I was just a few years out of college and a couple of years into my first customer service manager job at a startup when one of our agents, who had previous contact center experience, asked, “Hey, are you gonna do quality assurance at some point?”

Not known for my ability to BS, I responded with an, “Uhhhhhhhhh what’s that?” or something along those lines.

He proceeded to fairly quickly drum up a form with 10-15 questions on it that we’d use when listening to phone calls to determine what agents did correctly and where they needed improvement. We’d then arrive at a score that was reviewed with the individual agent.

At the time, I grew to think that quality management was just an activity we did in the contact center to make sure our agents were doing the right things on every call — but that was only partly correct. It wasn’t until much later that I began to understand the impact of the service provided by agents during a customer’s experience with a company. This means that quality management is an essential function within the contact center, helping companies achieve greater success.

Quality Management Defined

With that in mind, I want to help bring a bit more purpose and meaning to quality management in the contact center. Let’s use this as a working definition:

Quality Management is the function within a contact center of first determining those behaviors critical to successful customer experiences and then reviewing interactions and coaching agents to meet or exceed the standard on every customer interaction.

For the balance of this article, let’s look at key phrases within this definition and I’ll tell you why they’re important.

Behaviors critical to successful customer experiences

There are many behaviors involved when interacting with customers but here we’re only focusing on those behaviors that are critical to success — and this may vary depending on the type of work and industry.

For those companies focused on improving metrics like customer satisfaction I recommend focusing on three categories. They are:

  1. The quality of the human connection the agent makes with the customer.
  2. The accuracy and completeness of the information provided toward solving the customer’s problem
  3. Adherence to essential policies and procedures — especially security.

Now if you’ll join me in an exercise, take a moment to list 2-4 behaviors under these 3 categories that, when done correctly, help you achieve higher customer satisfaction, increased sales, or other key metrics.

Reviewing interactions and coaching agents

Core to quality management is the concept of Kaizen, a Japanese word for continuous improvement. Quality management is an ongoing process that never ends.

The work you did earlier to determine what’s essential to customer interactions is the foundation for your quality form. This is simply the criteria you will use when listening to or reading a customer interaction to determine if it was successful. As you review your list, you may want to pair it down to only those behaviors you want to measure and track for improvement, keeping in mind that the longer the list, the more cumbersome the next couple steps will be.

With a quality form in place, the next step is to review a random, representative sample of your customer interactions on a regular basis. Better yet, leverage speech and text analytics technology to help you automatically identify key patterns, effectively getting eyes and ears on more interactions than a team of people possibly can.

After reviewing interactions, it’s essential that you take the time to coach and develop your agents. And because you’re only talking to them about those behaviors critical to success, help them see how the service they provide impacts the customer’s experience. The process of coaching, training and modeling the correct behaviors, and then setting goals with your agents for how they can improve is the only way the quality of your customer service actually improves.

Meet or exceed the standard on every customer interaction

There are certain aspects of every customer interaction where we simply cannot allow missteps. Imagine that an agent at a financial services company grants a desperate caller access to an account without proper authentication only to find out later that the caller was committing fraud and stole a customer’s financial information. Or imagine the agent that just once gives the customer the wrong answer and the company gets blasted on social media. Finally, consider the agent who is having a “bad day” and is a complete jerk to your largest customer, causing them to cancel their service.

While mistakes can and do happen, quality management is about setting a standard that is met or exceeded consistently. This leads to more successful interactions and better customer experiences. When put that way, it’s clear that quality management is essential to the success of our customers, agents, contact centers and companies.

In future posts, I’ll go into more detail on the nuts and bolts of quality management including how to create a form, how to coach agents, how to determine a representative sample size of interactions to review, where technology can help, and much more. But for now, take some time to work on your list of critical behaviors for successful customer interactions and let us know how we can help.