Experience while Achieving ROI

By Tim Moynihan

Customer experience is critical for long-term business success. However, it’s inevitable that a business’ communication system is bound to experience unpredictable technical issues and dropped calls. While glitches will sometimes happen, users still expect the highest level of quality and will no longer tolerate service “hiccups.” Poor customer experience should be an exception, not the norm, and it should not be a contributor to revenue loss.

Businesses that strive to differentiate themselves by providing a great Quality of Experience (QoE) often recognize a strong return on investment (ROI) from increased customer retention and lower revenue leakage rates. Smart businesses know that in order to continuously assure customer satisfaction, it’s necessary to implement end-to-end performance monitoring.

Before moving forward with a performance monitoring implementation, executives typically must understand the financial return prior to committing funds. It’s easy to say that a breakdown in a business communication system can result in lost customers, but many organizations prefer a more concrete analysis.

To illustrate just how quickly the costs associated with technology failures can add up, consider these quick computations associated with interactive voice response (IVR) failures or poor voice quality (as highlighted in Figure 1). Until an organization goes through this exercise, it’s hard to comprehend just how big of an issue this is.

Costs Associated with Technology Failures

Cost of IVR Failures =           (average cost per call handled by an agent
– average cost per call contained by IVR)
x calls sent to agents as a result of IVR outages

Cost of poor voice quality =    percent of calls extended due to poor voice quality
x average additional talk time in minutes
x average call cost minute

Cost of back-office delays =   percent of calls affected by back-end issues
x average length of delay in minutes
x average call cost minute

Cost of misdirected calls =     percent of calls incorrectly transferred
x average cost per transfer

Figure 1: These calculations do not include costs
associated with diagnosing and correcting problems.

Tips for Achieving Positive QoE and ROI

  1. Preempt issues and ensure peak performance: A major financial services corporation saved three million dollars by reducing voice quality issues and improving its automated response system, resulting in the generation of tremendous returns for both customers and the bottom line.
  2. Resolve database back-end and automated response issues: An insurance company generated 1.5 million dollars in savings after monitoring their network and responding to glitches affecting customer service.
  3. Address automated response and call routing systems: A major transportation company saved four million dollars by addressing issues associated with its automated self-service solutions and call routing systems, after an end-to-end monitoring solution isolated the source of the issues.

Advances in communication and enterprise technologies should enable organizations to streamline processes and enhance the customer experience, not burden customers with dropped calls or long wait times. By implementing an end-to-end monitoring solution, organizations have greater visibility across today’s complex environments. This enables businesses to reduce the time it takes to understand the source of a problem and fix it before their customers even notice the glitch.

Tim Moynihan is vice president of marketing at Empirix.

[From Connection Magazine November 2012]

Quality Redesign to Drive Business Success

By Linda Duba

So, you’ve just assumed the role of quality manager and have been tasked with redesigning the quality program, including the monitoring form. Where do you begin? How do you proceed? What steps do you take to ensure the new program meets everyone’s needs, from the agent to the executive?

These are challenging questions that require a thoughtful and structured approach. The right quality program has the potential to transform your contact center into a powerhouse that drives business results. This transformation begins by changing the quality culture from a “monitor” environment to one of focused and proactive change management. The following quality redesign road map is based on my work with thousands of contact centers of all sizes:

Establish a Strategic Vision: One of the keys to building an effective quality program is knowing what to measure and how those metrics help drive business success. An executive sponsor can help you establish a strategic vision for your program based on corporate objectives. This guidance will drive your process and inform design. Your sponsor can define the following key business initiatives and business goals:

Overall business vision and brand

  • What is the vision statement, and how is this vision practiced within the organization on a daily basis?
  • What message or image does the business strive to project to callers and employees?

Market share and/or customer acquisition

  • What are the specific initiatives planned to acquire new customers?
  • How does the contact center support those plans?

Revenue

  • What are the current revenue sources and channels?
  • How does the business extend or expand the customer relationship?
  • Are there new strategies to increase revenue per customer?
  • How can the contact center support those strategies?

