Do you want to deliver better customer experiences in your contact centers? Do you want customers to be wowed? Are you happy with your contact center quality program? I know, these seem like stupid questions to actually expect a response. Really, who in their right mind would answer “no”? This is exactly why I did not ask these questions while at a contact center conference a few weeks ago. At this event I had the opportunity to meet with over a hundred contact center practitioners, all there trying to gain more knowledge and skills. Just like so many of us, these people want to do a better job, and were investing time and effort to do so. No time for stupid questions!
Contact Center Quality Benchmarking Limits
Honestly, I think we all have the same desire to progress and to do a better job. We definitely do not want to fail. It’s these desires that can also lead us to temptation in contact centers. We have to face the fact that at some point we were new to contact centers. Despite a few stories I have read, I do not think people were born to work in contact centers. It is a learned skill. And for most of us, it chooses us, we did not choose it. When each of us start something new we naturally look to see what others are doing to determine what we should do. A somewhat structured approach of “what are others doing“ is called benchmarking. One thing that may not clearly be understood is that benchmarking actually meets a fundamental human need to avoid risk and to find comfort in familiarity.
People find comfort and an increased sense of well-being when they can tell those in authority that others are doing this and therefore it must be the right thing to do or this is why we did it this way. People feel more confident because it is perceived that there is less risk of failure when you follow in the steps of others. In the social science world this is called social proof. Social proof has been well researched and is used in marketing and advertising and in the home. My kids are always trying to use social proof to get that new electronic device (Eleanor has it!) or to keep from being in trouble for bad behavior or poor judgment (Alex does it). The latter is why adults look to use benchmarking to make decisions (Well, Acme does it). Everybody wants to stay out of trouble. But we are no longer new to the industry.
The Risks with Contact Center Benchmarking
In the contact center industry (other areas too), benchmarking is not as safe as it’s perceived. Changes in customer behavior and expectations are requiring organizations to make dramatic shifts in how it engages with and serves customers. Unfortunately, organizations are not changing nearly fast enough. As a result, benchmarking the processes in the contact center industry has become a reflection of what NOT to do. How is this so? When people interpret benchmarking data they look for the common practices and target these for replication. Well, in an industry that is lagging in performance, as reported in the continual decline in customer satisfaction ratings, the average is far from being good enough. In fact, it represents pathetic performance based on customer standards.
Contact centers must undergo a dramatic change in priorities, processes, and metrics to correct this industry customer experience downslide. One of the greatest opportunities to impact this downslide is with the traditional contact center quality assurance practices. If you want to impact the customer experience in the contact center, this is the best place to start.
When you review investments made in contact centers, here is where benchmarking can help us. Quality Assurance represents approximately 20% of a contact centers budget. This investment impacts the employees in contact centers and they, in turn, represent approximately 70% of a contact centers budget. So in essence, 90% of a contact centers budget is impacted by the quality assurance program in contact centers. Put this in context. Little changes can have a significant impact with Quality Assurance and big changes can be epic.
If I were to rewind my contact center career and go back to my operations days at AutoZone in 1995, I would find many of the quality assurance practices we did back then still in full deployment today. Not much has changed in QA, except that the gap between what contact centers think is quality and what customers think is quality is widening at an increasing rate. The quality assurance model used in the 1990s is still the common practice of today, perhaps with a bit more polish. We must leave it in the past.
As I began this story I mentioned two stupid questions. Do you want to deliver better customer experiences in your contact centers? And, do you want customers to be wowed? I know you want this or there is no way you would have read to this point. You also know that it’s insane to follow a contact center quality assurance model that is two decades old. Remember the definition of insanity, originally given to us by Dr. Albert Einstein. Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Unfortunately, this is the definition for quality assurance in the contact center industry.
This insanity is something I am passionate about ending. For the last few years Customer Relationship Metrics has been advising clients on the implementation of a modern quality assurance model called Impact Quality Assurance (iQA). The impact quality assurance model delivers an optimal customer experience while controlling costs with a do-it-right focus instead of a do-it-fast focus.
We recently created the visual model of this methodology in order to educate the entire contact industry about impact quality assurance. The model creates a more clear line between the company’s evaluation of service referred to as internal quality monitoring (iQM) and the customer’s evaluation of service referred to as External Quality Monitoring (eQM). The metrics in this model are more balanced to reflect their ownership to the agent and the company with iQM and eQM. A key factor is the linkage to desired business objectives. The final element, emotional intelligence (EI) is rooted in the science of engagement and influence. Emotional intelligence covers elements of influencing the customer experience and influencing employee engagement and behavior change.
