Monitoring a Call Center's Pulse

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In a strong economy, it's not always easy to tell whether your business is firing on all cylinders. Sometimes the good times mask problems. Those problems seem to come to light when the economy isn't flying high and you can least afford them. It's when times are tight that companies need their employees to be at their best because winning new business and keeping customers satisfied often is tougher.


That's why it's crucial for employees on the front line to connect with customers and prospects. Contact center representatives not only are the voice of the company, but the pulse of the business, the lifeblood in that critical bond between companies and their customers. Good customer service is more than the speed of answering calls. It is the manner and tone when speaking to customers combined with product knowledge and empathy. In essence, it's ensuring that customers' calls are handled effectively, efficiently and professionally.


How do managers know whether customers are getting top-notch service? Monitoring is one of the best ways. Companies can analyze and track the effectiveness of their contact centers' programs through monitoring inbound and outbound phone calls, e-mail and correspondence. A good monitoring program lets you track not only the effectiveness of customer service representatives, but also what customers are saying. It can tell you:


o If your CSRs treat customers with care and concern.


o If the tools available to CSRs are effective and if they're being used appropriately.


o If your CSRs understood new training.


o If customers are accepting your company's policies and procedures.


o If supervisors are taking the time to monitor employee performance.


o If CSR morale is good.


Moreover, a monitoring program can help determine whether call flow or scripting revisions are needed as well as refresher training.


Methods of monitoring. The three basic methods are voice, shadow and side-by-side. All can be effective. It is up to your company to decide the best choice for you.


In voice monitoring, supervisors or quality assurance personnel, located in a different area from the CSR, listen in on customer service calls and make notes of their observations. This method has one big shortcoming. When taking a call, CSRs typically have computer screens they follow for scripting and information. Voice monitoring misses this part of the interaction.


Shadow monitoring lets your team not only listen to the call, but also watch the screens CSRs are accessing and filling in. Quality assurance personnel can determine whether CSRs are following the appropriate call flow and are taking the correct actions to resolve customer needs.


In side-by-side, the oldest method, the supervisor sits next to the CSR during the call and monitors verbal interaction and the computer screen. Voice and shadow monitoring are effective, but side-by-side is the best way to provide immediate feedback to your CSRs. With side-by-side monitoring, supervisors can coach the CSR during the call should a tricky situation arise and, perhaps more importantly, can discuss the call afterward and use the interaction to establish a bond with their employee.


With the other responsibilities most supervisors have, side-by-side monitoring is generally possible for only a few calls each week. The most effective solution is to monitor a sample that truly reflects the CSR's performance in conjunction with shadow monitoring by trained quality assurance personnel and side-by-side monitoring by the supervisor. Using quality assurance staff to conduct shadow monitoring will let you monitor many calls to track the overall effectiveness of your customer service program, while side-by-side gives CSRs the one-on-one time they should have with their supervisors.


Selecting a program that fits with a call center's schedule is key. Shadow monitoring can be done in real time, or calls and data screens can be recorded using a variety of available call logging products and played back as time permits. With real-time monitoring, managers can address problems as they occur and intervene if needed. With recorded monitoring, CSRs and supervisors can sit down together, play back calls and identify issues in a more deliberate manner. Side-by-side monitoring can be performed only in real-time.


Implementing a monitoring program. There are four basic steps in setting up any monitoring program:


o Develop a list of goals. Most companies want to measure the success rate of completing specific tasks, the overall behavior exhibited by the CSR and the reaction of the customer. This can be a tough combination to monitor, but it can be done.


o Determine the best method - voice, shadow or side-by-side. If your goal is to listen to how your CSRs treat customers, you may need only voice. If your goal is to ensure customers are being treated well and that your CSRs are taking appropriate actions, shadow may be right for you.


o Develop reporting. It is important to develop monitoring reports that provide actionable data. Are you meeting goals? Are overall scores within an acceptable range? Are there areas where refresher training is needed? As with all reporting, data for first-line managers differ from what you'll report to senior management. Define the reporting requirement for both types of reports before you begin monitoring.


o Evaluate your technology platform. Based on the monitoring you wish to do, does your company's technology platform need to be upgraded? Voice monitoring is a feature integrated into most contact center phone systems, but some smaller groups using a standard PBX may need an outboard accessory. Shadow monitoring done in real-time requires relatively simple software, but the ability to record calls and screens for later playback requires a major logging system. Side-by-side involves the least equipment - just a phone adapter - enabling supervisors to listen in on the calls.


Today's most advanced contact monitoring systems also let supervisors monitor e-mail correspondence and Web chat sessions. Web-enabled monitoring is no more time-consuming than call monitoring, but the criteria are usually different. For example, writing skills are critical in these situations. A good monitoring program tells you whether you have hired the right people for the job.


Is "Big Brother" really monitoring? Concerns sometimes arise that employee monitoring is "Big Brother" in action, but that is not the case. Call center and Web monitoring is not an issue for most employees when they are made aware before they take the job that their interaction with customers will be monitored, and that monitoring is a routine function at the contact center. Monitoring is in place at 85 percent of contact centers, according to Purdue University data, and most CSRs understand that it is standard.


However, it's the company's responsibility to remind employees they are being monitored. Managers must provide clear guidelines on how monitoring results are weighed in rating a CSR's performance.


Your work is not over once your monitoring program is operating. It should be a career development tool to keep CSRs at their best. CSRs need regular feedback to help them achieve optimal performance. They should be praised for the good work they do, and they should be helped with refresher training if needed. It is also important that you act based on the results of your reporting. Is more training needed? Do you need to change programs and policies? CSRs will understand the need for monitoring if they see positive action coming from it.


The beauty of employee monitoring is that it not only helps companies keep an eye on employees, it helps your customers, too. When call center employees on the front line are operating at peak performance, the business is more likely to execute at optimal levels.


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