Off Center
Quality monitoring is as old a practice in contact centers as sending electric shocks through agents’ headsets to help keep handle time down. But just because centers have been conducting quality monitoring forever doesn’t mean they have been doing it right.

Effective quality monitoring is so important, I’m going to do two successive blog posts on the topic. This week and next my posts will highlight the quality monitoring tactics and strategies shared by contact centers that are better than yours. Here we go: 

Gain agent understanding of and buy-in to monitoring from the get-go. In top contact centers, managers introduce the concept of monitoring during the “job preview” phase of the hiring process. Agent candidates learn (or, if experienced, are reminded) of the reasons behind and value of monitoring, as well as how much monitoring will occur should they be offered and accept a job in the center. Managers clarify that monitoring isn’t intended to catch agents doing something wrong, it just often works out that way. They explain how monitoring is not only the best way to gauge an agent’s strengths and where they can improve, but also to pinpoint why the people who designed the center’s workflows and IVR system should be fired.

Gaining agent buy-in to monitoring goes beyond mere explanations and definitions. The best contact centers show new-hires and sometimes even job applicants how quality monitoring actually works by having them listen to recorded calls with a quality specialist. The specialist goes over the center’s monitoring form/criteria, shows how each call was rated, and lets the newbies decide on a fitting punishment for the agent evaluated. 

Use a dedicated quality monitoring team/specialist. In many contact centers, quality monitoring is carried out by busy frontline managers and supervisors. In the best contact centers, the process is carried out by dedicated quality assurance nerds – folks whose sole responsibility is making sure that the center’s agents and systems aren’t making customers nauseous.

I’m not saying that frontline managers/supervisors don’t know how to monitor;  rather I’m saying that they typically don’t have time to do so effectively and provide timely coaching. With a dedicated quality monitoring team (or, in smaller/less wealthy centers, a single quality specialist) in place, there is time to carefully evaluate several customer contacts per month for each agent, and to provide prompt and comprehensive feedback to those agents about why they should have stayed in school.  

Develop a comprehensive and fair monitoring form. A good quality monitoring form contains not only all of the criteria that drives the customer experience, but also all the company- and industry-based compliance items that keep your organization from facing any indictments.

In top contact centers, the monitoring form is broken into several key categories (e.g., Greeting, Accuracy, Professionalism/Courtesy, Efficiency, Resolution, etc.), with each category – and the specific criterion contained within – assigned a different weighting depending on its perceived impact on customer satisfaction. For example, “Agent provided accurate/relevant information” and “Agent tactfully attempted to up-sell after resolving customer issue” would likely be weighted more heavily than “Agent didn’t spit while saying ‘thank you for calling’" or “Agent remained conscious during after-call wrap-up”.

In developing an effective monitoring form that agents deem fair and objective, smart managers solicit agent input and recommendations regarding what criteria should or should not be included, and how agents feel each should be weighted. Showing agents such respect and esteem is a great way for you to foster engagement and a great way for me to make money if I ever write a book aimed at agents.

Invest in an automated quality monitoring system. There are contact centers that still rely mainly on real-time remote listening to evaluate agent-customer interactions. There are also doctors that still use leeches for bloodletting.

If your center is staffed with more than 20 agents and you want a shot at lasting customer satisfaction, continuous agent improvement, and an invitation to private vendor cocktail parties at conferences, you must invest in an automated quality monitoring system. There is simply no better and faster way to capture customer data, evaluate performance and spot key trends in caller behavior and agent incompetence.

I’m certainly not saying that other monitoring methods are not useful. Real-time remote observations, side-by-side live monitoring, mystery shopper calls, hiding beneath agents’ workstations – these are all excellent supplementary practices in any quality monitoring program. But they should do just that – supplement, not drive the program.

Monitor ALL contact channels, not just phone calls.  As a researcher, I’m always amazed by how many multichannel contact centers have formal monitoring process in place only for live agent phone calls. According a study by ICMI, fewer than two thirds of contact centers that handle email contacts monitor customer email transactions, and fewer than half of centers monitor customers’ interactions with IVR or web self-service applications.

