Tag Archives: Quality Assurance Articles

Common Verbal Communication Blunders



By Greg Alcorn

Have you ever said something at work you wish you hadn’t? Sometimes you just blurt out the wrong words to another employee or a client. The first step in fixing common communication blunders on the job is to know what those blunders are. Then you can say something the smart way versus the dumb way. 

Here are the biggest, most common verbal communication blunders:

Using Bad Bookends

The biggest blunder is starting and ending what you say with the wrong phrasing. Conversation bookends are the small comments or questions just before or right after a full statement or request for action. Learn to be better with your starting and ending bookends. Presentence bookends as a tool can be engaging, demeaning, or distracting. 

Names are great bookends. Starting a sentence with the name of the person you are talking to warms up that person. “Mary, may I put you on hold?” Saying your name last in your introduction makes it easy for the person you are talking with to remember your name. “This is the helpline. My name is Jack.” 

Starting with the Wrong First Words

Are you familiar with the term “getting off on the wrong foot”? Conversations have first impressions, and they begin with your first three words. Hint: one of the words should be the other person’s name. Using names is important when speaking on the phone, especially on conference calls. Conference call principle number one is that if you’re going to call on somebody, start with their name. Instead of saying, “What were the metrics on our operations yesterday, Frank?” ask the right way: “Frank, what were the metrics on our operation yesterday?” 

If you don’t start with the name, you might catch the person by surprise. It certainly catches people’s attention when you say their name first.

The first step toward reducing the number of dumb things you say is to know what the dumb things are. Click To Tweet

Not Choosing Your Words Well

The words you choose paints a picture for the listener. Your words express your attitude and your personality. Keep it positive. Don’t start a sentence with the word no

Even in introductions, you can’t go wrong with saying the person’s name first. A person’s name followed by “I need your help” is a winner. “Rachel, I need your help.” This is especially powerful in a situation in which you might be the boss and the other person might be a manager or you might be in a perceived superior position.

Poor Questions and Bad Listening

Meaningful questions always stay on subject, keep a conversation moving forward, and ensure that the other person feels heard and understood. Becoming a better listener is easier than you might think. It starts by committing to master the skill and making an active choice to listen. Ask good questions and then really listen. This is the “two ears and one mouth” principle.

Focus-on-Me Attitude

Making it all about you is a turnoff for others.  This is not a technique; this is an attitude. The best way to describe a benefit is to describe the feeling received. “I came by as soon as I heard you lost the sale; I’m sad.” Your fellow employee can recognize the extra effort and surely appreciates the sentiment. It’s a powerful sentence: a special visit, a sense of urgency, and a sincere feeling. Empathy shows feelings.

The Wrong Tone

People feel more comfortable with pleasant, variable tone quality. Voice tone consists of rate, pitch, and volume. Think tone and don’t drone. The tone of our voice helps others to hear our empathy. 

The rate, pitch, and volume of our statements of empathy help express feelings. Usually, but not always, we hear implied empathy when somebody slows down speech and lowers the pitch and volume. 

Say “I’m sad to hear that you lost the supermarket account,” and I’ll bet you will automatically say it slow and low. The same with excitement at the opposite end of the spectrum. Say “Team, we won the hotel account!” You can’t help but say it fast, high, and loud. Tone expresses empathy.

Not Diffusing Difficult Drama

Avoid stressful conversations, or drama, by mastering word selection, listening, and questioning skills. Drama can be inevitable, however. You can defuse most stressful situations when you apply the three Rs: recognize, restate, and reassure. 

Ask others: “What would you like to see happen?” Those are seven magic words that can defuse difficult drama. Speech is just a tool, like electricity, is a tool. And like any tool, words can help or harm. Electricity can cook a meal, or it can burn dinner. Words can turn people on or turn people off.

Summary

Nobody wants to say dumb things, but we all do. The first step toward reducing the number of dumb things you say is to know what the dumb things are. Then don’t say them—say something smarter.

Verbal communication expert Greg Alcorn, CEO of Global Contact Services of Salisbury, North Carolina, is the author of 7 Dumb Things We All Say. He speaks to thousands of people each year on improving verbal communication at work. His company has one thousand employees and averages thirty thousand customer service conversations every day. GCS, which Alcorn founded in 2001, serves retail, insurance, financial, and government clients.

The Ultimate Call Center Service for Contractors



Leveraging Third-Party App Technology

By Darlene Campbell

Technological advances continue to amaze me as I have watched the definition of service evolve over the past decades. Whether you compare a world of pagers to a world of texting or customers now controlling their own on-call schedules with direct access to their call centers systems, it has been astonishing.

In recent years our call center, ICG, embarked on a partnership to support a specialized industry: concrete repair specialists. As part of this process, my call center was introduced to a unique SaaS App software service called Estimate Rocket offered by Logical Engine Inc. Estimate Rocket is an app that automates the estimating process for contractors. It’s highly robust and has a built in CRM as well as an e-marketing platform. Integrated with Google maps and Quick Books, it can be described as a dream for that industry.

The vision we presented was the ability to interface with the contractor’s Estimate Rocket program. Then we could:

  • Allow any call center agent to accept calls or emails in response to the contractor’s promotion or advertising
  • Load the data directly into the contractor’s CRM
  • Provide information about the service by automatically activating a drip campaign of email to the contractor’s prospect
  • Schedule the estimate for the contractor

The poster child for this service is Affordable Mudjacking in the greater Kansas City area. Owner and entrepreneur Zach Poland saw the vision and the opportunity, so he ran with it for maximum efficiency of his operation. We now handle most Affordable Mudjacking’s inbound prospect communication, provide their prospects with basic information about the service, in some cases vet the viability of the prospect and schedule their estimators. In effect we have migrated from a call center to become Mr. Poland’s front office operation, and we are indispensable to his business.

WIIFM

Every business marketing and sales course suggests you answer the question “what’s in it for me” for all parties in a business relationship. Let’s review the benefits for both the contractor and the call center.

Contractor Benefits

  • A consistent, professional, 24/7 prospect experience that exceeds expectations
  • A consistent estimating process that allows for ease of training and instant fulfillment, as estimates (including photos) are emailed to prospects while an estimator is on site—with a mere click to accept the work and lock in a contract
  • Elimination of all costs associated with prospect inbound management and estimator scheduling
  • Better quality consistently delivered with efficiency, which increases capacity, scalability, imaging, closing ratios, and profitability

Call Center Benefits

  • Increased functionality and capacity to handle more types of client calls
  • Longer call duration
  • Development of a partner versus vendor relationship
  • Relationship longevity
  • Improved profitability

The Potential

Estimate Rocket has modules for concrete repair specialists, spray foam specialists, painters, and more. Its generic version can be used by any business doing estimates, with free-form data entry capability. In the case of Affordable Mudjacking, we have been instrumental in allowing this firm to schedule estimates when prospects aren’t home. This fact has changed the business and reduced their cost per sale.

We’ve learned to look beyond our own systems and seek ways to embrace tech used by our clients to grow our business. Click To Tweet

Estimate Rocket is only one example of the power of app technology and the acceleration of technical influence on business delivery. These tools need not be in competition with a call center environment. Through this we’ve learned to look beyond our own systems and seek ways to embrace tech used by our clients to grow our business.

Darlene Campbell is the president of Information Communications Group, a 24/7 multilingual call center based in Leawood, Kansas.

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

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

I 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]