Customer Satisfaction

  • How is satisfaction measured?
  • Is “net promoter” a key measure?
  • Is FCR (first call resolution) a key business metric? What comprises FCR?
  • Does customer satisfaction and feedback drive organization change?
  • Is there a “problem incidence” or “service recovery process” metric?

These corporate objectives are the basis for your strategic vision, a simple statement of how the quality program will support these goals. For example, “The ABC Company’s customer service quality program ensures that the customer service organization achieves the highest levels of customer satisfaction while meeting our growth objectives and operating in the most efficient manner possible.”

Assess Your Current Program: The next step is understanding how agents, supervisors, and managers feel about the quality program and how well the program supports the strategic vision. You may find that supervisors as well as agents are somewhat mistrustful of the current monitoring process and evaluation form. Agents may feel like they’re being watched or corrected. Supervisors may struggle with using the monitoring form and helping agents improve their performance versus just monitoring for errors. In many cases, you will also find misalignment between strategic objectives and the specific behaviors and skills being evaluated.

Establish New Quality Guidelines: This is the stage to establish a “quality council” comprised of key stakeholders in the quality process: agents, supervisors, trainers, sales coaches, and managers. Members will gather peer feedback that they can bring to the table, as well as draw upon their own experiences and ideas. Through a series of meetings and feedback sessions, the council will review the strategic vision and begin the process of translating that vision into pragmatic quality components.

Map behaviors that relate to each of the business initiatives and goals, such as:

  • Sales effectiveness
  • Problem identification, ownership, and resolution
  • Effective listening
  • Relationship-building and rapport
  • Courtesy
  • Empathy
  • Effective call management

Document the “need to have” components based on:

  • Legal or regulatory requirements
  • Customer security or privacy
  • The brand (if branding drives the business)

Assess all components using these statements:

  • Are they actionable? Will they lead to better business results, process change, or customer satisfaction?
  • Can they be objectively defined?
  • If they can be defined, are there tactical ways to coach for improvement?
  • Will they help identify and close process and satisfaction gaps?
  • Will they help motivate agents, supervisors, coaches, and trainers towards continuous quality improvement?

Finally, the council develops themes and groups the accepted components within these themes, such as:

  • Opening, greeting, and customer verification
  • Probing and problem identification
  • Fundamentals and policy or process adherence
  • Finesse and soft skills
  • Sales effectiveness and expanding the relationship
  • Closure and ensuring customer satisfaction

Design the New Monitoring Form: Now it’s time to design the actual quality monitoring form. Start by placing the strategic vision on the form; it will serve as a reminder and reinforcement to quality, coaching, and agent development.

Next, build the questions, statements, and supporting coaching points that will be used for measurement. Ensure that the question or statement has supporting coaching points within the form where possible. Refer to your assessment criteria to clearly define each question or statement. Make sure that the sections and questions provide a logical flow. Agents and quality analysts will provide valuable insight here, since they service or listen to calls on a daily basis. Having an effective flow will save time for quality analysts.

Finally, determine the importance of each section and the questions and statements within those sections. Refer to your strategic business initiatives to help make these scoring decisions. Look for critical questions that support compliance, regulatory, and customer satisfaction objectives. Weight the form according to the behaviors you wish to drive and can support with positive coaching.

Communicate Change: Few organizations put enough emphasis on the critical communications step. Providing information updates throughout the development and design process goes a long way in making the program a success. Use bulletin boards, Intranet sites, team meetings, and “desk drops” to keep employees informed of various stages and decisions being made. The more they know, the more likely they are to process the changes and accept them. Also, ensure that they have feedback channels.

Design a launch process that incorporates a “nesting” phase for the new form. Use parallel testing with both the existing and new form to understand how agent performance is affected. This also allows agents, supervisors, coaches, and analysts to adapt to the changes.

Provide Coaching: John Wooden, former UCLA basketball coach and the “Wizard of Westwood,” said, “A coach is someone who can give correction without causing resentment.” The entire purpose of evaluation and measurement is to improve – and improvement happens in the direct feedback, encouragement, and guidance provided between agent and supervisor or quality coach. The best coaching practices involve both “virtual” and “sit-down” coaching.

