The government will better serve all stakeholders by establishing a focus to oversee the design and implementation of a human-centered design strategy that:
identifies and responds to key touch points in a stakeholder’s journey
streamlines, integrates, and scales websites and call centers consistently over time
takes a holistic, iterative approach to prioritizing improvements across channels
maintains a mobile-experience first philosophy (people seeking information often use mobile devices first because they want information immediately, or rely on mobile exclusively because it is what they can afford)
uses clear, concise, and consistent language and messaging across all channels
establishes a feeling of trust by providing consistent experiences across channels to different stakeholders
firmly focuses on the future by laying the groundwork to integrate social media and emerging technologies in later phases of the project
Leading a human-centered design change initiative requires vision and broad oversight to bring stakeholders, products, technical processes, and communication into alignment.
Picture Jane, a retiree who needs help. She goes to one website on her phone to get information fast, but it doesn’t help. Later she visits another site on her laptop and can see it better, but finds additional information, organized in a new way, and described with different language.
Jane doesn’t know what to do or trust, so she tries a call center looking for a person to talk to instead. The wait times are long because so many others are having the same problems. When she finally gets through, the call center staff wants to help but they talk about services and options in yet another way.
Jane is distressed by her experience across siloed channels. She encounters disconnected technologies, has to translate between different language use, and finds that information is inconsistently organized or even offered leaving her frustrated and miserable. The call center staff who takes her call can hear that misery as it overflows into their conversation making the staffer’s job harder, the call longer, and both the financial and emotional costs higher for both.
Each time Jane’s journey plays out for another taxpayer or call center staffer, taxpayers lose confidence in the government agency and increase the costs of call center operations.
A single focus and oversight for government Contact Centers and the internet presence is a logical first step towards an improved Customer experience. Needed research must be conducted across channels and changes prioritized coherently across all platforms to maximize results. If the system is not treated as a whole, customer experience will continue to be fragmented and frustrating no matter how many isolated improvements are made over time.
A seamless experience requires a consistent approach to technological solutions, human needs, and organizational responses. The goal is to inspire taxpayer confidence and government efficiency by making it easy to start with a website, reach out to a call center if needed, and then complete tasks on the web when they are ready. In the future, integrating social media will increase responsiveness and better serve millennials and future generations.
A robust online database of Frequently Asked Questions can enhance customer experience based on insights from web analytics and call center topics. Web analytics and the call center knowledge management technology can be used to identify frequently accessed data, searches that come up empty, and how often users access particular information. In depth interviews with call center personnel can shape resource allocation and better prepare them to address complex situations since the basics are covered in a searchable database.
Starting with aggregated website and call center data creates a solid foundation for human-centered research to address persistent pain points across channels then effectively design and deliver satisfying stakeholder experiences.
What if Jane went to a central website and found the basic information she needed quickly and easily? If she still wasn’t sure what to do in her situation, she could reach out to a call center. When she did, her wait time would be shorter since more people were finding what they needed on a streamlined easily searchable site that highlights frequently asked questions. Jane wouldn’t be so upset when she connected with a staff member, her questions could be answered more quickly, costs would go down, and Jane would regain confidence in the government agency. Later when it worked for her schedule, she could fill out any required forms on the website and get immediate confirmation that they were submitted. Now when Jane talks about the government agency she shares her experience. I get help when I need it, I get things done on my schedule, and I trust that the government agency has my back.
Integrating processes, products, services, and content in an organization like a government agency takes time, vision, and leadership. Consolidating oversight with the right vision offers the best possible chance to successfully transition the taxpayers to a coherent seamless experience.
There was a time where video games were purchased, played and completed with no reason to interact with their creators. The enjoyment to be had was contained within a small window of experience and replay-ability reserved for the most dedicated of fans. Post-purchase interaction with the game developers or publisher was limited to a P.O. Box for comments and feedback.
As a dad of two young children, I’ve found myself picking up a controller often lately, and I’m amazed at how times have changed.
