Quality Management Hints, Tips & Best Practices
Every so often you run across a study that produces results so obvious you wonder why a study was necessary in the first place.
That was what most of us felt after the University of British Columbia announced that customers with bad attitudes are less likely to be satisfied with the service they receive.
Most call center agents already know this – and yet it is their job to try and make each customer happy, no matter how difficult the challenge.
These are the three customer behaviors cited by the survey. Agents encounter all of them regularly.
1. The Angry Caller
These customers are mad from the time you say hello. They’ve saved up a lot of complaining and are eager to let it rip. The best alternative for agents in these situations is to counter aggression with calm, steady responses. Convey empathy even if you don’t actually feel it – “I understand your frustration. I’m sure that was difficult. Let me try to take care of that for you.” Return negative words with positive words, and hope the caller calms down or responds accordingly.
2. The Abusive Caller
These customers are not just angry, they’re itching for a fight. They want to let someone from the company know just how lousy they are, and they don’t care if it’s the CEO or a poor agent just starting her daily shift. The difference between angry and abusive is the attack becomes personal. The challenge is to remain calm and try to reduce the caller’s hostility level. A reminder that the call is being recorded may change their attitude, but if it doesn’t it should be permissible for the agent to tell the abusive caller that their call will be terminated if he or she does not calm down. The agent should then inform that manager of what has happened.
3. The Interrupting Caller
Very few issues are unique – agents have heard them all before, and managers have prepared company responses that usually rectify the situation. But what is an agent to do when he or she can’t express the proper response because of constant interruptions? Though it won’t do much for average handle time, the best option here is to let the caller blow off steam, and at the first pause politely ask “Is there anything else about this situation I need to know?” Once the caller has vented sufficiently, he or she might be ready to accept the agent’s response.
Read our call center FAQ
How do you manage – and measure – quality?
Different companies have different methods – spreadsheets, worksheets, or relying on whatever outdated capabilities came with the software they’ve had for decades. If that sounds like your call center, here’s a question: How is that working out?
If we were to guess we’d say probably not that well. Gathering information from different parties can be difficult. You may not be getting enough visibility into quality events to assess them accurately. Keeping up with industry regulations may pose another challenge.
An automated quality management solution solves these issues. Workflow, visibility and best practices become much easier to manage. For more details, check out Monet’s Quality solution
In fact, there’s really no debate about the benefits these solutions provide. Any hesitation to adopt this technology and leverage its many advantages usually stems from cost concerns. For new companies or smaller call centers without a large IT budget, that used to be a legitimate reason for getting by with the old-fashioned methods. Used to be.
What has changed is the availability of flexible, secure cloud-based quality management solutions, such as Monet Quality, that can be obtained without the large upfront cost. With no servers, no network switches, no full-time IT staff and no other hardware to purchase, install and maintain, ROI is achieved a lot faster.
Quality is important. With the right quality management solution, you’ll always know that customers are experiencing the best your business has to offer.
Call centers exist to serve the needs of a business, but their top priority is serving the needs of that company’s customers.
The challenge of doing so has changed drastically, especially over the past two decades, as questions that used to require a call can now be answered on the company’s website or Facebook page. Standard business transactions also now get conducted online, so your customers may only call when they need a faster answer, or with a unique issue.
They won’t all be ‘last resort’ communications, but call center managers must realize that each call represents a chance to keep a customer or lose them forever. That makes customer engagement essential. If a caller doesn’t get the information he or she needs, they might be lost. And even if a caller gets answers, he or she may not like an agent’s attitude, or how long they had to wait on hold. There’s a lot more that can go wrong than go right every time an agent picks up the phone.
Here are some engagement tips that help to engender customer loyalty.
Personalize Every Encounter
This involves more than addressing the customer by name (though that is important as well). With workforce management software agents will find it easier to access details of the customer’s most recent transaction, as well as all previous contacts and their purchase history.
Two Answers to Avoid
When a customer calls with a question, the last thing they want to hear from an agent is “I don’t know.” Of course, there will be times when that may be the case, but a better response is “Let me find that answer for you.” If the answer cannot be found within a few minutes, apologize and schedule a time when the caller can be contacted and provided with that information.
Also not recommended – “yes” and “no” answers, when they stop there. Such abrupt responses signal disinterest on the part of the agent. There should be scripted responses that express the same sentiments in a more courteous way.
Less is Not More
The expression “less is more” doesn’t work at the call center. Positive customer experiences are those in which the caller receives additional assistance and other useful information related to their order or issue. This doesn’t mean just ‘upsell’ opportunities, but making sure any other questions they have are answered. In fact, that’s not a bad way to close out the call.
Hire ‘People Persons’ as Agents
There are many qualities that a great call center agent should possess, but one that is often overlooked is curiosity. A people person meets someone and just naturally wants to know more about what is happening in his or her life. They like to talk to strangers and help them out when it’s possible. The best agents do this. They’ll ask questions that generate information that provides greater insight into each customer. They will make the caller feel valued.
Another valuable skill for an agent is the ability to predict questions and anticipate problems before they happen. Some of this will evolve naturally. One way to train new agents is to have them take a tour of a local museum or tourist attraction. The tour guides have their script down pat, know what questions are likely to be asked and always have answers at the ready. Part of the guide’s job description is also to be cheerful, upbeat and enthusiastic – traits that are also important in an agent.
Finally, your agents should feel empowered to make decisions, to stay on a call a few extra moments, even to break a rule every now and then, to preserve a customer relationship. This status is not bestowed on day one. After an agent has been with the call center for a while and has shown good judgment, he or she should then be given the latitude to sometimes take action that may not be in the script.
Mention Self Service Options – But Don’t Push Them
Well-intentioned as they are, recorded messages on menu screens are typically received more with hostility than gratitude. Automation is important, but not when it stands in the way of a caller speaking with a live agent, if that is his or her desire.
