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Fireside Chat: Life in a Contact Center

Customer service11 MIN READApr 23, 2021

Fireside Chat: Life in a Contact Center

Welcome to the freshest episode of Fireside Chats with Klaus, the CX series revealing the successes behind the coolest support leaders on this planet. We’re proud to present this episode about life in a contact center featuring Ahmad Baydoun, Operations Manager at a leading customer experience management company.

Ahmad started his journey in the company 11 years ago in a level one position, working as an agent. In the following years, he grew in the position and took on many different roles before realizing that quality is his favorite part of customer service. (Us too, Ahmad…)

Today Ahmad works on quality with the operations team. The company operates in more than 80 countries and has around 430 contact centers. Within the 330,000 (!) person company, Ahmad leads an account for 500+ employees. Pretty impressive, huh?

What an endless pool of contact center experience we have at our disposal! Let’s dive into it right meow.

Watch the full Fireside Chat, listen to the podcast version, or continue reading for our key findings from the episode.

Prefer listening to podcasts instead?

3 tips for a successful contact center quality program

Bringing quality to customer service is one of Ahmad’s superpowers. Whenever he starts working with a new customer, his primary concern is ensuring the quality of their support interactions. 

Building a successful customer service quality program takes time and effort, and a proper QA framework. It starts from finding the right quality personnel – a team of analysts, reviewers, reporters – who will all play a role in helping the business achieve the KPIs you’re about to set in the next steps.

Ahmad gives three tips for building a successful contact center quality program:

  1. Know your KPIs and your agreement with the client. Only when you understand how the customer defines ‘quality’, will you be able to set up transaction monitoring (aka conversation reviews or support QA) to analyze how well the team meets those criteria. 💡 Calibrate your scorecard externally and internally, i.e. with the customer and with your team to make sure you’re all on the same page. Skipping calibrations with the customer is one of the most common mistakes that Ahmad has seen.
  2. Use a representative sample based on an adequate margin of error. In a proper QA program, it is not enough to just monitor some conversations, the sample and results have to be representative and reliable. 💡  The sample size will also indicate how many people you have to have on the team to do the reviews. This input is essential for building an effective quality team.
  3. Find the top contact driver, aka the main reason why people reach out to the support team. Analyze the customer service scenarios that have the biggest impact on customer happiness and business results. This will help you prioritize all other activities as well.

The main takeaway from this is that customer service QA is not just about reviewing a few support conversations every now and then. It’s a systematic approach that will help you boost your business results through every contact you make with the customer, if done right.

Key elements of agent feedback

Ahmad warns against quality assurance setups where the QA personnel works separately from agents and passively passes feedback on to them. Quality managers need to be involved in the daily operations and work really closely with the people on the team, so that their feedback remains realistic.

Here’s how Ahmad advises passing on feedback across four levels:

  1. Direct reporting happens through supervisors. Daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly performance and progress reports are delivered to managers who can adjust their strategies, roadmaps, and activities according to these insights.
  2. Agents have direct access to feedback. They get notified every time they receive new feedback and can always check their performance trends for the purpose of self-development.
  3. 1:1 coaching sessions between the supervisor and agent are triggered for every failed customer interaction. However, a 1:1 session is never a one-sided talk. It’s also the place where agents can explain their reasons for giving the responses that triggered negative ratings. 💡 Sometimes the agent did the right thing, even though it left a customer dissatisfied with the solution. Use 1:1 sessions to analyze situations like this because that’s how you empower your team with more scenarios to learn from.
  4. Top contact driver analysis helps you prioritize your learnings and look at the big picture: what is working, what is not. Based on that, you’ll be able to draw conclusions on what you need to improve in your strategy or activities.

Quality programs only make sense if you actually use the findings as an input for improvements. Make sure you make the most out of your QA reviews because that’s how you can maintain consistency and quality in your customer-facing interactions.

Fireside Chat: Life in a Contact Center

Remote work challenges in a contact center

Ahmad sees remote work as one of the main challenges in the customer service industry these days. According to him, the things that used to take a few minutes take a lot more time now. This has had a big impact on the daily quality procedures in contact centers.

Though agents still receive the same amount of feedback and the QA staff delivers as many detailed analyses and reports as before, the amount of effort put into achieving this has increased.

“It was so easy just to do some sort of spot checks to see what the agents are doing and if they are following the steps that we have agreed on or not. Now that they are at home, all we see is that particular transaction that we’re monitoring and their scores but we’re not able to monitor some behavior-related aspects that also play a role,” explains Ahmad Baydoun.