Gone are the days when you bought a game, took it home, played it until it was done and then moved on to something else. Most major video game companies are shifting to a “games as a service” model where you purchase a game with the expectation of playing it months, even years, down the line. The enormous potential financial benefits of this extended shelf-life, when executed-well, make it enticing for board members and shareholders who invest millions in development and advertising. Successes like Overwatch, Counter-Strike, and, more recently, Fortnite, are outstanding examples of the benefits of long-term services with lucrative micro-transactions, like “loot boxes” and “season passes”, that keep the dollars flowing month after month.
But the model is proving hard to execute. When gaming companies stumble trying to live up to their marketing promises, their lack of customer service and support processes is exposed. That has become even more visible with the recent launch of high profile games like Electronic Arts’ Anthem and Bethesda’s Fallout 76. These games, considered AAA or Triple-A, have high development budgets and levels of promotion, so they are expected to be high quality games and among the year’s bestsellers.
Games as a Disservice
Bethesda’s Fallout 76 is a multiplayer retro-futuristic post-apocalyptic online world in which the player’s character is tasked with restoring civilization with other players. You emerge from an underground vault in the setting of West Virginia to discover things aren’t as expected.
And that’s what many gamers discovered when they loaded Fallout 76 for the first time to discover what was promised was not what was delivered. With pitchforks and torches in hand, they stormed gaming forums with complaints of glitches, instabilities, undelivered features and a mysteriously swapped nylon bag. Customers who submitted tickets to Bethesda also were in for a surprise when it was discovered their sensitive information was accidentally leaked to the public. And then, for some reason, Bethesda went silent.
With no reassuring statements from Bethesda, unhappy customers only got louder. When Bethesda finally responded, the messages didn’t always align with the corporate intent. One memorable support response read, “We aren’t planning on doing anything about it.” That unhelpful message was blamed on a contracted customer service representative, and the experience continued to spiral downward. By the time Bethesda finally got a corporate approved message together, they had already become the meme for “games-as-a-DISservice”.
So what can the gaming industry learn from this? What best practices in customer service can be adopted from non-gaming industries?
First, you should always keep talking. Unless the silence is a frantic attempt to refund everyone, keep communicating to your fans and paid customers. The internet has a way of amplifying and over-exaggerating an issue; your silence only makes the frustration louder and encourages the trolls who will come to feed on the mayhem.
Immediately craft both an internal communication to your employees and an external message to the customers. This message will set the tone for how your staff will reply to customers and how customers will receive them. Avoid the “robotic, PR crafted, legal jargon, edited by the Chief Financial Officer” response. Instead, draft a genuine apology with clear goals about your next actions. That’s not to say you shouldn’t consult your legal team, because, if you’re not careful, that class action suit will likely follow.
Getting a message out quickly will also help reduce volume spikes of inbound contacts through your different contact channels. A simple message could say “I am sorry we disappointed you. My staff and I are looking at what can be done quickly to regain your trust and improve the product. We will provide you with a more detailed response on — “. A message like this will help reset expectations and keep customers from asking the same thing over and over again.
The company should take full ownership of the disappointing experience at the highest level of the organization. Avoid throwing your developers or customer support team under the bus. Their egos and morale are likely bruised, so it’s important to remind them of the importance of the work they do, both as the front-line support for frustrated customers and those tasked with the responsibility of fixing the product.
The road to redemption will take time. Rebuild trust by setting achievable expectations and meeting them. Prepare your contact channels for each expectation milestone by providing example scripting for handling questions about what has changed and what’s to come. Get the conversations moving in a positive direction and, over time, the crisis will be forgotten.
With a good strategy and reassuring communication, it doesn’t have to be “Game Over.”
I asked a client recently how they had determined their contact center hours of operation.
After a long pause they replied “I don’t know.”
Many organizations don’t think too much about their hours of operations, or HOOPs; they are just a fact of life. The contact center is staffed during this window of time to answer inquiries and contacts from customers and prospects. The HOOPs may have been established years before and not been reviewed since. When clients do cite a reason for the HOOPs they have in place, the most common answers are “way back when we surveyed our customers and the HOOPs are the result” and “we have always been open for these hours.”
