Making sure standards don’t slip

Three men hold up an arrow


In her penultimate column on customer experience, Natalie Calvert shows Call Centre Helper’s readers a fun way of ensuring that their new standards of service stay up to scratch

Several years ago there was a seemingly highly successful call centre manager; his name was Gordon (I won’t share his surname with you for obvious reasons).

He achieved his productivity targets week in, week out. And he believed that quality was achieved through adhering to strict standards. He had been in the army, so he would spend his days walking, or – when I observed it – marching through the call centre with a ruler tucked under his arm. If he saw things that did not meet his standards, he would gently tap the person’s desk with the ruler and cough. Then, with a look of “you’re a naughty school child”, he would proceed to explain what needed to change.

I kid you not, this is a true story and was a sure fire way of keeping standards in line. It was case of ‘command and control’ in action.

A few years later, I met a man who – I was often told by other people – “managed by the second”. His philosophy was that if you could save seconds, you saved money. So even in 2005, he had a clock in, clock out system. If you were 20 seconds late at your desk, it resulted in a ‘word in your ear’.

He too believed that this was a way of maintaining high standards. But needless to say, when you scratched beneath the surface of both his and Gordon’s organisations, there were quite awful people issues. In time, these translated into customer dissatisfaction and defection.

So just how do you make standards stick?

Okay, so we know that ‘command and control’ don’t work – or rather, they don’t work long-term. So what’s the answer?

Surely, in order to make standards stick, we need people with the right skills, doing the right job, on the right day, delivering the right results? Oh and of course, with the right reward and recognition schemes, brilliant learning and development, and a structured career path – all of which are linked in to a performance management process: one based squarely on quality.

Okay, this might seem a bit idealistic, but you know – deep down – that it’s these steps that will make all the difference as to whether standards are not only achievable, but are achievable year in, year out.

For those who think they’re already living and breathing this doctrine, I’ve devised a fun test for you to assess whether you really are making the standards stick in your organisation – or not.

Simply answer each question ‘YES’, ‘NO’ or ‘SORT OF’

People (10 questions)

  1. Do you know the real capability of your frontline?
  2. Do you know the real capability of your team leaders?
  3. Do you know the real capability of your managers?
  4. Do you know the skills that you require to assess capability?
  5. Do you know what ‘great’ looks like for your organisation and people?
  6. Do you know the monetary value of your employees – by individual, by team and by location?
  7. Are you confident that you are measuring the right indicators for your contact centre?
  8. Do you know what your front-line staff will be doing in 24 months?
  9. Do you know how you are going to get your staff to where you need them to be?
  10. Are you on a multi-skilling pathway?

Standards (10 questions)

  1. Are your standards defined for people?
  2. Are your standards defined for processes?
  3. Are your standards defined for customer management?
  4. Are your standards defined for complaints?
  5. Do you know what quality actually means for your contact centre?
  6. Do you have a strong governance process to report on meeting standards?
  7. Do you have documented processes and procedures?
  8. Are you accredited to a standard or in the process of gaining accredited status?
  9. Do you have a risk management plan?
  10. Are you adhering to regulatory requirements?

Customers (5 questions)

  1. Do you know the value of a customer?
  2. Do you measure customer satisfaction across all contact channels?
  3. Do you know why prospects DON’T buy from you?
  4. Do you know why customers defect?
  5. Do you have regular competitive briefings for staff?

Performance (5 questions)

  1. Have you changed your performance management in the last 18 months?
  2. Are you moving towards people and customer experience/behaviours?
  3. Have you stopped using productivity measures at the front line – for example, average handling time, grade of service and so on?
  4. Are you developing a performance-driven coaching culture?
  5. Are your performance objectives aligned to people outputs (not inputs)?

The Acid Test questions (5 questions)

  1. Is your staff turnover declining?
  2. Is your repeat call volume declining?
  3. Do you know the true monetary value of your contact centre to your organisation?
  4. Would your customers recommend you?
  5. Will you be there in 12 months’ time?

That’s it. I could have included loads more questions, but I thought this would be a good start for you to assess whether you and your organisation are making standards stick.

For each ‘YES’ give yourself two points, for each ‘SORT OF’ give yourself one point, and for each ‘NO’, award yourself zero points.

If your answers are between:

70 and 55: Well done, you are certainly working in line with industry best practice and striving towards being a better customer organisation. Start planning now for which awards you are going to enter and win next year.

54 and 40: There’s lots of progress to be made here. Are you really sure you know what you’re aiming for? Is there a proper plan in place, or just a series of initiatives? And are you paying enough attention to your people and managers?

Less than 40: Contact me – we need to talk!

One final thought: this is a great exercise to do with your teams and – if you dare – your front-line staff. Believe me, it’s a real opportunity for you to get some great feedback and a picture of your team’s perspective on your contact centre life.

You never know, you might also be able to use the results to actually help boost those customer service levels that little bit more.

Natalie Calvert is managing director at the consultancy Calcom Group

Tel: +44 845 230 8500


Author: Jonty Pearce

Published On: 28th May 2007 - Last modified: 3rd Jan 2020
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1 Comment
  • I am a coach myself and find Natalie’s thoughts and opinions a boon for all coaches.

    Swetha 3 Dec at 15:32