Quality versus Efficiency? And the winner is …
Anyone that has ever worked in a contact center, knows the importance of efficiency. In a typical contact center, we measure efficiency from every angle: Number of contacts per hour, Average Handle Time (AHT), After Call Work (ACW) and Agent Occupancy just to name a few! In fact, contact centers were created to provide efficiency and reduce costs.
But is that the whole picture? Let’s exaggerate a bit! Let’s ask our agents to pick up the phone, say their name (or company name) and then hang up!!! With AHT of less than 30 seconds, we can have over 120 calls per hour (per agent), zero ACW and almost 100% occupancy rate!!
I know no one does that. Clients contact us because they need something – let’s call it Resolution. So, unless they get their resolution, they have to call back (or worse, move to another provider). We can all agree that providing resolution (sometimes as simple as basic information or as complex as setting up a mortgage) is the main purpose of the any contact center. The question, then, becomes “How much efficiency are we willing to forego to achieve desired resolution?”.
I have been an advocate for introducing QA in the contact center for many years. Using a proper QA process, we can ensure we are delivering services in a way that delights our customers while satisfy the requirements of each contact. Best in class contact centers, combine ‘Voice of the Customers’ along with ‘Compliance’ and ‘Quality Listening’ to gauge the quality of the contacts and plan proper coaching activities in order to improve the performance of each and everyone of their agents.
Having a proper QA process is an important step. However, to make it work, we also need to give QA proper emphasis by including quality score as part of the individual and team scorecard. And here is the perceived conflict: Should Quality score, or Efficiency score, have higher impact on the overall score for the individuals (or the center)? Or should they have equal weight? Many centers will tell you that they keep an eye on both factors and manage them equally. But do they?
There is a reality of operations that calls, emails and chats must be answered. We cannot afford long wait times (although it happens every day for many centers), nor have a huge backlog of work to be completed. As soon as the volume starts picking up, most centers would lean on their staff to make sure long wait time and backlog is reduced. They would never specifically ask agents to cut the call short or don’t provide the full service but the implication is there! Good agents already know this, and then we emphasize it by making sure that efficiency is a big part of their performance report (and by default QA takes a back seat). The management will tell you that they still see QA as an important parameter but they just cannot afford to lose any efficiency. This is start of a slippery slope!!
I have seen it many times. The center does not have enough resources so perhaps they will review 2 contacts instead of their original plan of 5. Then limit these reviews and coaching that is required only to those staff in the lower performance quadrant. And finally get those supervisors and team leads who were listening and coaching, to take customer calls in order to manage the work-load. They will ask their supervisors to perform the QA steps when time allows! By this time, you might as well accept that you don’t have a QA process and stop pretending!
So, does this mean that efficiency always win over quality? No necessarily. Let’s look at the issue from a different angle. What is the cost of ‘poor quality’? Is it more or less than cost of poor efficiency? Or better yet, is it possible to invest in QA to avoid that cost and even add value to the organization?
The bad news is that in most cases, that cost of ‘poor quality’ is very high and in fact higher than cost of poor efficiency (one can build financial model specific to their own contact center). The good news is that the center can avoid that by investing smaller amount in QA. Better news is that, higher quality can also help increasing efficiency of the center – well, not exactly increased efficiency but rather reduction in repeat callers and work-load.
So, what is this investment and where do we get it?
Let’s start with requirements. In a proper QA process, we will be looking to review 8 to 10 contacts per agent per reporting period (typically monthly which makes it about 2 contacts per week). This is simply a guideline as some technical calls may average over 30 minutes and reviewing that many contacts is just not feasible. We need the review to audit ‘compliance’ while offering actionable (for coaching purposes) comments on how the service was delivered. In order to get the full view of the contact, we should also include voice of the customer through some form of survey. The results must be summarized looking to highlight trends in behavior.
QA is not an end by itself and will not be effective if it is not followed by proper (and continuous) coaching. Best in class contact centers provide coaching to ALL of their agents and not just those that are performing below an arbitrary mark. By the way, by offering coaching to supposedly poor performers, we make it a negative action that agents would want to avoid instead of embracing it.
Where do we get resources to perform all of this? Keep in mind that this should be looked as investments in avoiding future costs. Start by creating a full QA and coaching program. If you are a large center, you can afford to have dedicated team members (number of staff can easily be calculated). For smaller center, you may need to have your supervisors or trainer to tackle this. In that case make sure that appropriate amount of time is going to be allocated to the task (i.e. don’t ask your supervisors to do it when they have time and don’t ask them to take calls / emails as an agent). This may have a short-term impact on the center ability to handle the work-load but it will pay back by improving quality.
As for reviewers (Quality Listeners), best practice to have multiple reviewers. So, why not expand the team and engage staff outside the center who would benefit for listening to a call or reading correspondence between clients and the center (e.g., Marketing, Production, Warehouse, even senior Management). Remember we are not asking them for many hours but just a few calls per week. As mentioned, this is not for the benefit of the QA and the center but also benefits those groups by hearing first hand what are involved in customer contacts.
Quality versus Efficiency? No, Quality PLUS Efficiency!!
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(Apr 8, 2021 )