Call Centre Agent Performance Evaluation Solutions

Managing in the e-age Financial Post - March 30, 2000©

John Carver, senior manager of customer service at the Bank of Montreal's MasterCard division, is able to tick off six major challenges he can see facing men and women like himself. Among his duties is responsibility for MasterCard's 170-person call centre; 145 of those people handle incoming calls, while 25 take care of outgoing calls, mainly for sales.

"No matter how much the new technology delivers, people are still going to want to be able to make human contact," he says. "The benefit of the Internet is that it has turned many of the customer service functions into self-service. But even with that there comes a point when customers want to be able to get answers from real, live human beings."

His list (not in order of importance) notes these challenges:

Establishing performance standards. While a voice-only centre can relatively easily establish standards such as answering all calls within 20 seconds and resolving problems within three minutes, the introduction of e-mail responses and online keyboard contact can quickly throw those standards into a cocked hat. "A voice call that could take three minutes can easily become 10 or more if it's done via e-mail. They send a message, you respond; they ask another question, you respond and so on. How do you set performance guidelines for something like that?" he asks.

Recruiting and training. Today's call centre agents increasingly need a broader range of skills than just a pleasant telephone manner and speed on the keyboard. They have to have a high command of grammar and be absolutely accurate in their responses. "You can quickly correct yourself if you make a mistake in a conversation. Make the same mistake in e-mail, however, and you may never be able to undo any damage done" Mr. Carver says.

Cost control. The inability to set minimum response standards to things like e-mail transactions and keyboard chat responses translates into a more serious flaw: the inablility to predict and control call centre costs accurately.

Selling. Call centres often present a window to up-sell or cross-sell products to customers. A well-trained agent can use a balance inquiry as the opportunity to promote special products or offers to customers. "Do that through e-mail, however, and there is a great concern that it will be seen as just more corporate advertising. You lose that irreplaceable human element that makes up-selling successful."

Privacy. Mr. Carver wonders whether customers, especially bank customers, will be as relaxed and confident entrusting personal financial details to e-mail or keyboard chat as they have been to live agents at the other end of a secure telephone line.

Technology. Because customer service is increasingly seen as a vital competitive edge in many businesses, making the best use of the latest technology has to be a key element in any corporate strategy. The explosion of new call centre products, however, presents a challenge of almost Herculean proportions.