You cannot engage customers without engaging agents. That goes beyond the hiring and training efforts previously described. Engagement is an ongoing challenge that affects agents after six weeks, six months or six years on the job.
The call center business would be a lot more agreeable, if it weren’t for all those customers and their problems.
No matter how well a company is run, some complaints are inevitable. The challenge is not just keeping them to a minimum, but handling them in a way that salvages a customer relationship that, at that point, could go either way.
Complaints, like any other type of call, also deliver raw data on what the company is doing right and what could be better. Paying attention to that feedback and making adjustments accordingly is one of the most important contributions a call center can deliver.
Here are a few ideas that can make one of the most unpleasant parts of your job less difficult – and perhaps even beneficial.
On the Front Line
Whether a complaint is registered via telephone, online chat or social media, your agents will be the first to hear it, and their responses are the ones that matter. How much authority do your agents have to handle these issues?
Customers with a product issue may call requesting a refund. Can your agents provide it, along with the requisite apology? If so, that customer may not be lost for good. But if that customer has to be put on hold and transferred, or is required to fill out a form that goes through a formal complaint procedure, he or she is probably done with your company.
Also keep in mind that with that latter, more complicated procedure, all of the time invested by multiple employees means that complaint was more costly to the call center. With smaller purchases in particular, cut your losses quickly by letting the agent take care of it.
That objective ties into the always-important challenge of First Call Resolution (FCR). When agents feel they have been given enough autonomy to provide customer satisfaction, they can usually achieve a better result all the way around.
However, some agents simply don’t want the responsibility. “Hold, please” becomes a standard response even in situations that should be resolved without that referral.
workforce management solution, it becomes much easier to target agents on such metrics as FCR, and to monitor unnecessary referrals.
Here’s another unpleasant thought: sometimes it is the agent that inspires the complaint in the first place: “too rude,” “too abrupt,” “left me on hold for ten minutes,” “promised me something that was not delivered,” etc. With the data collected and reports generated by
WFM and more specifically Quality Monitoring, managers will also gain insight into which agents are generating the most complaints, and require additional training – or a lesson in manners.
Hopefully such instances are minimal. If you used good judgment in the hiring and training process, your agents are your greatest assets for customer retention. Are you using them that way? That means listening when they tell you about recurring situations that are generating a negative response.
Perhaps a limited-time offer is worded in a way that is confusing to some customers. Agents will not only be the first to know, they may in listening to callers be able to provide a solution to the problem. Make sure their feedback is getting to the management team.
Communication is Key
The answer to almost every call center challenge
is better communication – between agent and customer, agent and manager, manager and other department personnel.
A customer-centric approach starts at the top and filters down to the front line. Hitting performance targets and monitoring metrics should enhance this approach, and not dilute it by making average handle time more important than a satisfied customer.
Schedule regular meetings, company wide if possible, to review complaints. And when it’s time to present them, a personalized approach may induce a better response. For instance, a manager could report, “We’ve seen a 10% increase in customers upset about our new teddy bear not arriving on time.” Or, he could say “We had a call from Barbara in Texas who ordered the teddy bear in time for her little girl’s birthday, but it still arrived two days late.” That paints a more vivid picture of the problem than a dry statistic.
How are complaints logged at your call center? An internal audit can be beneficial, as sometimes general inquiries or a customer closing an account may be classified as a complaint. Not only does this falsely inflate the volume of incoming complaints, it clutters the system in a way that may prevent genuine service issues from being resolved faster.
One more objective that helps with complaint handling is consistency. That starts again with agents. Are the new hires handling customer problems with the same skill as those who have been there for years? Monitor them more closely to make sure they are on the same page.
A monthly review involving agents, managers, coaches and trainers can help with keeping track of complaints, detecting trends, and making sure appropriate responses are going out. The longer an issue is undetected, the more complaints it is going to generate.
Consistency across channels is equally imperative. If a social media message is not answered, that customer may resort to calling – now you have two complaints from one customer, which doesn’t look good on the balance sheet.
One More Tip – Though It Probably Sounds Strange
Here is one last piece of advice that may seem counterproductive at first – make it as easy as possible for your customers to provide negative feedback.
There’s no use trying to avoid complaints so you won’t have to deal with them. And yet some websites still try to bury the ‘contact us’ link where it won’t be easily noticed. There are just too many channels available now to try to duck angry consumers. By encouraging feedback, you remove one more frustrating obstacle from the customer’s path, and avoid multiple contacts from the same source.
Ultimately, complaints deliver content that can make your company better. Handling them efficiently is the most effective way to reduce them.
For several years, as the Internet and social media emerged as new communication methods, there were several call center industry stories speculating on whether live agents would soon be an endangered species.
The prospect now seems less likely than it once did, as there is still a need and often a preference for customers to actually speak with another person to resolve their issues.
But there is no question that agents are a more costly and complex service option than automated online responses or social media interaction. Two hundred agents? That’s a big investment. 500? Those call centers moved offshore to save money – and paid a different kind of price.
Industry estimates vary on how many customer interactions can and should be handled without live assistance. But it’s at least 40% on the low end – some have it as high as 90%.
The technology is in place now to make it happen – not just on the company end but from the customer side as well. Today almost all of us carry smartphones that plug us into a portable digital ecosystem. We now expect 24/7access to order information, return policies, special offers, store hour listings and other subjects that used to require a phone call.
Now is the time to encourage your customers to explore the other options available. Self-service has reached the point where it can be just as quick and responsive (in many cases faster), so you’re not risking a customer relationship by doing so.
The numbers show that about 30% of U.S. consumers have tried voice self-service to get things done. That number can and should go higher, with your help.
Let them know that for the most complex situations, or when there is a real need to speak with an agent, you’ll be ready. But if behavior can be changed to the point where these are the only types of calls received, you’ll be able to get by with less staff, and lower costs.
Imagine going out to lunch with a friend. You tell him that your doctor said you need to have surgery, and your friend replies, “Oh well, that’s life – are you going to finish those fries?”