So how do we know that these are the operating hours that make sense today, versus some point in the far off and distant past? Well we don’t, unless we examine our customers’ behaviors and/or survey them on preferences.
First, take a look at the contact volumes across all of your operating days— are you slammed from the moment the queues open up? Are you forced to manually de-queue calls/contacts to allow the queue to close at the end of the day? Or, do the volumes build slowly from opening time and decline smoothly to closing time? If the volume doesn’t gradually increase and then decrease, you will want to look at volumes received during the intervals before opening and following closing. You may find that call volumes and activity in the IVR, for example, builds one or more intervals before the queues open or continues at a high level following the closing of the queue. These can both be examples of scenarios when earlier opening or later closing may make sense.
There are a lot of considerations to be considered when looking to change your operating hours:
Do we know how many additional staff or hours of coverage are required?
Do we have adequate staff to support the new operating hours?
How will the new hours impact scheduling, shift biddings, RTA etc.?
Will there be a cost/benefit to extending the hours? Ex. Upsell or customer retention opportunities?
Will the new operating hours impact any processes, SLA’s or procedures within or external to the center?
How will the affected processes, SLA’s and/or procedures need to be modified to accommodate the new operating hours?
How will the new operating hours impact the center operating budget?
If occupancy is expected to decrease, are there additional non-live activities that could be completed by the center to offset some of the increased cost per interaction?
How will we communicate the new operating hours to our staff?
How will we communicate the new operating hours to our customers?
Our recommended approach would be to start by looking at the demand based on call activity prior to and after opening/closing hours. Based on this information, then work to quantify the expected demand. This would involve checking volumes on the pre and post opening periods, checking for any seasonal fluctuations, looking at upcoming automation, self-service or AI initiatives that are likely to reduce live agent contact volumes, etc.
Once you confirm that there is demand, you need to quantify the implication of serving these customers in terms of staff and/or labor hours. With a decent Work Force Management (WFM) tool, this is dead easy. Even without one, this is a fairly straightforward process. You will already have determined the number of call or contacts that will be captured, you know the AHT and desired service level and can then identify the incremental labor hours required to support these contacts.
Changing the start or the end time of someone’s shift can be unsettling and you will likely face resistance. So, if we are going to mess with folks’ schedules, we better set some rules. Of course, you may simply change the old start and stop times with the new times in the SOP’s or operation manual, or you may need to get much for granular to address potential issues such as length of shifts, definition of full and/or part-time staff. Some of these changes may be addressed by your shift definitions. The communication plan that you develop to share this change internally will be critical to ensure that there is a smooth transition to the new HOOP.
In addition to justifying and communicating the change to people impacted, it’s important to look at what impact the new operating hours may have on existing business or operating processes. From the simple, “will the employee entrance be unlocked at the start of the new operating hours?” to the more complex, “how does the new HOOP impact the escalation resolution Service Level Agreement?” Also, “are there other stakeholders impacted?” for example, “do you support a sales force that needs to know about the change?” All of the center and business processes and workflows should be examined to see if any need to be modified to accommodate the new operating hours?
By following these steps, you will be able to rationalize the center operating hours, should management or others inquire . You will also have a defined playbook and approach to address and revisit your HOOPs in the future should you ever need to expand or contract service availability.
I read an interesting article by Jennifer J Deal at strategy+business looking at five myths we hold about Millennials. For the past number of years we have all heard horror stories about organizations that gave away iPads, spot bonuses, socially conscious and social responsible activities, but still had staff leave for greener pastures. This point has been used time and again to characterize the lack of loyalty that Millennials are supposed to posses, which makes hiring and retaining them difficult.
Call centers I know of have changed their mobile phone policies to allow millennials to have the phones on and with them at their desks and they are free to check Facebook or twitter between calls. These same centers often speak of millennials feeling entitled to the fast track to easy street, their lack of interest in their work and difficultly managing them.
