Auto-Fail in Quality Assurance: What It Means and When to Use It

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In a driving test, drivers automatically fail if they commit certain mistakes, like not obeying stop signs, ignoring pedestrians in a crosswalk, or crashing into another car. The idea is to warn new drivers: avoid these mistakes at all costs to not harm anyone around you (and pass the test so you can go out for a ride)!

In customer service quality assurance (QA) reviews, auto-fail questions are designed to have a similar effect. Auto-fail questions incentivize agents to avoid certain customer service errors at all costs if they wish to get a good grade on customer interactions. It also catches and lets teams put a stop to the most egregious customer interaction mistakes in order to protect a company’s reputation and revenue.

That said, it’s also important to use auto-fail with care in your call center as you monitor agent performance. Overuse of auto-fail can demotivate and stress your agents out, and ultimately lead to poor agent experiences and customer experiences.  

What is an Auto-Fail in Quality Assurance (QA)?

Auto-fail is a type of question in a quality assurance scorecard used to highlight areas of a company’s customer service that simply cannot be compromised, like compliance with security protocols. If an agent gets zero points for an auto-fail question, they automatically get an overall “Fail” grade for that particular customer service interaction. It plays a key role in making sure agents understand rules and protocols that absolutely have to be followed - they aren't bonus questions that get tacked onto a scorecard just for fun.

Auto-fail is generally a Yes/No question in a QA scorecard.

Here’s an example:

Did the agent turn off screen recording when receiving a customer’s credit card number during a customer service call?”

If yes, the agent fails the entire interaction as a penalty for putting the company at risk of breaching consumer privacy laws and does not receive a passing score. When an agent fails in a QA assessment, they may have to undergo extra quality monitoring, additional coaching sessions, or lose a promotion. This makes sense given the critical nature of the error they made.

Auto-fail acts as a deterrent and can ultimately increase agent performance: it helps agents be more mindful about following critical customer service processes, such as pausing a call recording when financial information is revealed. If call center agents still end up committing an error, an auto-fail leads to disciplinary action that hopefully prevents the error in the future.


The Drawbacks of Misusing Auto-Fail and the Impact on Agent Performance

Since auto-fail is a harsh penalty, auto-fail questions may have undesired effects on agents when used without caution, such as:

  • Agents may start fearing auto-fail questions and the QA process as a whole. Fear of failure may ultimately affect agents’ customer service interactions.
  • Agents may lose trust in the QA process if they don’t fully understand why certain questions should be auto-fail.
  • If auto-fails are used for minor errors, agents may deem auto-fail questions as unimportant in general.

Subjective auto-fail questions, where an auto-fail grade depends on how different graders interpret a mistake, may also lead to biased or unfair QA reviews. For instance, “Did the agent use a bad tone?” is a subjective question because a bad tone could mean different things to different members of your quality team. It's important to make sure that auto-fail questions are unambiguous, with no grey area for individual judgement.

All in all, make sure you use auto-fail questions to look out for critical components of customer interactions that aren't open to ambiguity and you'll avoid these drawbacks. 


When To Use Auto-Fail in Call Center QA: 3 Types of Agent Errors to Pay Attention to

Some agent errors can cause serious damage to your business — they may put your company at risk of violating regulations and incurring financial penalties, or they may cause customers to leave or criticize your brand publicly, leading to customer churn and an erosion of customer loyalty. Focus on critical errors like these to get the most out of auto-fail.

Here are some agent errors that may warrant an auto-fail:

Compliance and Security-Related Errors (Such As Sharing PII or Financial Information)

Your customer service reps likely follow specific protocols to safeguard sensitive customer information such as personally identifiable information (PII), health records, and financial information. Agent failure to follow information security protocols puts your company at risk of violating customer privacy laws like Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS), and also incurring heavy penalties and fines.

Compliance and security protocols are most important in heavily regulated industries like finance, healthcare, banking, and insurance. Even if your business falls outside of these industries but your customer service reps still deal with sensitive information like health records, or if your industry faces regulatory requirements, consider including auto-fail questions in your QA scorecard.

Here are some compliance-related agent errors that may warrant an auto-fail:

  • Revealing financial, health, or personally identifiable information during a customer service interaction.
  • Not following protocols for recorded calls like pausing call recordings or turning off screen capture when financial information is revealed.
  • Making unauthorized changes to customer information.
  • Not adhering to scripts with legal disclaimers.
  • Not verifying the identity of the customer for financial transactions.

All of the above compliance-related issues are absolutely critical for call center agents to understand and are great candidates for auto-fail questions.

Issue Resolution-Related Errors (Such As Providing Inaccurate Information to Customers)

Issue resolution might be one of the first things you teach new agents — where to find answers to customer queries, how to route tickets to the relevant department, shortcuts for faster resolutions. If agents delay issue resolution in any way  or provide inaccurate solutions, it leads to poor customer experiences and bad customer interactions, high first contact resolution (FCR) rates, and in many cases, customer complaints on social media and customer churn.

To reinforce the importance of proper issue resolution practices, add auto-fail questions to the issue resolution section of your QA scorecard—especially for new agents.

Some resolution-related agent errors that could lead to auto-fail include:

  • Knowingly providing the wrong information to the customer.
  • Not following up with customers, causing them to call repeatedly for the same problem.
  • Routing tickets to the wrong department, delaying issue resolution. For instance, routing billing-related queries to marketing.
  • Taking longer than the average time an agent takes to look for answers in internal knowledge bases or tools.

Communication-Related Errors (Such As Using Profanity)

You may not require agents to be especially friendly or chatty on customer service calls (though it doesn’t hurt if they are), but you definitely don’t want agents to be rude or disrespectful to customers in any way. Inappropriate customer communication can destroy your brand, thanks to the power of social media, where a single tweet about agent misconduct could reach millions of people and weaken customer trust in your brand. Take Sephora, for example. The beauty giant faced major backlash on Reddit, Twitter, and online publications when its customer service reps made rude, racist, and ageist comments in customer interactions.

Keep inappropriate agent comments and actions in check by including auto-fail questions in the communication section of your QA scorecard. Most of the questions we’ve included can be categorized under a single “Was the agent rude or disrespectful to the customer?”.

Here are some agent actions that may qualify for auto-fail:

  • Using profanity or swearing on a call, or shouting at the customer.
  • Speaking sarcastically to a customer.
  • Making sexist, racist, or ageist comments.
  • Hanging up while a customer is still speaking to a rep.
  • Not informing the customer that they’ll be put on hold and making them wait excessively for more time than usual.

Takeaway: Easily Add Auto-Fail Questions to Your QA Scorecard With MaestroQA

Once you’ve decided which sections in your QA scorecard should have an auto-fail question, it’s time to make changes to your scorecard.

MaestroQA allows you to easily create a quality assurance scorecard with auto-fail questions. You can add simple Yes/No auto-fail questions to your scorecard, or you can present graders with a checklist of agent actions to watch out for that may result in an auto-fail, in addition to a wide variety of flexible scorecard features meant to meet your team's unique needs.

Want to see MaestroQA in action or get more information? Sign up for a free demo today.

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