This is one of those situations when a person expects some expression of concern or sympathy. Another is when a customer has a problem and contacts a call center. The best agents are those that recognize when a customer is angry or disappointed, and respond accordingly.
It’s not difficult, it doesn’t add a lot of time to each call, and it doesn’t require changing company policy – all it takes is a few kind words – “I’m sorry this happened, I understand how frustrating this must be. But you’ve come to the right place – let me see what I can do for you.”
And it helps if they sound like they mean it, and are not just reading those words off a script.
Caring is the first essential trait of a successful call center agent; confidence is also important. It’s a quality that some possess naturally, but for those that don’t it can be taught – at least within the confines of the call center job.
A trainer may not be able to instill enough self-assurance in an agent to ask someone for a date, but for customer calls confidence emanates from knowledge about the company and its products or services.
It is particularly critical in outbound call centers, at a time when telemarketing-weary customers are likely to be less receptive to a marketing message. The successful agent is one who can break through those barriers, by explaining that this call is not an annoyance but an opportunity. When you speak to someone who really believes in the cause he supports, you are likely to be more receptive to what they have to say.
Caring and confidence – look for both of them when it’s time to hire new agents. As a bonus you’ll not just gain a quality employee that will boost your customer service, you may hire someone who can have a positive impact on your other agents as well. When these traits are encouraged, they can be contagious.
Maintaining quality, particularly in the customer experience, is critical in every aspect of call center operation. It’s at the heart of everything we do, from technology to agent screening to script creation. Quality monitoring is how call centers identify what is working and what isn’t. It is primarily a problem-solving system, but it also recognizes areas where things are going well, so those practices can be maintained. How can you get the most from your quality monitoring efforts? Here are a few tips that may help. Define “Quality”
It seems obvious, but still worth noting: You can’t assess which calls are successful until you have a standard for what constitutes a quality customer interaction. That takes into account not just the outcome of the call, but the manner of the agent, the total time required for the engagement, and how it met service levels and KPIs. This process is easier with a quality-monitoring tool that provides a comprehensive view of agent and call center performance.
Review a wide range of calls before setting the benchmark for future success. The objective is to find the very best calls – ones that everyone involved agrees could not possibly have gone any better. Hopefully they won’t be too difficult to find! Getting Agents Onboard
Initially some agents may view
quality monitoring suspiciously, which is not only bad for morale, it could negatively impact the results of your efforts. Make it clear that monitoring is a company-wide necessity designed to make everyone – including managers – more successful at their positions. Make the process collaborative instead of authoritarian. A Reliable Process
Evaluation forms will likely be part of your QM program. These must be developed correctly, or every subsequent step might be impacted. Make sure you are asking the right questions and getting optimal results from them – that means the kind of responses that dovetail naturally into training and procedural changes to generate better results.
The personnel assigned to head up QM will also be critical to the program’s success. Recruit a team to handle monitoring, evaluating and training, and make sure they have the expertise and the resources to do the job right. Call Scoring
This is another critical aspect of quality monitoring, so it is best decided with the participation of as many employees as possible. Divide each call into sections – greeting, closing, speed, issue resolution, courtesy, empathy, etc. – and then
score each segment. This could be done with a letter grade like in school, or on a 1-10 scale. Then, compare results. Don’t be surprised if assessments vary – you are still early in the process and this is how you will determine what qualifies as a great call, a good one, and one that was not well-handled. The more participants become acclimated to the QM system, the closer the scores should get. Feedback and Dispute Resolution
Feedback is important throughout the process. At the outset you need feedback from your customers, which can be obtained through an advocacy survey. Don’t assume you know what they want or expect from your call center before asking them.
Once monitoring has started, feedback may be handled through individual contact with agents, trainers and other personnel, or through group sessions where findings can be shared, and discussions can take place on how to best achieve whatever milestones were set. The more agents can be involved in this, the more likely they will be to buy into the process, and feel that their input is valued. Sometimes disputes may arise within a performance evaluation. If this happens, do not just dismiss the objection – schedule a re-evaluation conducted by another member of the team. Can you trust your agents to self-evaluate? Not at the beginning perhaps – but once they grasp how the process works many may be trusted to assess for themselves how well they are meeting the quality expectations of the call center. Check QM Against Other Call Centers
How does your call center fare compared to other call centers of similar size and function? Finding out via an outside agency that specializes in external benchmarking can provide a new perspective on how your business is performing.
Recognize and Reward Success
When the quality numbers start trending in the right direction, make sure this is not unnoticed by all of your call center staff. Find a way to reward agents, coaches, trainers and other personnel for their contributions.
The Right Technology
Measuring quality manually is long and arduous process, that is made much more efficient when relevant data is accurately compiled and analyzed automatically.
And yet, many contact centers have still not implemented an automated call monitoring solution, and are thus not gathering the measurable metrics that can only be garnered through effective call monitoring and evaluation. Before selecting a technology solution to be used in a quality monitoring effort, three questions should be asked: 1. Will it improve agent performance?
2. Will the data we collect improve efficiency?
3. Will our call center monitoring solution protect us from a legal challenge?
Choose the Right Call Monitoring Software
Without the right software, a quality monitoring program is going to struggle. Monitoring of customer interactions should be simple for agents, and the intelligence gathered through the system should be easy to analyze for managers. Also, consider future growth – the software you select should be able to grow with your company, and meet your needs not only today but tomorrow.
One of the duties of the insurance business is to help customers protect themselves from liability claims, and the high costs associated with them.
But as we accept that responsibility, we also need to protect ourselves as well, particularly at the contact center. Let's face it - no matter how carefully you select your agents, or how satisfied customers are with your company's policies and service, disputes are still inevitable.
When this happens, having a recording of the conversation between agent and customer will be invaluable. And it's not just enough to have it - you should also have the ability to locate and retrieve specific customer interactions, not just to settle disputes but as a way to improve the quality and performance of your insurance call center.