This all fits well with our stereotypes and our expectations around millennials, but it may be all wrong. The article cites research involving thousands of respondents and dashes five of the major millennial myths completely.
Conventional wisdom would have it that Millennials don’t want to be told what to do or follow direction. The research (Center for Creative Leadership) however shows that Millennials are more likely to follow direction than are Gen Xers or Baby Boomers. 41% of Millennials agreed with a statement that Employees should do what their Manager tells them, versus only 30% for each the Gen Xers and Baby Boomers. If you think about this the results really are not too surprising, Millennials know that following direction from authority figures often ends well (at least it has done so often for most of us a children). This perspective on Millennials also creates an opportunity to engage with these individuals by ensuring they understand and appreciate the organizations culture, values and expectations.
Myths also surround Millennial loyalty or perceived lack there of, but the research shows that Millennials have a similar level of loyalty and commitment as Gen Xers and Baby Boomers. It is a fact that younger workers tend to change jobs more frequently, even the Baby Boomers were guilty of this. This ‘young age = job hopping’ was even true when jobs were often perceived to be for life.
Similarly Millennials are just as motivated as their Gen X and Baby Boomer predecessors were by work. As with job hopping above the lower you are in the hierarchy regardless of your generation the less motivated you will be.
There is no link between your generation and you motivation by perks and high pay. Everyone loves perks and who wouldn’t want high pay, but neither of these attributes is unique to Millennials, Gen Xers and Baby Boomers display the same behavior and there is no evidence in the research to show these perks improve loyalty regardless of age.
So what does this mean to you in managing your call center? Well first of all I think you can lose the generational labels. Increasingly Millennials look just the same as you and I, only younger. Second forget trying to attract them with the perceived hot-buttons around perks, toys and special treatment. Nothing the research shows that these tactics work. the ability to take direct is one area where Millennials perform better than Gen X or Baby Boomer workers and this provides you with a great opportunity to share what your company is about and to show them how they make a difference. Be specific with how they will be judged and assessed and what you expect of them. Transparency is also valued by workers of every generation and Millennials are no different. So be open, transparent and specific about what they are to do and what you expect them to achieve and you can be well on your way to a successful working relationship.
While working on a call center consulting engagement with one of the largest garbage companies in the country we encountered what was likely the most difficult customer I have ever experienced. We were working in a mid- sized call center and discussing their customers. The company serviced urban, suburban and rural customers in the city and many of the surrounding towns.
There was one famous or perhaps infamous customer; an elderly women in her eighties with a mouth like a sailor whose favourite noun, verb and adjective was a certain four letter Anglo-Saxon word that she added to virtually every sentence. She called almost every week and complained that the company had neglected to pick up her trash. The agent in the center would check the system and had on numerous occurrences sent a route supervisor to check and every time the trash had in fact been collected. This woman was well known to carry or have in her possession one or more firearms and we were told even the local Sheriff was afraid to confront her. So week in and week out there were calls of complaint, but the agents, the call center supervisors and manager, wrote this women off as a ‘kook’ and a foul mouthed, gun toting ‘kook’ as a result her complaints became the stuff of legend.
It remained that way until one day she called again. The call went something like this…”You f___ing, idiot, you missed the f___ing trash again, If you ___ing morons don’t pick up the f___ing garbage from XYZ street today I will get my gun and come down and pay you ___holes a visit”
Now this call wasn’t really different from tens (perhaps hundreds) of other calls the center had received from this customer, including the threat of violence (which explains in part why the Sheriff had experience with this individual). What was unique was the mention of the street name. Previous calls had focused on missing the pickup and not the specific location. The call center always looked up the customer and verified the pick up at the identified address. Unfortunately, in part due to the nature, attitude, aggression and language used by the customer the agents didn’t probe to clarify their assumptions they just worked to get off the call as soon as possible. But now there was a new street location and when the center manager called back and while receiving similar abuse, she was able to confirm a full street address that differed from the one on file. It turned out that the new address belonged to a company that didn’t have a contact listed. It turned out that this woman owned the company and owned not one, not two, but seven other locations. After profuse apologies the additional addresses were associated with the elderly women and became a part of the process to confirm any future reported missed pickups.
