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Expert's Angle: How to Manage Performance Management

Performance management is an on-going process that needs to be monitored. Call center managers need to regularly evaluate their people, processes and technology for improvement opportunities.

According to Matt Schwabel, marketing director for Inova Solutions, performance management is:

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"A process of continually measuring, analyzing and modifying [agent] activity in order to achieve established business goals." (New Methods to Measure Performance).

Since call centers first appeared, one of their chief activities has been to monitor and improve their performance so that they can achieve the established business goals. Unfortunately, many call center managers look at performance management as just focusing on agent effectiveness or as an equivalent to maintaining service levels. Moreover, some managers believe performance management is a onetime activity that starts just after they receive a call from an executive who has reached his or her personal threshold of customer complaints.

In reality, performance management is an on-going process that needs to be managed. In order to continually meet customer expectations and serve customers in the best manner possible, call centers need to relentlessly evaluate not only their people, but also their processes and technology, always seeking better ways to utilize all three.

KPIs vs. Performance Metrics

To manage performance management, call centers need to distinguish between key performance indicators (KPIs) and performance metrics. KPIs are used to measure the call center’s compliance with the established business goals. These normally change annually as the corporation evaluates its goals and objectives. KPIs are also the subject of a myriad of dashboards as well as daily, monthly, and quarterly reports sent to executives, clients, and business partners.

Performance metrics are not KPIs and do not indicate how well the call center aligns with the corporate goals. Performance metrics are measure as to how well the call center elements: people, processes, and technology, align with the center’s KPIs. Managers use performance metric as guides for coaching, training, remediation, operational review and IT and call center managers use performance metrics to evaluate effectiveness of technology.

To see the difference between KPIs and performance metrics consider customer satisfaction measurements. Most call centers have a customer satisfaction (C-SAT) score and is usually measured using a survey of some sort. C-SATs do not magically improve. Several elements affect customer satisfaction, such as agent/customer interaction, web-page ease-of-use, hours of operations, and IVR optimization among others. C-SAT is a KPI and tells users how well the call center is aligned with the corporate goal of providing superior customer experiences. Agent QA score and scored on each question on the QA sheet are performance metrics that affect the C-SAT score.

Another way to view the relationship between KPIs and performance metrics is through the lens of a basketball coach. A basketball team's effectiveness is measured (or its KPIs) by the number of games it wins. Coaches, while they have their eye on the KPI, manages the team’s performance through percentage of free-throws completed, assists per player, time of possession, scoring by position, etc. Games won is the KPI and 56% of free throws completed is a performance metric. By concentrating on improving the percent of free throws completed, the possibility of enhancing the KPI increases.

KPIs are what call centers are evaluated against. Performance metrics are the elements that need to be managed via the performance management process. While KPIs are few, performance metrics are many and that is where the confusion begins. Determining what metrics are important and are in need of improving is where managing performance management starts.

What are your tools?

Performance management is based on numbers. Numbers set the baselines and numbers show the improvements. There can be no improvement unless the affect of an action can be measured. Numbers show where the areas of concern are located and provide a gauge as to what improvements are needed and how far the improvements have come. Because call centers have had to measure and report on many aspects of their operations, whole industries of technologies are available to assist call center managers.

Call center performance management (CCPM) solutions enable call center managers to see and analyze data not only from the call center applications, but also, from other business solutions, such as accounting and sales systems. CCPMs provide a more complete view of call center operations. However, many of these solutions are expensive and complex. Moreover, while most useful in large and extremely large call centers, CCPMs can provide benefits to midsize call centers.

Many call centers do not have access to a CCPM system and may not have time evaluate, purchase, implement, and modify a CCPM. However, most call center applications and systems provide adequate reports and dashboards for call center to manage performance management. Moreover, in the last decade or so, the reporting capability of call center and associated solutions has improved greatly. Most of the solutions’ reporting module offer users the capability to dumping data into spreadsheets and third party databases. Anyone with the capability of writing reports in Microsoft Access or Business Objects (for example) can pull data from the various solutions.

