Six Sigma and Scorecards in the Contact Center

I just published this to my Blog on ( — and wanted to share it here too:
Interestingly, I have seen in my travels through the random world of Operations and Contact Centers (a forcibly implemented change from the vanilla-version, call center), a true need for process excellence. Yet, of recent, ‘process excellence’ has become a trend, rather than a disciplined methodology or philosophy.
This ‘flavor of the month’ mentality has been around forever, but with business book publishing so popular, the methodologys of TQM, CMMI, CRM, CEM and others, have breezed through many contact centers like a hurricane. Often accompanied by SWAG (‘stuff we all get’, or the PC definition of ‘S’), agent rewards, and other external motivators. Often, centers are dedicated and a large kickoff celebration usually ocurs.
The Executives think that the call center agents (get the subtle joke?) are into the Pomp and Circumstance, and while some agents definitely buy in (mostly for the free give-aways, and why not? I was once an agent too!), I would say that my experience has shown me that most, including myself, are skeptical or simply do not care. If they have any tenure under their belt, agents will tell you an ear-full about the 1 to 2 year trends that have swept through their call centers. And when a new program pops up spouting ‘Customer is #1’ or ‘We love our Agents’…’Customer Retention is Most Important’, the agents know that under the covers, are still the demands of ‘Reduce your Handle Time’ or ‘WE HAVE 50 CALLS ON HOLD’ (which incidentally, often is also spouted by a ticker tape monitor that relays the current calls holding as if we were monitoring stock values like a broker’s office at the NYSE).
And, while most centers have seen short-term financial gains or have been able to quantify the ‘soft savings’ from increased customer retention or propensity to repurchase, over the long-haul, these programs have bordered on beinga ‘flavor’ rather than a true cultural shifter.
And, then, without notice, Six Sigma swoops down on the centers. And, believe me, I support the initiative…I am one of the black belts; but fancy myself different, having started from the ground floor as an agent in a different company and have rode the corporate wave to a new, Interent based travel company in a new role. This is where the term ‘ Ignorance is Bliss’ originated, I’m sure; people not wanting to know both the blessings and the curse of launching a new quality program in an existing center.
Best to start with Design for Six Sigma when you first launch the centers. But when that isn’t an option (probably 98% of the time), we have other things to do to win over the agents.
1) Schedule a meeting with one or two agents (1 with high quality) and a new hire (fresh-eyes perspective), a trainer and a supervisor. The objective is to discuss ways to reduce waste in the center (don’t focus only on handle time…it is the inverse of First Call Resolution).
2) Ask for ideas of things that delay them on the call and afterwards. Note them on the 3M flip boards that come with the sticky side for easy attachment of the sheets to the wall.
3) Create 3 columns: 1 that says ‘Noise’ and 1 that says ‘ Controllable’ and 1 that says ‘ Standard Operating Procedures (SOP)’ — Add each of the ideas from Step 2 into one of these columns. Circle those that are in the agent’s control (Controllable) in a color — Circle those in a different color that are in the Exectives control (SOP) and cross off those that cannot be controlled by the agent. Focus on the ones that are under the agent’s control and the business’ control (unless you have items in the Noise column that you find out later can be addressed by agents or management; if so, move it to the corresponding column and out of ‘Noise’). Take the items in ‘Noise’ and rewrite them onto a new sheet — Title this sheet "Issues out of Agent’s Control" and move it tot the side – You will be revisiting this sheet in Step 9.
4) Ask for ideas and ways you can help. Note them on the flip boards.
5) Encourage the team to visualize every call as having three steps in a storyboard — Think of yourself as a screenwriter and the caller is Hollywood — This is key:
A. What does Hollywood want? An Action, Romance, Comedy…(In terms of the center, it means ‘What does the customer want’ A Refund, Change, Recap…)
B. What did we agree to do? (List what you did in Step A along with the associated procedures that are written — NOT the actual steps you [the agent] took. That comes in Step 3).
C. What did we do? (List what you actual did for what you wrote in Step A).
The gap between B and C presents an opportunity for improvement, that is both measurable and scope-able.
Agents who focus on these basic steps will listen more closely, ask enough questions and keep promises. The result is likely to include reduced handle time; fewer repeat calls, transfers and increased FCR.
6) Ask for ideas to test this concept for reducing handle time. Conducting a pilot with one team may be a great place to start.
7) Develop a Communications Plan and Strategy — Communicate this approach to one team, share the results of your meeting and ask them to pilot this concept for 30 days, is one idea I have read about. We actually work with our Communications Manager at our company for internal, Operations/Contact Center broadcasts and with our Internal PR team for anything that goes Company wide.
Let your center director know about this project and promise to inform her about the results. You may want to incorporate this new philosophy into your training and coach supervisors on using this new approach with their respective teams. A good communications strategy is key to building confidence in all of your center management groups.
8) Then look at the result. ACD reports may reflect an increase in handled calls by each agent and reduced TT or talk time.
9) Last but not least, we are not ignoring the Noise items. As the final step, take that flip chart titled "Issues Out of Agent Control" and address them one at a time! Stack rank them in the order of Risk — How? Group the agents together and create a FMEA (Failure Modes Effect Analysis) — The Result? RPN scores or Risk Indicators.
These are based on taking the Occurence (rated 1 to 10, 10 meaning a lot of occurences) X Severity (same scale as occurance) X Detectibility (rated 1 to 10, where 10 means NOT DETECTIBLE)..This is a bit different in understand than ‘O’ and ‘S’…The product of these 3 numbers is the RPN or Risk Indicator. Sort these in descending order for a stack ranked list to help you work on the Issues that impact the agents the most first.
All in all, including the agents upfront in the planning and strategy of a Six Sigma deployment, is far more effective than swoping in with a new quality program. SWAG, however, is still good!




