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5 Steps to Revolutionize Your Quality Program

My mind was racing after a recent #ICMIchat about contact center quality programs. As the group exchanged ideas I felt inspired to share my quality philosophies in a structured way so you could implement a similar approach to improve your quality program today!

This might sound familiar – a 100+ point quality form that covers everything from how to answer the phone to the number of times an employee should say a customer’s name. You listen to a call and line by line, you tell your agent all the ways they could improve, and then determine a final “pass/fail” score.

5 Steps to Revolutionize Contact Center Quality Programs

As Ladona Stork discusses in her article, Why You Should Stop Nit-Picking Your Call Center Rep's Work, line by line nit-picking doesn’t work. Specifically, Ladona points out 2 common issues with this approach:

  1. The agent becomes overwhelmed
  2. The agent feels unappreciated

Further proving the point, a study titled “Best Practices in Quality Monitoring and Coaching” by Dr. Jon Anton and Anita Rockwell (free download from Benchmark Portal) noted the most common negative feelings agents express regarding their quality evaluation program:  

  • They only want to catch me doing something wrong
  • I am being policed
  • I feel like “big brother” is watching me
  • I do not perform at my best when I am being watched
  • I feel nervous when someone is watching me work

This isn’t news to you. You have heard/experienced this in your center. So how can we improve? How can we measure the quality of our service and ensure a positive customer experience without crushing the morale of our team? Just a few simple steps will help you better engage your staff and build trust in the process, leading to higher customer satisfaction and team morale!

1.    Redefine Your Quality Goal

What is the goal of your QA program? What do you hope to achieve? Start asking people this question. Will you hear a different answer if you ask a quality analyst vs. a supervisor vs. an agent?

Too often we create metrics and process that drive the wrong behavior and create tension amongst our team members. Before we can begin to fix this we need to unite around a common quality goal. The QA/supervisor teams and agents must align. The entire team must win or lose together.

Set your goal before you set out to alter your program. The strategy may shift if you’re driving towards a specific goal:  

The goal of our quality evaluation program is to engage our staff in meaningful discussions that lead to an improved customer experience, greater efficiency, and develop a culture of learning and trust.

How does your current quality program stack up? Does it engage your team and develop a culture of collaboration, learning and trust? Or, is it punitive in nature, making it difficult to have meaningful conversations that recognize a job well done?

2.    Ditch your quality form (or at least hide it)

You may think this is impossible, but trust me. You need to ditch the form and scores.

Quality coaching should be about picking the most significant aspects of a call and engaging the agent in conversation. Rather than using a form to “grade” the agent, design a program that will encourage discussion. In addition, create a tracking mechanism that allows for monitoring and reporting trends. Rather than scores, your tracking mechanism should focus on behaviors. You need to determine who is complying with process, using appropriate resources, soft skills such as empathy, etc.

Moving away from a graded quality form will prevent what Randy Rubingh calls a “checklist mentality”. In his book Call Center Rocket Science: 110 Tips to Creating a World Class Customer Service Organization, Randy notes that the fear of being marked down results in agents who “check the box” rather than use common sense to help the customer.

The 3 question quality “form”

1.    What was the purpose of the call?

  • Do you both agree on what the customer wanted?
  • Did the agent deliver on the customer expectations?

2.    What went well?

  • Include positive reinforcement and recognition in every coaching session!

3.    What would you do differently?

  • Here is your coaching opportunity!
  • Do they hear the same things you did?
  • Only focus on 1-2 items
  • Help create a blueprint to improve; offer encouragement and support

If you’re still required to report quality scores in the traditional sense, continue to complete your quality evaluation form and track scores, but don’t present it to the agents. Instead, have the coaching discussions with agents as described above. Best of both worlds!

3.    Have Your Agents Listen to Leader/QA Calls

I recently wrote about the value in having agents listen to a leader’s calls during coaching sessions. This provides a valuable opportunity to lead by example, build credibility, and offer the agent a break from critique. Plus, it’s exciting to “coach” the boss!

Having my team listen to my customer calls has generated meaningful conversations and uncovered knowledge gaps. It’s also enabled agents to learn from peers. Ex: How did John explain that difficult subject? What words did Anne use when empathizing with that customer?

Try this approach if you have anyone who is struggling to improve in a particular area, but hesitant to provide input on their own calls, or averse to hearing their recorded voice. They may be more open to the discussion when listening to another person's calls. You can also ask how they would have handled the call to test their knowledge and tie it back to them.

4.    Focused Coaching (vs. Randomly Selected Calls)

Historically, we evaluated calls by choosing them randomly because we needed to remain “fair.”. Our program scored on a pass/fail basis, thus it was unfair to seek out “bad” calls.  

If you ditch the form/scores this “fairness” requirement goes out the window! You can specifically seek out calls that will create the greatest opportunity to learn, develop and spark conversation.

If the team or an individual has been struggling with a specific process – pull calls on that process for coaching. If an agent has been working to improve in a specific area, pull calls that will highlight their improvements and recognize their hard work! Want to impact the customer experience? It makes sense to focus coaching on areas that require improvement.

TIP: Using Speech analytics for focused coaching

Speech analytics can go further than just assessing a call to determine if it was positive or negative. Certain software and technology will allow you to search calls for specific keywords. Imagine the impact this could have on your ability to locate the calls you need to focus on for coaching purposes!  

5.    Tie Bonus to Engagement Not Scores

There is a theory that tying monthly bonus to quality scores will drive agents to perform at a high level. While the bonus is intended to offer positive reinforcement and reward, this is often not the result. For many agents, obtaining a high quality score will only trigger feelings of relief rather than a sense of pride and accomplishment.

This continues to reinforce the “checklist mentality” and forces your agents in situations where they must choose between doing what they feel is right on a call or earning their bonus.

As an alternative, create an incentive that rewards them for engaging in the process. Reward your agents for taking the time to listen to their own calls and complete a “self-assessment”. This rewards behaviors rather than outcomes.

What About Performance Management?

I know what you’re thinking – I need to be able to use quality for performance management purposes. Without a score there is no “fair” and “objective” measurement that will allow me to manage. Right? Wrong.

First, recognize that you can coach, and ultimately performance manage, to anything. If an agent isn’t meeting expectations, you need to discuss that with them and ensure expectations are clear. From there, let them decide. They can either adapt to meet expectations, or not. Document everything along the way to avoid any issues. (Note: develop a close relationship with HR)

Communicate what you expect and show agents examples where they are falling short. If it is a major issue – make sure they understand the gravity of the situation and make it clear it cannot continue. Seek to understand what is creating the issue and find out how you can help. Check in often after the initial conversation and make sure you continue to reinforce expectations – either when they improve or if they continue to struggle. Summarize each of these discussions in an email to verify understanding and for documentation purposes.

Create a Best In Class Quality Program!

Best in class service requires best in class leadership. Best in class leadership can develop a best in class quality program focused on trust, engagement, and building people up rather than putting them down.

Are you ready to be best in class?