In order to focus these elements in a customer-centric way, we incorporated the 4 Vital Questions of Contact Center Quality developed by Dr. Cliff Hurst of Westminster College. The four questions help to focus and assign the proper resources and prescriptive actions for improvement. The 4 Vital Questions that must be answered by any effective contact center quality assurance program are:
- How are we, as an organization, doing at representing our company to customers?
- What can we, as an organization, do to get better at representing our company to customers?
- How is this particular agent doing at representing our organization to customers?
- What can we, as managers, do to help this agent get better at representing our organization to customers?
Common contact center industry practices result in a nearly exclusive focus on Question #3: How is this agent doing? The insights used to answer this question most often are sourced exclusively from the iQM practices. With the exclusive source being from iQM the quality assurance program developers and analysts create iQM scoring criteria to evaluate agent performance by simulating the customer evaluation of service. In essence, they are attempting to read the mind of customers. The “we think this is good, so will the customer” assumption is a large contributor to the gap that exists between what customers think is excellence service and what companies think is excellent service. Many contact centers that report 95% iQM scores find themselves losing market share and battling to overcome a very bad reputation on social media. Here, the gap exists between the company score of 95/100 and the negative customer view out in the marketplace.
In a misguided attempt to narrow the gap, some contact centers invite customers to evaluate their service experience. They realize the importance of the customer assessment to validate and enrich their internal view of quality. The most successful contact center leaders realize when adding the eQM segment they need to remove the assumptive criteria in the iQM segment of their quality assurance program to prevent conflict and waste.
The leaders with customer experience strategy also realize the demonstrative difference between voice of the customer (VOC) and customer feedback program and eQM. In comparison, eQM has the same elements as iQM, for the same reasons. Employee engagement is ultimately the most important aspect of any quality assurance program. When employees have positive feelings and trust the quality assurance program the road to being more customer-centric is accelerated. 80% of contact center agents are very dissatisfied or dissatisfied with quality assurance programs in contact centers. When contact center agents associate trust and fairness with their quality assurance programs, you will find iQM, eQM, and linking metrics with a focused effort to positively impact the well-being (EI) of employees and customers in the process. You will also find all of the elements focused on answering the four vital questions.
Big Picture for Contact Center Quality
Savvy contact center leaders realize that only evaluating the level of performance of individual agents (Vital Question #3) doesn’t get them very far. They have come to learn this is not where their biggest improvements come from.
Bigger improvements come from improving processes, systems, training, policies, and leadership practices. The cross-functional and change effort is launched in response to Vital Question #2. And to answer Vital Question #2, you need first to answer Vital Question #1.
Vital Question #4 is an organizational development question. It is not answerable through statistical analysis. It is answerable only by providing the needed leadership and coaching by frontline supervisors. The role of supervisors as coaches must be to conduct call coaching to increase agent development. This element positively impacts the employee experience and the customer experience simultaneously.
The Impact Quality Assurance (iQA) model involves a paradigm shift from the traditional contact center quality assurance approach found in the vast majority of contact centers today. The contact center industry is currently at a tipping point with their quality assurance programs. The tolerance level of these traditional quality assurance practices amongst contact center employees has run its course and with an economic upturn we’ll see a mass exodus of skilled talent from contact centers, never to return. In addition, customers are finally in control as judge, jury, and executioner and have the upper hand with quality assurance program evaluating (your entire program assessment) when they leverage social media. So your choice is to make a positive impact with quality assurance in your contact center or wait until customers make the choice for you.
- Quality Assurance Optimization Requires Transformation
- Quality Monitoring Calibration the Worst Call Center Common Practice
- Internal Quality Monitoring is Unable to Answer the Quality Question
- Quality Assurance Transformation Charts and Graphics
- 5 Reasons Not to Create a VOC Program
- Putting Humanity in Contact Centers - July 26, 2017
- Avoiding Pitfalls of Customer Satisfaction Surveys - July 19, 2017
- Why Customer Experience is Like Sex in High School - January 11, 2017
- VoC Execution Gap in Contact Centers is Huge - June 29, 2016
- How long should my contact center survey be? - June 7, 2016
- Stop the Freaking Customer Feedback - April 27, 2016
- What is your Contact Center Top Priority? - April 11, 2016
- Nine words to stop using to describe your quality assurance program - March 10, 2016
- What NOT TO DO with your contact center budget - March 9, 2016
- What to aim for with your Contact Center Budget - February 15, 2016