Monitoring the Pulse of Business

By Jeanine Restivo

In a strong economy, it’s not always easy to tell if your business is firing on all cylinders. Sure, profits are up and the stock is sharply increasing, but sometimes the good times can mask problems.

Unfortunately, those problems seem to become known when the economy isn’t flying high and you can least afford them. It’s when times are tight that companies need their employees to perform at their best, because winning new business and keeping customers satisfied can often be more difficult during these periods.

That’s why it’s so important for employees on the front lines of a business to connect with customers and prospects. Contact center representatives are not only the voice of the company, but they are also the pulse of the business, the critical link between companies and their customers. Good customer service is more than answering calls quickly. It is the manner and tone used when speaking to customers combined with product knowledge and empathy. In essence, it’s making sure that customers’ calls are handled effectively, efficiently and professionally.

So how do managers know if their customers are getting top-notch customer service? One of the best ways for managers to keep their fingers on the pulse of business is through monitoring. Companies can analyze and track the effectiveness of their contact center programs through monitoring inbound and outbound calls, email, and correspondence. A good monitoring program allows you to not only track the effectiveness of your customer service representatives (CSRs), but also to track what your customers are saying. It can tell you:

  • Whether your CSRs are treating your customers with care and concern
  • Whether the tools available to your CSRs are effective and whether they’re being used appropriately
  • Whether your CSRs have fully understood new training
  • Whether customers are accepting your company’s policies and procedures
  • Whether your supervisors are taking the time to monitor employee performance and
  • Whether morale is good among your CSRs

A monitoring program can help determine whether call flow or scripting revisions are needed or if you need to conduct refresher training.

Methods of Monitoring: There are three basic methods of monitoring: voice, shadow, and side-by-side. All three can be effective. In the first method, voice monitoring, supervisors or quality assurance personnel, located in a different area from the CSR, listen in on customer service calls and make notes of their observations. This method has one major shortcoming: when taking a call, CSRs typically follow a script on their computer screens. Voice monitoring misses this part of the interaction.

The second method, shadow monitoring, allows your team to not only listen to the call, but to also watch the screens CSRs access. Quality assurance personnel can determine whether CSRs are following the appropriate call flow, and whether they are taking the correct actions to resolve problems.

The third method is the oldest: side-by-side monitoring, in which the supervisor sits next to the CSR during the call, double-jacked into the CSR’s phone, and monitors both verbal interaction and the computer screen. Voice and shadow monitoring are effective methods, but side-by-side monitoring is the best way to provide immediate feedback to your CSRs. With side-by-side monitoring, supervisors can coach the CSR during the call should a tricky situation arise and, perhaps more importantly, they can discuss the call after it is over and use the interaction to establish a bond with the employee.

Unfortunately, with the other responsibilities most supervisors have, side-by-side monitoring is generally possible only on a few calls each week. The most effective solution is to monitor a sample that truly reflects the CSR’s performance in conjunction with shadow monitoring by trained quality assurance personnel and side-by-side monitoring by the supervisor. Using quality assurance staff to conduct shadow monitoring will allow you to monitor a larger number of calls to track the overall effectiveness of your customer service program, while side-by-side provides CSRs the one-on-one time they should have with their supervisors.

Selecting a monitoring program that fits with a call center’s schedule is key to the program’s success. Shadow monitoring can be done in real time, or calls and data screens can be recorded using a variety of available call logging products and played back as time permits. With real-time monitoring, managers can address problems as they occur and intervene if necessary. With recorded monitoring, CSRs and supervisors can sit down together, play back calls, and identify issues in a more deliberate manner. Side-by-side monitoring can only be performed in real time.