This can be easily achieved through call tagging, a capability that should be incorporated into a
call recording or workforce management solution.
Tags are like bookmarks - they designate certain calls by whatever criteria the agent or manager chooses. Typical tags might be dates, times, phone numbers, customer reference or case numbers; at insurance call centers, tags can be used to track disputed claims, late payments or customers with lapsed policies.
More than one tag can be applied to a call, and an efficient WFM system will allow managers to combine categories for more specific search results. For instance, if a manager wanted to access how a new agent handled disputed claims, he or she should be able to have the system access those types of calls from that specific agent so they can be reviewed all at once.
Tags can also help an insurance contact center improve KPIs. If average handle time is becoming an issue, have the system collect all of the calls that lasted more than 10 minutes. That may reveal some potential changes in procedure that will expedite those conversations.
There are many reasons why call recording should be standard operating procedure at any contact center. These include ensuring compliance, agent training and for protection against he-said-she-said customer disputes.
But one of the biggest benefits of
call recording is visibility. You have a 100% accurate record of exactly what each caller said and how your agent responded. And one way to leverage that visibility is with the addition of automatic call distribution (ACD) reporting. Now you can distribute calls to the agent most qualified to handle that customer’s inquiry.
Both systems complement each other. With call recording you’ll discover very quickly which agents are adept at calming angry customers, which show more patience with seniors who may need some extra moments to provide information, and which are good at explaining technical information to those who don’t have a technology background.
When these agent profiles are assembled, the ACD provides information on call types through graphical screens that make routing faster and easier.
Best of all, this happens without the caller’s awareness. For all he or she knows, they were just lucky enough to have their call picked up by an agent who knew exactly how to solve their problem.
In this business we all recognize the importance of first call resolution (FCR) as a metric for tracking efficiency. It’s one of the best indicators of a well-run contact center, and one of the stats most closely associated with customer satisfaction scores. In fact, according to a study by The Ascent Group, FCR is listed as one of the five most important metrics tracked by call centers. Organizations that have low FCR rates also tend to have low employee satisfaction and high turnover rates.
So what better way to boost FCR than by using call recording paired with ACD to deliver fast service and optimal customer interaction?
“Of course we have a quality management system,” most contact center managers say. “Does it work? Of course! It has ‘quality’ right in the title!”
If that’s true, congratulations. But here’s the problem – quality is not a fixed goal that, once achieved, can be maintained by repeating the same steps that got you there in the first place. Even if everything looks good, and you’d rather spend that time on other priorities, the objective here is continuous improvement, and that means ongoing attention.
Insight is the key to building the type of reliability that maintains quality year in and year out. Think of it as shining a light in every corner of the contact center, to illuminate what is being done right and to catch issues before they become serious.
Where You Are vs. Where You Want to Be
Gap assessment is the practice of identifying gaps between existing conditions and the quality processes you want to put in place. Start by comparing your quality management actions against what is referred to as standard operating procedure.
Where there are gaps at your contact center? Find out where and when they occur, define the problem that needs to be solved, and what control can be put in place to make sure the problem doesn’t come back. Chances are you won’t be able to answer these questions right away. Set time aside to interview key personnel, to observe processes over time, and to analyze the results.
If this results in change, be sure to give those changes time to work. Every time a new procedure is added, it will take agents time to adjust. And don’t change too many things at the same time, as it will make it more difficult to discern which new processes are working and which are not.
Avoid Silo Processes
Any kind of business is more successful when all of its divisions and employees are working together toward the same quality goals.
With larger companies, including contact centers, this can be easier said than done. Different divisions have different priorities, and while all of them may be similar in conception (better customer service, improved efficiency, lower costs, etc.), these efforts can always be improved (and can occasionally be hindered) by the data and employee input from other parts of the organization.
This is particularly true of quality management at a contact center. Such businesses are comprised of managers devoted to forecasting and scheduling, executives who review recorded and monitored calls to gauge customer service, and others who set goals for the organization based on agent and customer feedback. All of the functions are important for quality, but may be monitored separately.
Rather than take a siloed approach, where each system works independently without reciprocal operation with other divisions, having the right workforce optimization systems in place can provide easy access to cross-functional data that helps align teams, so they can work more effectively on common objectives. And access is immediate regardless of employee location, just one of the many benefits of a cloud delivery system.
With the centralized administration provided by unified WFO, there is no need to devote additional time and budgeting to costly integration projects, which can be effective but may not be scheduled more than once a month, if that. The fully integrated WFO framework automatically delivers important call center insights, metrics and alerts on an ongoing basis. Now managers can make more informed decisions and react more quickly to internal or external trends. Result? More consistent quality management.
Improvement Every Day
A lean quality management system is one that is intolerant to waste in all its forms by creating a culture that expects daily improvement. If there is something at your contact center that is not making a contribution, get rid of it, along with any other non-value-added steps in your processes.
Usually when organizations think about getting leaner it means cutting – less agents, less hours. And while that may be feasible, there are ways to add instead of subtract that can also contribute to a lean enterprise. These may include adding more flexibility and empowerment to the agent position, so that can deal with customer issues without additional assistance.
How the Right System Helps
As stated earlier, proactive quality management is made easier with an automated workforce optimization solution in place. Now you can quickly and accurately measure the metrics that are most critical to your quality system, analyze real-time data across different departments, and generate reports that help to share the knowledge faster.
Optimization and lean, continuous improvement programs are not just one-time projects, but a continuous cycle for improving your quality management system. It’s a worthy goal, as doing so can achieve a number of ROI benefits, from knowing you are always making the most efficient use of your resources, to the adoption of successful, sustainable processes, and the ultimate achievement of higher quality customer service delivered at a lower cost. Once you have the basics in place, introduce a maintenance program that can add modest refinements as needed for further optimization. You may be surprised at how much time and money can be saved by even the smallest change.
