by Penni McLean-Conner
Successful call center managers know that in addition to answering calls in a timely fashion, true success comes in providing quality information to customers during the call.
Utility call handling has an impact on customer satisfaction. In fact, research from Purdue University shows that 92 percent of consumers form their image of the company based on their experience using the call center. That’s why call monitoring is so important as a tool to improve the customer’s experience.
Call monitoring is one of the best processes available to improve call quality. Call centers will use call monitoring tools to randomly capture calls for review. Today, most of these tools not only capture the call, but also the screens used to process the call by the customer service representative. The ability to capture the screens really helps call centers to improve the accuracy of customer updates and the efficiency by which a representative processes the call.
But call monitoring is more than just listening to calls. It involves clear criteria defining a quality interaction and calibration of call monitoring staff and call center management on evaluating a call against the criteria. And the most important piece of call monitoring is providing the feedback to customer service representatives in a way that inspires them to continue to enhance their communications to customers. The three C’s of call monitoring–criteria, calibration and coaching–are what make a call monitoring process effective.
Call criteria must be defined. It is important that the criteria be aligned with the company’s mission and goals. Typically, the call criteria will be a blend of both technical skills criteria and customer interaction criteria. The technical skills criteria evaluates whether a customer service representative accurately updates customer information, navigates through screens in the most effective manner and completes appropriate orders accurately. The customer interaction criteria looks at whether the customer service representative maintained control of the call, was courteous and professional, actively listened, and used the customer’s name, among others.
Often overlooked, calibrating call center staff and call monitoring staff on evaluating calls consistently is very important. The purpose of calibration is to minimize variations in the performance criteria interpretation. Failure to calibrate leads to frustration for customer service representatives due to inconsistent feedback and scoring.
A calibration session will involve monitoring one or more interactions, scoring the calls and reviewing the scoring and rational. The facilitator will work to reach consensus on the calibrated score and reasoning. The most effective calibration sessions are those where the participants feel comfortable sharing their honest feedback on the call.
The most important aspect of call monitoring is providing the feedback to customer service representatives. A foundation for providing feedback will ensure that representatives clearly understand the quality criteria. This understanding can be reinforced through training sessions, team meetings and even with fun reminders.
Customer service representatives value feedback on their calls and hearing about ideas for improving their call quality. Jennifer Osgood, a call center supervisor in charge of the call monitoring process at NSTAR said, “When coaching agents, remember to listen attentively, clarify expectations, balance the business and human side, and adapt to the communications style of the agent.” Other best practices for coaching include:
- Be specific: Ensure that feedback is clear and concise and directed at specific performance issues.
- Balance positive and negative feedback: Reinforcing positive aspects of the call while identifying one or two areas for improvement ensures that customer service representatives feel positive about the entire coaching process.
- Provide timely feedback: Feedback is best delivered as soon as it is observed, or at least within 48 hours of the call. This is particularly important when there is a clear mistake the customer service representative is making with customers. The more timely the feedback, the less likely the representative will make the same mistake with other customers.
Utility call centers are increasing customer satisfaction by promptly responding to calls and providing a quality interaction. Call monitoring processes that include the three C’s–criteria, calibration and coaching–are instrumental in improving overall call quality as measured by call scores and customer satisfaction surveys.
Penni McLean-Conner is the vice president of customer care at NSTAR, Massachusetts’ largest investor-owned electric and gas utility. McLean-Conner, a registered professional engineer, serves on several industry boards of directors, including the CS week, the Consortium for Energy Efficiency and the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative. Her first book, “Customer Service: Utility Style,” has been published by PennWell books.