But is it working? How to properly monitor call centers

Marcia W. Hicks
Kowal Associates Inc.

You may ask, “What is calibration and why do I need it?” To properly answer the question, let’s talk first about your call monitoring program.

Why do you need a monitoring program? You have your customer service representatives (CSRs) in place, but do they know everything they should? Are they acting in a professional manner? Are they providing your customers correct and sufficient information? Do they have proper speaking and listening skills?

Every utility call center needs to have a monitoring program to guarantee its success. There are several key steps to follow when designing such a program:

  • Identify the key performance criteria that result in successful calls. Some examples could be: product knowledge, listening skills, etc.
  • Select measurable attributes that support each of the performance criteria. For instance, “listening skills” could have attributes of: not interrupting the caller, not asking the caller to repeat information, etc.
  • Determine the overall weight for each criterion in the total call score.
  • Select the scoring method (1-to-5, yes/no, etc.) for each criterion.
  • Define the monitoring process and performance benchmarks.
  • Train all call center members–both monitors and telephone reps–about the performance criteria and benchmarks.
  • And finally, conduct calibration sessions to work out any “bugs” before you begin live monitoring.

Each step in the process is critical to the success of the program. However, the calibration process is often overlooked. For a monitoring process to succeed, it is essential to integrate calibration into the planning, implementation and ongoing maintenance of your monitoring program.

What is calibration?

In a call center, calibration is the process in which you remove variation in the way performance criteria are interpreted from person to person.

Calibration is the best preventative maintenance against allegations of inequity and favoritism. It eliminates perceived “bias” by ensuring consistent scoring. When calibration is achieved, it will not matter who did the monitoring and scoring; the outcome will be the same. Once CSRs understand this, the coaching process can focus on recognizing achievements and identifying opportunities for improvement, instead of whether a particular score is “accurate.”

Calibration is not a quick or easy process; it takes a considerable commitment. It may take many hours of discussion and practice before your team begins to score a call the same way. While it is difficult, the rewards will be worth it in the end.

How to conduct a calibration session

Anyone responsible for monitoring and scoring calls should first have an excellent working knowledge of the utility’s call center’s customer service programs. This includes quality assurance representatives (if you have them), supervisors and managers. It is also important to involve company executives, so they understand how the standards are administered. Then, people who will monitor should be given formal training about the performance criteria and definitions that have been established for the monitoring program. Once this training is complete, calibration sessions can begin.

When planning a calibration session, be sure to consider the following:

  • Schedule at least one hour of uninterruptible time.
  • Prepare five or six recorded calls to get the most from your calibration time. If recorded calls are not available, be sure to test the “dial in” access and have an up-to-date CSR list available so you can quickly find live calls.

Start the calibration process by choosing a facilitator. The role of the facilitator is to direct discussions, take notes and keep the team focused on the goal. The next step is to listen to a call. Have all participants use your evaluation form to score the call. Have one person verbally recap what they just heard. Recapping the call reinforces listening skills and attention to detail; take turns doing this so that everyone learns how. During the recap, the monitor will identify the areas in which he deducted points.

At the end of the session, the facilitator should review the notes, highlighting any changes or group decisions that have been made.

Some ground rules

In order for any calibration session to be a positive and productive experience, you should establish ground rules and communicate them to all participants in advance. Here are some tips to keep in mind as you get started.

  • Create an environment in which everyone can feel comfortable sharing his or her opinion. It is human nature to be wary of taking risks. Voicing an opinion is taking a risk.
  • Avoid being “confrontational,” and allow your team to finish explaining their thoughts before you begin to explain your position. It is important that everyone’s opinions are heard.
  • Talk about the facts, not feelings. The performance criteria are (or should be) defined by measurable tasks, so keep the discussion focused on what can be taught, not thought.
  • When making decisions, consider what would be best for the overall success of the program. Do not make a decision just because everyone has grown tired of discussing the issue.
  • Enforce compliance. It is critical to your overall program to identify and warn any person who monitors using their own standards, and not the standards agreed upon during calibration.
  • Do not give up or become frustrated when the process gets difficult and some people seem ready to quit. The calibration process is not a sprint; it is a marathon.


Marcia Hicks
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Marcia Hicks, senior consultant, joined Kowal Associates in 1994. At Kowal Associates, Marcia has worked extensively with a Fortune 500 company to design and implement inbound customer service, consumer affairs and monitoring programs. She can be reached at mhicks@kowalassociates.com.

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