Calibration Consternation: You're Not Alone

I spoke to a few contact center agents recently and I couldn’t help but feel frustrated in their view of schedule adherence.  The very sound of the phrase made them go to a dark place of fear, angst, and George Orwell’s novel, 1984.  In another conversation with a workforce manager, she semi-jokingly mentioned that she considers “FMLA” the four-letter “f” word of the contact center.   In yet another conversation with a floor supervisor, he grumbled through his description of the “boxing matches” that become of their calibration session. These conversations, among others, caused me to reflect back on the genesis for such strong feelings.  The policies and programs that exist within our contact center are there for good reason, but somewhere along the way, these folks lost sight of that. I’ll come back and visit the topics of schedule adherence and good forecasting methods later this year, but today would like to take a better look into the subject of calibration. 

Before we go any further, let me just say this:

If you feel good about your calibration process and are finding them effective and impactful, good, awesome, GREAT! Keep it up! Use this article to reinforce and remind your team of the importance and benefits of calibration. If, however, you’re finding more in common with the aforementioned floor manager, then here’s some advice on taking a new approach to an old problem.

Why Does Calibration Matter?

Calibration is necessary to ensure consistency and fairness in the monitoring process. Calibration provides the opportunity to test the process and confirm that consistent standards are applied to each monitored contact. When high levels of calibration are achieved, it will not matter who did the monitoring and scoring; the outcome will be the same. For a monitoring process to succeed, it is essential to integrate calibration into the planning, implementation and ongoing maintenance of your monitoring program.

When you and your team are successfully calibrated, you can enjoy a number of benefits such as:

  • Consistency
  • Reduced likelihood of agents questioning fairness
  • Continuously develops and assesses monitoring criteria
  • Eliminates perceived biases by ensuring consistent application of standards and scoring
  • Allows the coaching process to focus on recognizing achievements and identifying opportunities for improvement, instead of whether a particular score is accurate

It’s important to remember, however, that calibration is not a quick or easy process; it takes a considerable commitment. It may take many hours of discussion and practice before a team begins to score a contact the same way. While it is difficult, the rewards will be worth it in the end.

How to Conduct a Calibration Session

The following basic steps are prerequisites to consistent calibration:

  • Every employee responsible for monitoring and scoring contacts should have an excellent working knowledge of the contact center’s services.
  • Those doing the monitoring must understand how the standards are administered.
  • Those doing the monitoring should be given formal training in the program, as well as relevant documentation on criteria and definitions.

The following describes some tips for a successful calibration session:

  • Schedule at least one hour of uninterruptible time.
  • Choose a facilitator. The role of the facilitator is to direct discussions, take notes and keep the team focused.
  • Observe a contact and have all participants use your monitoring form to make notes and score the contact.
  • After the contact, ask one person to verbally recap what he or she just observed. Recapping the contact reinforces listening skills and attention to detail; take turns doing this so that everyone learns how. During the recap, the monitor will identify the areas in which he or she awarded points.
  • The facilitator should direct a discussion to review scores. Be prepared – these debates can be passionate, but need to be played out. The point is to come to an understanding and apply that understanding to evaluating contacts in the future.
  • At the end of the session, the facilitator should review the notes, highlighting any changes or group decisions that have been made. These notes should be distributed quickly to all people who actively monitor contacts.
  • Use a phased approach to best achieve a successful level of calibration. When you’re just beginning the calibration process, set an attainable goal; e.g., strive for overall contact scores to be within, say five points or 10 percent of each other – as more sessions are conducted consistency should improve. The goal should never be to agree on an exact score. Rather, the emphasis should be on achieving a common understanding of how performance is measured.

Once initial goals have been achieved, raise the bar by lowering the scoring variation goal from five points to three points (or a comparable variation percentage). It may take between two to four hours a month to keep the team calibrated, depending on the complexity of the program.

Here are some key ground rules for conducting calibration sessions:

  • Create an open environment: Create an environment in which everyone can feel comfortable sharing his or her opinion.
  • Avoid being confrontational. Allow your team to finish explaining their thoughts before you begin to explain your position. It is important that everyone’s opinions are heard.
  • Talk about the facts, not feelings. The performance criteria are (or should be) defined by measurable tasks, so keep the discussion focused on what can be taught, not thought.
  • Ensure decisions are for the benefit of the program.  When making decisions, consider what would be best for the overall success of the program. Do not make a decision just because everyone has grown tired of discussing the issue!  It would be better to postpone the decision than to make one just so the discussion can end.
  • Enforce compliance. It is critical to your overall program to identify and warn any person who monitors using their own standards, and not the standards agreed upon during calibration.
  • Do not give up. When the process gets difficult, some people may seem ready to quit. Perseverance will pay off. The calibration process is not a sprint; it is a marathon.

Later this month, Elizabeth Ahearn is leading a 2-hour virtual training session, Contact Center Calibration: You’re Doing It Wrong. Let me know if you have any questions about Calibration or the upcoming course.

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