Quality assurance (QA) sessions are a primary vehicle for skills-building in any contact center. These one-on-ones take agents beyond what they learned in a few days or weeks of training and help them respond effectively to real-life customer situations. And a better prepared agent isn’t just more effective, they’re more confident and engaged as well.
This means a proper QA process must reach beyond call center analytics and reporting. QA also demands time, attention to detail and a human touch to ensure that agents feel supported in their jobs and included in the culture.
How can you make that happen in these brief meetings? Here are a few tips for quality feedback in a call center.
Some agents arrive knowing how to accept and incorporate feedback. For others, getting performance input is new and disconcerting. Responses to constructive criticism can range from dejection to defensiveness.
To defuse the emotions, it’s important to explain why QA sessions happen and to underscore that everyone is offered ideas for improvement. Getting better is a marathon, not a sprint, so make sure agents understand that critiques don’t threaten their job—they’re part of the job.
It’s more difficult to hear criticism or “fess up” about a lack of knowledge if a colleague in the next seat is listening in. So keep QA private. Creating a quiet space for one-on-ones ensures confidentiality and helps build the trust necessary for agents to confront the challenges they face, ask questions and invest in the process.
Making QA feedback a regular occurrence has many benefits. When agents deal with feedback once or twice per week, they become more comfortable with it.
Regular feedback also allows leaders to strike while the iron is hot. Contacts that happened within the past few days represent an agent’s current skill set, not mistakes they may have corrected weeks ago. What’s more, the agent is more likely to remember the thinking behind the choices they made, so QA feedback can help them adjust how they strategize their contacts, not just incorporate rote behaviors.
The QA scorecard helps take the concept of an improved call center customer experience and break it down into specific elements—like a recipe for success. To take full advantage, however, agents need specificity. They must be able to identify exactly when and where they applied—or failed to apply—certain skills.
QA leaders should feel free to pause a call recording and praise a particular phrasing or empathetic comment, explaining why it worked. When there is room for improvement, modeling an alternative response can help agents understand precisely what is being asked of them.
Be sure not to overwhelm agents with feedback. Offering a “scattershot” of comments, both good and bad, can create confusion and leave the employee unclear on next steps.
Instead, focus on one or two related points per QA session to provide a manageable list for the agent to attend to in the coming shifts. Once these skills are firmly established, future QA sessions can move on.
Sometimes focus may mean devoting an entire QA session to positives. If an agent made a great leap forward, allow time to celebrate and save other critiques for next time. It’s a great confidence builder!
Not every contact will result in the targeted outcome. On-point product pitches frequently result in no sale, while the most empathetic and efficient response to a complaint may not be enough to soothe some of the worst callers.
QA managers can help agents build resilience by focusing on behaviors in addition to outcomes. Note an agent’s professionalism, knowledge, patience, or other positives displayed on a difficult call that didn’t turn out as they’d hoped.
Give agents a voice by allowing them to help design the post-QA action plan with goals they feel are achievable by the next session. You might be surprised how the focus shifts.
A QA manager, for example, might be looking for improved customer satisfaction scores in post-call surveys, while the agent is mostly worried about getting flustered in certain scenarios, which compromises their service quality. If agents can surface the root cause of contact shortcomings and devise ideas for addressing them, they’ll often get further, faster than by following a one-size-fits-all formula.
What if despite all of the efforts above, QA sessions with a particular agent just aren’t working? Sometimes it’s worthwhile to send in a different QA manager to see if there’s a personality mismatch. Other times, a human resources intervention may help if an agent is dealing with issues beyond the job. Yet there will be occasions when there is no choice but to let go.
Contact centers will boost their coaching success rates, however, by making QA part of an overarching contact center workforce engagement strategy, with transparency during hiring, an organization-wide mission to believe in, a supportive culture, adaptable scheduling, opportunity for advancement, and so on.
Struggling to incorporate such strategies with agents who are now—or maybe always have been—working from home? Here’s our take on that challenge.
Monitoring and scoring calls—these quality assurance (QA) tasks are constant at nearly every contact center. For the most part, managers tend to think about QA in terms of improving customer experience (CX) or, unfortunately, as a mere policing function intended to “crack down” on undesirable agent behaviors.
