Monday, February 27, 2012

The Customer Service “Leap of Faith”

Customer service departments share a great many common practices. They hire new agents as needed and put them through the company’s standard on-boarding program. This usually includes a number of training courses and simulation exercises designed to make sure the new agent has the basic skills to do their job. The new agent, comfortable in their new cubicle, then begins the process of improvement.

Every phone call is recorded and many are evaluated looking for areas of improvement. Performance metrics are captured reflecting how quickly and skillfully the agent can respond to customer requests. Statistics such as average call duration, percentage of calls needing to be transferred, percentage of calls needing to be escalated and other metrics are monitored in an effort to identify where improvements can be made. There is also the need to attend ongoing training courses to continually broaden the agent’s base of knowledge. All goes along well during the “grace period” for the new agent.

And then comes the big leap. A Supervisor or Manager will review the statistics and upon seeing a statistic that is not meeting the standards, make a judgment call about the best course of action to improve the performance level. That course of action is frequently the assignment of additional training in a specific problem area. I use the term “judgment” as too often this is exactly what is done. The Manager has assumed that training is the answer and thus has made the dreaded “Leap of Faith.” If the problem calls are about Product X, then the needed training must be the Product X training course. There is no fault here as the “judgment call” is necessary given the lack of tools to bring facts to the decision process.

The “Leap of Faith” comes from the fact that without a tool to correlate the results from training classes to the performance measures that are being captured, there is no way to know if additional training is part of the solution or part of the problem. It might well be that the Product X course has not been updated in a number of months and that its content is now woefully out of date. Customers are asking questions about Product X for which the training course has not provided the answers.

A tool that correlates the results from course completion tests with the results from performance measurement systems will quickly identify which educational efforts are highly correlated to which levels of performance results. Such a tool guides Supervisors and Managers to intelligent decisions about the course of action that will produce improvement in the shortest amount of time. Straight statistical connections. No guessing. No wasted time or money. “High test results from Course A consistently result in high performance measures for statistic 5.”

Want to know how to improve a measure’s statistic? Locate the training or coaching process that has the highest correlation value to the failing statistic and schedule the agent accordingly.

Without knowing where there is a statistical cause & effect relationship between training and performance, contact centers have no choice but to make the “Leap of Faith” and hope they are making the right decisions that will produce performance improvements. Sadly, many companies I have visited have found that correlations they thought existed don’t. Even the more senior agents can subjected to useless trainings without a performance management tool that can clearly identify what correlates with what.

Silver Lining’s SkillsAssess software product includes such a tool; SkillsAnalysis. SkillsAnalysis is a module that can take in any number of performance metrics from any number of systems along with any number of assessment results from any number of training and coaching systems and analyze every possible combination for correlation. The results can be and have been eye opening.

The training organization benefits from knowing exactly how much they are contributing to the overall success of the contact center. The statistics can prove which courses have a direct, positive effect on the performance measures and which ones do not. Imagine being the VP of Learning and Development and being able to prove to the budget committee that not only is L&D having a positive impact but that additional funding is warranted to revise courses that are underperforming.

Using SkillsAnalysis, the Supervisors and Managers have certainty that the course of action they schedule to address a performance problem will produce the desired outcome as there are statistics that historically back the decision. Minimum interruption within the agent’s schedule. No wasted time on actions that don’t produce improvement.

So is your contact center regularly making the “Leap of Faith?” Does it operate according to the “Once trained, knowledge gained” concept? Is it time to connect your investment in performance measurement tools with your investment in agent training tools and create some synergy? It is time for Silver Lining Solutions’ SkillsAnalysis.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Is Apple Immune to the Osborne Effect?

The iPad3. The iPhone5. Both products are expected to be released this year. Both products are expected to offer vast improvements over current versions. Both products are both the best kept secrets and the worst kept secrets at the same time.

So how is it that Apple avoids becoming subject to the “Osborne Effect?” I know, sounds like a rhetorical question but it isn’t. I really do not know how Apple continues to sell monstrous numbers of products when a new model is known to be right around the corner.

Traditionally, car companies highlight new models and various technology enhancements prior to a model being available for purchase yet they go to great lengths to keep the shape of a new fender or front grill from prying eyes. If you knew that the model of car you were thinking of buying was expected to undergo a significant change, would you wait? Would you use the upcoming arrival as a way to get a better price on the existing model?

Apple’s forthcoming iPad3 is pretty much known to have a better screen and a better processor and yet Apple continues to stock the store shelves with iPad2s and is offering no discounts. The iPhone5 is coming and will likely be 4G and have a bigger screen. iPhone 4S is still selling very well. Certainly there is more time between now and the release date for the next iPhone but in the past, sales remained steady up to the release date. Strong enough anyway to deplete the channel of inventory.

Automobile companies have a similar sales strategy but they heavily discount older models in order to get them sold and the price tag makes them less of an impulse buy.

So here’s the big question of the day. What is it about Apple that allows them to continue selling existing models up to the day the new model goes on sale or is this just a myth? Let me know what you think.