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Expert's Angle: The Contact Center's One-Two Punch: The Training/Quality Partnership

In contact centers, nothing good happens without someone taking some action, whether it’s making a decision, interacting with a customer, resolving a problem, or escalating an issue. At the core, we are a transactional business, where every customer transaction matters and every action we take has a consequence or a result.

The performance of our front line employees, then - the minute by minute choices they make, what they do or don't do - is the difference between meeting our strategic objectives, "meh" performance and, sometimes, public failure. Starting with good employees helps, of course, which is why strong recruiting and selection processes are critical. Once the employees are yours, though, it's time to figure out what's going to inspire high, and ever-improving, performance.
Employee Training and Quality programs are consistently cited as crucial to employees taking those right actions day after day, transaction after transaction. These two crucial functions are the difference between a strong workforce, capable of handling today's critical challenges, and a workforce that will push the customer service function to the brink of failure, possibly making your company the next "United breaks guitars" sensation (find it on YouTube if you haven’t heard about the infamous incident to which I’m referring).

Rebecca Gibson at ACCE 2012:

Session 302: Harnessing the Potential of Quality Assurance
This session will reveal the key measurements necessary to assess the health of your QA program. You’ll gain a better understanding of business-related QA results, so you can determine where to focus process improvement efforts and ways to publicize achievements that resonate with stakeholders. Boost the ROI of your QA program and have confidence your investment leads to efficient operations and positive customer experiences.

While Training and Quality can individually drive performance within the confines of their own functional areas of expertise - Training focused on instruction and Quality observing from the sidelines, providing minute-by-minute feedback – we leave potential on the table when these two functions fail to collaborate and join forces to impact employee performance.
Training and Quality share one, singular focus: Positively affecting employee performance. Period. There is no other reason for either of these functions to exist if they aren’t delivering on this charter. Training and Quality staff must be experts in employee performance – what drives it, what derails it, how employees learn, what motivates them, and how to set performance objectives that are realistic, measurable and aligned. This knowledge is then used to design effective training and development programs, to shape quality monitoring and deliver coaching that moves the needle, and to support supervisors in their efforts toward improving employee performance.

The Training/Quality Partnership in Practice

Here are three practical areas of opportunity that reveal how your contact center operation can take advantage of the Training/Quality collaborative partnership.

1. Approach strategic planning together. If the Quality department, the Training department, HR and Operations are each doing their jobs, each year they evaluate the company's strategic objectives, the contact center’s tactical objectives, and determine how their department will contribute to those objectives. When it comes to Agent performance, though, that means each of these four functions can approach employee performance from four different directions, potentially scattering precious company resources and confusing employees.

Try this all-too-common example on for size:
The Operations team determines that Agents are lacking the ability to effectively handle customer complaints because they’ve had what seems like an increase in escalated calls. They ask the Training department to develop and deliver a training program to address this gap, which the Training Department happily does. The program receives high ratings from the participants, supervisors are satisfied that the content hit the mark, and they add the program to their list of "accomplishments" for the year. Sounds great, right? What’s the problem? While effort was expended and money spent to deliver this program, there’s no concrete proof that a need existed, that a worthwhile result was achieved, or that the program made a difference beyond positive employee evaluations.
How can outcomes like this be eliminated? By requiring Training and Quality to work in tandem to be more strategic in how they deploy their talents and their resources. Use these questions to guide their strategic planning:

  • What are the strategic objectives of the contact center and how can we contribute to them? Is the focus on improving customer satisfaction or Net Promoter Score? Increasing Agent time-to-proficiency? Reducing costs? Increasing first call resolution? Sales? When the company’s and the contact center’s goals are revealed, Training and Quality should ask one question: "How can we assist in driving the performance the contact center needs to meet their objectives?" Investments of their combined time, talent, and resources should be focused on addressing this single question.
  • Does current employee performance position the contact center to meet our strategic objectives? Do our current new hire and ongoing training initiatives, and the quality monitoring process, arm our employees with the knowledge and skills they need for the contact center to achieve our objectives? At this juncture, Training asks, are we preparing our employees with the knowledge and skills we need to be successful? What are the performance gaps that can – and can't – be addressed by training? Quality asks, do we measure and coach the skills and knowledge that align with our high-level priorities?
  • How can those performance gaps be filled? Once the performance gaps have been identified, it’s time to determine the most appropriate intervention to fill that gap. Training fills knowledge or skill gaps (not a lack of motivation or conflicting objectives) and quality monitoring is most effective when employees need individualized instruction and fine-tuning. A critical deficiency in our previous example is that without post-training call monitoring to ensure Agents are implementing the knowledge and skills they learned, it’s unlikely many will do so. It's imperative that the right performance intervention is selected to ensure we don’t waste efforts with the wrong solution. That's why the knowledge and expertise of our Training and Quality professionals should be applied to prescribing and defining problems, as well as implementing solutions.
  • How will we measure our effectiveness? Finally, we must determine if our Training and Quality interventions are closing performance gaps, driving desired performance, and, most important, supporting the contact center’s high level objectives. This is where Training relies most heavily on the quality monitoring process to measure the effectiveness of post-training skill application. Other measurement mechanisms include customer satisfaction surveys, compliance and accuracy audits, sales, and even measures of productivity, such as talk time and after-call work.
    These are unified measures of performance, shared by both Training and Quality, and accepted by all as valid measurements of employee performance. Of course, this decreases the likelihood that you’ll have clean measures of Quality or Training's individual contributions. One byproduct of collaboration is mutual dependency – either both functions meet their objectives or neither does.

