You’ve put a great quality monitoring program in place. Your whole quality team has agreed on the right quality standards for your business, and you’ve completed an initial round of call evaluations. Now you have a good idea of which frontline agents need some coaching. The question now is: who should do the coaching? Your floor supervisors who are closest to the agents but whose time is at a premium? Or the quality analysts (QAs) who live and breathe the quality standards, but may not command the same respect that the agents hold for their immediate managers?
Unfortunately there is no silver bullet that guarantees success when it comes to who is best suited to coach frontline agents: call center floor supervisors or quality analysts (QAs). Studies indicate call centers vary in their organizational structure and approach to agent coaching, and there are definite pros and cons of supervisors conducting coaching session and conversely pros and cons of this function being performed by individuals from the quality monitoring and call evaluation team. Here are some things to consider.
Approach 1: QAs Monitor and Evaluate, Supervisors Deliver Coaching.
Typically it is the supervisors who “own” the performance of the frontline agents so most call centers hold them responsible for delivering the feedback/coaching for call monitoring. To free up time for the supervisors, a QA team is put into place to do the actual call monitoring and evaluations and then those results are handed off to the supervisors to deliver the feedback to the agents. One benefit to putting a QA Team in place is that QA results are generally non-biased, unlike when supervisors evaluate the quality of the members of their own team. With supervisors, there might be the temptation to grade “easier” or allow for “agent was just having a bad day, he/she normally doesn’t do that on a call” concessions, especially if the supervisor’s KPI’s (key performance indicators) are tied to the teams‘ overall performance (which would include quality scores). Generally, QA has no skin in the game as their performance is tied to the completion of the number of calls monitored and evaluated as stated in their QA performance standards.
Challenges. One of the greatest challenges to this coaching approach is in keeping the two (QA and supervisors) calibrated so there is consistency with call evaluations and the coaching message. Supervisors are not always supportive of the QAs (comments to agents like “oh, don’t worry so much about missing that, sometimes the QAs are too picky.”). Supervisors are often not as proficient in the call mechanics as QA and sometimes they are not the most knowledgeable to be delivering the feedback. This happens as a consequence of being away from the task of taking customer calls. Many call center supervisors spend more and more time managing the operations and other administrative tasks (payroll, for example) and as the center grows and changes, their knowledge of the day-to-day call handling atrophies. In contrast, QAs spend the majority of their time listening to calls and applying call behaviors to quality standards and they are more familiar with products, processes, and customers’ concerns. One last challenge to consider is the ongoing morale of QAs when all they do is the monitoring and evaluation piece. What happens over time is that QAs tend to find the same performance problems repeated again and again on the calls, leaving them to feel like their efforts are not adequately communicated during coaching sessions, and this creates frustration and some job dissatisfaction for the QA team.
Approach 2: QAs do it all – Monitor, Evaluate, and Coach.
Some call centers have decided to completely remove the supervisors from the quality monitoring process and re-focus supervisors’ efforts on managing the floor operations and agent performance as it relates to productivity measures, rather than quality. Supervisors only step in when a member of their team falls below quality performance expectations and they are needed for corrective action intervention (verbal, written warnings). The benefit to this approach is the consistency QAs can bring to the process. Since they are the original ones who listened to the calls, they naturally understand the essence of the call and how the agent behaviors match up to the quality performance standards, and thus they are equipped to discuss these with the agents via call coaching sessions. In addition, QAs are in a position to follow up and look for improvement in subsequent calls they monitor so there is a more consistent thread to the call coaching and improvement.
Challenges. The greatest risk in this approach is that supervisors can easily lose touch with the call performance of their team as they do not have day-to-day involvement and it becomes more difficult to provide ongoing reinforcement of quality to agents when they are not in the loop. Another challenge call centers experience is difficulty getting buy-in from the agents when the coaching is delivered by a Quality Analyst and not a supervisor. In many organizations, the QAs may not be much higher in the hierarchy than the agents themselves. It’s difficult for QAs to tell the agents “what to do” when they do not have the authority to enforce compliance.
Approach 3: QAs and Supervisors Monitor and Evaluate, Supervisors Deliver Coaching.
When both groups are responsible for monitoring and evaluating a portion of the calls, a call center can more easily gather a greater sample of calls which improves the accuracy of results and with more behavioral examples. This helps make coaching sessions more meaningful, as well. When part of a supervisors’ job is to monitor and evaluate calls, they are more inclined to stay in touch with call mechanics and quality standards and thus do a better job call coaching.
Challenges. One of the most challenging aspects of supervisors playing a more active role in the monitoring and evaluation of the frontline is not having enough time to do this job well. In most call center, the supervisors are stretched very thin as they are responsible for many administrative tasks, handling escalated calls, attending meetings, dealing with personnel issues, managing daily service levels and schedule adherence, and the list goes on. More urgent matters will naturally take priority over call monitoring, making their commitment to quality challenging. In centers where supervisors and QA share in the monitoring task, it is imperative the two groups attend regularly scheduled calibration sessions to ensure consistency among all those who are evaluating call performance. The two groups must be a united front to the frontline staff or else the integrity of the quality process will be at risk. In addition, it is best if the supervisors monitor/evaluate agents on other teams and not their own to avoid the conflict of interest issue.
Approach 4: Collaborative Approach – Supervisors and QAs Monitor, Evaluate, and Coach
The ideal situation is a collaborative effort from both the QAs and supervisors. For example, QA completes ¾ of the monitoring/evaluation of calls and supervisors complete ¼ of the load. So if a call center has committed to monitoring 8 calls per agent per month, QA completes 6, supervisors complete 2. This keeps the supervisors in touch with the requirements and process. Then, the supervisors and QA work together and jointly participate in the coaching session. Most likely the supervisors will take the lead, but the QAs will be there to support and serve as SMEs (subject matter experts). This will only work when there is a healthy, supportive relationship between the two groups. But it sets up a dynamic where the agents feel supported, and where they know they can go to either their supervisor or their QA for questions or help with their performance. With this collaborative model, agents can rely on a consistency between the two groups.
Challenges. Time is probably the greatest challenge to a collaborative quality approach. For this to work, supervisors and QAs must be willing to put in the time to complete their calls, prepare and deliver the coaching sessions together, and provide the ongoing support to the frontline staff. Of course, these things are needed with all the approaches outlined in this article, but with the collaborative approach, there is more coordination needed to establish the dual-coaching approach. Undoubtedly, agents will benefit from this extra effort focused on their development and lead to improved overall performance of the call center and service to customers. A collaborative effort can show that quality is a priority! n
Deelee Freeman is the Director of Call Center Training Associates, providing training and consulting services for call centers. www.callcentertrainingassociates.com. She can be reached at 404-630-2156 or firstname.lastname@example.org.