Helping Out Your QA Brethren

By Ric Kosiba, Ph.D.

While noodling on what to write in this quarter’s On Target, Vicki asked me to also write an article for QATC’s newsletter. It just occurred to me how I could kill two birds with one stone.

Years ago, when working at a large credit card company, there was a program where we could, for a time, interview agents for temporary jobs, and have extra help for maybe a month or so. Since I was always angling for more resources, I took advantage and gained some pretty terrific new analysts from among the agents to help with my projects. It was a win-win, our temporary analysts/agents got some valuable experience, and we received needed help. I imagine this is pretty typical across our industry.

Given my background in capacity planning, I’m surprised that it is just now that I have recognized how we can use an optimized and accurate capacity plan to make improvements in our operations in interesting ways (I expect that most of you do this already). It’s this: cap planners are the keepers of some really important data, including when our agents will be busy and when they will be less busy. Part of the art of resource planning is to utilize agents appropriately, busy or not.

I’ve seen companies who outsource their agents to other companies during significant down periods. I’ve seen companies offer a lot of voluntary time off to save money and retain agents during seasonal lulls. I’ve seen companies simply cut agents’ hours or lay off temporary agents. And many companies use their outsourcers as a buffer to soak up busy periods and ratchet them down during less busy times.

All of this is driven by a capacity plan, and it is yet another reason your planning accuracy has to be proven to be great. Here is another use.

I’ve written for a while about how to use contact data to learn about your contact center and agent performance. We’ve discussed interesting metrics that highlight agent performance issues and problematic calls. The theory is, these metrics can highlight those contacts that are troublesome or point to problems that otherwise might not be caught, say, if you only used a voice of the customer system. We just need someone to dig into these problematic contacts—listen to them—and figure out what the problems are.

Big systematic operational problems can be found and fixed by flagging these contacts and investigating them.

Quality Assurance is a perfect resource to help ferret out systemic issues with training or process problems or with agent misbehavior flagged by those analytics. The issue is—when speaking to QA managers—there is a limit to what they can do. They have barely the resources to listen to and grade, maybe one call per agent per week. Side projects, no matter how important they are, aren’t feasible. QA is just swamped.

That’s where cap planners can come to the rescue.

My experience shows that the difference between seasonal volume peaks and valleys can be very dramatic, some contact center’s demand can more than double. This makes, of course, managing your seasons both more difficult and more important. So, what can you do to better manage the ups and downs?

Hire Correctly (and Automate if Possible)

When ramping up and down, the most basic levers we use are hiring, overtime, absence without pay, vacation planning, and training. For most of us, and even for most cap planning systems, this is a manual process. We look out into the future, at our forecasts, and eyeball – knowing the learning curve – when and where to hire, and when and how to manage controllable shrinkage.

Mathematically, this is not an easy problem to solve well. Believe it or not, to do this truly optimally involves solving a very complex math problem, called a non-linear program (look it up—it is fun but intimidating!). But, for those of us still using spreadsheets, it is very important to put some time into this step, to use those levers well.

Maintain an Important Project List and a Queue of Problematic Calls to Investigate

We all know that getting access to resources requires us to have a plan and to make a business case. One effective thing we can do is to query our contact database and find problematic calls (e.g., short calls, long calls, repeat calls, etc.) and quantify the benefit of seeing fewer of them.

By attaching dollars to a possible improvement, you can make a case to assign agents to peer reviews or a process improvement project during a business lull.

Staff Your Process Improvement Program with Agents. Get a Win.

Assigning agents to listen to problematic calls and having them investigate how to improve those contacts will yield dividends in many ways. We might find that agents are not trained to handle certain types of contacts. We might find that we are marketing to our customers to expect service in a way that the contact center has not been able to achieve. There may be processes that are confusing to our customers. Some agents may be cheating their stats at the expense of the customer.
Who knows?

But, one thing is for sure, it will make our agents more diligent. Agents will be part of the solution and be more invested in our company.

The resulting findings from their investigation of problematic contacts will likely turn into an action plan to implement an improvement. If agents can work on this, too, then this will be a win-win-win. Agents are kept busy during lull times, they have found problems and how to fix them, and they fixed them.

Everybody is better off.

Ric Kosiba is a charter member of SWPP. He can be reached at or (410) 562-1217. Please know that he is *very* interested in learning about your business problems and challenges. Follow him on LinkedIn! (