Monday, November 7, 2016

Decentralize Quality Assurance and Take Performance to the Next Level

Centralized quality teams are a common organizational design strategy in the contact center industry today and have been for years.  There are articles, best practices, and benchmarking that will tell you how to do it, how often to do it, and what to do with the results.  But, if you ask the front line service representative what they think about it, you will often discover the pitfalls of these programs…

  1. Not enough calls are audited to make the score a true representation of their contribution.
  2. The score does not align with the feedback they get from clients.
  3. The scores feel punitive.  Fear of a bad score becomes a motivator.
  4. The coaching they receive is based on the points and the score, which isn’t adding value.
  5. Career discussions lead to this comment…“It makes me feel like I am in a job, not a career.”
  6. Human nature is such that people will behave in ways that conform to the audit to prevent a low score, leaving individual creativity and problem solving behind in devotion to this conformity.
  7. Attainment of the coveted 100% score comes with little fanfare, because that is the expectation.  As a result of the high score, there is no performance dialogue because the CSR did everything “right.” Unfortunately, this “keep up the good work” mentality does not drive sustained and improved performance.

Our advice to you… scrap the status quo and throw that form away. Your service representatives and customers will thank you.

So, what other approaches are there to escape the status quo?  How can the process be designed to build service skills and develop staff from a customer experience perspective?  How do you fund an alternative design that accomplishes these objectives?

Let’s dig in!  We will oversimplify our approach a little in this article in order to make a point, but the strategy can be applied in increasingly complex organizations…in fact, it is more effective as complexity increases.  For illustration purposes, let’s take a 98 seat contact center that is focused on incoming calls.  The team, with support and overhead, looks like this today…

Each manager has 18 direct reports and provides career coaching and performance management.  The Quality Assurance Team (QA Team) listens to calls, completes audit sheets, provides feedback to the manager, and may provide feedback to the front line customer service representatives (CSRs).

These arrangements, while common, produce quality scores that are not in alignment with customer satisfaction scores, net promoter scores, customer effort scores, and don’t ensure the delivery of an intended service experience.  Rather, they ensure compliance to scripting, adherence to soft skill training, and create an environment that feels punitive and is focused on a number, rather than a set of behaviors that lead to results the enterprise needs to attain. They don’t allow the contact center to be a strategic asset, rather they keep the status quo alive, enable stagnation, and label the center as a “necessary expense” (i.e. a target for expense reduction).

Let’s consider an alternative organizational design with the same headcount…

In this design, we have decentralized the Quality Assurance Team and created embedded coaching positions.  The next step in the process is developing those coaches on behavioral based coaching philosophies, creating a coaching plan (discussed below), and setting new expectations on service delivery in the performance management review process.  This is the beginning of creating a coaching-centric culture that will generate the following benefits…

  1. Coaches that build relationships with front line CSRs and create trust in the development of behaviors that drive quality.  The score is no longer relevant, but by addressing the core behaviors, you get the quality by default.  That quality manifests itself in customer satisfaction scores, net promoter scores, and customer effort scores, which drives value to the enterprise.
  2. Creation of a coaching plan, which is a living document that focuses on the behaviors that are being developed currently.  As behaviors change and new behaviors become the focus, the coaching plan shows the development path of a CSR throughout time and becomes a natural fit with the performance review process.  The behaviors are based on core competencies that are set at the organizational level and tie directly to the goals of the contact center, as well as the goals of the enterprise.
  3. As the organization continues to transform and focuses on continuous improvement, the coaching-centric model allows for sustainment of benefits.  So often, you hear leaders talk about an improvement initiative that generated great benefits that subsequently faded away, returning the organization to a previous undesirable state.  By setting best practices and utilizing your coaching network to reinforce the behaviors and standards that have been implemented, you sustain the benefits of change…and you can speed up your efforts to transform faster and better than with the previous organizational model.

All this being said, humans still like to measure themselves…so how can we replace the quality score with something meaningful?  This is where customer satisfaction scores come in.  A good majority of contact centers have post-call surveys and utilize a tool that reports results at the individual CSR level.  So, if a score of some type is still desired, the customer satisfaction score becomes a natural fit with the new organizational design and quality strategy.  Further, by designing your post-call survey with questions about CSR satisfaction, likelihood to recommend, and overall effort expended, you can report out on CSR effectiveness, Net Promoter Score, and the Customer Effort score…three major drivers of satisfaction and loyalty for your enterprise.  Additionally, if you have the ability to allow front line CSRs to listen to their own recorded calls, you can add an element of self-development to this process…making the strategy even more effective with a higher level of accountability.

But what about the old form…does it still have a purpose in the new coaching-centric organization?  Here’s an idea to think about the process differently…alter the audit form and use it as a tool for the front line to provide feedback on the quality of coaching they receive.  This adds a new level of accountability on the coaching layer of the organization and ensures the benefit from the investment in their development continues to be sustained.  But that is another article.

James (Jim) LeMere is Director of Integrated Client and Field Services (ICFS) in the Insurance and Annuity Client Services (IACS) Department at Northwestern Mutual. Jim is responsible for the direction and oversight of the people that service over 1.5 million calls and transactions for life insurance policies and their policy owners. Since joining IACS in May of 2014, LeMere has been charged with leading ICFS through a cultural transformation that supports Continuous Learning & Improvement (CL&I) activities and seeks a balance between process improvements and respect for people. 

Prior to coming to Northwestern Mutual, LeMere held a variety of roles within the insurance and hospitality industries.  He started in the sales field with Prudential, then later moved to the home office environment in operations with Lincoln Financial Group, LeMere’s experience continued in the insurance industry at Conseco Insurance Group and in the hospitality industry at Great Wolf Resorts and has been focused on process improvement and re-engineering, while driving employee engagement, customer experience, and cost efficiency. 

Jeremy Lewandowski is an Operations Consultant focused on strategy and analytics related to blended contact centers at Northwestern Mutual. His responsibilities include contact center technology, reporting, impact analysis, staffing strategies, and best practices proliferation across the organization.

Prior to joining Northwestern Mutual, Lewandowski held a number of roles within contact center operations at the online retailer BuySeasons Inc. Starting as a Service Representative, he moved progressively into leadership roles within the contact center from workforce management to training to QA Supervisor and eventually to Operations Manager.  As Operations Manager, he helped drive efficiency and improved client satisfaction for and, leading to J.D. Power customer satisfaction awards in 2011 and 2012.

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