One minute doesn’t seem like a very long time. But try this: get a stopwatch or a watch with a second hand, and time out one full minute while sitting and doing nothing else. It will probably seem much longer than you think.
Now, imagine one of your customers waiting on hold that long. If this is happening often at your contact center, you might want to consider some changes. According to the advertising analytics company Marchex, 62% of callers will abandon a call if they’re not speaking to an agent after one minute. And no, those “your call is important to us” pre-recorded messages aren’t doing much to change their minds. Marchex then translated that abandoned call rate into economic impact, using the cable TV industry as an example. If just 10% of abandoned calls were turned into new customers, it adds up to an additional $15 million in revenue per year. Don’t Stop There
Of course, just picking up the phone quickly won’t result in a happy customer. It’s what agents do next that also counts. Reading a scripted greeting that launches the information gathering process is a fairly common practice: “Thank you for calling ABC Industries, where the customer always comes first. My name is Bob, can I have your account number please?”
Nothing really wrong with that, but the Marchex survey also found that something simpler, more personal and more courteous can also be more effective. A greeting as basic as, “Hello, how are you today?” can put a customer at ease, and add a personal touch to a professional call. The ultimate goal is always more sales, more conversions, and more customer satisfaction. If too many minutes are going by without calls being answered, it may be time to look at a workforce management solution that will help you make better forecasting and scheduling decisions, so you’ll always have enough agents available to promptly pick up calls.
What are the first words your agents say to customers? According to one recent industry study, that greeting may be worth as much as $20 million to a business.
The study, “America’s Call Centers Revealed” analyzed conversations, hold times and call outcomes from more than two million contact center calls in 2015. Several interesting findings were uncovered, including:
Open-ended questions from agents (such as “Why are you calling today?” can boost conversion rates
Offering additional incentives works, as long as it is done in a ‘no pressure’ way
Hold times are critical; if the wait is longer than three minutes, 50% of callers hang up
About 10% of callers hang up if they hear an IVR But it’s the revelations regarding the greeting that should raise eyebrows the
highest. Turns out there is still a lot to be said for courtesy, and treating each customer with respect. The study reports that when calls are answered this way, a consumer is 22 percent more likely to buy a product or service.
What would a 20% increase in sales mean to your business? Another $1 million? Perhaps another $20 million? And the best part is, this is a change that doesn’t cost the business or the contact center anything at all. Take a second look at your scripted greeting, and review call recordings to examine if it is being used and how it is being communicated. Tell your coaches and trainers to pay more attention to this part of the call. The benefits can be substantial.
We are in the midst of a particularly heated presidential campaign, with allegations flying in every direction. But when it comes time to cast a ballot, many Americans make up their minds based on the answer to one simple question – which candidate do I trust? For contact center managers, the trust issue is also central to the agent hiring and training process. These are the people engaging with your customers – what they say reflects on the entire company. There may also be additional personnel at the company, such as legal and compliance, who are cognizant of agent-customer interactions and may want to participate in reviewing recorded calls and agent scripts. Trust starts when all company personnel are on the same page as to what constitutes a quality engagement – this will likely be based on traditional compliance metrics and customer service data gathered through surveys and performance management reviews. But the real key here is communication, to alleviate suspicion over agents sticking to the script, doing their jobs even if they are working from home, and being motivated to deliver good service from the first call of their shift to the last. It’s important that everyone understands how quality management and customer experience are related – and this can be achieved by getting reps from all departments together for a roundtable discussion. Discuss quality, discuss trust, and figure out the best way forward.
Any expert in business or marketing will tell you that it’s easier to keep the customers you already have than to get new customers. But how can you convert first-time customers into reliable repeat business?
Often, this responsibility falls on the contact center – and the agent that picks up the phone may have just one chance to get it right. This was the conclusion of a survey of more than 2,200 Americans by the PH Media Group. Almost 60% stated that if a first call to a company’s customer service line isn’t handled properly, they will not be calling again – or buying any more products from that company. If you are a business with products or services geared toward seniors, the news is even worse – 63% of those surveyed said you get one call to provide good service, and if you don’t they look elsewhere. And since seniors are still the group that is far more likely to contact a business via telephone rather than an online platform, it puts even more pressure on your agents. Millennials are slightly more forgiving, but more than half will leave as well after a negative call handling experience. That’s a more difficult loss, since with 18-24 year olds these could be customer relationships that will last decades. A Renewed Commitment to Service
The challenge is how to make certain that first-time callers are always treated right. That responsibility falls first on the agent, but managers have a role to play as well. They should have a reliable forecasting and scheduling system in place so there are always enough agents available to deliver quality service. They should be utilizing call recording for performance management, and making sure regular coaching and training sessions are scheduled to keep your team engaged.
Well-trained agents and quality technology, working together, improve the likelihood of a successful resolution. Learn More
New year resolutions in
business? Sometimes they work and sometimes, like that pledge to lose 10
pounds, they don’t. But making the effort helps contact center managers focus
on priorities, and keep up with emerging trends and changing customer needs. Take quality monitoring –
we are in the midst of a major transition in how customers interact with
companies. Mobile devices have changed the game, and businesses need to be
aware of this and prepared to engage with customers however they choose to
reach out. How should this shape your
2016 plans? First, let’s look at what hasn’t changed – the responsibility of
the contact center to provide excellent service, whether that is via telephone
or email or online chat. Then, take action to make sure all of your customers
are being properly served. Ask these questions: Are we looking for what we’re doing right, or what
we’re doing wrong? Monitoring is the best way
to spot problems. Sure, you’ll also find out what you’re doing well, but the
sooner issues can be identified the sooner they can be solved. Are we making the most of the data available?
With a workforce optimization
solution you have access to a wealth of insightful data on contact center
performance. Are you making use of all of it? Are you getting the small things right? Little issues in service
eventually result in big problems. Use quality monitoring to make sure that
best practices are being maintained in every aspect of the call from the
greeting to the final ‘click’. Do you have the right software solution in place?