Virtual coaching gives the agent the opportunity to receive written feedback and review evaluations and call recordings on their own, as well as conduct self-assessments. This is a time to listen, consider, and reflect, and it creates an openness to truly “hear” the feedback and learn from it.

When virtual coaching is followed by a sit-down meeting, the impact grows tremendously. Great coaching is a dialogue, not a lecture. The agent is receptive and learning and growth happen at a dramatic rate. And when the coaching is firmly rooted in important objectives for the company, it becomes an experience of working as a team towards common goals versus an interpersonal and subjective evaluation.

Summary: The road map laid out in this document will help you transform an existing quality program into a strategic asset. Remember that quality is a journey with great challenges and tremendous potential rewards. Employ these principles to avoid a bumpy ride and guide your contact center to gain the utmost value from this important process.

Linda Duba is a business professional with over twenty-five years of contact center experience supporting services operations, training, project management, branding, and customer experience management for a worldwide financial services company. Linda is viewed as an expert problem solver, negotiator, presenter, and customer-focused individual who is able to forge solid relationships across an organization, as well as with strategic partners with expertise in consensus building across multiple organizational groups and levels.

[From Connection Magazine March 2012]

Call Center Quality Becomes a Key Differentiator

By Dana Allender

For many years, when an organization turned to a call center outsourcer to make and take phone calls on its behalf, there was just one major consideration: cost. Times have changed, however, and now organizations are beginning to see call centers less as a necessary expense and more as a strategic avenue through which they can engage and retain customers.

With today’s hard economic times, companies are looking for teleservices providers that can not only deliver expertise but also reflect the true culture of their company. The bottom line is that companies don’t need a call center; they need a solution to assist them in achieving their business objectives. The solution needs to be flexible, scalable, and easily deployed, while generating quantifiable and measurable results.

No longer do companies want a call center that just handles its calls; they want a strategic partner that serves as an extension of their organization and understands the specific needs of its customers and callers. Using a call center that focuses on quality and strives for 100 percent customer satisfaction gives an organization an advantage over competitors who take a cost-savings approach to their phone-based marketing and customer service. However, the call center must be able to do more than just talk a good game; it must be able to deliver the results it promises.

People expect performance right out of the gate; they need to see how it affects their profits. The outsource call center must prove that it can successfully execute strategy and produce results at or above their clients’ expectations, whether it is generating new sales, reducing costs, or retaining customers. The outsource call center partner should be brought to the table at the beginning so that they understand client goals and objectives and also are able to provide insights from their years of experience about how to achieve those objectives and overcome any challenges.

One issue for marketers today is that consumers want to be reached in specific, individualized ways. Therefore, to maximize its marketing and customer care efforts, an organization must have an in-depth understanding of its customer base.  A good call center can provide a wealth of experience in targeted marketing to different segments of the market based on multiple demographics.

Businesses and consumers don’t want to be “mass-marketed,” but in the past it’s been cost prohibitive to reach every one of them individually. Now, however, with each person having his or her own unique ways of wanting to be communicated with, it’s up to each company to uncover those ways and deliver them.

In today’s economy, where competition for customer is extremely competitive, the strategic use of call centers can provide a company with far-reaching benefits to achieve its goals and find profitable solutions to its unique business problems.

Dana Allender is the director of business development for the teleservices company, InfoCision Management Corporation.

[From Connection Magazine January 2010]

How Call Center Quality Differs from Manufacturing Quality Control

Part Eight in the Continuing Series, Getting Quality Right

By Cliff Hurst

In past articles, we’ve used terms that were perhaps unfamiliar to many, such as control charts, standard deviation, normal distribution, and correlations. These may not be familiar to call center professionals, but they are well known to people with green or black belts in Six Sigma and experts in lean manufacturing, TQM, QMS, ISO 9000, and Baldrige criteria, which define various approaches towards quality management.

Unfortunately, those specialists seldom intersect with the call center. Call centers, after all, are different. However, there are ways to begin to bridge the gap between these two worlds. In this article, I’d like to start a dialogue about how to begin doing just that.

Call centers speak a language that is foreign to other industries. Only when you know what makes call centers distinct can you engage in meaningful dialogue with other quality practitioners.