So in the end the customer finally received the service she deserved and the volume of abusive calls to the call center declined. But the real learning in this process was to not prejudge customers. If an agent could have seen past the bad language, and aggressive attitude they could have asked probing questions and solved this mystery.
Of course call center agents should not have to take abuse or be threatened just to do their job. Many centers instruct their agents to warn a caller to censor their language and attitude or be disconnected. There wasn’t a similar policy in place when we began working with this company, though one was created during our engagement.
Clients frequently ask me what is the single most important activity they should undertake to ensure that their center is operating and performing at an optimal level. Like all of us they are looking for the magical, simple solution to their issues and challenges; just one thing; the magic pill, silver bullet, panacea that makes their jobs as center managers easier and more productive. Unfortunately there is no “Silver Bullet”
What I tell these call center operators is that to be effective they need to know their center. At this point I get a look of indignation: “Of course I know my center, what are you suggesting?” They are thinking and assuming that this consultant has finally lost touch with reality. But what I mean is that to be effective you must really, really know and understand your operation. There is a Zen dialogue where a student asks the teacher what the secret to meditation is. The teacher tells the student the secret is Attention, “what is attention,” the student asks and the answer from the teacher is, “Attention means Attention.” We must pay attention to each and every activity in the center, every day.
While this sounds simple, or at least simplistic, this can be a huge challenge. Most managers manage from point to point in a sequential process: “OK, today I will focus on the new cross selling initiative and tomorrow on agent occupancy and then Thursday on the forecast revision that we need to do based upon the new marketing materials we are using next quarter.” This sound perfectly reasonable; and it is, but it reflects our linear and sequential management approach: first this, then that and later the next thing. This approach is great for knocking tasks off a “To Do” list, but by its very nature it ignores all of the other aspects and activities that are not on the “To Do” list.
Fire Fighting or Fire Prevention?
We know that there are literally thousands of activities that take place in a call center. Each call may involve tens or hundreds of discrete activities, knowledge points, applications, processes, clicks and keystrokes. It is these activities that are the “meat and potatoes” of a call center operation. It is also these activities that receive very little attention until something goes wrong. Once there is a problem then the specific activity in question is a candidate for inclusion on the to-do list. For many organizations the to-do list devolves into little more than firefighting: dealing with crises rather than proactively improving the call centers’ operation (fire prevention, as it were). But given the vast scope of potential customer interaction activities in the call center, what other options are there for staying on top of the thousands of moving pieces that are occurring in real time every minute of every day?
How do we effectively manage these interconnected processes and systems; the thousands of moving parts that make up every call center? I suggest that we look at how we manage the most complicated interconnected, technology intensive and integrated entity we possess: our bodies.
The human body is comprised of “thousands of moving parts,” interconnected and interdependent systems. While we are the operators of our bodies, we see an expert, our physician, each year for a checkup. This is where we discuss all of the things that aren’t working as we would like and look for solutions. We know that the way we operate our bodies results in various outcomes; we are genetically predisposed to some diseases and others we cause with our lifestyle and environment. The same is true for a call center; the company we work in, even the vertical or industry can make us more susceptible to certain call center maladies and others are purely the result of our own actions or inactions.
Gauging Call Center Health
Just as a complete and thorough physical seeks to assess the function and capabilities of our bodies individual systems, our concerns and questions lead a trained professional (our doctor) through a sequence of questions to uncover root causes rather than just the symptoms. A call center Assessment or Audit seeks to test and assess all of the systems, processes at work in our call center. Completing a call center assessment annually is great way to ensure long term sustainability.
The objective of an Assessment may be simply put in the following four questions:
Are we doing the right things?
Are we doing them in the right way?
Are we doing them in the right location?
Should we be looking at alternatives, for instance home agents or outsourcing?
Behind the questions and under The Taylor Reach Group, Inc, assessment model we examine and categorize the center against four categories of activity:
These four “pillars” cover all of the activities within a call center and all of the moving parts.