When seen this way, QA sessions can become dreaded experiences for agents, a report card focused primarily on what they’re doing wrong. But QA can be so much more!
By taking an agent-centric approach to contact center call recording quality recording management, regular QA feedback can become an opportunity for growth that agents welcome—one that improves employee satisfaction, morale, retention and yes, employee engagement. Seriously. Here’s how.
QA delivers clear, quantitative feedback agents can build on
Specialties like customer service can feel nebulous. Especially at first, agents may understand the importance of positive CX in improving customer satisfaction but struggle with how to execute an “ideal” interaction.
Fortunately, carefully developed QA scorecards, customized to each program, can serve as a “recipe” for agents to follow. With quantitative metrics and reporting, agents can gauge whether they’ve gotten better at giving a welcoming call opening or using mirroring effectively. As the numbers go up, so does agent confidence!
Group QA metrics into tiers, representing milestones toward interaction mastery. Focus on one or two skills over multiple sessions with an agent and, once those skills appear consistently, move up the ladder. This way, the learning curve is more manageable and agents can celebrate their progress.
Call review and coaching sessions contribute to team building
QA hinges on call monitoring and scoring, along with good call center analytics and reporting—but then it gets personal. Most contact center QA structures integrate one-on-one call feedback and coaching, provided by a member of the QA team, the agent’s manager, or both.
These are highly interactive sessions that open communications channels, so agents get to know their leaders, understand expectations and receive support. Handled well, QA sessions are integral to team building.
Maximize two-way communications in QA interactions. Ask agents for their own ideas for improving a call, see if they have questions about a contact strategy that’s been modeled or solicit their input on how they learn best. Now you’ve given agents more of a voice.
Agents’ ability to transform CX make interactions more pleasant
Let’s face it, many of the calls any contact center agent will field are from frustrated customers. Maybe their website order returned an error message or they can’t figure out their bill. Agents with strong skills and knowledge can direct contact flow and meet the customer’s needs efficiently. This helps move customers from initial irritation, disappointment or other negative emotion to a more positive state. Such success—and the thanks that may come from it—can improve agents’ attitudes as well.
Identify situations in which agents handled a tough customer with aplomb—even if the call outcome wasn’t everything they hoped. Underscore that agents cannot always govern a customer’s reaction, but they can determine their own behavior and how they allow a call to affect them. Contact centers bombard agents with a lot of external forces, so empower them with a sense of control.
Feedback provided at least weekly helps drive steady growth
If you were to take a road trip from Miami to New York, you wouldn’t set an autopilot compass to north and walk away. The drive would be a series of incremental adjustments along a chosen route.
It’s much the same with contact center roles. A multitude of incremental adjustments will result in far greater skills improvement in less time than annual or monthly performance reviews. Not only do agents get more total feedback, they become accustomed to the input, so the process is no longer intimidating or deflating. Striving for continual improvement is just part of the job.
Build in agent self-assessments as well, so they learn to analyze their own performance and chart a course toward their professional goals. This high-level skill will serve them well throughout their agent tenure and beyond.
QA input can uncover talents agents may not be aware of
Any of us can overlook something we’re especially talented at, simply because it comes easily and we don’t give it much thought. The QA process typically raises discussions about an agent’s strongest abilities. Finding out they have a great way with words, a knack with technical information or a natural empathy with others can be exceptionally motivating and make agents feel understood and appreciated.
Build career maps that funnel agents with different talents into roles within the organization for which they will be well suited. Discuss with agents how to improve their skills to ready themselves for advancement. Having a bright future means a lot.
All of these tips center on a few ideas—instilling confidence, giving agents a voice and sense of control and helping them make progress toward new opportunities. These factors increase how emotionally invested employees will be in the organization and the customers they serve—and that translates directly into contact center workforce engagement.
If you’re just getting started with call center quality management, it may feel like using QA sessions to improve employee engagement is something to deal with in a faraway future—but it needn’t be so.
We’ve outlined some easy-to-apply quality management strategies for SMB call centers to help allocate limited QA resources and home in on the highest impact actions. These tips can help you focus on call monitoring, analysis and reporting activity so you can concentrate some added attention on direct, engagement-boosting interactions with agents.