Monet Quality – Quality
Management in the Cloud makes it
easier to evaluate agent performance and skills, achieve higher customer
satisfaction through improved customer service, and increase staff productivity
through improved call handling. Plus, it’s easy to set up, affordable to
implement and delivers proven results. If you add it to your New Year’s
resolution list, the rest of your quality monitoring challenges will be much
easier to achieve. Learn More
A 2012 poll found that 80% of consumers would stop doing business with a company after a bad experience with an interactive voice response (IVR) system. Some consumers can’t imagine any encounter with an IVR that doesn’t end in frustration or shouting “Operator!” (among other choice words) as the recording rambles on about options available by pressing 1, or 2, or 9.
Is there any way to make the IVR more appealing? Or are companies forced to use this technology doomed to the prospect of an angry customer base? Enter the Smartphone
The problem with the IVR is customers have to wait for audio instructions before following a series of steps that (hopefully) gets them to the answers they need. But when those options are provided via visual representation on a smartphone, those same customers don’t seem to mind.
All of us when we’re online are used to clicking on the links that will get us the answers we need. We’re so accustomed to it that navigating a visual IVR menu can be completed much more quickly than waiting to hear the full list of options from a recorded message. If waiting for an agent still proves inevitable, a visual IVR can offer video presentations that may be helpful, and at the very least are more informative and entertaining than the musical selections that play while we’re stuck on hold. Best of all, this self-service technology is not expensive – an important consideration for companies that opted for the IVR to avoid the cost of a full-service contact center.
So if you must resort to an IVR, a smartphone version provides a new way to access the cost and convenience benefits of the system, without the obstacles that drive customers away. Learn More
Quality scores still an issue? That’s not good. This is the feedback that illuminates how customers are being treated by your agents, and if they are getting the help and information they need. Here are a few steps you can take to start those numbers trending in the right direction.
1. Identify the Agents that Need the Most Help
All of your agents should receive ongoing training and coaching. But with a
quality management system you’ll know which agents need extra help. 2. Target Negative Feedback
This may seem obvious, but many contact centers still base assessments on random samples of calls and surveys, rather than those with negative customer feedback. That’s where the problems are, so that is where training should start.
3. Real-Time Analysis
When VoC data is added to quality scorecards, agents get
real-time performance feedback, which can encourage self-correction. 4. Screen Recording Screen recording provides an added dimension to call recording and scoring, and gives you a much better idea of how every agent is performing his or her job. 5. Schedule Training in Quieter Moments
Training sessions are too important to be subject to interruptions. With a workforce management solution, you can pinpoint activity lulls and schedule accordingly.
6. Review Feedback on All Channels
Call centers are contact centers now. Review performance analytics for online chat and email as well, and incorporate these into training.
7. Use After-Call Surveys
Surveys initiated immediately after the customer engagement are one way to accurately capture the respondent’s reaction. Given time to cool down, a customer may be more charitable when they fill out a form a week later. That’s nice of them, but it doesn’t help you identify where help is needed.
8. Dump the IVR
This may not be possible, but if it is, it can only help. Routing calls directly to a live agent or the appropriate department is always preferable from the customer’s perspective.
9. Improve Scheduling
When staff shifts are optimally scheduled to call demand patterns, calls are efficiently answered and customers have one less reason to be upset.
10. Speech Analytics
speech analytics tools can allow you to start raising performance levels and quality scores immediately. It will be easier to detect when agents are not following the script or using language that is not compliant with company policy.
When you think of quality, what is the first thing that comes to mind? Is it the efficiency of a contact center that is meeting its customer service goals? Is it the quality monitoring solution that helps managers identify issues and resolve them? These are important, yes. But quality is more basic than that. It begins as a mindset, an approach to work and achieving goals that must be shared by every contact center manager, coach, trainer and agent. Yes, there are quality processes that can and should be put into place, but if the people behind them are not dedicated to making the best decisions for the business and its customers, these processes will not be sufficient by themselves. How can we take that quality mindset and put it into action? It starts by being proactive. The goal is to spot problems and solve them when there is still time to do so, even if it requires above-and-beyond effort. Stories of this abound in the business world – hotel managers who drive two hours to return a credit card to a guest about to board an international flight; the gift-wrap employee at the department store who adds an extra bow and the more expensive ribbon to make every package look special. That type of quality doesn’t exist solely at the top or the bottom of the organization – it must be present at all levels. It must be so prevalent that those agents or other personnel who lack the quality mindset will find themselves engulfed by it from every direction, so they must either rise to meet the same expectations or seek employment somewhere else. Author Amitava Kar, one of the world’s leading experts on quality management, once said “The quality of an organization will not improve unless, and until, we have (people) with a caring mindset…leaders must embrace quality as their personal responsibility and must demonstrate quality in their behaviors and actions before they can expect people to trust or follow them.” When this is achieved, then you may be confident that your contact center will maximize the great potential inherent in a quality management solution.
Compliance is – let’s be honest – a pretty dull topic.
But in our continuing quest to avoid what is boring, we cannot neglect the laws and regulations now in place that help to keep business transactions stable and secure. This can also be a costly topic to ignore, given the penalties that may be imposed on businesses that do not keep accurate, up-to-date records of telephone transactions. Recorded call records must be kept accessible for a minimum of six months, and that timeframe may increase with new legislation on its way. Is your contact center keeping up? Do you have transactions saved across multiple platforms? Speech Analytics Can Help
In addition to its many other benefits in customer service and cost savings, speech analytics also play an important role in your compliance effort.
Should you ever need to demonstrate how your contact center is meeting established criteria for keeping credit card information safe, speech analytics can quickly search through thousands of calls and highlight any in question by locating the precise language used in each call. Even single words can be flagged and calls brought up for review. Having ready access to calls subject to compliance not only saves time, it reduces risk of exposure, as it now becomes easier for managers to check compliance during internal reviews. Doing so regularly can help your contact center avoid fines and negative publicity, at a time when the public remains concerned about secure transactions.
