The Power of Zero

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Agent Advocate

Freelance Writer

The Power of Zero
I am faced with a situation at work which demonstrates the impact of poor decision-making upon agent morale. I work as a technical support / customer service agent with an outsourcer. One of the most important sections on our evaluations scorecards relates to call quality. Until recently, the score was derived from 5 customer point of view questions (was the customer treated with respect, was the issue resolved, etc.).

Owing to a new quality initiative implemented last month, 2 new questions have been added to our quality score: Was the agent rude to the customer? and Is this a missed sales opportunity? A ‘yes’ to either of those questions results in a quality score of zero. While the first should obviously result in zero (and would before, since rudeness would drive all the customer impact questions to zero), the second question is having an extremely demoralizing effect on agents. For example, the agent could have a great conversation with the caller, address all their issues, resolve all problems, and leave the customer feeling great about their call; yet the agent could receive a quality score of zero because they did not attempt to sell the customer an additional product.

Obviously, I am one of those agents or I wouldn’t be writing this.

A zero is a very powerful number. It says that your work is worthless. It should only be reserved for extreme situations, as in rudeness. If I tell off a customer, I would expect a zero. However, I would not expect a zero when I have customers praising me for my help, or telling me that this was the best call they have ever had to our company. If I did not attempt an upsell, I might expect to lose points, but the total negation of the call is completely demoralizing. As we are only monitored once per week, a single zero in very difficult to work off in a month; two would be impossible.

A zero is a very powerful thing. Its impact may work as corrective action, but it must be used with caution. Even badly performing agents should not be given zeros, as they can fill people with a “why bother” attitude. Slamming zero’s on agents who do their jobs well is a great way to turn top performers into bitter ex-employees. No one likes being told that their work is worthless. Issues zero are with extreme caution.

MI Capability Manager

Vertex DataScience Ltd

The power of zero
A zero rating is very emotive I agree and I would hope no employer would enter into such a arrangement without considering the consequences.

Why does your company impose such a testing target that is the question to ask yourself, is it because:
1. The client expects a cross sell at every opportunity or at least a very high cross sell attempt percentage.
2. The outsourcer receives credits for each cross sell and it therefore critical to the contract profitability
3. The outsourcer has tried other less coercive methods to deliver the cross sell objective and this is it's final option.

Of course the other side to the argument is, how do the customers feel about this, how do they react to the cross sell attempt and if that is negative could it impact on the other zero rating - rudeness. Many of us know the experience of being in the queue at the post office which gets longer and logner because the person serving has to attempt to sell insurance, broadband or whatever other services are currently in promotion.

For you the answer is simple, for each call you need to do the cross sell attempt, politely accept the response of the caller and move on to the next call. If the extension in call time or there is a reduction in customer satisfaction that affects service delivery then you be sure your employer and the client will notice and take steps to resolve the situation appropriately.


Down South

It's all in the management of the system
Having a 5 point scoring system for call quality sounds a good concept, but to me its all about how it works in practice and what is achieved as a result. Managed well it can be simple to understand but highly effective.

In a sales dependant organisation, ignoring a potential sales opportunity can't be overlooked so I would support reducing the call quality score in that area. Cross selling is fundamental to the success of many businesses and is often also a requirement of the role for primarily service based teams. I would not score down for a good attempt to cross sell, where the sales or service person is sensitive to customer needs, even if it doesn't result in a sale. I also would not let the zero rating overide other positively scoring elements. I would be interested to hear the rationale for doing this - I can only assume that it is to particularly emphasise the importance of this element of the call to your business at this time.

In my view a system like this only really works at it's best if people understand the purpose of the scoring system, why it works as it does and what is hoped to be achieved by this. Managers must also celebrate the higher scoring areas and be able to explain why they have given lower scores in a way that doesn't demoralise but inspires people to do better next time, providing coaching support for those who need extra help to get there.

I also fully agree with Julian's advice to you at the end of his post. Do your best to point out other opportunities that may be of interest to your customers but let the customer decide, rather than choosing 'no' for them.



Hi Jeff

Is it an inbound call centre or an outbound that you working for ? If this is an inbound, then the psychologies related to the consumer are different. He is calling you for a particular need ,you service those needs and end the call. The customer is happy and so are you ! But think this, Are companies thriving only on good services offered ? Every company needs the moolah !! So every additional bit done by the CSR to get that sale could help gain that extra penny for the company.

To give you an example, if a passenger calls me for a mere amendment to his reservation travelling from Bombay to Dubai and onwards to London. I could perform that and end the call perfectly well. But if i notice, he is taking a stop in Dubai, i could do that extra bit of promoting stopover packages in DUbai for him, unless i do not pitch , i would not know what the customer wants. This could result in a sale for me. As sales agents, we have to grab every oppurtunity to a sale, we must turn every prospective customer to a potential one, thats the best challenge for a CSR.

