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Quality Monitoring And Today's Technology

By Tony Procops and Mark Williams, ASC


Quality monitoring has come a long way in the last few years. When it first came to the forefront, effectively recording calls and basic scoring of agents was proclaimed a godsend. Today, contact centers are achieving much more.

Contact centers still rely on evaluating agents, but today’s solutions have raised the bar and provide world-class quality. New technologies, including analytics tools, sophisticated integration, keyword searches and user-friendly access, reinforce quality monitoring solutions. They also provide a superior return on investment and provide contact centers with state-of-the-art tools to hone their performance.

Quality monitoring has been integrated into the business’s enterprisewide infrastructure and reinforced with customer feedback. It is now more affordable because of its modular architecture, and it works with a wide variety of business phone systems and in prominent network environments such as Cisco and Siemens.

This article will survey the development of quality monitoring and discuss recent innovations in the field. It will also discuss how quality monitoring has been influenced by other, seemingly unrelated, technological developments.

Fundamentals Of Quality Monitoring

Quality monitoring was engineered to help call center agents learn from their own customer interactions. Supervisors recorded calls to explain basic concepts and point out the best way to handle different situations. Agents learned from one another, as well. Excerpted segments of real conversations have been used in general training sessions to increase productivity and product knowledge, and to teach diplomatic ways to handle difficult customers.

Quality monitoring became formalized through the use of standard templates to compare agent skills and ensure accurate evaluations. Categories were established, and software was developed for the burgeoning industry.

Quality monitoring hardware soon outgrew the first-generation solutions and became far more than a recording machine. User-friendly interfaces and browser-based solutions allowed easy configuration, quick access from any computer in the world, and playback over LAN/WAN connections. Calls were stored online or archived to removable media such as DVD or AIT.

Systems were used to monitor thousands of channels simultaneously, and multiple units connected to one server for businesses with branch offices. In addition to the recording unit, quality monitoring software developed new capabilities, as well. Flexible templates were developed for evaluation and scoring, and the need for costly CTI integration was avoided through a digital interface with the company’s phone system. Compatibility with standard reporting engines and easy-to-use evaluation wizards minimized the need for lengthy training of supervisors and other quality assurance personnel.

Quality monitoring has been used by many different industries including contact centers, financial institutions, publicsafety organizations and government agencies. It has been employed in a selective manner for agent training and in bulk for regulatory compliance and protection from liability. Record-on-demand is also widely available for emergencies, threat calls and other special situations.

Quality Monitoring Innovations

Recent quality monitoring innovations have created an entirely new product. The resulting systems are more powerful, save on setup and training costs and improve customer service. For example, solutions now record all types of agent/customer interactions including voice, fax, e-mail and desktop activity. “Smart” technology allows supervisors to start or stop recording based on any pre-defined event on the agent’s desktop, including the appearance of an error message or the selection of any radio button or item from a pull-down menu.

Smart quality monitoring solutions are inexpensively installed through a user-friendly configuration wizard, with no knowledge of CTI or data interfaces required. The savings on professional setup fees are significant. Another recent development, feedback modules, now allows instant evaluation of the agent’s performance by the customer, a crucial capability since unhappy customers are less likely to defect if they have the opportunity to complain. These post-call surveys may also be used to validate or dispute a supervisor’s evaluation.

A third innovation, real-time communication, facilitates interaction between agents and their supervisors. During difficult calls, agents may contact their supervisors for assistance, and the supervisors may respond privately via a chat session or by taking remote control of the agent’s desktop. This proactive approach provides not only “live, onthe- job” training for agents but, more important, can convert an unhappy customer into a loyal one.

Finally, storage capabilities have also been updated. Some solutions can preserve thousands of hours of interactions online, reducing the need for archiving equipment. Recent breakthroughs in data compression have increased this figure five-fold over the last 12 months. For those who wish to archive, often for redundancy, storage is also available on low-cost media such as DVD or AIT, or calls may be stored directly on existing network storage devices.