Implementing a Monitoring Program: There are four basic steps in setting up any monitoring program:

  1. Develop a list of goals. What do you want to accomplish with your monitoring? Most companies want to measure the rate of completion of specific tasks, the overall behavior exhibited by the CSR, and the reaction of the customer. This can be a tough combination to monitor, but it can be done.
  2. Determine the best way to conduct monitoring – voice, shadow, or side-by-side. Based on your goals, you’ll need to figure out the best type of monitoring program for your company. For example, if your goal is to listen to how your CSRs are treating your customers, you may only need to monitor voice. If your goal is to make sure your customers are being treated well and that your CSRs are taking the appropriate actions, then shadow monitoring may be right for you.
  3. Develop reporting. It is important to develop monitoring reports that provide data that can be used. Are you meeting your goals? Are overall scores within an acceptable range? Are there certain areas where refresher training may be needed? As with all reporting, data for front line managers will be different from what you’ll report to your senior management. It’s important to define the reporting requirement for both types of reports before you begin monitoring.
  4. Evaluate your technology platform. Based on the monitoring you’d like to do, you’ll need to evaluate your company’s technology platform to determine whether it needs to be upgraded to meet your needs. Voice monitoring, for example, is a feature integrated into most contact center phone systems, but some smaller groups using a standard PBX may need to add an outboard accessory. Shadow monitoring done in real time requires relatively simple software, but the ability to record calls and screens for later playback requires a major logging system. Side-by-side monitoring involves the least amount of equipment – just a phone adapter — enabling supervisors to listen in on calls.

Today’s most advanced contact monitoring systems also allow supervisors to monitor email correspondence and Web chat sessions. Web-enabled monitoring is no more time-consuming than call monitoring, but the criteria are usually different. For example, writing skills are critical in these situations. A good monitoring program will tell you whether you have hired the right people for the job.

To facilitate this process, companies may want to bring on board a consultant with monitoring experience. A consultant can help you determine what your needs are so you can design a monitoring program that works for you. While assessing your monitoring needs, a consultant may even be able to make suggestions on how to improve calls and offer expert advice on other subjects, such as how to improve scripting.

A company can also implement a monitoring program by using third party monitoring. Independent firms have started to offer this service over the past several years, and more and more companies are choosing this option. The outside firm links into your systems, much as your own supervisors do, observes the voice and data screens, and prepares reports for your use. Third party monitoring can be used in one of two ways: as an independent verifier to ensure that your internal quality assurance staff is meeting their goals or as your primary quality assurance staff, responsible for most of your center’s call monitoring.

Is “Big Brother” Really Monitoring?  Concerns sometimes arise that employee monitoring is “Big Brother” in action, but that is not the case. Call center and Web monitoring is not an issue for most employees when they are made aware before they take the job that their interaction with customers will be monitored, and that monitoring is a routine function at the contact center. Monitoring is now in place at 85 percent of all contact centers, according to Purdue University data, and most CSRs understand that it’s a standard part of the contact center environment. However, it’s the moral and often legal, responsibility of the company to remind employees that they are being monitored. For the monitoring program to work effectively, it’s critical that employees understand the company’s goals and expectations. Managers must provide clear guidelines on how monitoring results are weighed in rating a CSR’s performance.

It’s important to realize that once your monitoring program is up and running, your work isn’t over. It should be used as a career development tool to keep CSRs performing at their best. CSRs must receive regular feedback on their performance to help them achieve optimal performance levels. They should be praised for the good work they do, and they should be helped with refresher training if needed. It is also important that you take action based on the results of your reporting. Is more training needed? Do you need to change your programs and policies? CSRs will understand the need for monitoring if they see positive action coming from it.

The beauty of employee monitoring is that it is not just a tool that helps companies keep an eye on their employees; it is a tool that helps customers too. When call center employees on the front line of business are operating at peak performance, the business itself is more likely to execute at optimal levels.

Jeanine Restivo is vice president of client service at Kowal Associates. She has more than 10 years of management experience in customer service, project management, and call center assignments. Kowal Associates, Inc. provides customer relationship management consulting, benchmarking, monitoring consulting and remote monitoring services. Jeanine can be reached at

[From Connection MagazineOctober 2003]

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