Investing in IT to save costs, boost productivity and speed, improve communications, enable better business processes and do something for employee morale could break the bank. But McLean, Va.-based CyberRep, a 10-year-old provider of outsourced customer interaction centers, and a company that has made the list of fastest-growing American companies for five years running, managed to squeeze all of these benefits out of something simple--the use of Palm handhelds in the training department.
"We were going about the process of doing what every other call center in the country does--standard monitoring, quality assurance, doing forms or doing side-by-side jacking," says Douglas Palley, the company's president. Indeed, the company's 35 quality assurance supervisors were meeting with Customer Interaction Specialists (CIS) a minimum of twice per week for one-on-one quality coaching sessions. "Then someone got the idea in their head that we should use handhelds to help with that work," Palley says.
So CyberRep put Palm-based computers into the hands of all of its quality coaches. The devices, which run software from Atlanta-based AppForge, offer user-friendly drop-down menus for recording performance. CyberRep routinely customizes these templates since each client may have different criteria and weight some measures more heavily than others. AppForge plugs into Visual Basic (VB) and allows the company to use VB to design Palm applications. "It had less of a learning curve and allows applications to be developed more rapidly and with better compatibility with our existing programs and reports," explains Becky Dawson, CyberRep's vice president of Mid-Atlantic operations.
CyberRep has had less trouble shifting to the new way of doing things than some other companies might. "I think there may have been some legacy, quality assurance folks who liked working with paper and who might have been fearful of an electronic tool," Palley says, "but we are supporting electronic services and applications in our centers, so we didn't run up against too much of that."
The handhelds were necessitated by a decision to reduce the remote monitoring the company had been doing while increasing the level of side-by-side monitoring or "side-jacking." "When we increased our side-jacking practice, we incurred a substantially greater amount of data entry," Palley says. The quality assurance supervisors were filling out paper forms, going through checklists of quantitative and qualitative measures associated with each particular program that agents were handling. The metrics ranged from call length to how agents handled certain disputes or questions, whether they directed callers to a particular resource or if they were courteous, professional and so on.
Supervisors would take the forms back to quality assurance administrators who would key the information into a Microsoft Access database. When the company rolled out the handhelds in June, the data entry process was automated and the administrative data entry positions eliminated since the supervisors could simply beam the files to the centralized database via infrared. The entire quality assurance process sped up. "We have seen at least a 30 percent lift in productivity," Dawson says.
Once data is uploaded to the database, CyberRep analyzes the information by team, agent, supervisor, trainer, shift and so on. "We manipulate the data to look at all the different metrics associated with it. We are using this information in correlation with a lot of other data to help us maximize the efficiency and effectiveness of our program, all of our hiring, our training and our motivational efforts," Palley says. He also sees some qualitative benefits. "The agents are able to get more of a real-time response and have their Q&As sent back to them electronically so that they can see how they scored," he says. "It's just one of those minor things that can improve morale."
The handhelds also improve communication and coordination among the quality assurance supervisors themselves. CyberRep has eight large Customer Interaction Centers in North America, and within each, there may be 300 people on any one of several programs and several supervisors rotating through these agents twice per week. "The handhelds help us manage the scheduling and verification process by being able to see who has been monitored that day or that week and who hasn't," Palley says. "By beaming the completed quality assurance forms to each other, the supervisors can avoid duplicating effort."
Since implementing the system, overall agent performance scores are up. "We expected quality scores to improve since the agents know that they are being monitored," Dawson says. "We're monitoring their best performance." The company balances side-jacking with remote, blind monitoring and views poor performance scores in the side-
jacking environment as an indication of gaps in knowledge or training. As they address these, real quality is improving.