Swim teams and quality management

My kids are on a swim team this summer, their first experience with that, and we all find the meets to be lots of fun. One of the best things is the next day practice, when they hand out ribbons. There is one ribbon in particular that stands out in my mind, its the personal best ribbon when a swimmer improves their recorded time for a particular event. Its a colorful ribbon, and the kids always seem particularly proud of them, which shows a wisdom beyond their single-digit years. It occurred to me there is a corporate quality analogy here.

How does this apply to call centers? Well, first I should confess that the analogy breaks down because, despite an industry obsession with Average Handle Time, customer interactions are not a race against time like a swimming heat. They are a race against discontent customers, and since customers don't like spending time on calls any more than call center managers do, lower handling time is a byproduct of winning this race. The pride in a personal best carries with us from childhood. My kids are learning quality management in the pool: define a process (the entry, the stroke, the reach for the wall), measure the process, analyze and improve the process (morning practice!), and the real reward is not the ribbon, but what it represents: results.

The opportunity is to see, through the example of kids on a swim team, how when we are made aware of the elements that are in our control, how we can improve them, and we know the measures used to validate that improvement, the drive to better results and its own internal reward is a natural human inclination.

So what is in an agent's control, that is vital to winning the race against discontented customers, that we can isolate and coach, and that is measurable? Two such measures are Net Attitude Change and Net Experience Gap. The approach is to listen to calls and measure attributes (can be agent or customer oriented or general) that apply to a particular phase of the call, a key event, or the entire call. Out of the typical 60-80 attribute-value pairs that can be captured for a single call, views of what is really happening on calls can be quickly created. Views that are not available via CRM, surveys, ACD data, QA conformance monitoring, or CRM systems.

The most important view is how the customer's attitude changed over the course of the call, and the difference between the customer's measured experience and what the experience could have been based on our mash-up analysis. Agents and contact center management now have a measure that is vital to the organization, that is within their control, that is quantifiable in simple terms, and that provides the underlying detail to foster effective coaching and improvement. There are many organizations that are at a crossroads from chaotic changes in their call centers, from offshoring to onshoring, insourcing to outsourcing, mergers and acquisitions, changing call routing strategies and agent specialization, and shifting priorities and associated metrics. Maybe its time to empower something more basic: ignite that natural human inclination to chase those personal best ribbons and put the tools in place to support it.