A Quality Revolution has been emerging in the last two years, transforming underleveraged and under-performing Quality & Call Monitoring Programs into predictors and drivers of performance improvement. The centerpiece of the revolution is Strategic Quality Assurance (sQA), and it works because it blends equal parts art and science.

In our first article, we looked at the Dirty Little Secret in Conventional Quality Programs, and gave a brief overview of all five keys.

Let’s focus on Key #1: Embrace Subjectivity in your Behavior Definitions. And this, in some ways, is the most difficult leap for some organizations to make. To effectively implement sQA, you have to start by disobeying the conventional wisdom and retrain your brain to think differently about how Quality has been done for the last 20 years.

The Problem: Conventional Wisdom

The conventional wisdom – built upon years of good intentions – says that Quality should measure clear, objective, black-and-white behaviors. The thinking is that if we want to drive standardization in call performance, then those standards must be clear, substantive, specific. If we want to consistently calibrate on behaviors, then those behaviors must be easy to calibrate to. And if we want to measure Reps on their Quality performance (and put it on their scorecard), then those measures must be clear and objective.

That all makes sense, right? Except…

Rigid behaviors create rigid Reps. Conventional Quality Programs create a checklist of tasks that a Rep must execute on every call, lest they incur the wrath of the Quality staff. The Reps I’ve interviewed live in fear of going outside the lines that Quality has drawn. And this fear forces them into robotic, plastic conversations with the customers.

I’ve conducted more than 30 focus groups with Call Center reps about their Quality Programs. Two quotes have stuck with me:

  • “I always do well on my Customer Satisfaction and Sales. But I fail at QA.”
  • “I’ve gone home in tears at night, because I can’t figure out how to do what QA wants, and help my customers. And I don’t like doing things that hurt my customers. I can’t stand it.”

Think about that: These reps want to do the right thing, but their conventional Quality Program has created an over-regimented environment that makes that impossible.

Here’s an example:

One Quality Program I was evaluating included a behavior called “Effective Communication.” The rules for getting high marks on this behavior included:

  • Avoid use of technical jargon
  • Use the customer’s name
  • Pause after each customer comment
  • Speak in an even, friendly tone

These might all be valuable, noble techniques for a Rep to practice on some calls. But, when mandated, they turn Reps into robots, for two reasons:

  • Each customer interaction is different: What if the customer is technically savvy? Should the rep still avoid technical jargon? What if the customer is trying to connect with the rep in a conversation; should the Rep still insert stilted pauses?
  • Reps will focus on the checklist, not the customer: When you create a checklist of tasks for the Rep to accomplish, the Rep will be too focused on those tasks, and will stop listening. In fact, the Rep will quickly learn that he can get a “perfect score” on a call by following the checklist to a tee, without ever having to truly listen to the customers. That Rep will follow the “letter of the law”, without ever really exhibiting the “spirit of the law”

The Solution: Disobey Conventional Wisdom and Embrace Subjectivity

The goal should be to measure the essence of the customer interaction, not the details. To encourage a Rep to follow the “spirit of the law” rather than the “letter of the law.” So, instead of defining a behavior with a set of tasks for the Rep to accomplish, define it with the intent of the behavior in mind.

What is the “intent” of a behavior? It might be how we want the customer to perceive the Rep.

So let’s revisit our “Effective Communication” behavior:

Conventional Behavior Revolutionized sQA Behavior that Embraces Subjectivity
Communicate Effectively

  • Avoid use of technical jargon
  • Use the customer’s name
  • Pause after each customer comment
  • Speak in an even, friendly tone
Communicate with the customer in a way that relates to the customer, so that the customer feels appreciated as a person

Notice that the focus on the sQA Behavior is the customer’s perception. This probably feels vague, not specific enough, right? It feels subjective. It puts more burden on the Quality staff to capture the essence of that interaction.

But, it’s worth it. We are trying to empower the Rep to listen to the customer, to connect, and to be human. The Rep might choose to use a pause technique, or avoid technical jargon… or not. The Rep chooses the best path to appreciate the customer, and the Quality staff evaluates whether or not they believe the customer felt appreciated (that is, whether or not the intent was met).

Another way to revolutionize your behaviors, and embrace subjectivity, is to focus on the outcome of the behavior, not the task:

Conventional Behavior Revolutionized sQA Behavior that Embraces Subjectivity
Ask Probing Questions

  • Ask at least 3 probing questions about needs
Determine Customer Needs:

  • Determine what the customer’s true underlying emotional driver is, and
  • Do so in a way that results in the customer appreciating that the Rep genuinely cares about his/her needs

In the conventional example, the rep is encouraged to execute a task: Ask questions, three or more to be exact. But savvy reps quickly realize that to receive a “perfect score,” they can ask questions half-heartedly, without actually discovering customer needs. This hardly accomplishes the “spirit” of the behavior, nor does it measure the essence of excellent needs discovery.

In the revolutionized sQA Behavior, the Rep is evaluated on whether or not he or she achieves the desired outcome: discovering customer needs. The Rep might uncover needs through questions (as many as needed – no more and no less), or through listening, or simply because the customer came right out and stated his needs.

The Rep is also evaluated on how the customer perceives this part of the interaction. Did the customer perceive that the rep really cared about the customer’s individuality (“in a way that results in the customer appreciating…”)? Again, we define the ideal customer experience, and then empower the rep to figure out the best way to deliver it. What we really care about is the essence of this moment: how the customer responded to the probing, not how well the Rep can follow a checklist.

What’s Next: Join the Quality Revolution by Building out the Rest of Your sQA Program

Embracing subjectivity works because it more effectively mirrors the customer interaction. Your Reps’ interactions with customers are inherently human, and can only be measured by striving to measure the essence, rather than the details, of those interactions.

And, subjectively defined behaviors correlate to KPIs four to five times as much as checklisted behaviors. In other words, subjective behaviors matter, and they ‘predict’ results.

To delve more deeply into correlations, make sure you read the next article in this series, Key #2: Correlate and Measure ‘Predictiveness’, so you can quantify how meaningful each of your behaviors is to your KPIs. This is the essential science to balancing out the art of embracing subjectivity.

The Quality Revolution Read the complete series of articles for a roadmap to transforming your Quality Program into Strategic Quality Assurance (sQA), and making it a lever for performance improvement: