Widening the Quality Focus

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May 2010 | Volume 28 / Number 12
Workforce Optimization

Widening the Quality Focus

By Brendan B. Read,
Senior Contributing Editor

Quality monitoring is no longer just for taking snapshots on compliance and periodically checking on how agents interact with callers to keep them on their toes. It is about ensuring performance across the entire range of customer interactions whether service, support, sales, fundraising and collections and over multiple channels. This shift will require though adjusted and new QM methods to accomplish that goal
that will pay off in the end.

“Quality monitoring is undergoing a major philosophical shift,” explains Brian Spraetz, marketing manager of NICE Systems Solutions. “It is moving from a strict focus on agent performance towards a more holistic focus on business
performance. This is evidenced by a growing trend of selecting interactions for evaluation based on business-related
issues such as operational efficiency, regulatory compliance, customer experience and revenue generation. Aligning the quality process with business objectives increases the return companies receive from this investment.”

Patrick Botz, vice president of solutions marketing at VPI (Voice Print International) explains that with this QM systems need to evaluate quality from the customers’ perspectives. If a customer called three times about an issue, the QM tool should consolidate the interactions to review and evaluatethe entire customer experience across multiple communication channels, even if this experience included three different agents.

“Quality is taking on a broader definition: it is not just about agent skills, but also about how the contact center is performing its business function and how it is supporting customers,” says Botz. “Customers want their transactions handled promptly and efficiently and they expect a branded experience. Agent skills and attitudes are important, but
must be evaluated in context of systems, processes and other elements that are involved in the customer experience.”
QM to Surveys and Analytics

Enabling improved customer experience is tacking surveys onto QM. Customers are increasingly being surveyed after the interactions are completed while they are still on the lines to capture information from these experiences while it is fresh. The customer feedback is then taken into the QM process.

“You’ve now got access to both the supervisors view via call playback and the customers view via their survey responses so by putting both together organizations can obtain a more balanced and rounded QM score,” explains Jim Davies, research director at Gartner.

Kristyn Emenecker, director of solutions marketing, Verint Witness Actionable Solutions, says connecting customer feedback surveys to internal QM reviews of the very same call provides perspective and focus to better understand the meaning of quality from the customers’ perspectives.

She also sees more involvement by other departments in QM. For example, having marketing managers comment on
calls generated by a new campaign, or product managers on the handling of specific product questions enriches the
QM process and the QM evaluators’ knowledge base.

Also providing key insights for QM purposes is using sophisticated speech analytics tools to mine information from
recordings. The data captured via them is being blended with surveys and live monitoring evaluations.

Aspect Product Market Manager Kathy Krucek explains that firms will often want to know how often and in what context are competitive products or vendor names being mentioned by their callers to see if there is high churn and why. They also
want to know how effective their marketing campaigns are and whether agents are up-selling when they should.

“This information along with agent and interaction quality is all valuable to managing overall business goals,” says Krucek.

Speech analytics have another key benefit in QM: they enable greater supervisor efficiency and productivity.

“Our [contact center] customers want to spend more time providing feedback and coaching their agents rather than manually picking recordings for playback and scoring,” explains Krucek.


The increased customer experience focus has made agent coaching even more critical to ensure customer satisfaction, and revenues. To enable this, Gartner’s Davies is seeing more contact centers deploy messaging tools to permit coaches and supervisors to reach out to agents immediately after live monitoring their calls while they are fresh in the agents’ minds. The messages could say, for example, “great call but don’t forget to do A, B and C in that future.”

Jim Shulkin, director of marketing, Envision Telephony, is seeing what he calls “the seeming resurrection of coaching.” Coaching as a key function of quality monitoring first came en vogue nearly 10 years ago, so it’s not new, he points out. But sometime along the way, as the demand on centers has grown and the resources to manage them have been reduced, “coaching has somehow gotten a little lost as a critical QM component in many centers.”

Also, supervisors are typically bound to often legacy standards for a specific number or range of calls per agent that they must review and perform evaluations on per month, explains Shulkin, yet in many cases, it’s all they can do to complete a fraction of those. Far too often the evaluations gets pushed out to the last minute in the last week of the month; supervisors then scurry to dig through hundreds, even thousands of recordings to find ones that meet the appropriate criteria to evaluate and they must burn through the evaluations just to get them in.

“This cycle leaves little time for actually paying off the process of monitoring and evaluating by augmenting ongoing training with automated and timely coaching at the agents’ desktops,” says Shulkin. “Fortunately, this best practice [monitoring and evaluating] appears to be making a comeback. Today’s economic climate simply won’t allow centers not to leverage every possible opportunity to improve agent performance and effectiveness and fewer physical resources on hand to deliver a comprehensive continuous improvement and coaching program.”

Aspect’s Krucek is also seeing coaching and performance management becoming core components of the quality assurance process.

“Traditionally, recording/quality management products were viewed primarily as call loggers with some basic functionality available for evaluating agents,” explains Krucek. “That has greatly evolved over time with more sophisticated scoring and coaching features added out of the box for managing performance and providing automated feedback. Quality scores are being integrated with other key performance indicators in centralized dashboard views. A greater focus is also being placed on using quality scores from customer feedback surveys as part of managing the overall customer experience.”

To make QM-based coaching effective, Krucek recommends that the scorecards typically used during the evaluation process should always consist of objective criteria that align with the organizations’ goals and focus on specific behaviors that should be rewarded or altered.

“Supervisors should provide immediate feedback – as close to the actual interactions as possible – to either reinforce excellent behavior or correct issues before they are repeated,” says Krucek.