By virtually ignoring quality outside of the of traditional phone channel, contact centers allow poor online and automated service to continue, creating a breeding ground for customer ire and high operating costs. Failure to monitor the email and chat channel will not only lead to agents’ errors and poor service going unnoticed, it can actually propagate bad service. Agents who see that the center is so focused on the phones but not on email or chat are likely to give it their all during customer calls but let quality slip a bit when tackling contacts via text. They may even use…gulp…emoticons. :0 

The best contact centers have a formal process in place for evaluating agents’ email and chat transcripts for information accuracy, grammar/spelling, professionalism, and contact resolution. In addition, these centers continually test their IVR- and web-based self-service apps to ensure optimal functionality, as well as monitor those apps during actual interactions to make sure that customers aren’t being thrown into IVR dungeons or abandoning web pages to rip the company a new one on Twitter.     

That’s it for Part 1. I’ll share several more key quality monitoring practices in Part 2 next week. If you simply cannot wait that long, you have no other choice but to purchase a copy of my ebook immediately:

10/20/2011 10:56:56 pm

Hi Greg,

As always, you manage to mix humor with a dose of contact center reality. You are spot on about Agent job candidates having a view of monitoring and the quality focus of the center.

I will disagree about having only QA folks doing monitoring (unless I misread your recommendation). I've found that a blend of QA, Supervisor and even Manager spot checks monthly and calibration sessions to insure all are "hearing" the same skills. QA can do the bulk of the monitoring.

I think it all comes down to how upper management sees the roles of the Supervisors and Managers in terms of coaching. If I'm going to coach someone, I will have to listen to the call even if QA scored it.

10/20/2011 11:07:51 pm

Thanks for your insightful comment, Melissa. But never disagree with me again or you'll be banned from Off Center for life. ;)

You make a good point, but I wasn't actually saying that managers and supervisors should NOT monitor; just saying that the process should be lead by a dedicated QA team (or specialist) -- folks who have the time to conduct comprehensive and consistent evaluations. In a study I conducted when I was with ICMI, roughly 3 out of 4 managers/supervisors who conduct monitoring and follow-up coaching reported that they do not have enough time to do so effectively.

I appreciate your comments -- thanks for reading!



Melissa Kovacevic
10/20/2011 11:19:47 pm

No, please don't make me leave!!!!!....
Thanks for clarifying, Greg. I just MAKE them do it and tell them to quit whining about it :-)

10/20/2011 11:51:47 pm

Ok, you can stay, Melissa -- but only if you promise to feed my delusions of grandeur and wisdom.

Have a great weekend, and go easy on the poor supes.


10/21/2011 03:39:32 am

Hi Greg,

Sorry, I have to disagree. 90+% of QM is almost a complete waste of time, and not because of the points you raise above. Currently, it is like inspecting cars at the end of the manufacturing process, a practice abandoned long ago because it was completely ineffective...the toast is burnt and now you are scraping it.

The problem with QM is not who does it or the forms used. The problem with QM is what it focuses on and who it focuses on.

Why monitor to make sure an agent is doing something when you can use automation to make sure it happens?

Once you have automated, if you want to use quality monitoring to focus on the individuals that are statistically different than the rest of the population in terms of, say, customer satisfaction (not the arbitrary bottom x%, a practice that makes Deming spin in his grave), that would be a far more productive use of QM.

Remember 90+% are part of the system...the focus for that group has to be raising the performance of the whole system not trying to raise the performance of each agent one at a time. Agent-assisted automation is one of several approaches to raising the performance of the system.

The call center industry's performance is abysmal. If call center leaders were held to the same standard manufacturing leaders were held to, every call center leader in the free world would be summarily dismissed.

Reliance on QM is what got us here. Giving it a coat of paint, in my opinion, will have no ROI and will keep the system operating at the same completely unacceptable quality standard we have had for decades.


Dennis Adsit

10/21/2011 03:58:26 am

Hmmm, interesting Dennis. And what a coincidence that your company -- Kombea -- just so happens to provide agent-assisted automated solutions.

Tune in next week for Part 2, where one of the key QM practices I discuss is incorporating direct customer feedback into agents' quality scores. THAT'S how QM is really changing. Customers -- not internal support staff and certainly not machines -- are becoming the true judges of quality in the contact center.



12/17/2011 03:26:05 am


Nice summary of QM key principles. Was just catching up on tweets this weekend and saw Part 2 first. Enjoy your blogs and tweets, always learn something new or re-learn something I have forgotten was important.

My best,



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