In Part One of this two-part series, we explored quality forms, quality plans, and evaluations as basic -but critical – components of an effective quality management program. Using the analogy of quality management being a never-ending roadtrip, we said that creating quality forms and plans was similar to mapping a roadtrip, and that completing evaluations were like actually driving and embarking on the trip.
But if I am road tripping from Florida to California – which I’ve (un)fortunately done multiple times! – I’m not going to jump in the car and drive non-stop. Rather, I’m going to have to stop along the way and check my oil – or at least my tire pressure, windshield fluid, etc.- and refuel, which are much like calibrating and coaching for quality management. So in Part Two, we will explore these other critical quality management program components: calibration and coaching.
Calibration is a critical, but often forgotten, part of the quality management process. Calibrations not only ensures that all stakeholders are on the same page, but also ensures the viability of the quality management program itself. Continuing the analogy, you can drive and drive, but if you don’t stop to calibrate your car from time to time, your car is going to break down!
In simplest terms, calibration ensures that everyone involved in the quality management process has the same understanding of what is being measured, has the same understanding of what success looks like during a customer interaction, and the quality form accurately supports an evaluator’s ability to assess said success. The goal of calibrations is to ensure that everyone who is responsible for interaction scoring is doing it consistently and fairly. The calibration process validates the effectiveness of both the forms and individuals evaluating agent performance.
While quality management software typically includes capabilities to calibrate in an automated fashion, you don’t need software to execute an effective calibration. Even with an automated solution, a live discussion with all key players on a regular basis goes a long way in driving evaluator accountability and is still recommended. The automated calibration workflow just makes the meeting less tedious and more valuable. For example, instead of everyone showing up in the conference room and saying “Joe, what did you get for question 1? And Sally, what did YOU get for question 1?” over and over for the entire interaction, the calibration team can meet in the conference room to say “Ok, looks like we aren’t aligned on question 3. Let’s dig into that question and see why that is…” MUCH more productive.
Before beginning, you have to identify the right stakeholders to include in the calibration process. For organizations with dedicated quality management teams, it’s a no-brainer that the QM team should be included. However, we also recommend including other leadership in the calibration process to ensure alignment with overarching customer experience goals, along with one or two agents to get their perspective. Rotating different agents through the calibration process helps generate more buy-in and acceptance throughout the contact center for the quality management program as a whole. If agents understand that there are checks and balances in the process and that their evaluators are being evaluated and held accountable as well, it will make them more receptive to feedback from those evaluators, especially when they don’t see eye to eye.
The frequency of calibrations can vary greatly across contact centers depending on resource availability. Some contact centers hold formal calibrations once per quarter while some calibrate once per week. With modern quality management software, it is easier to calibrate more often than when the process was executed manually, but you don’t need to overdo it either. A good rule of thumb is to calibrate:
- every time you introduce a new form.
- every time you make a major revision to an existing form.
- every time you add a new evaluator to the mix.
Whatever frequency is determined, the most important thing is consistency. You have to be consistent. If you need reschedule this month’s calibration session because of a conflict, don’t just forget about it and wait until next month. Reschedule it for tomorrow or next week. Cancelling a calibration session entirely sets a precedent that can lead down the slippery slope of never having the calibrations at all.
Calibrating a form
Regardless of how well a form is crafted, there may still be differences in interpretation across evaluators. Calibration lets you validate the accuracy and usability of a form by testing out the form to see how closely they evaluate the same interaction. As mentioned above, best practice is to calibrate anytime you introduce a new quality form and after each major revision to ensure that there are no large discrepancies in the evaluators’ responses. You can use form calibration as a small test-drive to check the validity of the form before using the form in a Quality Plan that will count towards agents’ actual quality scores. Based on score deviations, you may decide that a form has too great a margin of error and must be edited before use. After editing, you should then repeat the exercise again.
Calibrating an evaluation
When you calibrate an evaluation, you are looking beyond the form itself, and instead focusing more on the actual content of the interaction and each evaluator’s interpretation of what happened during the interaction itself. While this is important for all types of interactions, it is even more important for those interactions in which the agent success is measured more qualitatively driven than process driven.
In the case of process-related evaluation questions, success is often black and white. For example, “Did the agent authenticate the customer? Yes or No” – there isn’t much to debate on there. But when interactions are more qualitatively assessed - something like “Did the agent show empathy? Yes or No” – there can be lots of deviation if every evaluator isn’t aligned on what “effective empathy” looks and sounds like.
In calibrating an interaction, you typically distribute an interaction that has already been evaluated, together with the form that was used to evaluate it to several evaluators. If the deviation is high across evaluators, then a conversation across the calibration team needs to occur to understand the root cause of the deviation. Do you need to refine the question itself? Or do you need to enhance standard operating procedures (SOPs) so that all evaluators know what success looks like?
