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Article : Contact Centres: A Foundation To “Voice Of The Customer” In Six Sigma

Six Sigma holds the philosophy that every process can and should be repeatedly evaluated and significantly improved in terms of time required, resources used, performance quality, cost and other relevant aspects. It equips employees with the best available problem-solving tools and methods, with the primary goal of improving customer satisfaction – which in turn increases profits by reducing and eliminating defects.

How the Contact Centre Supports Six Sigma
There are two main roles that the contact centre plays in a company's Six Sigma initiative. Since a foundation of Six Sigma is VOC ('Voice of the Customer'), one of the most logical places to gather such information is in the contact centre. Take a medium-sized contact centre with 200 agents, for example. If each agent handles 130 inbound calls per day, on average, the agent population has 26,000 opportunities to capture VOC in one day alone. In one year that equates to 9,360,000 customer interactions that could provide valuable VOC intelligence and feedback.

It's amazing what customers will freely tell you about your competition and the market in general, not to mention what they like and don't like about your products/services and processes. They will give their opinion on what should be done and how it should work. This important feedback is needed to formulate the Critical-to-Satisfaction (CTS) elements, which ultimately help define the Critical-to-Quality (CTQ) elements that will be measured as part of your Six Sigma data gathering practices. Your contact centre agents can be a strong supporter to this in that they can be trained to ask certain questions as part of their interactions with customers to provide sought after insight and perspective. This is extremely useful ammunition to a Six Sigma team that's charged with process enhancing projects and determining what projects require focus next. Once a project is complete, the VOC is essential to the team in order to determine whether objectives have been met.

Prepare for change: All of this data needs to be captured and shared with executives and others in the organisation, and the right place to gather this information is through the Quality Assurance (QA) team. Traditionally, this group has monitored and evaluated contact centre agents on the effectiveness of their interactions with customers. However, that responsibility is now shifting to the front-line supervisor. (That in itself is an entirely separate topic.) I propose a dramatic shift. First, change the name of the QA group to POINT, which is an acronym for Performance Optimisation Intelligence and iNformation Team. Why? Because quality is the responsibility of everyone, not just one group. It has to be part of the culture. Everyone has a stake in it.

Point Reveals Your Strategic Pain Points
Knowing the impact even traditional QA has on workforce attrition, let's now take a look at what POINT can do in support of Six Sigma. It will monitor and measure against specified CTQ "elements" that have been identified through the VOC process.

Just as the central idea behind Six Sigma is that if a company can measure how many "defects" it has in a process, then it can systematically figure out how to eliminate them and get as close to zero defects as possible, POINT strives to show you exactly where those performance improvement opportunities lie.

Following are some examples of CTQ "elements":

  • Inaccurate information provided by agents

  • Improper service skills when working with customers

  • Poor training, yielding agent inaccuracies on product/service knowledge and business processes

  • Inaccurate records/files resulting from agents not annotating customers' accounts correctly

  • Poorly established sales/service business processes, leading to agent ineffectiveness

  • Improper deployment of technology (i.e., CRM front-end tools), making agents' jobs harder rather than easier

  • Poor billing practices

  • Under shipments or over shipments

  • Improperly posted payments and credits

Before something can be defined, it must first be identified. Customer interaction recording software – including the monitoring of phone calls, e-mail, collaborative chat and Web transactions – can help identify key VOC issues and trends. These improvement areas can involve people, processes and/or technologies.

QA historically has used a performance form to evaluate agents' interactions with customers. Since this function actually belongs to the supervisor, the form for the POINT team now can be re-aligned to focus on elements critical to identifying VOC feedback, as well as CTQ initiatives. This will provide a database of information that can be reported on and leveraged by the Six Sigma team.

The Improve phase of the DMAIC model may include the training or retraining of agents and supervisors. This can be accomplished through actionable learning software by sending training that's specific to an agent's individual needs. Once agents complete learning, your monitoring software can capture additional interactions and highlight the areas where learning was taken to tangibly measure improvement against your Six Sigma initiatives. This represents a true closed-loop improvement process.

Getting To The "Root Cause"
The most important monitoring category in support of Six Sigma is "Root Cause Analysis". For example, the POINT team can look at customer calling patterns over a specified period of time. It may find that some higher revenue customers are calling four times, on average, in a 30 day period, when they used to call twice in the same time span. By drilling down to the corresponding calls, it can identify the symptoms prompting those additional interactions. It could be the fact that payments are not showing up correctly on customers' billing statements. Further investigation into the back office data entry group that handles payment processing could show that there's a problem with the use of a new data entry system. The back office agents think they're keying in payments, but perhaps they are not using the correct screens. The root cause of these calls has then been identified and corrective action can now be taken.

There are several examples of how this process has been of great benefit. In one situation, a large telecommunications company noticed a trend in one of its contact centres that supported Asian-speaking customers. During each billing cycle, call volumes spiked drastically. In the past, it would have added more headcount during these periods by using temporary staff, cancelled all vacation requests during that time period and had supervisors and trainers pitch in to handle calls. Instead, its equivalent of a POINT listened to a sampling of customer interactions during that period of time, and quickly identified one major similarity in the calls. The callers were children, all calling on behalf of their non-English speaking parents in order to ask questions and translate the bills before paying them. Armed with this information, the company was able to create in-language billing in 12 different Asian dialects. The result: call volume levels decreased dramatically, people were able to take vacations as planned, supervisors and trainers were able to do their real jobs, and the company was able to gain wallet-share. These customers felt that it had truly met their needs, making it that much harder for the competition to take them away.

Six Sigma is becoming the way of doing business in many companies around the world. The contact centre is a key part of this initiative, especially in capturing Voice of the Customer, which is the first step in identifying Six Sigma projects. Once these projects have been implemented and the Critical-to-Satisfaction and Critical-to-Quality elements have been identified, then POINT (Performance Optimisation Intelligence and iNformation Team) becomes the "eyes and ears" of the organisation in monitoring these elements to gauge the effectiveness of the initiative. Maturing your traditional Quality Assurance program to take on the strategic initiatives of POINT can be quite compelling, creating a strong foundation as the backbone supporting your Six Sigma success.

About Oscar Alban:
Oscar Alban serves as Principal, Global Market Consultant for Witness Systems. He regularly speaks at industry trade shows, conferences and customer sites worldwide, where he focuses on the mission critical aspects of optimizing workforce performance – including improving workforce planning and agent effectiveness, capturing and leveraging customer and competitive business intelligence, analyzing enterprise performance and applying learning.

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Published: Friday, June 2, 2006

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