New Business Technology

Despite the rapid development of quality monitoring solutions, the wave of the future integrates these systems with the latest business technology. The combined solution provides a synergistic tool with major implications for overall productivity and bottomline results. For example, the growth of data mining and similar analytics tools allows businesses to wade through large volumes of material to retrieve information on any specific topic, especially those easily defined by a keyword or phrase.

Quality monitoring solutions have adapted this keyword spotting capability to audio recording. A speech-processing engine transcribes audio signals into phonetic patterns and stores them in a binary index file. Then, the user can search for a particular pattern within this index file.

Keyword spotting affects the quality monitoring process because it is able to recognize pauses and collisions (two people speaking at the same time) in the conversation. By programming the system to eliminate “normal” collisions, such as reassurances or agreements, e.g., “yes, uh-huh,” the solution may be used to spot either lack of knowledge (pauses) or contention (collisions).

Second, the development of modular flexibility, scalar systems and the ability to eliminate or reduce technology obsolescence represent major cost-saving innovations in many new business products. Quality monitoring solutions have joined the bandwagon. Program modules help businesses avoid redundancy and save money because a company need not buy an entire solution, just the part, or the module, it really needs. The latest communications recorders offer an à-la-carte feature selection. Firms can meet their current requirements, then add more functionality as it is required. For example, scalable channel arrays allow businesses to record anywhere between four and thousands of channels simultaneously.

Quality monitoring software also utilizes a modular architecture and may be divided between functional areas such as agents, templates, record planning, sessions, evaluations and reports. A third new business technology involves the development of voice over IP. As more contact centers switch to IP phone systems, quality monitoring is continuing to adapt. For IP-enabled firms using bulk recording for regulatory compliance or protection from liability, this adaptation has been crucial — the company may need only one call out of thousands, and if it came in through voice over IP, it must be preserved.

The latest solutions categorize VoIP (define - news - alert) calls by selected parameters such as date, start/end time, call duration, channel or IP address; and then store them on the organization’s server. They work with leading VoIP solutions, integrate with different network environments, and support enterprisewide applications. For contact centers switching to VoIP in stages, qualitymonitoring firms provide special products for hybrid environments.

Other seemingly non-related technological developments also improve the effectiveness of quality monitoring solutions. Cost-effective licensing solutions and free-seating environments (where agents are identified through their Microsoft login I.D.) have facilitated the use of many high-tech systems. Powerful browser-based products have increased enterprise flexibility, and the trend of technological convergence has led to increased compatibility among disparate solutions.

Convergence and compatibility have affected quality monitoring solutions, as well. For example, recording units now work with both Windows and Linux operating systems. Linux provides a very stable environment for mission-critical applications; includes all UNIX standard tools; offers excellent networking capability and an advanced graphical interface built into the operating system; and most important, uses an opensource architecture that is continually being improved.

In addition, VoIP recording solutions are now compatible with SIP, an Internet protocol and emerging industry standard allowing the use of IP telephony switches without proprietary support. Thus, the recording solution may now be accessed from any location with the same call set-up, handling and forwarding functions. In fact, SIP makes telephony similar to any other Web application and may be used to build converged voice and multimedia services from formerly incompatible components. Information is the key to any organization’s success. Quality analysis is no longer independent from other key technologies driving a successful business. It must be supported with other analytics tools to create a more powerful solution.

Business developments such as data mining, modular flexibility and the growth of VoIP have now been integrated into the latest quality monitoring solutions. Trends such as technological convergence and browser-based configuration have led to more compatible and user-friendly products. Quality monitoring has become more important than ever. In an increasingly competitive economy, firms must use a customer-centric approach to win as much business as possible. Teaching this approach is the ultimate aim of quality monitoring and the main reason its importance and capabilities will continue to grow.

Tony Procops, senior vice president and general manager of ASC, established its North American subsidiary in 1998 and oversees all its operations. Mark Williams, Regional Vice President, has managed the Western Region for ASC and has been an instrumental member of the ASC Contact Center Solutions Team. ASC (news - alert) (http://www.asctelecom.com) is a global provider of integrated communications recording and quality monitoring solutions for contact centers, financial institutions and public safety and government organizations. With more than 40 years of experience in the communications industry, ASC has over 20,000 installations in more than 60 countries.

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