Balancing Quality and Productivity
By Susan Hash
As customers increasingly choose self-service options for simple tasks and inquiries, agents are now handling more complicated calls that typically require problem-solving skills, a more consultative approach…and time. The industry's longtime reliance on handle time as a performance metric has created the perception among agents that speed trumps quality—and unfortunately, many employee scorecards and performance appraisals seem to support that view.

But quality and productivity don't have to be mutually exclusive. It is possible to drive customer-centric performance goals while streamlining call-handling processes and keeping operational costs in check. The following are strategies from five leading service providers that have accomplished both.

Build Frontline Expertise with Crossfunctional Training
CareSource is a non-profit, public-sector managed health care company, based in Dayton, Ohio. The organization's CEO recently tasked its entire leadership team with the challenge to improve service without adding staff costs. The goal: Reduce call volume by 40% by identifying and eliminating calls generated by internal process shortfalls and inefficiencies.

When examining the reasons behind calls from providers, leaders from CareSource's service center and claims department found that CSRs could answer questions and educate providers about the claims process, but to resolve issues, the call had to be routed to the claims department. But what if some of those tasks could be completed on the first point of contact? They decided to experiment by having CSRs and claims reps swap jobs for three months.

It proved to be an eye-opening experiment for both teams. Each department learned how their processes impacted the other. The job swap was so successful in reducing call-backs, it's now an ongoing program.

Adopt a QM Approach to Eliminate Process Flaws
NCCI Holdings, a workers compensation insurance carrier based in Boca Raton, Fla., adopted a Six Sigma approach to customer interactions, which helped to streamline call-handling processes and improve quality.

Rather than concentrating on finding errors in the individual agent's performance, the service center focused on identifying and eliminating waste and rework in the overall, end-to-end customer experience. If the process is improved, overall quality improves. This approach allowed the center to develop a quality feedback form for staff that outlines the factors that contribute to a successful experience, which customers have identified in surveys.

Use VOC Analytics to Identify and Prioritize Call-Handling Improvements
Vacation ownership firm Bluegreen Corporation relies on speech analytics to depict the reasons why customers are calling and identify reasons for repeat calls. Through its speech analytics solution, management can identify whether agents provided customers with the level of care that makes the experience exceptional, as well as pinpointing the reasons behind repeat calls.

Bluegreen recently began tracking the percent of silence on calls. The speech analytics tool can identify and measure the presence of silence—the time where an associate is not speaking and an owner is not speaking—as well as which individuals have a higher percentage of silence and key reasons for the call silence (e.g., the agent is looking something up in the knowledgebase). The management team set about lowering the percent of silence through targeted coaching and was able to cut it in half in six months.

Change the Frontline Mindset about Call Handling
BNSF Railway leaders decided to roll out an initiative to eliminate repeat calls by focusing on first-call resolution, but they realized that there was some groundwork to be laid first: They needed to change the staff's mindset about call handling. A problem-solving approach requires agents to re-think the way that they take a phone call. They began by defining FCR, and asking agents for feedback on their individual approaches to problem-solving and what processes needed to be in place to resolve issues on the first call.

Agents often have different interpretations about what it means to resolve a situation versus answering a caller's question. Conducting staff meetings about FCR and asking for agent feedback helped BNSF staff and management to identify problem-resolution best practices. The quality team also monitored calls listening for problem-solving technique and identifying areas for additional coaching and training. Agents who were struggling in a particular area sat with their peers who performed well on those tasks to get call-handling pointers. To drive FCR performance, management stressed the importance of taking ownership and follow through rather than speed and volume.

Empower the Front Line to Meet and Exceed Needs
Northwestern Bank created a can-do culture focused on providing first-call resolution and a quality customer experience. All staff are empowered to take ownership of a customer's request or issue and to see that it is fully resolved. CSRs are authorized to waive fees, adjust rates, and go an extra step to "hug" customers with a free lunch certificate or other gift.

CSRs are not measured by handle time—the focus is solely on delivering a satisfactory customer experience. However, the level of empowerment enables them to deliver a resolution quickly by bypassing a number of time-wasting approval steps.

Practical Pointer: Getting agents involved in setting the goals for attendance and removing the obstacles is an effective way to get their ongoing buy in.

INSIDE VIEW: U.S. Small Business Administration Disaster Assistance Customer Service Center
Delivering a consistently high customer service performance is a challenge, even for contact centers that have relatively predictable business cycles and calling patterns. But doing so when extreme weather conditions dictate your workload is truly an amazing feat. It takes strong and effective leadership to run a contact center whose call volume can surge from several hundred calls a day to thousands—all within a matter of days.

The U.S. Small Business Administration's Disaster Assistance Customer Service Center serves the needs of home and business owners seeking financial assistance from SBA in the aftermath of national disasters. Its leaders and frontline staff operate in a constant state of readiness to handle spikes in workload caused by hurricanes and flooding anywhere in the country. But while call volume may fluctuate, service quality remains consistently high with a customer satisfaction rating of 98%. In fact, the center has been honored with multiple awards for customer service excellence.
Read the full story here.


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