Call centers gather data in a multitude of solutions in addition to the traditional CRM, quality assurance, and ACD solutions. Speech analytics can provide information on what customers are talking to the agents about via common phrases and words. Desktop analytics provides information on what applications agents are commonly using and the ways they are using them. Workforce management platforms offers call center managers insights on agent utilization, call volumes, and how well the center match-up to the call volume patterns.

Managing performance management is most effective when more than one data source is used. This enables users to triangulate issues and pinpoint performance metrics that need reviewed and possibly corrected. One system may be able to show an area of concern and another may provide information on the cause and effect. For example, customer surveys may indicate that the off-hours outsourced call centers does not connect with customer as well as the in-house center used during the business day. The quality assurance and speech analytics solution may be able to shine light on the situation and provide details as to what needs corrected.

What do you need to change?

Managing performance management can seem like a daunting task. Nevertheless, just as walking from Washington D.C. to San Francisco consist of many small steps, managing performance management is not about making large and sweeping changes. It is about correcting specific inefficiencies and bottlenecks while at the same time keeping the target in firm view. Few call centers need to or can accomplish whole scale changes all at once. The changes need to be completed piecemeal, incrementally and continually.

To begin, make a chart of the measurable elements that affect KPIs. Keep in mind that performance metrics may affect more than one KPI. The next step is to prioritize what KPIs are most important. The conventional theory is that all KPIs are equal. In reality, some have greater impact on the business than others. For example, depending on the business model and corporate philosophy, KPIs relating to customer satisfaction should be placed at a higher priority than efficiency related KPIs.

A good place to find starting points is by asking agents and front line supervisors. They are closest to the customers and understand what the customers are feeling as well as what works and what does not. While agents do not have data to pinpoint problem areas, through experience, they can provide guidance to area in which to look deeper.

Another area to seek information is from the interaction tracking system. Ticket data can provide broad areas of concern. Searching and grouping interaction types and categories can offer hints of where process inefficiencies exists, common issues with products and services, and even where problems exist with agents. If one category, such as password resets, stands out, that is a good place to evaluate, provided it maps to a target performance metric and KPI.

Mapping your Journey

Managing performance management needs a road map. Without a plan, there is a large opportunity for "performance creep." That is making changes that seem appropriate at the time (because an executive just received a blistering call from a customer) but has no affect on the targeted KPIs.

The map does not need to be a complex flow chart that covers an entire wall. A checklist created in a spreadsheet may be all that is needed. A quadrant system with potential impact and effort as the X and Y-axes is also an adequate way of mapping improvements. Keep in mind that the performance management process will need to be reported upon. The less complex the road map and process tracking, the easier it will be to report on its progress.

Imagine performance management as a train, rolling down the tracks at 60 mph. It needs an engineer and a conductor to make sure that it does not derail. Performance management should be led by a single person (or small committee) and championed by an executive. Performance management should also include all levels of the call center. Without buy-in from the agents and supervisors, the process will derail. Managing performance management requires the effort from all in a call center.

Start Easy

As with any performance process, start with low hanging fruit. Find the performance metrics and KPIs that are least disruptive while at the same time provide the greatest impact. After, analyzing the performance metrics and the gathering broad measurements, a few elements should stand out. These are the ones to evaluate first provided they are associated with the KPIs with the highest priority.

As the low-hanging fruit is picked and processes, re-evaluate performance management priorities. It may be that these obvious elements are all that needs to be changed. The old rule-of-thumb, it is ain’t broke, don’t fix it is valid when managing performance management because there are probably many other operations that need improving.

Managing performance management is a continually changing process. As corrections are implemented, the road map should be evaluated and changed depending on the current situation. Before making changes, evaluate the impact and priority and after each change is made, evaluate the impact and results. No change should be implemented without checking both ways to see if there is something coming down the road and no change should made without a peak in the rearview mirror to see of it cut off another process.

Managing performance management is vital to maintaining and improving customer service in call centers. Just as coach evaluates their players, strategy, and execution for areas that need improving, call centers managers need to evaluate their people, processes, and technologies, seeking to improve each. This cyclical activity can be disruptive, but the results will benefit both call centers and businesses.

Michael Barbagallo is the President and Principle Analyst of Shenandoah Analytics. He can be reached at [email protected].

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