Internal Quality Monitoring Prohibits Customer-Centricity: A Case for 360QM

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At the base of every organization is a fundamental goal to be profitable. Achieving this goal is largely dependent on employee performance. Therefore the management directive must be to optimize employee performance. In the contact center, agent performance must be a prime directive as improved agent performance is a critical component of customer-centricity, effectiveness and efficiency.

Internal Quality Monitoring (IQM) was born out of the need to measure performance by ensuring consistency in the exchanges agents were having with customers. While IQM certainly fulfills that need, such a fixed company-centric measurement process that is forced upon the agents can have a devastating impact on customer loyalty.

Agents who see what needs to be done for a customer but have no power to give it feel frustrated over their inability to affect a positive outcome.

Jeffrey Pfeffer, professor of organizational behavior at Stanford University, and a well-known and highly respected researcher and author, suggests that there are 13 practices for managing people which are key to retaining a competitive advantage (from “Producing Sustainable Competitive Advantage through the Effective Management of People,” Academy of Management Executive). These suggestions seem to fly somewhat in the face of the typical ways in which we manage contact centers, and two are particularly applicable to the IQM topic at hand.

First Pfeffer Point: Participation and Empowerment

Decentralization of decision-making is paramount to getting people to take ownership of the company’s processes and outcomes. Specifically, we advocate pushing decision-making power, as much as is practical, down to the agent level. Agents who see what needs to be done for a customer but have no power to give it feel frustrated over their inability to affect a positive outcome. As the retail icon Nordstrom stipulates under Nordstrom Rules:

Rule #1: Use your good judgment in all situations. There will be no additional rules.

Contrary to this effective management strategy is the common theme of IQM programs to be largely compliance-based. Monitoring staff evaluate the effectiveness of calls based on whether or not agents complete all of the requisite steps in a standardized call flow or checklist. Throughout the call, agents struggle to balance, on the one hand, the checklist s/he must complete in order to earn a positive evaluation, with the other hand being the customer’s needs. A direct quote from a recent agent satisfaction study conducted by Customer Relationship Metrics summarizes the dilemma:


“It is hard to assist my member effectively when I am worried about did I personalize it enough or how many times did I say the member’s name. If I am friendly with the member and I resolve the issue what difference does it make how many times I said the name or prolonged the call to get personalization in?”

In this checklist environment, agents are ultimately prohibited from further developing their natural talents—empathy, probing skills, conversational skills, problem solving skills—to satisfy (and to delight) customers. In their efforts to prioritize customer needs, agents may actually be penalized if they stray from the required call flow. This method of streamlining customer communication fails to recognize the diversity in one’s customer-base, prevents agents from capitalizing on their unique set of skills and is incredibly transparent and frustrating to customers. Obviously, this focus perpetuates behavior that is ineffective, inefficient and certainly not customer centric.

The Disconnect between IQM Scoring and Customer Delight

Rewards are reinforcements for the behaviors that precede them. IQM defines performance with an internal focus. If this is clear, then why are there so many instances of rewarding unwanted behaviors, and failing to reward those that we wish to encourage? This is central issue in a classic article by Steven Kerr titled, “On the Folly of Rewarding A, While Hoping for B,” which has been widely reprinted in management periodicals for more than 30 years. IQM Scoring does not equate to customer delight.

The Customer Directive

Surely there is a method to shift the performance focus away from the company’s pre-determined rules of engagement to be those of customer-centricity. Defining the method to apply does not emanate from the IQM team. Internally-based development produces more of the same, paves a cow path, rewards A while hoping for B, throws good money after bad, etc.

A more customer-focused method of defining performance objectives is 360QM that leverages IQM with External Quality Monitoring (EQM) and key operational metrics.

By empowering agents to focus on fulfilling the needs of customers and using customer feedback to define training priorities for agents, a feedback loop is created that galvanizes both agent and customer engagement.

EQM utilizes customer feedback about the company, its products / services, contact center, resolution process and the specific actions of agents to identify customer wants and needs. These wants, needs, and Delighters then become the basis for call monitoring guidelines, performance goals, and ongoing improvement efforts. The IQM checklist approach to call monitoring is replaced with the more fluid EQM framework of best practices which are evaluated within the context of delivering a favorable customer experience. By empowering agents to focus on fulfilling the needs of customers and using customer feedback to define training priorities for agents, a feedback loop is created that galvanizes both agent and customer engagement. And that generates a significantly higher return on training investments.

Second Pfeffer Point: Training and Skills Development

Managers often complain about wasted training and development investments, when the real issue is that, once trained, the employees are given no opportunity to use the skills they have acquired. Techniques which are sensitive to customer cues become second nature and continue to become even more effective. By definition, training is expected to have a short-term payback, while the payback for development is longer-term. Each require the opportunity to practice, first-hand or by assisting others, for the learning to be properly internalized. “Skills” acquired and never used are soon forgotten, and the money paid to acquire them is truly wasted.

Put to the Test

Implementing 360QM does not require hardware, software or a capital investment on your part and the return on asset will be substantial.

One of our clients recently shifted away from a controlled checklist method of IQM in favor of one that encourages agents to customize their approach based on their own personalities and the individual needs of each customer. Agents received extensive training to hone their listening skills and help them identify customer cues to mood, personality, degree of stress, impatience, etc. Once agents demonstrated skill in identifying customer cues, they learned ways in which they could customize/adapt their approach based on those cues to improve call outcome perception and efficiency. The skills were applied and the process of internalizing the techniques shows a positive return on the training initiative.

Agents felt empowered to service the customer in response to the cues provided while still honoring the directive of the company. As Pfeffer would predict, the Agents reported increased job satisfaction levels. Customers reacted dramatically as well, reporting significantly higher levels of satisfaction with the company, the call and the agent. And 100 seconds were shaved off of Average Handle Time (AHT)—one hundred, with two zeros, and not 10 or 1. This large gain in efficiency was achieved on AHT that was 540. Your AHT may not be as long but imagine a similar reduction to your AHT (18.5%).

IQM was no longer prohibiting customer centricity, efficiency or effectiveness of the center:

Customer Satisfaction Before and After
Implementation of New Customer-Centric Call Handling Strategy



By empowering agents to use their knowledge and talents to prioritize customer needs, this client was able to prove that effectiveness generates efficiencies, improved customer loyalty, improved agent satisfaction and decreased attrition.

The prime directive has been met with a tremendous return on assets.

Please direct your comments to Jodie Monger. For more information about 360QM, visit www.360QM.com.

3 COMMENTS

  1. Jodie – excellent article. I do want to point out an underlying problem driving many of the problems you identify. Someone designed this call center’s process schema using a manufacturing-based process approach, which led to trying to measure compliance for variable, decision-based work. Using an office-based process approach such as Visual Workflow would have driven a completely different set of metrics appropriate for the setting.

    I’ve having trouble uploading a table, but I’ll e-mail you a comparison of office vs. manufacturing work environments that underscores the folly of the initial approach.

  2. Hi Dick — Thank you for your comment and for sending the table. It was wonderful to find it in my Inbox upon returning from vacation. (Many research ideas were formulated as we sailed with Norweigan Cruise Line!)

    There are several points in your table that will be useful to this client, specifically, and to another research project that I am working on. I will contact you about using this table as a reference in future work. Stay tuned!

    Jodie Monger, Ph.D.

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