Customer Interaction Clover
The process for assessing your call center employs more than one hundred discrete activities than can be represented by the block diagram below:
By overlaying the assessment process over top of the four “pillars” it is possible to produce a report card that illustrates how the center s performing today opposite each of the four ‘pillars’ and to identify the opportunities for improvement.
In much the same way as your doctor will administer blood tests, X-rays, EEG and EKG tests to determine your relative state of health, the Audit or Assessment conducts numerous tests to determine the health of you contact center. Your doctor then makes recommendations to improve your health: get more exercise, watch what you eat etc. The Strategic Assessment makes recommendations to improve your call center operational heath: fix dysfunctional processes, correct alignment conflicts etc.
Employing a traditional approach to annual review/assessment generally takes between 2 to 5 weeks from start to finish depending on the size and complexity of the center, or centers and usually not more than a few hours of management effort to answer key questions, a few days (2-5) on site with the assessor inspecting and reviewing key details, stakeholder interviews and detail analysis. The final report should be forthcoming with a detailed presentation to senior officers.
Recently there has arrived on the scene an alternative to a traditional assessment or audit and that is a SaaS (Software as a Service) offering which allows you to assess or audit your own center. This is allows a center to complete an assessment at a fraction of the price of a traditional audit.
Regardless of how you complete an audit, the result can provide you with a road map for operational change that is grounded in your call center, your company and your goals and objectives. This degree of specificity isn’t possible through benchmarking or best practices alone, but only when completed as a part of an overall assessment.
Failure to conduct regular assessments of your call center can result in missing a diagnosis early on when chances of correction are best (and easiest), continued erosion in terms of performance, and increased costs, all of which can negatively impact on customer satisfaction brand loyalty, market share and ultimately our own career prospects.
It was best stated in those old Fram Oil filter TV ads which commented on the interdependence of the oil filter and your car’s overall health: “You can pay me now or pay me later.”
Average handle time is a wonderful tool. Everybody uses it and they believe they use it correctly. It’s a good measure particularly when you’re looking in a specific channel as to what is the midpoint of all of the call (contact) lengths that you’re taking in the center.
AHT is an AVERAGE, and is Simply the Midpoint of All the Conversations
One of the issues that often occurs is that often people are trying to manage agents to a particular average as opposed to recognizing that the average is simply a midpoint of all the conversations that are taking place in that channel.
Think: you’ve got some easy, straightforward calls such as, “what is my bank balance,” to use a financial example, or, “I just need to change my address,” to longer, more complex calls like, “why is this transaction taking place,” or, “I need to fix this within the record that I have.” So each channel has a variety of calls. Each with different lengths and complexity.
Also there are often differences between agents as well as the calls they take. Long term, experienced agents are capable of handling more complex calls and handle simple calls faster than new agents. This makes their easier calls look shorter in comparison to the same calls handled by newer agents. At the same time the complex calls they handle can be longer than everyone else’s due to the nature of the call.
A more useful measure and application for AHT is as the normal range of calls. Then manage down the agents that have abnormally long calls without explanation or abnormally short calls without explanation.
Both the unusually long and short calls are issues for a contact center, particularly if you’re watching agents and they are trying to manage their time back and forth. The risk in only managing to the average is all agents then watch their time and don’t focus on fixing the callers problems the first time.
It’s an issue that you need to be aware of and understand that the average is simply one of the measures of handling time and needs to be used in context.
This post is also available as a video post on our YouTube channel, click to watch the video here.
Quality is a critical support function in call and contact centers. In this interview, Colin Taylor and John Cockerill discuss Quality Assurance, Compliance, outsourcing and the risks and opportunities that can be found by a closer look at your contact centers’ quality program.
Colin: Hello and welcome to Talking Contact Centers. My name is Colin Taylor. I’m the C.E.O. and Chief Chaos Officer for the Taylor Reach Group and I’m sitting here today with John Cockerill the President of Taylor Reach. Good afternoon John!
John: Good afternoon Colin.