How not to get overwhelmed when you’re new to QM
When you’re just getting started with quality management (QM), it can be overwhelming. It’s impossible to change everything in the contact center at once, so where should the organization focus its effort to drive the biggest quality improvements early on?
Sad to say, it will depend on the company, but there are proven ways to target initiatives for maximum benefit. The tools built into QM software, including contact recording and analytics, will make the process faster and easier. But even if you’re stuck with spreadsheets for now, the following strategies can still apply.
Most contact center managers will run reports tracking various quality metrics over time. Such trend analyses help answer a basic but important question—are we getting better? If a particular QM metric is on an upswing, that’s great. And if not, at least you know what needs work.
Although weekly and monthly trends are important management tools, it can be difficult to separate signal from noise and drive steady QM progress. Examining quality over longer timeframes, such as year over year (YOY), can be more informative.
For example, quality can be especially challenging to maintain during the holiday rush, when many SMB call centers have recently staffed up and high contact volumes make upskilling and other quality-improvement measures difficult to fit in. Rather than getting discouraged if QM metrics dip modestly during this period, consider doing a YOY trend analysis. Where you see falloff or limited improvement compared to similar “crunch times” of the past, direct some attention there.
When you get new toys, it’s easy to go overboard. (We will not admit to how much Angry Birds we played on our first smartphone.)
This even applies to SMB call centers that invest in QM software with call recording and storage capabilities. Suddenly, they’re reviewing as many recorded contacts as possible, until the personnel devoted to QM get burnt out on the constant scoring.
If you’re on overload, it might be time for outlier identification. In the simplest terms, this strategy involves identifying oddball cases and asking why the contacts fall outside the norm. It inherently brings attention to areas most in need of a fix.
For instance, you might examine interactions that went especially well, maybe resulting in high-dollar sales, and compare them the ones with the worst outcomes. What quality factors make the difference? Or what about looooong calls? Why are agents struggling to meet these customers’ needs quickly?
Outliers will exist for nearly every metric. Reviewing these contacts specifically is a powerful, efficient alternative to endless random monitoring and can prompt changes in call flow and scripting, agent resources, training and other quality-improvement tactics.
Both trend analysis and outlier identification can be combined with a version of “trial and error,” which we’ll call “test and monitor” (because it sounds more positive that way!).
Much like driving a car, QM is typically about modest steering adjustments, not sharp swerves in direction. Sure, there may be times when a team or an entire call center needs to make an immediate about-face on a point of compliance to avoid regulatory issues, but QM adjustments to improve customer experience will usually be subtle. Incremental change may not feed our desire for instant gratification, but it’s effective in boosting quality in a sustainable manner.
Many SMB call centers want to increase agents’ empathy, for example, but there’s no easy answer for that. You might try adding a new training activity to help new agents understand the customer’s perspective or ask managers to make a point about “caring” in pre-shift meetings. No matter what you choose, make one small change at time, not one hundred and one. That way, the QM team can monitor the metrics and see if it worked.
This approach makes quality management more, well, manageable for SMBs. Coming up with one idea to improve one quality metric at a time isn’t too intimidating. And if at first you don’t succeed…you know the drill.
We recognize that SMB call center managers sometimes feel like there is a QM playbook to which only their large competitors have access. Not so! Every contact center has to get started with QM at some point and find their own way.
But we do have a resource that can help. “Getting Started with Quality Management” covers all the basics of QM with helpful tips to get you on your way to shaping the best QM strategies for your business. Watch the on-demand webinar here.
These are interesting times for SMB call centers and help desks. Small-scale, in-house and boutique customer contact facilities enjoy unique opportunities in today’s CX-focused market. But the demands for impeccable compliance and better-every-time contact quality often require new systems and processes.
There comes a point in the SMB call center and help desk evolution when, to put it bluntly, spreadsheets aren’t getting it done, and live call monitoring isn’t enough to meet heightened call center quality improvement objectives. Suddenly, contact center leaders start asking themselves—is it time to establish a QM team (gasp!) or a full quality assurance (QA) department?
The prospect can be daunting for operations with limited budgets and tight margins, but QM needn’t be costly or confusing. There are ways to grow into QM as your contact center or help desk grows.
One way to buy some time on the QM journey is to invest in more sophisticated—but not complicated—QM software. Reducing the manual burden of spreadsheets with robust, yet “point and click” call monitoring, recording, and analysis capabilities is a great way to upgrade call center quality improvement with the staffing structure you have.