As nobody knows how long the current remote situation will last, Ahmad looks at this as the new norm. So as a company, they’re constantly assessing what changes they need to make to succeed in this new reality.

For example, Ahmad spends a lot of time analyzing how remote work impacts agents’ learning curves. Onboarding programs that used to take one or two months are now reassessed based on how long it takes for new agents to start achieving their targets when being onboarded remotely.

That’s a part of the analysis that Ahmad and his team do to understand the impact and timeframe of different activities like hiring a new person or group of people.

“We have to adapt – and we have to adapt fast – because the business of our client is moving. We always have to adjust. This flexibility is always number one for us,” concludes Ahmad.

Fireside Chat: Life in a Contact Center

To BPO or not to BPO

Contact centers work with all kinds of companies – those that have internal customer service teams as well as with those that have never had a formal support setup before.

Ahmad believes that running these services in-house before turning to BPOs might have some benefits, though:

  • Having background information about how support works will help you answer the questions a contact center will ask you – like things related to the technical setup and tooling, HR-specific topics like job descriptions, or the expected capacity at peak hours.
  • In-house experience provides great input for benchmarking and goal-setting. When working with a company that has internal support, a BPO starts by aligning outsourced agents to the quality standards set in the in-house team.

However, you can start working with a BPO without having any of this information. You will then discover these things together on the go.

Regardless of whether you have had any experience in support before or not, the main strategy will be built around the following key elements:

  1. Define the KPI to track. CSAT is the most used quality metric in support teams, other options include metrics like NPS, and CES.
  2. Understand the drivers of the KPI. Tracking other support metrics like First Contact Resolution Rate will help you meet your main KPI.
  3. Set SMART goals. Make sure your targets are achievable and come with realistic timeframes.
  4. Feedback on how to achieve the targets helps you understand how many people you need to have in the team to achieve your goals, what kind of data you need to collect to track your progress, etc.

💡  Be generous with data. BPOs can only analyze and improve the things that they have data about. The more data you will be able to provide, the better they will understand your business and deliver the service that will benefit you the most.

Fireside Chat: Life in a Contact Center

Combating high turnover rates in contact centers

“Losing people is one of the enemies of the business,” says Ahmad Baydoun.

Customer service is an industry with one of the highest employee turnover rates. Ahmad believes that there’s a lot that companies can do to turn that around.

Preventing people from quitting their jobs actually starts with the hiring process. The job description that you put out has to be clear and well defined, pointing out the specific skillsets required for the position. Only then will the HR department be able to find the right people for the job.

Sometimes the right candidate doesn’t have the right skills but has the potential to be trained. Ahmad says that if agents come out of the onboarding training with about half of the knowledge presented there, he’s happy. It means that those agents have acquired the basics and will learn everything else on the go.

After the initial onboarding, QA and operations teams become responsible for continuous agent training and coaching. “If this is done wrong, we lose the people,” explains Ahmad.

Here are three tips that will help you combat high employee turnover in a contact center:

  • Focus on top contact drivers when coaching and providing feedback. Negative feedback on aspects that don’t significantly impact the overall support quality can do more bad to agents’ morale than good for the business.
  • Coach agents who fail in the top contact driving categories because you won’t have time to coach everyone. Make sure you work with people who are more likely to fail, make a negative impact, and leave as a result.
  • Provide negative feedback discretely, never in front of the team. Your goal is to help agents improve their performance, not feel like they are unable to succeed in this role.
  • Share positive feedback publicly. Don’t focus only on agents’ areas of improvement and let them know when they’ve done something right as well. Praising somebody for a good job in public can be a huge morale booster for the entire team.

When you become worried about your increasing agent turnover rate, look into the things that you could improve to make people want to stay. Ask yourself: “Are we providing enough knowledge to allow our agents to feel comfortable at what they are doing?”

Fireside Chat: Life in a Contact Center

Ahmad Baydoun is a wonderful source of inspiration when it comes to improving the quality of customer service. His years of experience working in different support and quality roles have equipped him with different skills and perspectives on how to make support one of the key drivers of customer-centric businesses.

We hope you enjoyed our Fireside Chat with Ahmad (because we sure did). And if that’s the case, then we have great news for you!

We are starting an article series dedicated to contact center quality full of advice from the very same Ahmad Baydoun. Make sure to read the next article: 3 Ways to Improve FCR in Contact Centers, and subscribe to our blog to stay tuned.

Also, check out the previous episodes of the Fireside Chats featuring:

If you have any questions to Ahmad or comments that you’d like to share about your contact center experiences, head over to our online CX community Quality Tribe and post them there. See you there!

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