450 — ‘The importance of SIX SIGMA for the quality of today’s call centres’. The opinion of Robert Wint, marketing director, EMEA, Verint Systems.

Jan 31, 2003 | Conteúdos Em Ingles

marketing director, EMEA, Verint Systems.
In certain process-centric industries, a practice called Six Sigma has evolved. Since its inception in business in Japan some years ago, it has already been adopted by the highly process driven, manufacturing industry in the US and other countries where it has radically changed the way in which these businesses view quality. Moreover, its proven successes in manufacturing have led other industries to consider its methodology for raising quality to the very highest standards. Six Sigma is set to dominate approaches to quality in the contact centre space across Europe very soon where the continued drive for customer service and operational improvement makes contact centres a prime candidate.

A quick review of the Six Sigma principles explored here makes for a compelling case for the contact centre arena.

Continuous Improvement
Put succinctly, Six Sigma comprises a core set of process improvement techniques that have evolved from the Japanese culture of ‘continuous improvement’. These examine how organisations can improve their effectiveness and efficiency and, ultimately, their profitability, through a holistic view of their customers, employees and processes.

At the heart of this is a focus on reducing errors within processes. The ultimate goal of Six Sigma is 3.4 errors in 1 million transactions, so effectively putting that organisation best in class. All well and good, and contact centres are pretty process driven, but a fundamental objective of Six Sigmais to achieve and sustain customer satisfaction through continuous improvement in quality, and it’s this that should strike a chord with many a contact centre.

Some contact centres ‘dabble’ around the fringes of quality, but I know of none that are applying rigorous quality measures and methodologies such as Six Sigma, measures that would directly affect the bottom line and improve overall business profitability. As contact centres increasingly become profit rather than cost centres, with the associated need for accountability in all things, the role and case for quality becomes vital for future success.

The bottom line benefits
Quality means many things to different people. It’s a state of mind and an underlying principle that an organisation needs to be fully committed to. Unless this commitment is embedded in business practice and remuneration and inherent in the whole ethos of an organisation, it will fail. Finally, getting an organisation fully aligned to a quality
programme is something very few have achieved.

Some organisations try to meet a quality standard of 99 percent of processes free from errors (this is Three Sigma). But this may still equate to two short or long haul landings at an airport or no electricity for up to 7 hours each month. In an average size contact centre, this could represent a worrying 36,000 [r1] calls a year with an error in them! Adopting a true Six Sigma approach would reduce that to 1,224 [r2] calls. If you apply some financial workings to this, the figures are dramatic.

Consider that each call with an error costs you a conservative 75 euros in additional agent time, compensation, increased call costs and so on. This equates to an additional cost of 2.7m euros a year. Applying a drive towards Six Sigma (based on 99.99966 percent) reduces the errors to just 1,224 – a cost of 93,000 euros in a year. A net saving of just over 2,5m euros that goes straight to the bottom line!

In the contact centre world, it would be virtually impossible to achieve the Six Sigma optimum of 3.4 errors in a million – there are far too many factors involved. However, any improvement can have a significant impact for both the business and its customers.

The role of quality in Contact Centre profitability

Many factors govern profitability in a contact centre, with the top three being:

* Your customers
* Your business processes
* The staff you employ

Broken down further, there are elements within each of these that need to be considered in the overall picture – issues such as agent retention, agent skills, the number of products on offer, the number of processes and touch points available to the customer as well as the softer attributes such as brand skills of the agents and so on.

Employees and the business processes in place will contribute to operational efficiency – this will have an immediate impact on profitability. And, if a result of improved processes means that your customers start to receive a more predictable and valuable experience, then you will start to increase Customer Lifetime Value and levels of cross and up-selling by the agents, with a similar impact on profitability.

Having a quality programme in place will be key to achieving all of this, and is something where the key factors of Six Sigma methodology can start to assist.

So how can I apply this Six Sigma stuff?

Aspiring towards an improved quality target is within the reach of every contact centre. While Six Sigma originated in the mass production lines in Japan, its theories, methodologies and models can be applied to every industry sector, from banking and financial services to travel, utilities and retail.

A Six Sigma approach has several goals for contact centres. From a strategic perspective it ensures a contact centre is attuned to its market and customer needs as well as providing bottom line effectiveness; from an operational level it reduces variations within products and processes and reduces the errors or problems, all of which will dramatically affect customer retention and loyalty.

Most organisations are structured around functions or departments, yet customers are typically taken through a collection of processes to fulfil their needs. To improve the business overall, then each process must be measured for its effectiveness and efficiency.

To apply Six Sigma, you must first consider the following main elements:

Identification and agreement on strategic objective – what are you looking to achieve? For example, decrease time spent processing order applications between the front and back office? To reduce numbers of compensation claims from customers? And so on.

Validation and agreement on the measurement approach – what statistics and data can you use to validate the current position and the ongoing improvements that are envisaged?

Selection of the first initiative – to focus the efforts of the group and ensure actual benefits, you’ll need to pick the area with which you want to start. You’ll also need to pick the team who will drive the initiative.

Continual management of the objectives and initiatives – In this, probably the most important stage, you are working the initiative on a day-to-day basis for continual improvement and meeting the business objectives agreed originally.

One of the fundamental points behind the success of any quality initiative, and especially when considering the Six Sigma methodology is the selection of what you class as an error. In some businesses, this is obvious such as in manufacturing when a production line grinds to a halt.

However, in a contact centre environment, it may be harder to identify. Typically, the largest numbers of errors in contact centres are likely to come from something falling out of the process or miscommunication between an agent and customer.

Making it work

Quality initiatives, even with the best intentions behind them, aren’t always a success. Some common pitfalls to consider when embarking on a quality initiative like Six Sigma include:

* The misuse of the wrong statistics – having the right raw data to work from is critical; otherwise you might find yourself trying to improve the wrong item for the wrong reasons.

* Don’t just focus on cost reduction – find other areas focused on the customer that can be improved.

* Aligning the people behind the methodology – if the people and their job descriptions don’t include quality improvement, then success is going to be hard to find.

* Picking the right project and team – projects fail for many reasons, but if you don’t have the right people involved then your chance of success will certainly drop.

* Involving management and cultural change – don’t underestimate the time needed by management to both adopt and buy into the process at the start, but also in driving the whole change programme through the organisation.

Many organisations, including Motorola and GE Capital have received huge payback in the adoption of a Six Sigma cultural change programme. We believe that quality improvement in contact centres can potentially lead to productivity gains of up to 50 percent. This is achievable, and achievable now.

Once the barriers are overcome, it will be those contact centres that invest in the time, resources, technology and methodologies that will be fitter for long-term success. After all, how much more inspired and aspiring can contact centres get than putting their business onto a path of excellence where customers want to call and staff want to work?

A White Paper entitled ‘Making Six Sigma Count in Contact Centres’ has been published by Verint Systems. To obtain a copy, please contact [email protected].

[r1]Based on 150 calls a day for 80 agents and a call centre that works 300 days a year multiplied by 1%

[r2]Based on the same metric but applying a 99.99966% rate.


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