1147 — Quality Monitoring (QM) – in search of the Holy Grail. By Maria Boxley, marketing manager, ASC telecom Ltd.

Mar 5, 2004 | Conteúdos Em Ingles

Fact – Quality excellence is a recognised must for any organisation. Fact – For your customers, you are only as good as the last interaction that you had with them. Fact – Customer loyalty is the key to profitability. I guess we all agree on that. But how many organisations, and in particular contact centre operations have truly put an effective strategy in place to achieve what is actually the old TQM (total quality management) goal of managing quality from the customer point of view? The truth is, not many at all. Why? Because the way to delight customers through quality is not an easy one to find and follow. Before I get on my high horse about what is right and what is wrong, let’s look at quality excellence in a contact centre context, and to do so, let’s go back a few decades when the quest began.

Contact centres were originally conceived as a cost-effective way to replace retail outlets and provide a convenient point-of-contact for customers’ sales and services enquiries. And they have been very successful in doing so, demonstrating their potential in achieving greater reach and economy of scales whilst satisfying three key customer needs: easy access, closeness and delivery of personal information.

Riding the wave of their own success, contact centres today are an established cornerstone of any company’s business with industry analysts reporting that nearly 70% of all interactions with customers occur through a contact centre. More importantly, contact centres are now widely recognised to be a key influence for imprinting a company’s perception and brand values on customers’ minds.

That is why contact centres operational quality has been increasingly under the spotlight in recent years. The reverse of the coin is that thanks to contact centres and technology such as the Internet, it is now easier than ever before for customers to shop around for best prices and service and switch between suppliers. Unhappy customers are just a phone call or a click away from your competitors and what will keep them from taking their custom away from you is simply the quality of the customer interaction that they experience, and ultimately the rapport that they build with your CSRs.

Statistical madness

Great, so we do know what the Holy Grail looks like since the quality issue has been quite clear from the very onset. How to go about assessing it and improving on it has been a hit and miss process so far, mislead also by the concept that increasing profitability meant increasing productivity. Initially, the focus turned on call crunching statistics, with the intention of optimising both manning and call handling for dealing with as many customers as possible in the shortest period of time, to avoid long holding queues and minimise customers drop out.

We threw more people at it but quality service levels did not improve. We threw technology at it but that didn’t work either. The reason why is quite simple: it took the customer experience out of the equation. Ensuring that when a customer calls the phone is answered within 5 rings is a good start for a “fantastic customer experience”, but if the CSR is not able to deal with the customer’s request satisfactorily, the opening enthusiasm soon wears out leading to an “utterly frustrating customer experience”.

A friend of mine, a contact centre manager working for a well-known tour operator, told me his true story, which illustrates how ineffective productivity measures alone can be. After thoroughly reviewing the contact centre metrics and listening to a few calls, the ‘powers that be’ in his company decided to set the target of reducing average call handling time for inbound enquiries down to 1 minute and 30 seconds. The aim was to increase the total number of calls taken by the contact centre, thus shortening waiting times for customers and reducing overall contact centre costs by handling calls more efficiently.

Supervisors were exhaustively briefed on this new goal and in turn agents were briefed and incentivised accordingly. After a few weeks, hooray, the set target was achieved but, shock horror, sales were down by 50%. Guess what, the contact centre agents were literally executing the new directive, and therefore politely answering any enquiry but not bothering to go the extra mile for closing the sale since it would have meant a longer call duration. I am sure this will strike a chord with quite a few of you.

Getting closer

Statistical information about call centre productivity is useful for workload balancing, staffing and rostering, but cannot be used alone to predict what we should be really focusing on: quality outcome. With the customer back in the picture, a few years ago call centres started to shift their attention on monitoring and measuring call outcomes as a quality gauge, which offers a much more realistic image of both the value that an organisation is adding to their customers and the value that a call centre adds to the organisation itself.

Metrics such as revenue value and number of orders have been monitored and targets have been set accordingly for specific desirable outcomes e.g. converting a percentage of incoming enquiries in cross-selling or up-selling opportunities. It has also started to dawn on call centre managers that perhaps a well-trained CSR stands a better chance to achieve a positive call outcome – hence the renewed emphasis on training and upskilling resources.

Fantastic. Call monitoring and recording has started to be widely adopted as a way to assess good calls, bad calls, training needs and CSR performances and a variety of technology is available for scoring the calls and analyse the results. Great. So by now, every contact centre should be on their way to achieve all the quality goals and live happily ever after, right? Wrong. Sorry to burst the bubble, but by looking at what is actually happening, although a step in the right direction has been taken, we are still quite a long way from finding the Holy Grail. And again the reason is quite a simple one: we now have customer experience and call outcomes in the quality equation but we are still missing a key element – the CSR experience.

Happy agents = happy customers

Let’s go back to basics for a moment. What kind of customer buys more from you at lower costs? A happy customer. And what makes a customer happy? First call resolution and speaking to a helpful and genuinely interested person, which just happens to be your CSR. And how can you make sure your CSR is going to be constantly helpful and interested to promote first call resolution? Through motivation, as simple as that. Motivating employees is more than offering monetary incentives or bottles of champagne, it encompasses shifting the company culture from “Galley slave” to a truly co-operative and coaching one.

Staff turnover ratios and stress levels are still extremely high in contact centres, so how can unhappy CSRs ensure the optimum caller experience if they are having a terrible time? Processes may be in place to help them with upskilling training, which in itself is motivating, but from the CSR point of view, everything seems to be happening in a post-mortem fashion. The CSR may be in need of help there and then since a week later may see them in a new contact centre (or at home, signed off by the GP ).

Imagine this – the CSR starts on a Monday morning very upbeat and positive, thinking they are going to top the sales league for the week, when they take a call that they are not totally equipped to deal with. They quickly get out of their depth and the customer interaction gets worse by the second. Stress levels start hitting the roof as they know that the call is recorded and may well be used as an example in future training classes as bad call handling. Now multiply this experience by the majority of the calls that the CSR will take during that week and you will be screaming for Prozac.

Hopefully, the supervisor will evaluate the calls and jointly with the CSR devise some ad-hoc training. In the meantime you may have lost several customers and the CSR may have gone elsewhere. Couple this with the fact that contact centres, and therefore their employees, are often seen as the poor relative (and the most expensive one) amongst all the organisations’ departments, and you do not get a very rosy picture of the environment where 790,000 people work every day in the UK.

Finding the Grail

There is a way forward, and as I stressed before, the road to quality is through staff motivation and fostering a co-operative and coaching culture. CSRs should feel an integral part of a team, develop strong and trust-based relationships with their supervisors and truly embrace organisational values to be able to communicate them to customers. Boosting CSR confidence, achieved through continuous upskilling training and immediate help and support, is the key factor in reducing CSR stress levels.

OK, now we know what the Holy Grail looks like and where it is. But how do we get it? Through a synergistic approach that involves the old three pillars of TQM: people, processes and technology, all working together to reach a common goal. Quality monitoring can then be described as a holistic way of life in the contact centre that everyone buys into and that affects every operational aspect of it, such as recruitment, training, coaching, evaluating, motivating and upskilling of agents.

And the bottom line? I will leave you with some figures. If 90% of all calls are completed to the desired call outcome by whoever took the call, you will dramatically increase your revenue stream and reduce personnel related costs, and, just for you die-hard statistical aficionados, 20% of your call volume will disappear as customers won’t have to call again.

Maria Boxley

Performance Management
Em Foco – Opinião