How to Make 2017 the Year of Exceptional Quality

There is something lurking on your customer service team that is, quite possibly, sucking the life out of every front-line employee, supervisor, and manager. It's damaging your credibility with customers, restricting the reach of your coaching efforts, and undermining the mission, vision, and values of your organization. Its effects are long-lasting; its design is woven throughout every person's daily routine; its ability to compromise the customer experience is unparalleled.

It's your quality assurance program, and, for a majority of you, it's a broken one. I don't blame you, so you shouldn't either. You get a free pass, at least up until today.

I want to arm you with seven steps that you can take to improve the impact and effectiveness of your QA program in 2017. Disclaimer: This type of change doesn't come easily, and it isn't (and shouldn't be) something that will change overnight. That doesn't mean it isn't worth it. Oh believe me, it's worth it. It just means that you and your team will have your work cut out for you.

There is some good news in all of this too! What I'm about to share with you applies across any channel. Whether you're measuring the quality of phone calls or emails, SMS, or social media, you can follow these steps and be on the road to success

Here is the seven-step process to get you on your way:

Step 1: Identify the program purpose and its objectives. Involve all members of your team in this step! From the front line to the back office, the training team to the CEO. If you're not aligned here, your program will lack a solid foundation. The purpose of your program is the basis for its design. Every person on your team should have an understanding of why your program is in place and the measurements used to assess its effectiveness in meeting those objectives.

Step 2: Give responsibility to the right people and hold them accountable for results. This will look different for each customer service interaction, but there are two universal truths. The first is that increased employee involvement leads to increased acceptance and buy-in. The second is that cross-functional team cooperation is a key component to success

Step 3: Plan to monitor. What you monitor, how often you do it, and what you do with the results are going to vary based on a number of considerations. First and foremost, it all goes right back to step one. What is the program's purpose and objectives?

Step 4: Determine your performance standards. First and foremost again, is to align these standards with your program's purpose and objectives. The quality of these standards will make or break your program. These should fall into one of two categories: foundational (those which indicate whether something was done) and finesse (those which indicate how well something was done). The standards should be well-defined, with their business purpose and reference examples documented and distributed to all members of the team.

Step 5: Stop using your monitoring form as the sole focus of the quality assurance process, to communicate your performance standards, or as a substitute for a coaching session. It is NONE of those things. It is a tool that should be easy to understand, easy to use, and consistent with your brand and image.

Step 6: Calibrate! This process should be well-defined in terms of frequency, format, and anticipated outcomes. What is one sign of a successful calibration session? Everyone reaches agreement about the one or two moments of truth that should be addressed as a result of the contact.

Step 7: Use a coaching model to reinforce or change behaviors as a result of what is uncovered by quality monitoring. The far-reaching benefits of coaching include boosting productivity, positively affecting culture, increasing retention, fulfilling the natural need for recognition and appreciation, and improving overall communication within the customer service team.

As I said earlier, this type of transformation will take time. Involve your entire team, begin at step one, and connect every other step back to the program purpose and objectives that you develop. Once your program is off the ground, be sure to chart individual employee statistics and collaborate with your training department to create a skills matrix and continuous improvement plan.

I also encourage you to have an active dialogue about the quality assurance program among your team and to promote employee self-assessment. Lastly, remember that your quality program is not dead. It is a living, breathing part of customer service and should be reviewed and revised as processes, customer expectations, or corporate objectives change.

Justin Robbins is community services manager and senior analyst at the International Customer Management Institute (ICMI) and community director at UBM Tech. Prior to joining ICMI, he was manager of training and guest experience at Hershey Entertainment & Resorts in Hershey, Pa.