For many SMB call centers and help desks, their initial QM team interacting with QM software will be a cross-functional one. Team leaders, supervisors and others within the organization can be asked to contribute to the QM mission, and additional training and resources can help them grow their QM know-how.
Although each organization is different, many SMB call centers and help desks will, however, consider dedicating staff to QM as soon as it becomes financially and operationally viable to do so. Here’s why.
Having even a small call center quality improvement team sends a message—quality is of utmost importance here. What’s more, it assembles specialists dedicated to the study and sharing of quality concepts and skills. These individuals take the lead in creating diagnostic tools like monitoring quality in live and recorded contacts, and identifying ways to train, coach and instill a quality mindset at every level.
All of this takes expertise. Many SMB call centers and help desks benefit from bringing on an experienced QM leader or analyst while also involving individuals with deep background within the company. That way, they can quickly conquer the QM learning curve but ensure that new QM policies and procedures fit the organization’s needs and culture.
It’s hard to serve two masters, and production floor managers often find that simultaneously attending to outcomes and quality raises conflicts. It can be difficult, for example, to flag the top-selling agent for compliance shortcomings if the supervisor fears a fall-off in sales.
A QM team whose sole mission is to address quality can intervene to promote QM improvements more proactively and effectively. And when the QM team “owns” quality, others across the organization know who to turn to for insights.
Central to the QM function is the evaluation of contacts for regulatory compliance, adherence to scripting and qualitative features like professionalism, product knowledge and empathy. Few of these measures are clearly black and white—even a Do-Not-Call request can be handled abruptly or with grace.
That doesn’t mean SMB call centers should give up on accurate measurement, though! The key is in calibration among everyone who reviews contacts to ensure they are listening (and looking) for the same things in each call, email, chat and DM.
This is where QM teams—and QM software with recording capabilities and unlimited evaluations—are invaluable. QM specialists can, for example, review and evaluate the same recorded contacts, compare results and adjust team members’ approaches wherever discrepancies appear. Similar processes can be used to train new QM analysts so they monitor and evaluate just like the company’s Old Hats.
With good QM calibration come reliable metrics, so contact center leaders can be confident that the patterns they see in the data are not scoring idiosyncrasies but rather meaningful trends to contemplate.
So you’ve got reliable QM data, but what to do with it? Ask the QM team! They are also responsible for acting on QM, from making floor managers aware of quality issues on a particular campaign to engaging in one-on-one, QM-focused coaching with agents. QM teams can advise on training content development, provide contact center leaders with perspective and action items, upskill managers on QM-focused motivation and more.
So what’s your next step in QM? Not sure? Watch our recent webinar, Getting Started with Quality Management, to help you jumpstart your organizations QM process. It provides a wealth of information on how to get your QM processes and practices implemented in your organization, no matter where you are today.
How WFM and QM combine to engage an offsite call center workforce and deliver superior CX
High-speed internet, cloud-based applications and other technologies have opened a new vista for the call center—the remote agents. Most contact centers have had to quickly transition to working from home as a direct effect of COVID-19. Contact centers will hopefully see the cost savings of shrinking their in-house call center facility. Others will find remote agents better able to meet increasing customer demand for off-hours service.
Switching to an entirely remote workforce can solve many staffing challenges. No longer is the company limited to the talent pool surrounding the contact center. And the organization may attract a different caliber of agent via flexible, commute-free work options.
Unfortunately, working from home can also have a negative impact on morale and providing an exceptional customer experience. Management and motivational techniques are also required to overcome these new challenges. So let’s get started, read on for our tips on WFM for work from home!
First up, set aside any notion that remotely managing call center operations is inherently different. Nope. If anything, a nationwide talent pool ups the ante on pre-employment screening, because there’s simply no excuse to settle.
Call center leaders must develop accurate hiring profiles and craft effective assessment tools. And they should take into account that remote work generally requires more independent time management skill and tech savvy than on-site employment.
Remote call center agents also require as much orientation and training as their traditional call center counterparts. Companies must adapt the usual classroom learning, role playing, skills testing and nesting period to a remote environment. It’s especially important to clarify roles and expectations, maintain a resource center for self-guided learning and share insights on working from home successfully.
