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Quality – what do we mean when we speak of quality in a call center environment?

According to Wikipeadia;

Quality can refer to;

a. . a specific characteristic of an object (the qualities of ice – i.e. its properties).
b. . the achievement or excellence of an object (good quality ice – i.e. not of inferior grade).
c. . the essence of an object (the quality of ice – i.e. “iceness”).
d. . the meaning of excellence itself.

When we speak of quality in a customer interaction we are examining quality from the first two perspectives;

 examining the specific characteristics,
 the achievement or level of excellence of the transaction,

In general quality refers to both the prevention of defects (Quality Assurance) and the detection of defects (Quality Control) in quality.

The majority of call center that operate a quality program identified as Quality Assurance are in reality operating a Quality Control program. This is because they have structured their quality program around performance management rather than around a known and confirm set of agreed to quality standards.

Centers often have developed their quality programs around the creation and subsequent use of a call monitoring program. In conducting call monitoring the coach, supervisor or QA staff reviews a call handled by and agent and evaluates and scores that call opposite a set of criteria. This criterion has been identified by management as reflecting the attributes that they believe are important to their customers.

Unfortunately, many of these criteria and activities have not been proven or demonstrated as being valued by their customers. So then where do these opinions come from?

Many are thought to be intuitive… of course customers want to be listened too, or they wish the agent to gain a full understanding of their question or request through the use of probing and confirming questions. Some elements of the call monitoring form come from ‘Best Practices’ of course customers wish to be greeted or referred to by name. Best Practices can often trap the unwary, for they are practices that are held up to ‘universal truths’. In fact Best Practices are only codified opinions formed by organizations that may not resemble yours in the slightest.

The problems that result of developing a quality program based upon opinions regarding what we believe is or should be important to our customers, is that it is not based on what actually is important to our customers. This helps to explain why in most organizations there is a significant gap between internal measurement of quality, Quality Assurance/Monitoring and the external measurement of quality, Customer Satisfaction. In examining this gap, the majority of organizations see a 30% variance!

In order to prevent defects (quality assurance), we must first identify defects (quality control). But even before we can identify these we must determine what is quality, from the customers’ perspective.
How does a customer define a quality interaction? This varies with the organization, but it can be broadly stated as an effective, efficient interaction that delivers the promised result in the promised timeframe.

If the above definition provides the framework for developing a quality program then we must ensure that the areas tracked and managed to, through our monitoring program reflect this.

Key components then would be effective, efficient, and honest. These are far different than the performance management activities we often see on monitoring forms. Activities such as eating while talking, politeness, and use of ‘approved greetings’ are of far more value to us than they are to the customer. This isn’t to say that these items are unimportant, but rather that they are not reflective of quality, as the customer defines it.

Far more important to the customer is; did they get what they wanted, did the transaction take place efficiently, did the customer get put on-hold or get transferred and did the organization fulfill the call outcome as and when promised to the customer.

Developing a monitoring form to manage not just the agent or voice side of the interaction is critical if we wish to measure the quality of the interaction. The agent has little control over how efficient the call is as they cannot control the ASA or queue depth. This is a management activity. Nor can the agent control the process or actions that underlie the transaction and carries on beyond the end of the call.

To deliver quality based upon the customers’ definition requires that we view the interaction as a piece of the puzzle not the entire puzzle and that we view quality management as an end-to-end process and not a one-off activity.

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