Operations and Management

From QM to QM

By Brendan B. Read, Senior Contributing Editor  |  January 01, 2011


This article originally appeared in the January 2011 issue of Customer Interaction Solutions Magazine.

“QM” in contact centers is beginning to take on a whole new meaning, expanding from quality monitoring to include quality management.

As organizations recognize that contact centers are central to their core functions of serving and retaining customers’ or users’ support, whether financial, internal or for government entities, they need to ensure their performance is best in class.

In an era of limited resources, where productivity is paramount, and of the “social customer,” where individuals’ raves or rants to the world can shine or tarnish and make or break brands and reputations, whether fairly or unfairly, every action or comment by contact center agents has to be dead-on. There are few tolerances for missed opportunities, misunderstandings and missteps.

QM, then, is no longer about keeping agents alert and checking to see if they are complying with regulations and standards. It is also now about ensuring they are meeting or exceeding the individual needs and expectations of customers. That means there must be an emphasis on customer satisfaction, retention and sales and revenues. It also means reducing agent and supervisor churn, resulting in lower costs and increased income and support thanks to building the experiences of quality motivated staff.

Brynn Palmer, a principal in solutions marketing for Verint (News - Alert), has seen a change in the contact center and in-person dialogue from the traditional, “is there anything else we can help you with?” to quality models that incorporate acknowledging the length of time of the customer relationship. These methods capture customer feedback and ensure that customers are familiar with all available channels so they are serviced “in the manner they wish to be served.”

Enabling the quality shift

Driving this shift is a growing realization by organizations that they need to integrate customer satisfaction and quality within one holistic quality management strategy to effectively serve and retain customers, Nina Kawalek, CEO, RCCSP Professional Education Alliance points out. Too often, high agent quality monitoring scores do not necessarily mean or translate into customer satisfaction and retention.

“This disconnect between quality and satisfaction can create real problems for contact centers, who are faced with the dilemma of, ‘Why are my customers unsatisfied with our service when our call quality is high?’” warns Kawalek.

Propelling this expansion is the adoption and application of speech or, more accurately, interaction analytics, to identify revenue/cost-impacting calls or emails that require coaching. These include cross-selling and upselling, as well as minimizing escalated or repeat calls, as opposed to randomly picking out contacts.

Patrick Botz, vice president of workforce optimization at VPI, reports that powerful new desktop analytics-driven quality monitoring solutions now exist that can tag (News - Alert) important events and data directly from employees’ desktop screen applications, such as CRM, ERP, collections, email and Web chat applications, to recorded interactions without any extensive back-end integration work. They also enable automated classification, analysis and actions centered on key business issues.

He is seeing firms adopt a blended approach, conducting focused quality assurance on key issues and opportunities while applying the statistical validity of random sampling.

“By focusing on what you are monitoring for, you’re still presented with a random sampling and are able to grade agents on how they handle customer complaints, but you have goals in mind,” Botz points out.” While agents may say, for example ‘you’re grading all my worst calls,’ their employers may respond that they want to see how all agents handle their worst calls to reduce the number of calls and complaints, with the objective of improving customer and agent satisfaction.”

Analytics tools enable organizations identify and promote successful behaviors through picking out key words and phrases used by high-performing agents.

Managers often ask, “’If I can find out what makes this person a good salesperson or what makes that individual great with customers, then how do I turn this around and package it to send it to other employees and make them just like my star performers?’” says Matt Storm, director, Americas marketing at NICE. “In the past, that task had been done through coaching. The function is now being shifted to QM via evaluating the words and phrases and what they are doing and modeling those through root cause analysis and speech analytics.”

These analytics tools, applied to QM, can bolster attraction and retention strategies by identifying customers who are very satisfied and those who are unhappy and who may defect and when, reports Kristyn Emenecker, vice president, solutions marketing, Verint. With this information, organizations can reach out to them to reinforce and retain their loyalty.

It’s not that quality monitoring for its original reasons, such as compliance, has faded away. Kathy Krucek, product manager, Aspect (News - Alert) says her firm is seeing an increased need for compliance recording and security features related to encryption that prevent recording/storing sensitive data such as payment card information. There are increasingly stringent standards protecting such information.

“Not being in compliance with some of these standards can result in fines that the contact center customers certainly want to avoid,” warns Krucek.

QM/Feedback Integration

To integrate quality and customer satisfaction, organizations are beginning to recognize that what they hear in interactions must be in sync with what they are asking on the customer feedback forms. If they are not, a breakdown occurs. Agents may not be aware of compliance-related questions or even create unique ways to sell or message products and services.

Firms are now reviewing the feedback questions to ensure there are direct correlations to what agents are being monitored for, such as professionalism and courtesy that directly correlate to agents’ soft skills, which are being monitored for by coaches and supervisors via forms.

Storm suggests one of the first ways to insure this relationship is to ask, “Why is this important for the customer?”for each question. This definition should be shared with the teams and outlined in the centers’ definition guides or calibration sessions. Answering this question conveys relevance to employees and supports the overall objective of increasing customer satisfaction.

Verint’s Emenecker and Palmer point out that synching QM and customer feedback can be a technical challenge. These internal and external assessments are frequently housed in separate, siloed systems and are not easily merged to illuminate both sides of a single encounter. Yet, it is an obstacle that can be overcome – Verint accomplished this with a prior version of its Impact 360 software, released in 2008.

One can sync too tightly, though, by not allowing customers to comment on feedback forms on matters others than those for which agents are being monitored.

“Often, customers provide feedback in those surveys about the companies as a whole, about brand, process and other facets that are not part of that specific call or agent,” says Emenecker. “Firms then need to have question sets on surveys that tie back into the calls as well as free-form comments that they can apply analytics to get additional customer intelligence and insight.”

Calabrio (News - Alert) has come out with Calabrio One, which provides an integrated set of quality-enabling applications: recording, quality management, workforce optimization, and analytics. In it, the Calabrio Quality Management 8.0 product supplies evaluation form enhancements, including adjustable question-level weighting, hints and flexible editing options and enhanced configurable and graphical reports for performance management.

Aspect Quality Management provides integrated Web-based surveys. Based on customer-defined criteria, rules are evaluated for which calls should trigger survey invitations for online surveys to be sent to callers via e-mail. Survey results are then posted back to the QM application for ease of comparison with internal evaluations. 

“Some of the benefits of surveying customers include having immediate feedback specific to a transaction – agent quality and process – as well as insight into products and services offered by the company,” reports Krucek. “There are challenges with this. They include response rates (i.e., customers being willing to take the time to complete the survey). They also include getting feedback across a variety of scenarios, not just getting bad feedback when something has gone wrong or only getting great feedback if something went very well. Getting ‘average’ customer responses can often be very useful in gauging the typical experience.”   

QM for Social Media

If contact centers are just now getting used to performing QM on chat, e-mail and SMS, as well as voice, now they are being faced with monitoring and managing social media interactions. Social media requires careful monitoring, in that the agents are acting as spokespeople (it is media after all) with no “do-overs.” Furthermore, such interactions often happen in real time, especially if there are urgent issues, such as major service complaints by customers who have many followers. So far though, contact centers are taking a passive role to social media, with little direct engagement and interaction, as opposed to voice or email activity.

“What we’ve seen, up to this point, are our clients’ agents responding to tweets or Facebook posts with something back along the lines of, ‘Thanks very much, if you have any questions give us a call or send an e-mail,’” says Storm. “It is not, at this moment, a direct line of communication.

“Once those interactions start to take shape, where you have customer service and support and sales employees monitoring and handling them with social media, you will need to monitor and link them in the same way we can link a phone, e-mail or click-to-chat conversation,” he adds. “In this fashion, companies will have a complete and integrated view of customer interactions, regardless of channel, in real time.”

Verint’s Palmer has seen social media driving interest and growth in the older text forms. As a result of look at monitoring social media, organizations have also begun reviewing the other, more traditional ways customers communicate.

She is also seeing firms set up specialized social media response teams that have been equipped on the back end to apply QM principles and practices. QM teams are using combined speech and text analytics tools to examine and combine customer data from what she terms “direct” (i.e., voice, chat and e-mail) and “indirect” (i.e., social media) sources, to gain a 360-degree view of the customer experience down to the individual level. This method assists organizations in fixing broken processes, identifying issues and opportunities, gaining competitive advantage, driving down costs, and being proactive about reputation issues before they go “viral.”

“There are plenty of companies that were not prepared when there was a process breakdown and customers went onto Facebook or YouTube (News - Alert) to vent their frustration,” says Palmer. “Delayed responses in these situations can erode a brand image virtually overnight.”

Coaching the Coaches

As contact centers migrate from a quality monitoring to a quality management approach, supervisors’ roles have been evolving. Traditionally, they have spent a great deal of time troubleshooting and running interference with other business units resolving customer requests, according to Palmer. Analytics technology now provides the type of customer intelligence that, in the past, required significant supervisor man hours to research, as well as a method for sharing findings and results across enterprises. Supervisors are now in a position to move from ‘firefighting mode’ (e.g., identifying and acting on specific problems) to professionally developing their agents.

At the same time, there is a growing emphasis on applying QM to coaches and supervisors to ensure centers’ continuous improvement. Indeed, front line staff are only as good as those assisting and directing them.

“The ‘quality monitoring is just for the agents’ myth needs to be dispelled,” says RCCSP’s Kawalek. “Call centers that are not monitoring beyond the agents are failing to implement a comprehensive quality management strategy. This encompasses everyone in the call center, not just the agents. Centers should also take it a step further by applying QM to the quality assurance department and monitors.”

VPI’s Botz says coaches’ and supervisors’ performance can be assessed directly by tracking the number of hours each supervisor spends coaching, and monitoring the productivity in performing QM evaluations per agent and per time period, plus monitor QM rating objectivity and consistency. They can also be evaluated indirectly by measuring outcomes of their efforts, reflected in metrics that track business performance of the supervisors’ teams. Supervisor ratings that are based on business outcomes provide insights into their effectiveness and interpersonal skills, such as the the ability to encourage the right agent behavior and to provide constructive and objective feedback that effects positive changes in call center agent performance.

For direct assessment of supervisor/coaching competency, rating forms can be developed to evaluate knowledge of departmental products, services, systems, processes and procedures, training systems, contact center communication systems. They can also assess initiatives in training contributions and identifying trends in reports, and making suggestions for operational and product improvements.

“Improved contact center performance is a function of overall improvement in the performance of all participants – agents, supervisors, quality evaluators, coaches, and other employees – that is to be reflected in specific desirable outcomes,” says Botz.

The following companies participated in the preparation of this article:







RCCSP Professional Education Alliance






Brendan B. Read is TMCnet’s Senior Contributing Editor. To read more of Brendan’s articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Stefania Viscusi