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Four Things I Wish I Knew About Contact Center Quality

by Jim Rembach, SVP, Customer Relationship Metrics and Principal, Beyond Morale - August 1, 2016

4 Things I Wish I Knew about Contact Center Quality
I recently returned from a contact center conference where the keynote speaker took me back in time. Lu Battaglieri, Senior Vice President with Delta Dental of Michigan, shared the story of being “voluntold” that he would now be the C-level executive in charge of the contact center.
Lu then described his personal indoctrination into the world and practices of contact center operations. He talked about how the contact center at Delta Dental of Michigan did an excellent job with using the resources available to them to take care of the customers.
He also stated how contact center leaders need to do a much better job of learning how to speak the language executives speak so they are able to connect better with executives. He also mentioned that truth telling, instead of making the complex look easy, is an important skill set to build.
As Lu told his story, I reflected upon my own career in contact center operations. It’s a story about my own lack of skill in being able to speak the right language or to select the right topics to talk about. I was immersed in contact center lingo and it is a language that only contact center folks speak. When it came to communicating about the contact center to senior executives, I was a foreigner in a strange speaking land.
It wasn’t until I moved on from contact center operations that I realized why I was frustrated with getting executives to understand the work and value of the contact center. I came to realize that my over-reliance on communicating metrics and our quality assurance program as a customer satisfaction tool was an inappropriate way to build connections and commitment.
Eventually there were four things that I came to realize about how we conducted quality that prohibited my ability to use it connect with executives.
1. Quality over-focused on finding errors
Most of the activity and results from contact center quality focused on compliance and finding errors. Even though we were able to use our findings with our training team to improve agent performance, most of the messaging that came out of quality was about something that was going wrong with customer service.
Communicating to executives about the wrongs of the contact center helped to shine more light onto even more wrongs. So when we experienced a rare customer complaint it became a crisis that now needed said fire to be extinguished. Reactive management became common practice, not our best practice.  
2. Quality was hated by agents
Because of the emphasis on error discovery, agents were not particularly fond of the actions that were generated from our quality program. The heavily weighted negative messaging prevented us from flipping our focus to performance improvement.
Our ultimate goal was to reduce errors through improving skill development and by creating job progression. But the dark aspects of our quality program made it too difficult to make the shift. There had to be a better way.        
3. Quality was about “us” and not the customer.
No matter how hard we tried to convince ourselves otherwise, a haunting statement made by one of my agents weighed heavily on my mind. “That is what you think, it’s not what the customer thinks.”
It was true. Our quality model was created internally and we used it in an attempt to interpret the customer experience. But when we are measuring things from the customer’s perspective, our own error and judgement can easily validate what weighed so heavily on my mind. There must be a better way.    
4. Quality had low value.
There is much more to determining value than return on investment (ROI). While we may be able to reduce some errors, increase first call resolution, correct a compliance issue that saved several thousands of dollars – if we are unable to contribute to the well-being of the individual in a people-centric department like the contact center, quality will be forever view as being of low value.
It happens for everyone. I continually hear about contact center folks that share that they have either revamped or are getting ready to revamp their quality program. The unfortunate reality is that many just revamp and remain in the already flawed system. They never really make the changes needed to generate greater value from quality.
Time to Get Quality Right
Learning how to get quality right didn’t come until a few years ago when I learned about the Impact Quality Assurance (iQA) Model.
The iQA model helps to highlight four important components in to quality assurance: the customer, the company, metrics, and emotional intelligence.
The iQA model creates a more clear line between your company’s evaluation of service, 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 (EQ) is rooted in the science of engagement and influence. Emotional Intelligence covers elements of influencing the customer experience, influencing employee engagement, executive decisions and behavior change.
In order to focus these elements in a customer-centric way, the 4 Vital Questions of Contact Center Quality developed by Dr. Cliff Hurst of Westminster College were added. 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:
  1. How are we, as an organization, doing at representing our company to customers?
  2. What can we, as an organization, do to get better at representing our company to customers?
  3. How is this particular agent doing at representing our organization to customers?
  4. 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, this reliance on answering Question #3 contributed to the four items that prohibited my ability to connect with executives in a meaningful way.
Leaders need to do three things
In his keynote message, Lu made three things very clear that can help so many contact center leaders to build better executive connections. When you include the iQA model and the 4 Vital Questions into your tool kit, you will have a more well-rounded knowledge set to make those connections.
Lu’s three pieces of advice to all contact center leaders were:
1.       Speak the language (of executives)
2.       Evangelize the value and needs of the contact center
3.       Do not make running the contact center look too easy
Be Ready to Roll
Lu also mentioned that you need to be ready to make those connections and speak the language and not wait for your time to come. Change always happens. So be prepared for when the change happens by getting your message ready. Saying you need to do it is not doing it.
Get your message ready by getting your quality right. Don’t quit!

Jim Rembach is a twenty-year contact center veteran, SVP for Customer Relationship Metrics and Principal for Beyond Morale. Jim is a Certified Emotional Intelligence Practitioner, Certified Contact Center Auditor, and is a CX Expert panel member for the Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA). He is the author of nine books, introducing leading insights into contact center quality, analytics, surveys, employee engagement, customer experience, and leadership development.  

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