2. Bring Training and Quality together to contribute to a unified, holistic vision of employee performance. In many contact centers, the Operations team defines the measurements used to assess front-line employee performance. In their attempt to drive both quality and efficiency, a common scenario is one in which the management team decides, "Being accessible to our customers is important, so, in addition to measuring call quality, we have set a target average talk time and the desired number of calls each agent should take each day."
Then, while Operations tracks talk time and calls per day, they hand off call quality measurement to the Quality team, who evaluates interactions for customer-focused quality measures such as "listening", "asking questions to uncover needs", "being friendly", "allowing the customer to speak without interruption”, and “offering cross sell and up sell opportunities." Where’s the problem with this division of labor? The quality monitoring criteria conflict with aggressive productivity goals, leaving Agents frustrated and confused about what the desired behavior really is and cynical about the gap between what the contact center says is important (quality and speed) and what is stressed on a daily basis (speed). This often leads to the pendulum swings many contact centers experience – speed is stressed until a critical mistake is made. Then quality – in the form of taking time to reduce errors, slowing down to listen to customers more fully and allowing them to speak without interruption – takes the front seat until the next staffing shortage.
The quality/productivity conflict doesn’t have to be your contact center's own Sophie's choice. The solution is a unified profile of employee performance. In collaboration with the Operations team, the employee performance experts – i.e., Training and Quality – can facilitate the process of defining how to balance quality and productivity measurements to be motivational, realistic, and to drive the desired results without unintentionally driving undesirable results. Your performance experts in Quality and Training can help your contact center address this common example by facilitating a deeper discussion about performance:

"Accessibility, productivity, and quality are important. When you attempt to motivate employees with pure productivity measures, such as average talk time and calls per day, this almost always encourages Agents to rush through calls or engage in other negative behaviors (e.g., I've heard more than once, "Thanks for calling XYZ. May I play you on hold for a moment while I complete my notes from the previous call?"), leaving a trail of mistakes and dissatisfied customers. It's important that our performance measures focus on the behaviors we want rather than simply leaving Agents figure out how to handle calls as quickly as possible. How can we get to the same end result with more effective performance measures? What about incorporating positive performance measures such as realistic adherence to schedule goals, skills like managing difficult callers, call control and strategic questioning, and by training employees to use their tools more effectively and to follow more efficient work flows?"

This unified, aligned vision ensures that every Agent is crystal clear about what is required to be successful and has a clear picture of how to embody that vision, a vision that is crystallized throughout the hiring process, continues into the training curriculum, and then on a daily basis in everything from quality monitoring, performance coaching, 1:1s, reports, and reader boards.

3. Tackle performance problems in tandem. Who owns the responsibility for eliminating performance gaps, Training or Quality? It's a common scenario that the cause of a performance problem is identified – and handed off to be "fixed" - too soon, before adequate evidence is gathered. When the Training and Quality teams take mutual ownership for performance gaps and work together to solve them, it’s more likely appropriate, and often cross-functional, solutions which capitalize on the strengths of each functional area are implemented.
Consider this example: In January, the contact center satisfaction survey results are revealed. One question, "Was your question or issue resolved on the first contact?" received a resounding "no." Based on the poor score in this area, the Training and Quality Managers decide to join forces to positively affect this question. First, the Quality team gathers additional data by asking contact center Supervisors and Agents "What are the primary reasons customers’ issues aren't resolved the first time they call?" At the same time, for each call they evaluated, the Quality Evaluators tracked if the call was a repeat call and, if yes, why.
Based on their research, they find order entry errors account for approximately 30% of the callbacks, and the Quality team further delves into recent quality evaluations to determine the nature of the order entry errors.
Fortified with this data, each team implements elements of the solution within their wheelhouse. The Training team communicates the desired behavior to Agents with a short instructional video that demonstrate the elements of a complete order and a companion "Complete Order Checklist" to guide more accurate orders. The Quality team adds "Accurate order" to the quality monitoring form and began to post daily "Accurate order" results, with weekly recognition for the Agent with the most accurate orders. Together, they appeal to the HR department to screen for Agents who are detail oriented and to the Operations team to allow Agents the after-call work time to check their work.

The benefits of this approach are clear. When you task your Training and Quality teams to work together and to expand their reach beyond the limits of each functional area, their impact becomes greater than the sum of their respective training and monitoring activities. Challenge these two departments to combine their efforts to move the performance needle in a meaningful way and demonstrate they can deliver meaningful and long-lasting results.

The Training/Quality Partnership: Areas of Individual and Mutual Accountability

Consider the traditional view that assigns Training responsibility for training courses and instruction, and Quality responsibility for evaluating interactions and providing feedback, with a clear dividing line between these areas of responsibility. When you challenge the Training and Quality functions to join forces to improve employee performance, they quickly find areas where they can increase their own efficiency, reduce duplicate efforts and rework, and target employee performance with more impact.



Define and communicate desired standards and appropriate measures of employee performance.

Identify gaps in employee performance and the best resources to close those gaps.

Work with the operations team to identify aspects of the contact center environment (recruiting, hiring, culture, rewards, and incentives) which affect employee performance and collaborate to identify strategies to improve it.

Support contact center operations staff in their efforts to meet company and contact center key performance indicators.

Design and deliver training interventions to increase employee knowledge and skills, and close employee performance gaps.

Observe and evaluate employee performance and provide employees with feedback and coaching that supports knowledge and skill increases.

Align training materials with the desired performance. Use quality evaluation results to identify and justify ongoing training needs.

Use examples from quality evaluation to provide agents with examples of desirable and undesirable performance.

Document training transfer after new hire and ongoing training to assist in measuring training effectiveness.

Provide training with examples of desirable and undesirable performance.

Ensure that employees are supported with the skills and knowledge support tools – documentation, job aids, knowledge bases, and system support tools – they need to be successful.

Ensure that all aspects of interaction quality – both customer’s and the company’s perspective – are incorporated into evaluation tool and applied to quality evaluation.