If you can’t describe what you are doing as a process, you don’t know what you’re doing" — W. Edwards Deming







2 thoughts on “Six Sigma and Scorecards in the Contact Center

  1. Hi Laura,
    I ran into some of your information up on LinkedIn.  You\’re pretty insightful – I appreciate you taking the time to actually think about the practices you are implementing and researching.  As such, I was hoping you could offer some assistance – a client of mine could really use the help.  Do you know of someone that passes your own screening bar that could be a good value-add to this role?
    Title: Business Intelligence Engineer
    Location: Bellevue, WA
    Duration: Contract-to-hire
    About the client:
    Our client is a leading global provider and publisher of mobile content, products and services that enhance the wireless experience, making it easier for consumers to find and enjoy information, personalization and entertainment on the mobile phone. The company distributes its applications and services through mobile operators. The client also uses its unique metasearch technology to power a portfolio of branded Web sites and provide private-label search and online directory services.
    About the Business Intelligence Engineer Position:
    As a Business Intelligence Engineer, you would be an integral member of our cleint\’s Customer Solutions Department. A diversified technology and services company they develop and market Internet and wireless solutions. The Customer Solutions Reporting Team works with each business unit and the Data Warehouse to provide the key performance indicators and detailed information required to successfully run their business and be competitive in their marketplace.
    Essential Duties & Responsibilities:
    •           Design, develop and deploy business intelligence reporting solutions using a variety of BI reporting tools.
    •           Work with business analysts and core data warehouse engineers to develop and document business specific data marts and reporting aggregate strategy.
    •           Assist in the Building and deploying of OLAP cubes (dimensions, measures, calculates members) based on business requirements.
    •           Troubleshoot and resolve reporting environment issues
    •           Work with business units to enhance reporting environment and adapt to changes.
    •           Analyze data and turn it effectively into actionable information to our customers both internal and external.
    Required Skills, Education & Experience
    •           1-3 years experience delivering BI content to end users using various front end tools (Microsoft Reporting Services, Cognos or other analytic or reporting tools).
    •           Knowledge of SQL Server Reporting Services, MDX and Office Web components.
    •           Understanding of multidimensional database architecture.
    •           Excellent verbal and non-verbal communication skills.
    •           Microsoft SQL Server background & excellent SQL skills.
    •           Analytical and problem solving skills.
    •           Ability to work well in a dynamic, fast-paced environment.
    •           Experience with Cognos ReportNet.
    •           Experience with Cognos PowerPlay a plus.
    •           Experience with MDX queries.
    •           Web development Experience (ASP, HTML & .NET) a plus.
    •           Sharepoint BI integration tools experience a plus
    Aaron Oliver

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