What appeals to a [email protected]/WFH agent? Flexibility and work/life balance tend to take top billing.
This makes contact center scheduling of tantamount importance, and high-performance, but easy-to-use WFM (that’s workforce management), software can help. When scheduling in spreadsheets, shifts may have to be 8 hours and schedules deemed final days in advance. But when you have workforce management software, agents could sign up for 2-hour work blocks (or whatever time frame is sufficient to find their groove) and swap shifts with a day or less of notice—and neither staffing levels or average handle times (AHT) would be affected.
What’s more, WFM software can give agents what they don’t realize they need—structure. Contact center managers can schedule breaks, monitor adherence and adjust to shifting call volumes and other factors on the fly, all the while directing agents’ attention where it’s needed and inserting adequate time to refresh.
Remote workforce managers don’t have the ability to “feel” when their team is firing on all cylinders, but real-time analytics and live and recorded call monitoring can more than fill the gap.
QM systems in particular empower supervisors to review all forms of customer contacts—calls, emails, texts and DMs—to steer daily performance, identify opportunities for improvement and feed a continual, personalized skills development cycle for each agent. This will usually include formal QM training sessions, upskilling coursework and micro-coaching.
Early on, however, managers should be especially sensitive to how QM and performance feedback is delivered. Trusting relationships can be difficult to foster at a distance. If an agent feels threatened or disconnected, constructive critique can come across as harsh criticism. Establishing rapport is essential, which brings us to...
The real struggle in managing remote call center agents generally comes in belonging. How do you make remote team members feel like a part of the larger organization?
It takes effort to foster a sense of community with remote agents. Successful contact centers will often use techniques like:
Always consider how remote employees can participate in events or collaboration offered to on-site team members, whether that’s accepting photos for the Halloween costume contest or setting up a “buddy system” for an in-house and a remote agent to work together toward a performance goal.
These tactics can be difficult to add “after the fact” if a company lacks a mission and identifiable culture. For more information about these elements, download our whitepaper on employee engagement here.
Whether you have been thrust into remote workforce management because of the novel coronavirus pandemic, are looking to use remote agents to supplement on-premises capabilities for a holiday ramp-up or other purpose, or expect to transition some or all of your production environment out-of-house, we have workforce engagement systems and information to help.
You might begin with our whitepaper “The Complete Contact Center Guide to Employee Engagement for SMBs.” It provides tips on how you can best motivate, retain, and engage employees who are passionate about the customer experience (CX).
Does your contact center offer messaging as an option? If not, it most likely will very soon.
Look around anywhere and you’ll see dozens of people messaging rather than calling on their smartphones. It’s still used primarily as a way to communicate with family and friends, but that is now extending to communication between consumers and companies. In fact, among millennials just 12% prefer making a phone call to using a messaging app.
Why? For starters, waiting for a response via message is preferable to waiting on hold for an agent. Contact center messaging also provides a written record of what the company says, which may be helpful later in case there is a dispute. It also allows a way for photos or even video to be incorporated into the exchange, if that becomes necessary.
Of course, as with any communication channel, customers will expect responses that are timely and helpful. That doesn’t always happen when contact centers turn over control of the messaging channel to chatbots.
The good news is that bots are smarter than they were when they were first introduced (when Facebook rolled them out, they couldn’t hold up their end of a conversation about 70% of the time). But even the better ones give themselves away with the phrases they use and pre-programmed upsell messages that may not be welcome to the receiver. That’s why a survey at Startek.com found that 8 out of 10 consumers that like messaging still prefer to interact with a real person.
Sometimes that may not be necessary. Contact centers may be moving toward a system that positions bots on the front line of messaging to take the “How late are you open?” type of questions, and then shift the rest to live agents who can message more specific responses. And as chatbots become more sophisticated, they will be able to answer more sophisticated questions.
We’re still near the beginning of this transition. But a Seattle Times article found that customer satisfaction rates are already 25% higher for messaging than calling. That means it may be time to get your agents ready to start letting their fingers do the chatting. Most will be open to the change, as an angry message is easier on the eardrums than an angry caller. Managers should embrace the change as well, since agents will be able to chat through messaging with more than one customer at the same time. That means faster service and happier customers.