Parenting and Quality Calibration: The Merits of Consistency

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Contact center quality calibration and parenting have some similarities. Let me explain. As a kid, I quickly learned that few things got me into as much trouble as asking a second parent for something in hopes of getting a better response than I received from the first parent. “Why?” you might ask. This action was an attempt at undermining the authority of one parent and could quickly create a good parent/bad parent situation. My parents didn’t let that happen.

Now as a parent myself, I’ve also been on the receiving end of this treatment from my kids and believe that an inconsistent parenting experience will do them a major disservice in their upbringing. For that reason, my wife and I must constantly work to make sure we’re aligned, or calibrated.

What is quality calibration?

The point of that analogy was not to liken contact center supervisors to parents, and agents to children, but to illustrate that inconsistency in the contact center can be detrimental to both the agent and the customer experience. And for that reason, a regular quality calibration process is critical in every contact center.

“Quality calibration is the process of regularly bringing contact center leaders together to review and evaluate a predetermined set of customer interactions to ensure consistent quality evaluation practices across the entire group.”

Why is quality calibration important?

Quality calibration is important for a few reasons.

  1. Calibration ensures that agents receive consistent feedback and coaching about the quality of their work regardless of which supervisor evaluates them. By evaluating and coaching consistently, regardless of the supervisor, agents better understand what’s expected of them.
  2. Calibration ensures that customers receive a consistent experience when contacting customer service. By evaluating and coaching consistently across the board it means customers get the same level of support regardless of which agent(s) they interact with.
  3. Calibration ensures that the quality process continues to improve. At the very heart of quality is the term “Kaizen,” a Japanese word for continuous improvement. As contact center leadership regularly evaluates interactions together, they naturally determine what’s working and what isn’t about the quality process, making minor adjustments that ultimately lead to better outcomes over time.

How do we get started?

There are a number of different ways to approach quality calibration, but I want to spend the balance of this article talking about my preferred method.

Step 1: Get the right people involved

For small contact centers, calibration might only involve a handful of supervisors with their manager. For larger operations, with multiple contact centers and outsourcing vendors, this can be a bit more complex and might require breaking calibration up into smaller sessions by location. One person, preferably a leader who has the customer experience in mind, can act as the standard-bearer and clear up any ambiguity that may arise during the discussion.

Step 2: Select interactions ahead of time

With the goal of getting an honest look at quality evaluation practices across the operation, select a handful of interactions and send them out to the group to evaluate ahead of time. This will give you the truest gauge of how each supervisor evaluates interactions. Some leaders may balk at this format because it requires prework. Instead, they might prefer to pull everyone into a room and listen to calls together, which is better than nothing, but it’s difficult to gauge if evaluators are truly aligned as those with stronger personalities and voices may drown out the voices of others.

Step 3: Discuss only the differences

Time in calibration is best used to address the discrepancies in scoring, not the consistencies. As you come together to discuss, focus on the items on the quality form where scoring differed and use your time together to reach an agreement on proper scoring. One thing that may occur during this discussion is that, while everyone will agree on an issue, there’s confusion about where to mark it on the form and they will look to the leader to determine the correct action.

Step 4: Calculate a calibration variance

Let’s talk about calibration variance, a metric that can determine the success of these sessions. Without getting too carried away with math, I’ve found great value in coming away with an agreed-upon, or calibrated score for each evaluated interaction. Variance is the average difference between each evaluator’s score and the calibrated score. My goal is to be within 5% of the calibrated score, and while we might be much higher than that after our first calibration session, the variance should decrease with practice.

Step 5: Discuss business outcomes

In every one of these sessions, the team should routinely evaluate if the quality process is helping the business meet its desired outcomes. If great customer experience is the goal, are we achieving that goal or are we evaluating behaviors that don’t matter? In my sessions, I ask, “Do you think this agent did everything they could to ensure that the customer was satisfied?” And then the follow-up question is, “What are the things that were within and/or outside of the agent’s control that can improve the experience?”

Step 6: Don’t forget to deliver the feedback

This may seem obvious but after the team has agreed on how to evaluate an interaction don’t let the exercise go to waste. Be sure to deliver that feedback and coaching to the agent immediately following the session.

Frequency and Tools

It’s important to calibrate regularly in your contact center. Whenever major changes are made to the quality process or new members are added to the team (this includes contact centers and outsourcing vendors), it’s a good idea to calibrate weekly. As the variance that I mentioned earlier decreases, you may scale this back to once or twice a month.

Finally, when it comes to tools to facilitate this process, I’ve been a part of quality calibration sessions involving pen and paper, whiteboards, online forms and spreadsheets, and quality management tools. As you roll out calibration in your contact center, just remember that the better the tool, the easier the process.

If you are looking to start a calibration process in your contact center or are looking to make your current process more effective, please don’t hesitate to reach out.

Jeremy Watkin

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Jeremy Watkin is a Product Marketing Manager at 8x8. He has more than 19 years of experience as a customer service professional leading high performing teams in the contact center. Jeremy has been recognized numerous times as a thought leader for his writing and speaking on a variety of topics including quality management, outsourcing, customer experience, contact center technology, and more. When not working you can typically find him spending quality time with his wife Alicia and their three boys, running with his dog, or dreaming of native trout rising for a size 16 elk [...] Read More >

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