ASCENT GROUP
Customer Experience Consulting and Publications

Insight

Improving the Customer Experience

Improving Customer Care Delivery

The best foundation for service excellence is your frontline, however many companies have struggled to find the right people due to out-dated recruitment and hiring practices. Our research shows that most companies rely on age-old interviewing techniques to identify qualified candidates rather than behavior-based interviewing techniques or even basic customer service skills testing. As a result, companies fail to put the right people in place to deliver consistent customer-oriented service.

Assembling the right mix of resources to ensure high-quality, cost-effective customer care is a constantly evolving challenge.

Best-in-Class customer care organizations look for motivated and enthusiastic people who demonstrate a propensity to serve. It is easier to teach technical proficiency than it is to change attitudes. Emphasize potential over experience.

In a service business, the employees are the company and hiring is critical. Work to strengthen your recruitment process so you start with the right people. Use a series of interviews, peer interviews, group interviews, phone interviews, role-playing and simulation to better understand how candidates react and perform under different scenarios and pressure. Behavioral-based assessment tools and interviewing techniques make it easier to identify the candidates with the personality and attitudes you are looking for in the job. 

Do as much as you can to determine if the candidate is a good fit for the job, the work group, and the organization, before you make the offer.

At the same time, it is important to adequately communicate job expectations to candidates as well as better understand candidate expectations. The more a candidate understands about the job, the work environment, performance expectations, and culture, the better the fit. Use job shadowing, peer interviews, or simulation to relay culture and expectations. Rewrite job ads so the appropriate expectations are conveyed. Survey new hires to better understand how to continually refine the process and minimize new-hire surprise.

Emphasize the importance of the Customer Experience in the recruiting process—make sure that candidates know up front about your organizational commitment to customer service. Stress the importance of customer service and customer satisfaction in the job advertisements, on your hiring web pages, and during interviews. Rewrite job descriptions to emphasize customers’ service expectations.

Your organization may use a combination of part-time, temporary, and full-time labor. Be sure to recruit for each type of labor separately as the schedule might dictate a different pool of interested candidates. For instance, companies relying predominantly on part-time labor have found a ready pool of qualified candidates in retirees, stay-at-home moms, and college students, who prefer a part-time schedule. Be sure your recruitment efforts target each group differently, using the most appropriate means for that group. Target the right audience with the right message using the right channel.

Employee referrals are an excellent source of qualified and potentially loyal candidates. Rewarding successful referrals can further stimulate employees to use word-of-mouth advertising to attract qualified candidates.

Make Time.

Many companies have a difficult time balancing the day-to-day needs of the business and the need to train and develop frontline employees. Make the time to adequately train and prepare your frontline customer service resources. Make sure they are equipped and trained to handle all situations. Refresh training periodically to keep employees in top performance and up-to-date on customer service and technical skills.

Call monitoring is inarguably one of the best methods of improving call quality and service delivery. While companies can measure customer satisfaction through customer focus groups, customer contact follow-up telephone surveys, and written satisfaction surveys, the results are often not timely enough or detailed enough to help individual agents understand their impact or contribution. A call monitoring session on the other hand, if done correctly, can instantly deliver a wealth of customer satisfaction information, gauge individual agent performance and reveal a lot about your business processes and policies. However, our research shows that many companies do not monitor call quality, and monitoring quality of email, letters, faxes, video, and chat is much less practiced. 

Commit the resources to adequately monitor, evaluation, and discuss call quality results. If providing regular, fair, and timely feedback is a challenge for your supervisors, consider setting up an in-house quality assurance group. There are also outsourcing options available—companies that specialize in agent behavior analysis. Contracted monitoring services can be provided on-site or remotely, based on your specifications and standards.

Many customer service organizations have not taken the time to establish a formal supervisory (coach) training program. As a result, employee development, performance and morale suffers.

Call quality calibration is essential to ensure consistency and build confidence in call monitoring results. However our research shows that many contact center organizations are not calibrating on a regular basis or calibrating at all. The best way to gain consensus on a call is to design the proper review criteria and then test it over and over. Call Monitoring software facilitates this process by streamlining the selection, capture, and presentation of calls and calibration data. Group discussions comparing and discussing results help to focus and clarify the not so easy task of judging performance, and they also build confidence and consistency.

To ensure successful continuous improvement, encourage your training group to work closely with your quality assurance and operational excellence groups. This will encourage the link between learning and performance—making sure the training group is equipping employees to successfully perform as well as making sure any operational changes are reflected in training. At the same time, underperforming employees can receive targeted training.Recognize behavior and reward results in a timely manner so that employees know exactly why they are being recognized. Be specific, clear, and communicate so that others will take notice.

Organizations reporting more highly engaged workers actively promote a culture of engagement by ensuring that organizational leaders, including immediate supervisors, are skilled in the area of engagement improvement. After all, having a good relationship between employees and immediate supervisors is a top driver of employee engagement. Yet, many frontline supervisors are lacking in basic supervisory skills, much less tactics for engaging employees.

Measure Your Performance.

Do as much as possible to relay performance expectations to employees. The more an employee understands about the job, the work environment, performance expectations, and culture, the better they will be able to achieve or exceed standard. Revise training content so the appropriate expectations are conveyed. Communicate performance routinely and look for ways to make your performance results more accessible to employees and supervisors.

Online performance measurement tools and dashboards improve communications of performance results to front-line employees. These tools provide access to performance information when supervisors are unavailable.

Make sure your performance metric framework is balanced—considers efficiency and effectiveness—and accurately measures the customer experience. If possible, include agent FCR and Call Quality performance as a component in the annual review process—as a basis for compensation and rewards. Balance with other metrics to make sure the customer experience isn’t compromised—that agents know when to escalate a call or assign it to further investigation. 

Comparing your company’s contact center performance against a representative peer group can provide tremendous benefits. Not only can you learn more about how your peers approach similar work tasks, you often learn more about your own organization simply by participating in the measurement process. You may confirm what management already knows as well as confirm the belief that there really is a need to change. It may provide the “proof” that management has been struggling to uncover.

We are updating our study of inbound contact center performance. Share your story to participate in our benchmarking panel (and receive a complimentary copy of Call Center Strategies upon publication).

Christine KozloskyComment