Securing Agent Buy-In for Quality

If you heard, "Starting next week all your calls will be recorded," how would you feel? You'd probably feel like Big Brother has arrived. Contact center managers know that implementing a call recording solution is an important way to improve customer satisfaction, but agents typically aren't enthusiastic in the beginning. Many are concerned about the invasiveness of call recording, viewing it as eavesdropping. Contact center executives now realize that it is not enough just to plug in the system. Management must explain how the agents will benefit from the technology, and the agents must feel that they are part of the planning and implementation process. Here are some strategies that can not only make agents comfortable with quality monitoring and recording, but can make them the strongest champions of your quality management program. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate Keeping all employees in the loop from the very beginning helps gain buy-in, and the more creative the presentation, the more impressive the results. When FedEx Custom Critical, in Akron, OH, launched its quality program, it packaged the quality program presentation as a movie premier, complete with popcorn. At the end of each movie each member of the audience was asked to write in his own words the benefits the system would bring to the company, the group, and to each person. According to Chris Files, quality development facilitator with FedEx Custom Critical, "The benefits our employees came up with were even better than what we could have thought of ourselves. In the end we had more than 270 useful comments that we posted on our intranet. Some employees recommended additional features that we later added, including measuring the impact IT changes have on agent performance." Likewise Joop Evers, customer service director at Ben, a Dutch mobile telecommunications provider, designed a unique method to present its quality program. The firm selected agents who were already champions of the program and had them evangelize to other agents. According to Evers, this gave a huge boost to the quality program. "I accept that fact that agents would rather discuss the program with their peers," Evers says. "We wanted the program to be sponsored from the ground up, to ensure wide acceptance and understanding of our quality goals." Give Agents the Freedom to Choose
Repositioning recording as a tool to meet the agents' career goals instead of a management requirement is a great way to fight resistance. Intertwine, a contact center outsourcer in the Netherlands, recognized that its agents felt uneasy about being recorded. Management gave agents the option of recording. The resulting call evaluations were posted in the corridors so all the agents could see how the program worked and how agents were ranked and rewarded based on their performance. "In a very short period of time we found agents meeting in the hallways to compare scores, share ideas for improvement, and to encourage their peers. The agents that chose to be recorded were recognized as being the most professional and successful contact center agents," says Rugter Pekeherring, managing director of Intertwine. "Within a few months of launching the program, all of the agents requested to be recorded." At Ben, performance analysis, training, and career advancement is totally voluntary. Evers created a unique agent development program with seven distinct skill levels in which agents are encouraged to develop their careers at their own pace. "I know from my previous experience as a contact center consultant in the U.S. and Europe that the best way to encourage agents to improve their skills is to make it their choice," Evers says. "Not every agent can be a star. There are simple calls that can be handled by less experienced agents. I wanted to make our agents feel their career was in their hands, and that if they chose to move ahead we would provide the necessary training and compensation." Keep Quality Fair and Square Since most contact centers link quality scores to agent compensation and reward systems, agents have a keen interest in the accuracy of their evaluations. Communicating to agents that extra steps are being taken to ensure quality evaluations are fair is important to keep them solidly behind the quality program. FedEx Customer Critical surveyed its employees and learned that agents were concerned about not having a consistent way to consolidate and compare evaluations. Agents welcomed the quality management system as a way to improve fairness and objectivity. According to Chris Files, "From our agents' perspective, the biggest advantage of our recording system is that it included calibration." Calibration is a professional practice that adds credibility to evaluations, by smoothing out different scores by different evaluators. A lack of agreement between evaluators is not unusual. Some evaluators simply "grade easier" than others. It is important to regularly measure the difference between quality scores of different evaluators for the same calls. While both evaluators may not rate each agent performance factor identically, the gap between these ratings needs to be within acceptable limits. As a result of calibration many questions are also modified to facilitate fairer evaluations. For example, "The agent actively listens to the customer" would be changed to "Did the agent interrupt the customer" or "How often did the agent interrupt the customer," to remove the ambiguity and to increase the reliability of the agent evaluations. Celebrate Success as a Team Setting group goals such as receiving Contact Center Awards provides a measure of success for the entire quality management program that everyone can celebrate. Measuring the overall progress of the contact center encourages collaboration, peer evaluations, and creative discussions where agents can work as a team. At Ben, Evers made public his intent to earn the National Contact Center Award in 2001 and the Gold Award for Large In-House Contact Centers in 2002. After receiving the second award, Joop did more than the proverbial cake and coffee. He ordered 1,000 mini hammocks, one for each employee, that they could hang in their gardens with the printed expression of gratitude from Ben on the back. "Going the extra step to show we appreciate our employees, is well worth the effort," Evers says. "The unexpected surprise made the gift even more special and left a lasting impression." Best-in-class contact centers have made and will continue to make substantial investments in transaction recording technology to improve agent performance and ultimately customer satisfaction and loyalty. To protect their investments, many have taken a leadership role in implementing programs to maximize agent buy-in, and the results speak for themselves. 10 Keys to Success 1. Communicate the new program well in advance. 2. Explain that call recording is an industry standard for world-class call centers. 3. Position call recording as a positive not a punitive tool. 4. Proclaim the benefits. 5. Explain that the recordings are secure. 6. Tell agents how the recordings will be used. 7. Post policies and procedures for use of recordings. 8. Provide a forum for issues and concerns. 9. Open a feedback session after six months. 10. Be honest and frank. Trusting relationships rarely face resistance. About the Author Kevin Lake, product marketing manager of NICE Systems, has more than 10 years of contact center experience developing and implementing service and organizational improvement strategies. Lake is responsible for defining solutions that will address the future needs of contact centers for NICE Systems. He came from American Express, where he was instrumental in continually raising the bar on service and customer satisfaction through quality improvement initiatives.
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