The year 2020 once seemed so far away and now it’s just around the corner. And according to a Gartner survey, 85% of consumers will by 2020 prefer to manage their own relationships with companies, rather than interact with them via current methods such as the contact center.
We’ve seen such surveys before, and no one can say for sure what technology or customers will be like five years from now. But there is no question that we are seeing changes in how contact centers deal with customers, as a result of omnichannel options that can be accessed anywhere through smartphones and tablets. Six billion mobile devices now in circulation tend to have that effect. Chances are your contact center has already felt some of these trends. Round the Clock Service
One of the many advantages of the Internet is that it’s always open. If customers want to reach out to a company in the middle of the night, they can now do so via email and social media, and some companies provides 24-hour access to online chat as well. More connection points are expected by customers, particularly millennials, at any time, day or night. However, smartphones are still phones even if they can do 100 other things. And we believe telephone interaction, even if restricted to traditional business hours, will still be important in 2020 and beyond, and should not be neglected in the race to embrace other options.
No one has to take a number or wait 5 minutes before sending an email or posting on Facebook. As customers come to expect that type of instant communication via their mobile device, sitting on hold waiting to speak to a contact center agent will seem even more of an inconvenience than it does already. That will place more emphasis on improving calls answered and average wait time metrics.
That said, there is still a delay between messages sent via email and left on Facebook, and a company response. The ultimate goal may be to integrate instant live service with a self-service mobile channel, such as chatting with a virtual agent. Whatever the future brings there is no reason to wait until 2020 to start reassessing your current processes and infrastructure technology, and find ways to make them compatible with current mobile tools.
Customers aren’t thinking about your technology or your management or your coaching when they call your contact center. Their happiness or displeasure with your business will be determined to a great extent by the agent who takes their call.
But while managers recognize the importance of front-line employees, they still contend with ongoing issues related to agent engagement and retention.
According to Everest Group Research, the approximate financial loss for a 500-person contact center due to agent loss and recruiting can reach $2 million in one year. What do agents want and need to bring their ‘A’ game to work every day, and to stay with the company for years instead of months?
One poll, conducted by Ventana Research, suggests they are not getting the personal attention and individualized training they desire. Just 37% of respondents reported that their contact centers have set targets for the amount of coaching time each agent should receive.
Yes, it’s an investment, but when the agent knows you are investing in his or her success, it motivates them to better performance.
Still hesitant? Consider also that this allocation of additional time and money is also an investment in improving the customer experience, and that’s what it’s all about.
A renewed focus on training should also take into account the role that technology can play in making coaching sessions more effective. For instance, the optimal time to schedule training sessions is when agents are on-shift but may be idle due to lower call volume. By some estimates, if all of those idle minutes were added up, an agent spends five weeks out of every year between phone calls.
The innovative contact center will treat that situation not as a problem but as an opportunity. An automated, real-time workforce management solution collects forecasting, scheduling and adherence data and delivers insight into moments where training can be safely scheduled without impacting customer service, as well as optimization opportunities to avoid overstaffing or understaffing.
WFM is acquired via the cloud, the result is a better customer experience at a lower cost to the contact center. Learn more
It’s not that contact center agents are naturally suspicious. But when the company announces it is adding a quality monitoring tool, the obvious assumption will be that this is being done to keep a closer eye on agent conduct, and to catch people not doing their jobs.
For this reason, the way in which quality monitoring is introduced can be critical in its acceptance by the contact center workforce. It is essential that agents recognize the benefits of quality monitoring, not only to the business and its customers but to agents as well. Here are three tips on how to achieve a stress-free transition into a quality monitoring program. We’re all in this together
Calm fears over “Big Brother” right away, and emphasize that quality monitoring is a tool that is going to help everyone – agents, coaches, managers, and supervisors – be more efficient and deliver better customer service. Explain how everyone needs to be working together to achieve business goals, and how quality monitoring will provide insight into each employee’s performance – not to criticize them, but to help them get better through personalized training.
When managers have more insight into agent performance, they will have a way to identify and reward those who excel at their jobs. You may have agents now who don’t feel appreciated for the good work they do; quality monitoring offers a way to change that.
Consult the vendor
Monet Software has worked with a number of call centers on quality monitoring implementation, and can provide not only technical assistance but also feedback on any work culture issues that may arise from its use. This is a positive step forward for your contact center, and we’ll work with you to make sure it is introduced in the right manner.
Routing calls to the agent best suited to handling them is a proven strategy for boosting service levels and customer satisfaction. But how do you determine which agent is the right one?
Most contact centers employ a content-based approach. If a caller has a highly technical question, there should be an agent with the product insight necessary to understand the problem. If a customer wants more information about a seasonal promotion, agents trained on the details would be the appropriate recipients of these queries. However, emotion can be an equally pivotal consideration when routing agent calls. Customers who want to conduct their business as quickly as possible without a lot of chit-chat will be happier with an agent who moves the call along more efficiently. Senior citizens, who remember a less-hurried time and may enjoy some pleasant conversation during their calls, will prefer an agent with a more genial personality. Behavioral analytics studies suggest that emotions might be a more important factor than content in call routing. Given that most calls will consist of basic questions and transactions, pairing a customer with a like-minded agent is a strategy that may deliver better results. To do this, of course, it would help if a call center had speech analytics and other related tools available to quickly identify they type of a caller by their reactions or emotions. It would also need to know which agents are more naturally empathetic to problems, which are able to maintain a calm demeanor when confronted with anger, and which have the patience to deal with customers that do not express themselves in a concise manner.
Is there such a thing as a quick fix when it comes to more effective performance management? Can one little change in attitude or procedure make a big difference in quality monitoring?
