Speed Vs Quality – Keeping Your Balance

September, 2014

A successful contact center sets and maintains an appropriate balance of speed and quality objectives, appropriate to their business goals. But keeping a proper balance is not easy. This blog looks at how balance is set.

Bob and Joe walk into the hospital with stomach pain.

Bob is seen in 15 mins. After a short examination, he is sent home with paracetemol, being told that symptoms should improve.

Joe waits 90 mins to be seen, and after a more detailed examination, he is told he is suffering from appendicitis and given an urgent appointment to see a specialist.

Two days later, Bob returns to A&E in even greater pain. After a longer examination, he is told he too has appendicitis…

Who do you think is the more satisfied? Who has expended less effort and is more likely to speak highly of the staff?

In contact centers, as in hospitals, the issue of speed versus quality is a balancing act.

On the one hand, speed keeps costs down, achieving maximum productivity and highest turnaround from your resources. It reflects a view of the contact center as ‘cost generator’ which must be streamlined and optimised.

On the other hand, achieving and maintaining a high quality service pleases customers, converting them into brand advocates. It reflects a view of the contact center as ‘revenue generator’, as loyalty builder, as value-adder.

A successful contact center sets and maintains an appropriate balance of speed and quality objectives, appropriate to their business goals.

The right balance depends on the nature of the business; outbound/ sales operations may lean toward speed/ throughput. For customer service operations, the culture is shifting toward quality. This is partly due to the rise in self-service options. Back when people called the call center for a balance enquiry, a price quote, or simple help query, it was quite reasonable to measure success as cases handled per hour. But these types of calls are increasingly handled by IVR, or online FAQs, and the remaining calls are of a more complex nature, needing more research, knowledge and careful handling. Speed is no longer necessarily a good thing.

But keeping a proper balance is not easy. Let’s look at how balance is set.

Whether by choice or accident, the balance within your organisation is largely set by:

  1. measuring something
  2. letting agents know that you are measuring it
  3. feeding back to them their performance in that area

Agents as a rule want to do a good job, and will aim to reach whatever standard is set for them for the high priority metrics.

This means that what you are measuring and feeding back to them is what will improve. To a large extent, the data you are collecting and reporting on is dictating your balance of speed and quality.

Promoting either can cause side-effects. If you communicate that your highest priority metrics are speed-related, e.g. calls handled per hour, average handling time, idle time, etc, effects may include

  • bad quality contact and unhappy customers
  • repeat calls
  • customers feeling rushed/ brushed off
  • missed opportunities for up-sell/ cross-sell
  • reduced politeness
  • loose adherence to script and policy

Agents may rush through calls, take shortcuts, or transfer to colleagues – anything to keep what they are measured against from looking bad.

On the other hand, quality can be promoted by immediate and easy to measure metrics such as longest wait time, number of calls in queue, as well as those which are valuable but rather harder to measure, such as CSATcustomer effort score, agent score, first contact resolution. But place too much emphasis here and turnover may slacken, idle time may increase, or agents may take longer over wrap-up.

What’s needed is a holistic approach. There is a sweet spot where agents are motivated to aim for the right balance of speed and quality for your business. A well designed set of metrics tailored to your business goals is critical. This is why the concept of a balanced scorecard makes sense, placing several productivity metrics and several quality metrics side by side. In this way, all stakeholders from management to agent workforce get a balanced view of business priorities, resulting in improvement on all fronts.

The right balance will not only create harmony throughout your organisation, it will also produce the greatest satisfaction for the customer. After all, if you have to be told you have appendicitis, it’s much better to know within 15 mins! (I think…)

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