Balancing Productivity With Quality

Many people speak of quality measurement and excellence in the contact center. But few attack the topic of productivity measurement. Even fewer people want to discuss how to measure an agent’s productivity. I’ll admit, it can be a dangerous road to travel – a road full of potholes. But maneuvering this road with excellence is simply a matter of balance and optimization.

I’ve heard agents say, “If you want me to provide higher quality, I’ll have to talk longer with my customers.” But did you know that quality does not necessarily get any better with longer talk time? In all of our research, we’ve never been able to prove any significant correlation between talk time and quality.

You can easily see this lack of correlation in your own contact center by plotting average talk time against quality monitoring scores. Plot the numbers on a grid for your entire team (label the horizontal axis quality and the vertical axis talk time).

Once they are fully graphed, look at the two quadrants representing high talk time. What do you see? Some agents with high talk time also have high quality, while others have low quality.

Now look at the two quadrants of low talk time. Again, some agents have low quality but some agents have high quality.

These agents with lower talk time and higher quality have gained the skills required to provide a high quality interaction with the most optimum talk time (notice I did not say “lowest” talk time). These optimization skills are the ones you want other agents to acquire.

In certain instances, you might want to plan for an increase in your average talk time. What if you were able to reduce the number of repeat calls or decrease the overall cost to service accounts (due to fewer calls per account)? These results, even though created by a longer talk time, would ultimately save your company money.

This doesn’t mean you walk into the contact center one day and say, “Okay, I want everyone to talk 30 seconds longer on each call.” What I would recommend is that you first analyze what agents could do during the call that might increase first call resolution.

Consider all the options and then pick one you would like to test. Test your solution with a control group of agents so you can assess the impact of this new call flow. Be sure to look at the impact on talk time, first call resolution, rework etc. In this way you can prove if your investment in longer talk time is worth it.

Agents should be taught how to balance high quality with cost efficiency. It’s not okay for an agent to consistently get 95% on his or her call monitoring scores while at the same time only handling one call per hour – while other agents on the same team are averaging 12 calls per hour with comparable quality scores. By learning the optimization skills, agents can balance quality with cost efficiency.

Kathryn E. Jackson, Ph.D, is president of Ocean City, NJ-based contact center consultancy Response Design Corp.

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