Your company must have implemented the ratings as sales could be going low,profits hit etc, but take this as your own personal goal to not miss a sale whenever a client calls you, then see how interesting it gets. Its all the "atempt" ..dont go with the intention of cracking a deal always, the same will follow in time

Telecom/Reporting Analyst

Outsource callcenter

Sounds horrid
I could see you getting a 0 in the sales category, but for the whole call?? Seems odd to me. Are they using a tick sheet for scoring calls or an actual application? Why don't they have categories, and then they can coach to the categories rather than dumping the whole call in the bin because you didn't try to sell?

Agent Advocate

Freelance Writer

Details and responses
Details: I work inbound tech support at an outsourcer for a cable service provider. I provide assistance with internet, cable telephone, billing, product inquiries, and sometimes cable tv tech. What began as a client initiative to have agents ABLE to upsell the phone service when the customer asked, to be familiar with the product to answer questions, and to notify customers that the servce is available... well, a year later, the whole thing has turned into a massive mess. Technical support agents are being told to upsell in all circumstances, unless the service is not available in that area. How would you like to told to do this: "Yes Sir, there is an outtage in your area. Yes Sir, I know your tv is not working. Yes Sir, I know your internet is down. Would you be interested in hearing about our phone service?"

No exaggeration, I got a zero for not offering phone under those circumstances.

Marianne, you are absolutely right. Losing points for missing a sale would be suitable for coaching & correction. But they are binning the entire call for a missed sale. The policy is currently under review however.

As for the rest, I absolutely agree that offers can and should be made, when appropriate. The problem here arises on when it is appropriate. Frontline agents, who should have a good rappor with the caller, are quite capable of deciding if an offer will be well received or result in an escalation. The powers that be seem to think agents cannot handle this decision.

In the end, the important point for me is with scoring zeros. A zero is a big slap in the face, even when justified, and should be carefully considered. Even badly performing agents should be coached repeatedly before zeros are issued. The only circumstances I can see where a zero is justified is in the case of rudeness, unprofessionalism, or severe customer/business impact. Seeing a zero on one's scorecard is extremely demotivating and, rather than encourage someone to do better, is more likely to make them apathetic or angry.

And here I go with the lengthy replies again. :)



That is grossly unfair. For the case u mentioned below, if a customer called you being unhappy about a particular service like the cable issue u were talkin about, upselling or cross selling something to him is the last thing u are supposed to do. Being marked a zero for that is unbelievable

Sorry to say but if thats the case the moderators assesing you need some homework themselves.What they are doing is simply working on rote. They need to understand what needs to be done and when.

All i can say is, dont get dejected, u have done nothing wrong, speak to your management and prove your point, if u want our call center gurus to go and speak with ur boss just drop a line here....;)

Lean Process Consultant

Worth Solutions Limited

Unintended Consequences
This is a great example of unintended consequences.


Score agents zero if they fail to attempt a sale to a customer.

Desired result:

More sales.

Actual result:

Customers who baulk at being sold to at every opportunity especially when they are calling to complain or to have a problem solved. And agents who hate being put in the the position of psychopathic selling machines and thus resent the company and management when they follow the customer's lead, don't try the cross sell and get a zero for it.

I suggest an alternative action:

Change the system to so improve the service that customers will never be calling to complain or to have a problem solved. Rather they will be calling to add to their current services and an obligatory up-sell will no be necessary.


Get rid of the stupid five point scoring system. It helps no-one, least of all management.

Agent Advocate

Freelance Writer

Rob, the term " psychopathic selling machines" is fantastic, and will probably get used in my next discussion about this. ;)

Dicken, you tempt me greatly. I can just imagine phones ringing throughout our centre with calls from all of you, demanding that operation justify their actions. Naturally, it would probably get me fired, but what a way to go! ;)

This whole mess is largely due to the reactionary-type planning which takes place, not only with our company, but throughout the industry. Forget about the trees being in the way. Most of the planners can't see the forest because they are too busy looking for Waldo.

MI Capability Manager

Vertex DataScience Ltd

The Power of Zero
Tech Support and Selling - doesn't look to be a match made in heaven does it.

When I ring for support I expect just that, I am not looking for further things for the supplier to cock up. However, I am not averse to a feedback on the call question as that informs me that a) the company actually focus on service and b) the tech support agent has a vested interest in giving a good service. But selling, maybe if you have resolved the customers problem and they may be in the frame of mind to talk about some extra services but not if you are still in the middle of a problem.

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