Colin: We’re going to be speaking about quality assurance and specifically how organizations and contact centers measure quality assurance. Measuring quality and being able to report on the quality of service delivered through a contact center is an integral element of every call or contact center.
Colin: Can you set the table and provide us some background on what you have seen in your experience?
John: All right, call and contact centers often have some form of quality assurance. This takes the form of either a supervisor looking at and listening to the calls and reporting to the agents and providing some form of context to them as to how to do their job better. It gets a little bit more complex and nuanced when they start to actually record what those observations are in some form or other, and then devolves even further as they might consider some form of outsourcing. Whether or not that report is used for anything other than coaching and showing the agent what they would like is part of the topic of this conversation.
Colin: Often times, as you imagine, we see structures created within the contact center to evaluate the calls. These are most commonly forms which go through the attributes or the call elements or even the specific verbatims that they want the agents to be addressing. When the quality is being evaluated by somebody who is in the program, for example the supervisor, who works closely with the staff, who we would reasonably assume is more knowledgeable and more educated about the program itself, about what the organizational goals and objectives and about the clients and the clients’ perceptions, perspectives and what the callers are trying to attain out of the process. This can work very well, but we know supervisors tend to have a large litany of things on their plate and when push comes to shove, quality is one of the things that gets dropped and can lead organizations to consider outsourcing this function. The most common way of outsourcing – offloading this activity, is to send it to a quality assurance team. Now, those quality assurance teams can be resident in the center or even centralized elsewhere in the organization. John, what are some of the challenges around the centralization of that activity?
John: Even at the supervisor level, one challenge that is raised is a perceived lack of fairness, agents may say, “Well, my supervisor is prejudiced against me in one form or another.” One way of avoiding that type of perception is to move it to somewhere else in the department or organization where all they are doing is the quality assurance and they do not have a direct relationship with the agent.
Colin: Which gives the illusion of being more impartial, which may or may not be in fact the case.
John: That’s correct. From there, people have then moved quality outside of the organization completely too either somebody unrelated in the organization, or even to third-party operations.
Objectivity versus Context
Colin: So, a centralized quality team in the head office may be more objective in assessing any of the individual calls but will lose the context of the deep connection with customer and with the project or campaign objectives. If we go outside the organization, if we look at this as an outsourced type of an application, those challenges remain. There is more impartiality perhaps but there is less context and less understanding of the milieu in which the center operates. We’ve seen that drive some separation in organizations between what I’ll term quality and compliance. Now, as we look at those two, compliance tends to be those yes or no elements that you must do or must avoid doing on the call and those may in fact today be something that is listed on the monitoring form or the quality assurance form, but they can be such things as: did we mention the customer’s name, did we confirm that we had solved their issue, did we ask if there was anything else we could do to help them and maybe a disclaimer requiring a verbatim statement. These can be assessed by anybody anywhere without context of understanding deeply the client objectives, the client perspectives, the organizational goals, etc. These are simple yes and no questions and if we can factor those elements out of the quality process we can then look at quality purely from a perspective of how we can better coach the agents or how to coach the agents to be better at what they do, all focusing on the customer experience and customer satisfaction, this approach can yield some very interesting results. We’ve seen a number of clients in the recent past who have moved to this type of separation to allow them to leverage external resources or offshore resources to create a compliance score while relying on local knowledge-based evaluations of the actual quality and coaching.
Quality versus Compliance
John: One of the challenges, which we have discussed is in separating out those compliance issues from the quality issues, what is the aim of your quality assurance program? Is it to assure the overall quality of the transaction set or is it simply to be able to improve the general performance of your agents? If it’s to improve the general performance of the agents, your reporting is often focused strictly on the agent side of the business. Susy has done remarkably well this month and she is up a little bit in this area, she is down a little bit in that area. One of the things that you want to be able to look for, at least from an outside observer, is I know that there is going to be change in my agents over time. So if we have got a 100-agent call center, we know that 20% of those agents will rotate or turnover, over the course of the next year. The center score may not change but you want those new agents to be able to come up in performance. By the same token, as a director for a center, you do not really care about any of the individual agents’ performance, you care about the overall performance of the center and how are you doing by individual transactions.