At the same time, contact centers need to get agents involved in the quality process. Agents should be encouraged to listen to their own recordings to score themselves using the same criteria as the supervisors or managers would use to score them to get agent buy-in for the criteria being used to assess quality.

“This technique puts agents in the shoes of those who are evaluating them and it also gives agents a deeper understanding of the scoring criteria and what objectives are being used to evaluate the quality of their interactions with customers,” explains Krucek. “Agents can even provide input for future scorecard form redesign by pointing out any relevant criteria that may have been omitted that they feel is important and why.”

“Supervisors should provide immediate feedback – as close to the actual interactions as possible – to either reinforce excellent behavior or correct issues before they are repeated .”
– Kathy Krucek, Aspect

Multichannel QM

With customers utilizing a widening array of channels: automated voice and Web self-service, e-mail/SMS and social media in addition to live agent voice there becomes a need to integrate interaction capturing and monitoring to provide a complete view of these engagements.

“Consumers are interested in a seamless experience,” says Emenecker. “They simply don’t care that your Web site is temporarily offline or that your live agents are only available until 5 p.m. Processes must be in place that can near seamlessly move the customer from one channel to another: giving them the options they want at the time they need them.”

Aspect’s Krucek is seeing increased interest in multichannel interaction capturing and monitoring. This includes recording
interactions while the customer is in the IVR, monitoring that interaction in real-time after the caller is transferred to an agent and subsequently record that call either through system settings/rules or on-demand. Many of her firm’s customers are also monitoring and recording e-mails/chats/Web interactions with some of them beginning to show interest in tracking SMS engagements.

“The true value comes from being able to link all of this activity together so that organizations can efficiently and seamlessly play back these interactions and evaluate them for coaching,” says Krucek.

For QM on text-based channels: chat, e-mail and SMS, Gartner’s Davies points out there is a difference between overall screen recording, which most suppliers offer now, and treating them as separate channels and analyzing these text-based interactions through dedicated text mining tools. Suppliers will begin offering integrated screen-capture/text mining products beginning sometime this year.

There is also as of yet no vendor-provided QM integration between live agent and automated interactions, either via IVR or Web self-service. When customers try to find information they would often go online, but if they couldn’t find it they would call the contact center but would often end up first in the IVR and if it could not supply them what they want they would zero out to live agents. While that is one experience for the customers, says Davies, for most businesses that would be three different sets of technology, reports, and insights.

“The tools available to not just train on those interactions, but also include them in the analytics used to gauge customer overall experience are still relatively immature, but will also further evolve as these interactions become a bigger part of how centers communicate with customers.”
– Jim Shulkin, Envision Telephony

That too will change, he says, in the next couple of years. There are suppliers who are developing tools to bring all those views together to get one single view of that experience.

Aspect recently enhanced its real-time monitoring along with providing IVR recording that links IVR interactions to agent interactions. The firm will be adding enhanced scoring features that allow for multi-channel evaluations including back-office type tasks.

Envision’s Shulkin is seeing interest in and is observing that monitoring multi-channel interactions gaining momentum, coupled with developing agents’ skills to be able to better handle non-voice customer interactions.

“The tools available to not just train on those interactions, but also include them in the analytics used to gauge customer overall experience are still relatively immature, but will also further evolve as these interactions become a bigger part of how centers communicate with customers,” says Shulkin.

Cost Control

As QM needs and requirements become more complex, contact centers continue to face cost constraints that may limit the ability to buy these solutions. Recognizing this, Gartner’s Davies is seeing an array of cost-managing lead-time-reducing QM solutions options being offered. Top tier suppliers are launching more lightweight, easy to deploy versions of their solutions such as express versions while offering professional services to shorten deployment cycles. Meanwhile second tier companies are supplying robust QM tools with fewer “bells and whistles” at half the cost of top-vendor-provided products with much quicker implementation.

The QM tools from both types of suppliers are being offered increasingly in workforce optimization (WFO) suites. This method reduces IT costs while enabling easier and more intuitive applications.

“There is an easy value proposition linking QM with surveys and speech analytics as they really do dovetail each other quite nicely,” says Davies. “There is also value in linking QM with workforce management. For example you can drill from the schedule adherence screen into call recording to find out why is this agent out of adherence. If you can listen to the call you can find out that that they were talking to an irate customer. You can also schedule coaching sessions, and preferential shifts based on quality scores.”

Shulkin says going to a thin-client Web-based architecture in Envision’s Centricity platform for all of the firm’s applications reduced the costs to deploy, maintain and update the tools.

“Reducing not just upfront costs but the total cost of customer ownership should be a primary objective for any vendor as it is a far more salient factor in business-casing enterprise-level solutions than upfront costs alone is today,” says Shulkin.

Aspect’s Krucek reports that her firm’s customers are looking for ways to reduce their hardware costs by leveraging virtual machines, terminal servers and software-based recording, as well as optimizing storage space required by recorded files and metadata.

Aspect has enhanced the archiving capabilities in the PerformanceEdge
Quality Management product to allow for additional levels and tiers of storage. This enables organizations to go from the most efficient modes of file storage, which are faster but more expensive, for storing their most recent recordings to less expensive modes of storage for older files that are not going to be accessed as often but that may need to be stored for compliance or historical purposes.

“It’s important for recording/quality management solutions to provide flexibility in this area and around various archiving and storage strategies that allow customers to reduce their hardware footprint and total cost of ownership,” says Krucek.


The following companies participated in the preparation of this article:


Envision Telephony



Voice Print International (VPI)




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