The answer is yes – and no. Both performance management and quality monitoring require coordinated planning and execution throughout the contact center. Performance management is something of a catch-all term that incorporates a wide range of management aspects, from planning to developing agent skills, to evaluating performance based on metrics and making adjustments accordingly. Doing so will be more successful with a detailed plan of action. Likewise, creating an integrated quality monitoring program will take time and preparation, with particular focus on call recording, PCI compliance, quality scorecards and screen capturing. No quick fixes there. However, once the foundation for both programs is established, small changes can indeed pay significant dividends toward the ultimate goal of ensuring consistent, high quality service that meets or surpasses expectations. Here are a few that may help your performance management and quality monitoring endeavors. Praise from the top
How often does your upper management team review calls? Have them listen to a few every week, and then contact the agents that did a great job and let them know their work is appreciated.
Training doesn’t have to be boring
If training consists of the same procedures every week or month, agents will tune it out. Have trainers use varied methods to maintain a higher level of engagement.
Quality monitoring starts (before) day one
While agents are still in the induction phase, introduce the QM system and expectations in place, and make sure they are aware of the criteria.
Praise and reward systems can be beneficial (more on some of these later) but there is no substitute for immediate positive feedback following a customer’s praise. If an email or a phone call contains that praise, don’t wait to share it with the group.
This is obvious, but bears repeating. These programs require consistency, not just in how they are carried out by agents but how they are presented and maintained by supervisors.
Who watches the watchers?
Your coaches are entrusted with maximizing agent performance – but who is making sure that the coaches are doing their best? Their work must be regularly monitored as well.
Individual call monitoring is important, but occasional group meetings to review calls may also be beneficial.
Feedback won’t work unless it is clear and actionable. You can find out if this is the case by providing agents with feedback forms about coaches (they’ll love that anyway). Offer them a chance to confirm that they understand the assessment they received, and if the coach took their thoughts and opinions into consideration.
Encourage a general climate of professionalism, not only in how agents communicate with customers but how they communicate with managers, coaches and their fellow agents. Once this becomes second-nature, performance will inevitably improve.
Involve the QM team in agent recruitment
Your quality monitoring teams knows what to look for in outstanding agents. So why not involve them in the recruitment process?
Coaching and training sessions should not be dreaded by agents. If they are, something is wrong. Try starting each session with positive coaching – what the agent is doing well and how the call center is lucky to have them. Remind agents of the improvemen
ts they have already made. Then review areas where further improvement is possible and discuss ways to work together to get there. Include customers in performance management
Agents play a role in performance management, but customers do as well. Take their feedback into account.
A lot of contact centers give out prizes to agents for consistent performance or specific moments of excellence. A free meal, a spa day, or a cash bonus works better than a trophy or a “job well done” certificate.
Encourage peer discussion
You know your agents already talk about their jobs and customers (and probably you as well) with each other. Set some time aside to allow them to get together and also talk about improving quality. Some very smart ideas may emerge from these sessions.
The big picture
When discussing performance management with agents, tell them about the center’s greater goals and over-arching customer service strategy. The more they understand the big picture, the more they might buy into the program.
Public or private coaching?
Some contact centers conduct coaching sessions in a closed office; others have these discussions out on the floor within earshot of other agents. There is no sure formula for which will be more effective at your contact center – so why not try both and see what happens?
Watch your language
Does anyone still use words like “demerits” or terms like “marked down” in coaching sessions? Use positive, supportive language instead.
Grade calls in sections
Break each call into different sections for review purposes, such as: call open, courtesy, technical skills and compliance, efficiency, and closing.
Don’t ignore the longer calls
Short calls are always desirable but not always possible. Sometimes you can learn more about agent performance, contact center issues and your QM strategy by reviewing longer calls.
It’s ok to ask for help
If an agent is having difficulty answering a customer’s questions, he or she might be hesitant to forward that call to a supervisor if it reflects badly on their performance. But if that is the best way to keep that customer relationship, make sure the agent knows that doing so is the right step.
Never stop improving
Did you achieve your quality goals? Great! Now, set new ones. Complacence is the enemy of every contact center.
While many call centers have enjoyed the benefits of
call recording for decades, there are always businesses preparing to add this functionality for the first time. What the technology does is obvious – where first-time users sometimes err is in making sure that agents make the most of its potential. For contact centers preparing for call monitoring system implementation, here are five best practice tips before and after installation. Before the System is Installed 1. Don’t spring this on the team. Announce the decision to add call recording software in advance and clarify the reasons for the implementation. An agent’s first response might be concern over how every word they say will now be part of the company’s permanent record. Reassure them that this isn’t a “Big Brother” spying technique, but a way to improve performance for both managers and agents. Schedule time to listen to any feedback, questions or issues. 2. Now that you’ll have the data from recordings, what do you want to do first? Create a priority list of which areas will receive the most attention. Explore how this information will impact how you presently determine quality standards and customer satisfaction. There’s a good chance the old guidelines will have to be updated, or replaced. 3. There are legal issues that impact call recording. Clarify how recordings will be logged and saved, who will have access to this stored data, and whether the call monitoring software is compliant with the Federal Communication Commission and other government and industry organizations. After the System is Installed 1. Call monitoring will have a huge impact on your agent training. Live monitoring of agent calls does not always tell the full story of any employee’s skills. Take advantage of the access you now have to every agent-customer conversation, and create a system for how to incorporate recorded calls into training sessions. Many supervisors break calls into sections and review each one, along with the time it takes to interact with each customer, and how each agent fulfills the procedures established at the time of his/her hiring. Schedule regular reviews to maintain consistency. 2. Use the data and reports generated by a call monitoring system to review scheduling of agents, whether at one or multiple call centers. Make adjustments accordingly to reduce the wait time on incoming calls, or any situations where agents are sitting at their phones with extended periods of non-activity. Finding the right formula to avoid either overworked or idle employees can have significant impact on the call center’s efficiency and its bottom line.