There are three principal functions that make call centers different. We must understand the ramifications of these differences if we are going to apply standard precepts of quality within our call centers:

Variation at the source: In our call centers we live with an immense variation of “raw materials” at the source. Our raw materials are phone calls – and each is unique. If your center handles 160,000 calls per month and each has an equal chance of being handled by 100 different agents, that’s 16 million possible combinations of caller/agent interaction. That’s a lot of variation – and there is little you can do to reduce it.

Quality specialists from outside the call center may not know how to deal with the wide variations and approximate measures that are a necessary part of our daily life. That’s why, in order to really “get quality right,” I am writing this series. My goal is to combine the general precepts of quality with those of survey research and adapt both to the unique environment of call centers. My intent here is not to take fault with the precepts of quality management; I embrace those precepts wholeheartedly. I simply feel that their application must be adapted to the unique environment of call centers.

Quality is delivered immediately: If you’re familiar with call centers, this point is obvious, but remember the point of view of quality practitioners from a manufacturing background. In manufacturing, there is a production sequence, and that sequence can be interrupted to make quality improvements at any stage along the way until the final product is finished.

During a phone call, however, quality is delivered from start to finish with only rare opportunities to intervene in real time. This fact requires adjustments in our approach to quality management. Commonly accepted practices stemming from a manufacturing model of quality assume that “production” occurs on time and in stages, each of which can be influenced by interventions of one sort or another, such as checks for quality. Not so with call centers.

What goes on during the call is beyond our ability to directly influence. In call centers, management’s ability to control the quality of a call is dependent upon what is done before and after the call. In call centers, your best tools for quality include hiring wisely, training well, providing user-friendly technology, and offering agents coaching and monitoring feedback.

Nondestructive sampling: With today’s recording systems, most call centers have immense flexibility to sample “raw materials” at the source – and after the fact. Plus, unlike many manufacturers, we don’t have to destroy the samples in order to inspect them. This is not always the case in manufacturing. A primary function of quality sampling in manufacturing is for the purpose of what is known as “acceptance sampling.”  Acceptance sampling happens when the parts, or raw materials, are received before the production process begins. Sometimes manufacturers have to destroy batches of material in order to inspect them.

Our situation is different. Call center acceptance sampling is not an option for us. We can’t “reject” calls that we don’t want to deal with. Furthermore, since quality in a call center is delivered in real time, our only opportunity to monitor quality is after the event is over. (Live monitoring for the purpose of coaching is another topic for a later time.)

Given the widespread adoption of call recording technology, we can capture call samples and later analyze them for quality to our hearts’ content. Doing this has no adverse impact on the quality of the call.

This is where we need to shed our habitual ways of doing things. Monitoring forms, once developed, tend to take on a life of their own. It’s easy to get lulled into the mindset that all we have to do to achieve quality is to score our forms in some consistent way, but that’s only part of what we need to do.

Even more important is looking for other trends in our data. As long as we have a representative sample of calls that have been recorded and archived, we can perform all sorts of analyses on the sample. And we will have the same confidence in our results as we have in our monitoring scores.

The most valuable answers may be those that aren’t even on the monitoring form. For example, a common call center goal is to keep average handle time as short as can be reasonably expected. Toward that end, call centers often set up various efficiency metrics related to average talk time and hold time. However, what if longer calls tend to result in higher monitoring scores and higher caller satisfaction scores?  Could striving for efficiency be defeating other, higher purposes?

As long as you have a representative sample of calls for the month, all you need to do is run a scatterplot and correlation analysis between talk time and quality scores. Have you ever correlated quality scores with the delay in answering those calls?  Here again, a scatterplot and correlation analysis can reveal the consequences of the lengthy average speed of answer in a way that typical metrics do not reveal. Do you really want to help your agents achieve better monitoring scores?  Well, the best way to do that may be to staff more robustly for peak volumes.

Read part 7 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 cliff@careerimpact.net. You can sign up for his free email newsletter or order his book, Your Pivotal Role: Frontline Leadership in the Call Center, at www.careerimpact.net.

[From Connection Magazine May 2009]