Quality and Service Level Work Together

Have you ever heard the advice that quality and service level must be balanced? Don't believe it. The reality in a working contact center environment is that quality and service level are inextricably associated with, and complementary to, each other. They work together. Let's take a closer look.

First, consider service level. It is an enabler. As service level deteriorates, more customers will verbalize their criticisms when they finally do reach an agent. Agents spend valuable time apologizing. Handling times go up. Burnout increases. Morale and turnover take a hit, leading to an increase in recruitment and training costs.

When you consider the components of a quality contact, the complementary relationship between quality and service level becomes evident. Think through how each applies in your environment. What if data is not entered correctly? What if the customer doesn't have confidence that the contact was handled correctly? What if you didn't capture useful information from the interaction?

So what constitutes a quality contact? These are some of the criteria:

  • Customer can access the contact channels desired;
  • Contact is necessary in the first place;
  • Customer is not placed in queue for too long;
  • Customer is not transferred around;
  • Customer doesn't get rushed;
  • Agent provides correct response;
  • All data entry is correct;
  • Customer receives correct information;
  • Agent captures all needed/useful information;
  • Customer has confidence contact was effective;
  • Customer doesn't feel it necessary to check up, verify or repeat;
  • Customer is satisfied;
  • Agent has pride in workmanship;
  • Unsolicited marketplace feedback is detected and documented;
  • Others across the organization can correctly interpret and effectively use the information captured; and
  • The organization's mission is furthered.

These problems contribute to repeat contacts, escalations, and contacts through multiple channels, further reducing service levels. Costs, of course, go up. These costs come from the following:

  • Unnecessary service contacts;
  • Repeat contacts from customer;s
  • Contacts to customers for missing or unclear information;
  • Escalation of contacts and complaints to higher management;
  • Handling product returns;
  • Expenses to re-ship;
  • Wrong problems get fixed;
  • Loss of revenue;
  • Cost of closing accounts;
  • Negative publicity;
  • Loss of referrals;
  • Diversion of agents to activities that should be unnecessary; and
  • Agents taking the heat for mistakes made by others.

When service level is low, agents work one interaction after another due to congestion in the queue. Customers begin telling them in no uncertain terms about the tough time they had getting through. Under this kind of pressure, any of us would make more mistakes. These errors further contribute to repeat contacts and time spent on things that would otherwise be unnecessary. Poor service level becomes a vicious cycle.

Just as service level and quality are linked, so too are quality and response time for interactions that don't necessarily have to be handled as they occur. If customers don't receive a reply to a message (email, social media post, etc.) as quickly as expected, or if they don't receive the correct or expected response, they might send another. Or messages can take on increased urgency: "I sent a message and haven't received a reply yet ..."

To visualize the relationship between accessibility and quality, take a look at the implications through the lens of a staffing table. What percentage of contacts are repeats or due to waste and rework? And how does this impact average handling time? How about agents? How many are involved in creating or fixing waste and rework?

By looking at these relationships in this way, you can dispel the notion that accessibility and quality must be balanced. Nope ... they work together. That's good news.

Brad Cleveland is a customer experience consultant specializing in contact centers, support desks, and other customer-facing environments. He consults and speaks to a broad range of organizations and associations, and is author/editor of nine books including Contact Center Management on Fast Forward, recipient of an Amazon.com best-selling award (www.icmi.com/fastforward). Cleveland was founding partner of the International Customer Management Institute (ICMI), where he now serves as a senior advisor. His current research is focused on the future of customer experience; his blog can be followed at www.bradcleveland.com/blog.