The overall quality of interaction between a call center and its customers is influenced by a range of interrelated factors. These include the calibre of the agents, the quality of in-house training, staff development and incentive programmes, availability of feedback, call monitoring systems and available technology.
This article looks at seven notable tactics for the improvement of call quality and two secret ingredients for ensuring long-term quality assurance in call center.
Sound Recruitment Policy
Many of the problems of poor call performance are as a result of an inadequate or inconsistent recruitment policy. While a great training programme can work wonders with willing and able staff, there is not much that can be done when agents lack basic customer service skills and have little motivation to develop. A recruitment policy based solely on dollar rate can lead to such a situation. This is often a false economy since poor customer interactions will drive clients away and drive up client acquisition costs. If times are hard, consider bringing on one or two high-calibre agents and using them to cross-train colleagues.
High Quality Training and Development Programme
No matter how much natural ability your call center agents have, a high quality training and development programme is essential if you hope to provide consistent QA which is in line with business objectives. Successful call centers combine both a formal induction package with ongoing refresher training. This training is then linked to ongoing call monitoring and employee development and action plans. Whether you opt for an in-house or outsourced training package, or a mixture of the two, matters less than the overall relevance of the training to your customer service needs. But what are those needs? Before setting up a call monitoring system, you need to know exactly what your existing clients think about your current service.
Customer Feedback System
Some call center managers fall into the trap of assuming that they instinctively know what good customer service looks like and, therefore, that they need only to listen in to a few calls and pull agents up on their shortcomings. These assumptions can be harmful and should be replaced by actual feedback from service users. If you are contacting customers on behalf of a business, you may find that your client routinely surveys their customers and you may be able to use that data. If you are working directly with service users, you can design a simple survey yourself.
Advanced Call Monitoring System
The importance of a call monitoring system in maintaining call center standards cannot be overstated. Call monitoring can involve live ‘listening in’ to agent-customer interactions (either overt or covert), analyzing recorded calls or a combination of both. Some call centers outsource call monitoring to an external team, which can be a good idea for bench-marking, while others prefer to set up their own in-house system.
When allied with customer feedback, call monitoring can be used to identify areas that need improving which can then be used to improve training. It can also be used to reward customer service excellence and enhance your call center’s strengths.
Agent Synergy Sessions (Call Levelling)
Call centers that make use of agent synergy sessions (sometimes termed ‘call levelling’) report up to a 20 per cent increase in customer satisfaction scores. Agents are gathered together for a group feedback session involving listening to and scoring a sample of recorded calls. Rather than ‘showing up’ poor performance, such group feedback has been proven to quickly bring all agents in line with expected standards. Some call centers use a mixture of agent synergy sessions and ‘one-to-one’ feedback to get the best of both worlds from their call monitoring programmes.
Targets and Incentives
How can the knowledge of best practice be best used to improve performance? By the use of targets and incentives. Setting targets needs to be carefully managed since it involves finding a balance between business objectives and agent capability. Setting the bar too high can lead to stress and demotivation, undermining QA. Conversely, targets that are too easy to reach do not encourage excellence and can foster an acceptance of low standards.
Incentives should include both short-term rewards (gifts, vouchers, commendations, etc.) and more long-term motivators (salary bonuses, promotions, etc.)
The best technology will be unable to make up for poor agent behavior but using the latest call handling and CRM software will give great agents the tools they need to do an exceptional job. It is also worth looking into installing time-saving technology for call recording and analysis. Some software can automatically identify high value calls and make it easy to select relevant samples for group feedback sessions.
Hidden Secrets: Integration and Ownership
If the seven tactics above are the bricks of maintaining QA then integration and ownership form the mortar that binds them. Many call centers have all of the bricks lined up – strong recruitment, relevant training, regular call monitoring, an attractive employee development programme and the latest technology and yet standards still come tumbling down.
To ensure everything works together, all of the above tactics should form one lucid QA strategy which, in turn, sits within a larger business framework. There is no point in training agents to a high degree and then overwhelming them with calls because the marketing department failed to alert operations that a large marketing campaign had just launched. There is also no point in training agents to recite the ideal opening greeting when customers are telling you that they are frustrated by the agents’ inability to complete tasks.
Another secret tactic used by the best call centers is to allow the agents to own the QA process. Rather than being dictated to from on high, agents are encouraged to identify their own training needs, set targets and monitor themselves and each other. By getting agents to buy in to the whole QA process, the pathway to consistent, high standards will be smoother for all concerned.