Quantifying Quality: How to Guarantee Great Support
Have you ever had a stellar experience with a company — one where you felt like you were working with someone who understood your needs and cared about your feelings, and left you feeling supported and happy?
If you’re a customer support or success professional yourself, then you know that these are the types of experiences that build relationships and inspire loyalty, and you strive to create them for your own customers.
You might also suspect what’s true: that great service can improve the well-being of both you and your customers, and that when you help someone, you increase the likelihood that they’ll help someone else. In essence, you not only benefit the individual you’re working with, you set off a positive chain reaction that reaches far beyond your single interaction to make the world a little bit better for everyone.
On the other hand, you’ve probably had at least one terrible experience that made you vent on social media, warn all your friends, and fume for hours. These are the experiences that break trust and make customers stop doing business with you. Not to mention that if great service can improve well-being, increase generosity, and make the world a brighter place, then bad service quite likely has the opposite effect.
It’s up to you to help your companies keep customers and stay in business. But it’s also up to you, with each interaction, to make or break someone’s day, keeping in mind that their mood will have an effect on the rest of the world. As they say, with great power comes great responsibility.
So how do you guarantee great service and avoid bad service?
First, how does bad service happen in the first place?
In part, it happens because teams are tracking all sorts of metrics, but none of them tell very much about quality. Because of this, it’s easy to be in the dark about what elements of your approach could lead to poor customer experiences if left unchecked. You might have a two hour response time, for example, but that only tells you how quickly you’re answering inquiries.
A bad response delivered quickly is still a bad response.
And even if you’re tracking CSAT (Customer Satisfaction), it often happens that only the customers who are the happiest and angriest leave ratings, which means you’re leaving a lot of unevaluated data on the table and missing out on potential warning signs. Despite your best intentions, without a quality metric, you run the risk of your mistakes compounding, accelerating, and eventually resulting in those horrendous service experiences that you fear.
Even if your team is highly experienced, customer expectations are an ever-changing landscape, and there’s always room to improve. As management consultant Peter Drucker said, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.”
Step #1: Define Quality Customer Experience
To create a quality metric, you first have to define what quality means to you. There may be common themes across different companies, but it’s going to have a unique meaning for you based on your customers and your team. Ask your customers. Ask your team. Take what you learn to create your own definition. Let’s say that some of the ways you define quality service are “professional,” “empathetic,” and “effortless.”
This is a great start, but you need to go deeper. What does it really mean to be professional? It can be difficult to pin down, and there are differences in interpretation. Some people might think it means wearing a suit. Others might think it means using jargon like “run it up the flagpole,” “getting down to brass tacks,” or even “drink the Kool-aid,” which if I’m being honest is a totally strange and somewhat terrifying metaphor. With this in mind, you and your team need a shared understanding of what each of your values mean to your organization. You also need clear indicators to help you decide whether or not the value is being used in practice.
One way to do this is through operationalization, a process commonly used in research design that, in a nutshell, means defining relatively abstract concepts into observable, measurable elements. To observe and measure what’s professional, for example, you could look for proper grammar, punctuation, and spelling. You can identify established rules that are either broken or followed, like subject verb agreement in writing. When you look at it this way, the concept of professionalism is easier to understand and implement.
In terms of empathy, you could define it as building a rapport and making a human connection by responding to personal details. If a customer mentions something personal, whether it’s something happy like a new baby or something not-so-happy like losing a job, that’s an opportunity. They’re sharing something with you. When you respond to that, you create rapport and connection, and the presence or absence of such a response is measurable.
In terms of effortlessness, this could mean easy, accurate solutions that don’t require extra work on behalf of your customer. An obvious place to start here is by answering all of the customer’s questions the first time through so they don’t have to ask again. Whether or not this occurs is a concrete indicator of whether or not the experience was effortless.
When you break your values down like this, you can clearly communicate them to your team to set a unified direction for quality, and you can easily measure your performance to understand how well you’re executing on your values.
Step #2: Measure Quality Customer Experience
Once you have your definition, you can measure how your performance stacks up. Create a scorecard, then create a process through which you and your team regularly review and grade your emails and calls.
This could be as simple as a management or peer-led evaluation of a few examples each week using a lightweight form like the one below or as complex as building out a separate quality assurance function within your team and implementing QA tracking software. If you decide to have multiple people taking measurements, make sure they’re calibrating with each other by comparing scoring results to ensure consistency.
Over time, you can refine and expand your measurement process, but even starting small will help you understand the current quality of your service.
To start even more simply, you can skip the weighting and/or make all of your grading ranges binary, but weighting is helpful when some elements are more important to you than others and different grading ranges can help you capture more nuance.
Using the example above, you could average all your scores and stop there, but if you want to take it a step further, then you can look at the error rate, which is the total number of mistakes divided by total emails or calls reviewed. Do this by element or overall to understand exactly how many mistakes you’re making. It’s a bit more of an unforgiving metric, but you can use it to set more aggressive goals.
Step #3: Analyze and Improve Customer Experience Quality
Throughout the measurement process, you’ll be generating powerful data. This data can show you where you’re falling short so you can take action to get better.
Analyzing individual data can lead to learning opportunities and reinforce quality values on a micro scale, fostering crucial employee development and ensuring team-wide alignment.
Analyzing team-wide data gives you a window into what should be addressed on a larger scale and prioritize tools and training your team needs to succeed.
For example, you might discover that your team is making a lot of spelling mistakes. With that information, you might decide that everyone needs to add a proofreading extension to their browsers to reduce the incidence of misspellings and create the image of professionalism that you and your customers expect. After implementation of a solution, future data should confirm a decrease in the number of errors. If it doesn’t, you’ll need to adjust your approach until you see your desired change.
Make sure you have a single place where you can collect all of your quality scores, so that you can check in on progress and review them with the team regularly. This could be as simple as a shared spreadsheet, but ideally you’d find a place that will track these inputs over time and visualize the changes. That way, when you’re discussing the numbers, the whole team has an engaging method of identifying areas of improvement and celebrating your progress.
By implementing a quality metric like this, your team develops a clear vision for how to provide great service to your customers, gains insight on risk factors for bad service and areas for improvement, and increases the number of positive experiences that benefit your business, your customers, and, sometimes when we’re lucky, the world at large.