In CXone Workforce Optimization, when you perform a calibration flow, an interaction is distributed together with a form to several evaluators to evaluate. But when evaluators receive the form, they are not aware that they are participating in the calibration flow. They evaluate the interaction as though it is part of the regular evaluation flow. This calibration approach further ensures the calibration is unbiased, and best mimics the evaluators typical behavior. Results of the calibration flow are then made visible and makes it easy to compare the scores between evaluators.
Calibration doesn’t accomplish anything if it doesn’t result in action. After the calibration team identifies the root cause of the deviation, someone needs to take action to close the gap either in the form, in SOPs, or in training.
Now… you have awesome forms, your completing evaluations on the right interactions, and your evaluators are all on the same page – you’re done now, right? If you answered “yes” then you’re missing a big component of a quality management program. You can have the best quality management program in place, but just telling an agent “how” they are doing isn’t enough to correct any issues and close performance gaps. You won’t drive improved results if agents aren’t receiving effective coaching. When you identify areas where your agents are weaker or need assistance, coaching can improve their abilities and guide them. In the roadtrip analogy, coaching is the fuel that your agents need to keep going on this roadtrip!
From my time in the contact center, I know that when things get busy, coaching is the first thing to get pushed to the side- to the detriment of agents and your customers alike - but no quality management program is complete without it. In my defense, that was back in the “day” when supervisors had to create coaching documents for agents in Word or Excel and then email them in hopes that they agent would actually take the time to complete it. Luckily today, quality management software makes coaching efforts more sustainable, making it easy, streamlined, and efficient. Leading quality management software not only provides the mechanism to evaluate agents, but also features native capabilities to create and route coaching to agents, track coaching completion, and monitor performance improvement to understand coaching effectiveness.
Agents also need easy access to the coaching from within the same interface where they handle customer interactions, delivering to them in bite-sized chunks. That way, when they have downtime between customer contacts, they can focus on development activities.
When creating coaching, make sure that agents can walk away with the “why” and “how” to be successful. It is easy to look at an interaction and tell an agent what’s wrong, but it’s much harder – but more important- to tell you why it’s wrong and how to fix it. In the contact center, we might tell an agent “you didn’t properly authenticate the customer.” However, the agent may not understand why customer authentication is important, and how it impacts both the customer experience and compliance. Even more so, the agent might not understand how to change their behavior to ensure they don’t miss this in the future.
That is where an effective coaching comes in. Through your audio and screen evaluations, have you observed a gap in their process which is making them take longer to capture all the customer information? Or do they need help developing their ability to ask probing questions to get the bottom of the customer issue more quickly?
Again, just telling the agent “you need to ask better probing questions” isn’t going to lead to improvement. Effective coaching will include specific activities that the agent can complete to understand how to improve. For example, samples of peer interactions where good probing questions were used, a link to a YouTube training video, or a role play exercise. When it comes to coaching, one generic prescription does not fit all scenarios. The type of coaching activity should match and target the behavior that is trying to be corrected and developed.
Now, there is a whole section at Barnes & Noble about coaching and training for a reason – there are lots of different approaches and philosophies. But we will outline two different types of coaching we see as important in the contact center: Group coaching and 1:1 coaching.
Group coaching is a type of training or coaching that applies to all agents, or at least an entire team within the contact center. Group coaching is relevant when you identify ongoing or consistent trends across multiple agents when you are completing your evaluations. It is also relevant any time you are rolling out a new process, product, etc. within the contact center that applies to everyone.
Group coaching is critical, but often overused, in the contact center. Too many contact centers rely on group coaching as their main and only mechanism to develop agents. While it isn’t sustainable to customize training for every topic for every agent, it is important that you don’t coach for the sake of coaching. What do we mean by that? If you have an agent with five-years tenure and has never once forgotten to “greet the customer effectively” in any interaction you have ever evaluated them on, then don’t send them the same group coaching that you are sending to the agent who just started and keeps forgetting to use the customer’s name.
1:1 coaching is more agent-specific, and while it is the most effective type of coaching, it is obviously the most time consuming. Again, there are lots of theories on where you should be spending the most time when it comes to 1:1 coaching – your bottom, middle, or top performers – but the reality is that all agents should be getting at least some type of 1:1 coaching with their supervisor or coach on an ongoing basis. Your agents need you to provide them with details on where they are struggling, and specific advice and actions they can take to improve their performance.
Modern and effective quality management software will provide you an easy, unified mechanism to deliver both group and 1:1 coaching in an automated and trackable fashion.
More than just the basics
If you read both parts of this two-part blog series, you might be thinking “This was just the basics?!” While we’ve covered the foundational components, each of the four sections – Form Creation, Quality Plans and Evaluations, Calibration, and Coaching -- could be elaborated upon even further. Nonetheless, the message should be clear:
- Quality Management is critical to the success of the contact,
- An effective quality management program takes deliberate time and effort to create,
- Quality management is an ongoing, never ending process (or roadtrip!)
- And modern quality management software makes the entire process more sustainable and effective.