Date Published: March 11, 2019 - Last Updated 3 Years, 172 Days, 4 Hours, 51 Minutes ago
Every day you walk into your contact center, and you ask your managers and agents to walk a tightrope. What's that you say? You don't recall installing a tightrope in your contact center? Look again. Do you see that string that says "Quality" on one end and "Efficiency" on the other? That's it! That's your tightrope! See, I knew you had one.
We have a similar tightrope, but it wasn't always functioning the best. At one time, it seemed a bit loose in the middle, and the strands were a bit frayed. There were definite kinks in the string that blocked a clear connection between the two ends. As a management staff, we knew that if we wanted to untangle the knots and create a smooth surface for people to walk along so they could balance quality and efficiency in their calls, we had to make some changes. Those changes came in the form of enhancing existing or creating new metrics that would measure, recognize and reward the behaviors we wanted to see.
To determine what metrics you need to implement in your contact center, you first need to define what quality and efficiency look like for your particular business. We were tracking quality via two existing Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) - Call Quality and Processing Accuracy. Our Processing Accuracy effectively highlights any issues with financial and maintenance transactions, pinpointing areas where we can leverage automation to reduce errors as well as increase efficiency. We continue to raise the bar on this metric and consistently exceed 97.5% processing accuracy.
In 2016, from a call quality standpoint, we felt something was missing. As a management group, we listened to calls to pinpoint where we saw an opportunity for improvement. When we were honest with ourselves, our staff was giving accurate and complete information (exactly what we want them doing, right?) but at times they were missing the boat on connecting with callers, with providing proactive solutions to make doing business easier in the future, and with truly educating callers so they could be more informed going forward. The solution? We enhanced our base Call Quality score by adding Customer Experience (Cx) points on top of it, establishing an overall Cx score as our new KPI. We rewarded the behaviors we wanted to see exhibited in calls by providing additional points on top of the standard score and even implemented an awards program that recognizes the top agents each month when it comes to Cx markings.
As a result, we have seen our overall quality increase since implementing the new metric. In 2017, upon launching our Cx markings, our Call Quality score was 2.89, and our Cx Score was 3.06. In 2018, we continued to see our overall quality increase, with our base Call Quality score at 2.93 and Cx Score at 3.19.
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While we had historically monitored stats that point to efficiency both on and off the phone and would provide coaching as necessary to staff who struggled in this area, we did not have any KPIs that we could drive accountability. Frankly, we didn't want anyone sacrificing quality for expediency and worried that placing any parameters around handle time would have an adverse effect on service. Have you had the same concerns? Even with that fear, we knew that we needed to figure out how to address why some agents were much more efficient on calls than others. If 75% of our agents could handle a phone call in a particular time frame, why couldn't the other 25%? What soon became apparent once we had technology in place that provided optics into how agents were spending their time is that we DID have an opportunity to increase efficiency…without a detriment to the caller's experience.
Let's look at that double-edged sword that we like to call Average Handle Time. We know that AHT is made up of two parts - Talk Time and After Call Work. Which of these two figures do agents have the most control over? ACW! The kicker is that ACW captures time that is not spent with a caller on the line and can even affect the ability to get to the next call that is waiting.
When we started to look at how much time our agents were spending in ACW, we could see that most people could wrap up calls in less than 2:30, and in fact, a significant portion of reps could do it in under 2 minutes. What was SO different about what those efficient reps were doing that those with ACW times north of 2:30 weren't? Leveraging our performance management software and our screen recording technology, we pinpointed specific coaching points, best practices that could be harnessed, and behaviors that could be modified in the contact center and at the individual level as well.
Now, there are those that would say that the agent has control over both ACW and ATT, and to a point, that is true. The caller has a lot of influence over Talk Time, right? Maybe they call in and have a ton of questions. Perhaps their issue is very complicated and requires additional attention and research. Maybe they are struggling to navigate a computer. There are many reasons that Talk Time isn't entirely within the control of the agent. However, there are things during a call that the agent does have control over that can affect the overall length of the call. Is the rep using proper focusing questions? Are they placing callers on hold to process certain requests that others can do without using a hold? Are there knowledge gaps that are causing calls to go longer? Again, using our tools allowed us to pinpoint behaviors to coach so that our agents became more efficient without sacrificing quality.
We started this focused ACW and AHT coaching in July 2017. For the first half of 2017, the overall average ACW was 2:17, ATT was 6:43, and AHT was 9:02. For the period of July-December 2017, ACW dropped to 1:52, ATT went to 6:40 and overall AHT was 8:32. In January 2018, after feeling comfortable with the progress that had been made, we added an overall AHT KPI that was created based on these numbers. Fast forward to the end of 2018 and our overall ACW is 1:44, ATT is 6:29 and overall AHT is 8:13. What an improvement, right?!?!
Other metrics can assist with efficiency as well. We introduced Adherence and Availability KPIs in January 2018 to provide parameters around off-phone behaviors that contribute to the overall efficiency of the contact center. Again, we used our management tools to provide optics into what most staff could do, determine who were the outliers and why, and then provide targeted coaching BEFORE launching the KPIs. We learned that Availability (what some might call Conformance) was more important to us than Adherence, and we set the expectations as such.
The most significant area of opportunity we found was in unplanned AUX usage, especially in three specific codes. After pinpointing this and providing behavior-based coaching to agents who struggled, we saw significant improvements in overall efficiency. In 2016, the percentage of time agents spent in these three specific codes was 5.25% of their scheduled time. We began coaching to the AUX code usage in January 2017, and we saw that the percentage dropped to 3.55% for all of 2017. In January 2018, we rolled out the KPIs and have now seen the percentage drop even further to only 2.44% of scheduled time.
Maybe reading about our story has caused you to think "We could use more balance between our quality and efficiency in our contact center - our tightrope isn't very tight." If this is you, I encourage you to start by thinking with the end in mind. What does quality - ideal quality - look like in your contact center? Write down all the components to a perfect call and a perfect customer experience. Do your metrics line up with your expectations? Are you rewarding what you want to see? If not, it's time to revitalize and revamp your quality metrics.
When it comes to efficiency, it's important to consider a few questions. Where are your holes? Where are you losing needed coverage? What is contributing to your shrinkage numbers? What does the agent have control over that is not as in control as it could (or should) be? You need metrics that allow you to hold accountability to these issues. If you don't already, start laying the groundwork to put them in place - namely coach to the behaviors and see how you can move the needle without metrics first…and once you've seen success, put the metrics in place to reinforce the expectations. If you do have metrics in place already, it's time to assess whether they are appropriately set and producing the desired results. I suggest revisiting metric ranges at least annually to determine if you can make adjustments and raise the bar.
No matter what the metrics are, it's important to remember that metrics are just numbers. They are simply a way to spotlight potential opportunities to improve behaviors that will lead to increased quality and efficiency. When you coach to the behaviors - not to the numbers - your metrics will improve, and you'll experience the gains you are looking for!
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