Colin: So at the director level it is more about the overall performance but as a supervisor, or from a Q.A. lead perspective it is about the individual agents.
Colin: Quality about what elements did we see identified in the call. What moments of truth can we help agents improve their delivery on, how can we better meet the needs of the caller, our customers, and how can we enhance the overall quality. So, as we look at the big picture, as you had mentioned a moment ago, and the impact of attrition that really leads us into a whole other discussion around speed to green or speed to competency which we will take up in another session. Thank you very much John, appreciate your contribution this today. Thank you all for watching. Have a wonderful day and we hope you will join us again soon on Contact Center Talk. Thank you.
The above interview was originally presented as a video and may be viewed here.
Customer Experience (CX) can differentiate your company from your competitors. An effortless Customer Experience creates loyalty for your brand. Your customers could be yours for a lifetime! You know how much that’s worth to your organization. You want to provide the best Customer Experience possible. But how?
Perhaps you’d like to investigate the Customer Experience for your organization, but you don’t have the time or resources right now to do extensive surveys and customer focus groups. Does that mean you can’t do anything to improve the Customer Experience today? Not at all.
The easiest and least expensive way to learn about the Customer Experience in your organization is to ask your front-line associates. They know what bothers the customers, they know what makes them happy, and they’d really like to share!
First, your front-line associates have to trust you. That doesn’t start when you walk into a conference room for a listening session with them. Building trust is an everyday proposition. It means you speak to them when you see them in the hallway, you know their names, and you answer questions when they’re asked of you. You follow up, you keep your promises and you tell the truth. If that’s what’s happening every day, they will be happy to share with you.
Gather your front-line associates in small groups for listening sessions, no more than 15 at a time, so everyone gets a chance to share. Tell them what you’re looking for in advance, so they have time to think about their answers. Facilitate the discussion carefully—you don’t want one or two dominating the conversation. Start with something like, “What do our customers love about dealing with us?” and make sure everyone gets a chance to answer. You’ll probably want someone else to write answers on a board at the front of the room, because it can be difficult to engage in conversation and write everything down at the same time. Then move to the more challenging, “What do our customers wish we would change?” That single question will probably create enough conversation for the rest of the meeting, which should not be scheduled for more than an hour.
This is not your chance to explain the reason behind every unpopular policy. This is the time to listen without judgment, get clarification as you need it, and record issues and concerns so you can figure out what can be changed. This is a listening session, with the focus on listening, not lecturing. If you’re defensive, you’ll erode trust and make it less likely you’ll get candid feedback in the future.
Wrap up the listening session by gaining consensus on the most critical points to address. The issues should be listed at the front of the room. You want people to indicate which they think are most important. This can be done in a number of ways, including having people put checkmarks next to their favorites or having them rank the ideas in order of importance. I like “10/4 voting” where each person gets 10 votes, which they can apply to any of the ideas, no more than four votes to any one idea. Regardless of your method, you want to end up with a prioritized list of potential process improvements.
Many of the ideas will likely need some research to determine feasibility. Some will have to remain as they are for reasons that are beyond your control. You may have even known some of that during the meeting, but you were taking the suggestions without judgment, so you kept that to yourself. Some will be absolutely doable, and you’ll all be asking why nobody ever thought of them before. Engage your team in figuring out which is which and creating action plans.
Close the Loop
If people feel like their suggestions went nowhere, they’ll have nothing to say the next time you ask. You want to give feedback on all of the process improvement ideas. A spreadsheet listing the ideas, research notes, action items, responsible parties and milestone dates could be shared by email or posted in the department, with regular updates. Celebrate the successes when front-line ideas are implemented. You may want to implement a suggestion program where people can add new ideas whenever they think of them—just make sure you’re ready to commit to following up on every one.
There’s no reason to wait to learn more about the Customer Experience. Just ask the front-line and be ready to act on their feedback.