Making it Real: Effective Quality Management in Customer Service Organizations

Nearly every customer service organization will say that its Quality Management process is vital to operations and, therefore, justifies the significant time and cost investment it makes in these processes. On paper, Quality Management lays the groundwork for call center employee coaching, performance reviews, and compensation strategy: processes that support the interconnected goals of higher customer satisfaction and sales growth.

More formally, Quality Management in the context of customer service is a process to:

  1. Ensure that the center is collectively delivering high-quality customer service and broadly identifying performance, trends, issues, and needs across the call center
  2. Assess agents’ performance over time to help them continuously improve their skills, and
  3. Provide input into coaching and annual reviews.

In practice, these same Quality Management processes are a significant driver of employee disengagement and turnover - an infectious sentiment that damages relationships with customers and often spreads to management. The gap between Quality Management objectives and results manifests itself across industries, and is a frequent concern in the Public Sector. In fact, research in Forrester’s 2017 Federal Customer Experience Index indicates that “customer service” and “respect” are the first and second most influential drivers of Customer Experience (CX) quality in the Public Sector, respectively. And while these two factors are weighted so heavily in CX, only 48% of federal customers surveyed believed “they could get help quickly when they needed it,” and only 55% reported that they “feel respected” in their interactions with these organizations.

The reason Quality Management processes drive agent dissatisfaction is simple: agents intuitively know that the process focuses on the wrong quality indicators.  The quality indicators reflect internal constructs and are misaligned with the customer’s perception of quality. For example, a state DMV may evaluate agent performance on the number of service calls answered—an internal metric that can serve as a proxy for issue resolution, but has no relevance to whether the customer’s needs are met. This misalignment fuels a vicious cycle. When agents believe that Quality Management criteria are off-base, they disengage, in turn deepening the rift with management, who believes that agents are intentionally resisting their efforts to drive quality.

In working with a state agency client, we observed a similar phenomenon. The Quality Management process had become the “battle line” between staff and management to the point that agents actively undermined management’s attempts to improve customer service.

In addition to challenges between management and agents, management may also be frustrated by Quality Management process development, as it is resource-intensive, time-consuming work. Despite best intentions, management is coming up short by failing to critically review processes in terms of the results they’re producing for customer satisfaction.

So, what exactly does the customer want? In a call center, customer satisfaction is driven by their expectations around information accuracy, courtesy and respect, access to service, and value-added services. Quality Management today often fails on every single one of these dimensions. In fact, research shows a low correlation between the customers’ evaluation and Quality Management scoring. Coupled with the fact that you “get what you measure,” misguided Quality Management processes ironically result in poorer quality, as evaluated by the customer. Through this reality, a key guiding principle emerges: align Quality Management design to produce the results you want to achieve. In the case of the state DMV, Quality Management processes aligned to customer satisfaction would instead measure agents on first-call resolution percentage—a metric that’s tied to meeting individual customer needs, and ultimately, drives customer satisfaction.

With this imperative in mind, how can organizations align their Quality Management processes with the customer’s definition of quality? In our work with clients, we’ve developed a few key considerations that can enable successful customer-centric process design, anchored in North Highland’s key Customer Experience (CX) enablers:


  1. Purpose: Design a Quality Management process that can help your organization achieve its mission, measuring elements that directly tie to customer satisfaction.
  2. Interactions: Allow agents’ natural personality, tone, and style to emerge in their interactions with customers. In addition, encourage openness and transparency in these interactions.
  3. Employees: Reward agents’ efforts to improve.
  4. Operations: Measure agent performance based on the factors they can control. Provide feedback to agents in a timely manner to enable ongoing incremental improvements.
  5. Insights: Provide actionable, insightful feedback to agents, making guidance direct and straightforward.
  6. Solutions: When measuring agent performance, focus on measuring the elements that produce actionable solutions and value for clients, such as first call issue resolution.
  7. Content: Develop and disseminate documentation to ensure all employees are aligned on the Quality Management process in terms of workflows, KPIs, and roles and responsibilities.
  8. Strategy: Ensure that the objectives of your Quality Management process can help your organization execute its strategy.

Keeping these considerations in mind, the next step is to focus your Quality Management process by painting a clear picture of the service challenges you’re trying to solve.  Clarifying questions can include:



  • What would happen if we didn’t have a Quality Management process?
  • How can we align our Quality Management process with the customer’s expectations for quality?
  • What outcomes do we expect from our Quality Management process?
  • What are the fundamental limitations we must acknowledge with Quality Management processes?

Armed with this clarity, it is possible to design a Quality Management process that unlocks value for every stakeholder involved. Customers receive the support they need from the organization, agents are motivated to provide value-added solutions to customers. And, ultimately, organizational leadership is better positioned for the increased sales and customer satisfaction that it originally sought at the start of its Quality Management journey.