Friday, November 04, 2005

Easing the fear of Big Brother

The Hartford Courant call center eases the fear of big brother
When Claudette Azevado started as a call center manager at the Hartford Courant, one of her first tasks was to implement a call center quality assurance (qa) software solution. The new software would record calls and enable supervisors to evaluate the calls based on predefined criteria. Recording incoming and outgoing calls within the call center is pretty standard fare. Who has not heard "this call may be recorded for quality assurance purposes"? While at first it sounds like a qa initiative that would not be met with much trepidation, often it can make employees uneasy, since the raw nature of call recording in the past has been likened to eavesdropping, and in essence, "Big Brother".

"Big Brother" refers to the feeling of having everything monitored - email, phone calls, chats, etc. It's agreed that most people do not want to be "bugged" unless it's a case of national security. In most cases, employees accept being monitored, whether it is in a side-by- side coaching effort, or recording. The "Big Brother" concern may still be there, however. Implementing a call center qa solution should not elevate these concerns. Claudette realized that it is up to the employer to present this new procedural change in a manner that is both positive and non-intrusive. If she could get her call center agents to buy into the initiative, understanding that it is going to improve their overall performance, then and only then would they be successful.

Her first task at hand was to write up an outline of the reasons behind implementing the call recording system. She documented her main objectives as "rolling out the call recording system in a positive manner" and "to identify ways in which she could utilize Virtual Observer" (the call center recording solution she chose) "to enhance business objectives" (improve call quality, customer retention, and provide for more training opportunities).

Before implementing Virtual Observer, agents were monitored on a side-by-side basis, or remotely via a supervisor listening in on a live call. Claudette knew that by using a call recording system, many more calls could be reviewed in a much more efficient manner. It would also allow the agents to hear their own calls so they could evaluate their own voice tone and professionalism.

Her strategy for the roll out was three fold: 1) introduce the concept, 2) demonstrate and 3) educate. She called this program the "CARE" program - "We listen because we care" with CARE being an acronym for - Coaching Opportunities, Active Listening, Relationship Building, and Encouraging Improvement.

She would stress the "magic of technology" and decorate the conference room with balloons and signs. Her goal was to make this into an event to get everyone pumped up and on the same page. One of the best ideas was to record the both the supervisors and herself fielding calls, and then allowing the agents to grade them. The agents really enjoyed the opportunity to evaluate the management team.

The recorded customer interactions would include opportunities for upsells, stops/saves, diffusing irate customers and other scenarios. Employees were able to view firsthand how to score a call, and as deficiencies were identified, how training can help to achieve improvement.

Claudette's program planning also entailed writing a frequently asked questions guide for the agents, creating some visuals to help introduce the concept, sending formal invites to each agent, and creating a development plan for them.

The Courant's call center agents were also required to sign off on being recorded. Claudette made sure that they knew exactly how many times they would be recorded. Getting employees to accept the program and sign off on it is paramount to the program's success. She communicated call recording guidelines, and gave representatives the opportunity to have their best calls, the ones that turn "transactions into relationships," saved for future training.

When asked if she considered the implementation program a success, she responded "Absolutely. The program was received very well. The employees appreciated the fact that we made it fun. They also liked the fact that the supervisors recorded themselves fielding calls and allowed the agents to evaluate and score the calls. They had prizes, food, and balloons. It was a true event."

Claudette added that "Positive communication is critical. Our taking the time to explain the "why" behind Virtual Observer (in a fun way) made the reps much more receptive to being recorded and relieved the "fear factor." It really helped them understand that this was truly a development tool, which was good for them as well as our customers."

When asked if she thought this program helped reduce the fear of big brother, she answered a resounding "yes". She agreed that implementing Virtual Observer, along with other creative motivational programs, has helped her call center create more upsells, saves, and overall performance improvement.

She also uses Virtual Observer after hiring a new employee to assist in their training' - "in fact I personally just had a group of new hires listen and score calls. It really helps them understand what is expected." She added that one of the best features in VO is the ability to pause a recorded call and comment on techniques that work along with opportunities.

Virtual Observer was implemented on a phased basis, not only in Claudette's circulation department, but also in the newspaper's classified department. The first phase included standard random sample recording and evaluation. Phase two introduced synchronized screen capture enterprise wide. Claudette's next phase will add additional recording methods to the Virtual Observer solution. Currently she records on a block of time basis, and she wants to add recording on demand, as well as the Virtual Observer E-learning and Content Delivery module, which will allow her to automate the distribution of relevant training content to employees based on evaluations.

In retrospect, Claudette states "the entire process of using Virtual Observer has been a wonderful success, and was remarkably affordable as well. We look forward to continued performance gains."

The Hartford Courant is the nation's largest continuously published newspaper. Claudette Azevedo is the circulation department's Customer CARE Manager.

Virtual Observer is a leading call center quality assurance solution. Virtual Observer is developed and sold by Coordinated Systems, Inc., of East Hartford, CT and through a channel of value added resellers.

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