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Quality Assurance

A Guide to Customer Service Quality Assurance Programs

February 28, 2023
0 minute read

Remember Apple’s Genius Bar—dedicated spaces in Apple stores for friendly, technical support? When the program launched, it was lauded for its personalized customer service. 500 Apple stores later, customers can’t stop complaining about the terrible service they offer. Scaling customer service quality is hard, even for a giant like Apple.

Each growth spurt in a startup’s journey brings new customers and customer service requests. For most teams, this results in a decline in support quality: long wait times, impersonal service, and inefficient processes.

A customer service quality assurance program ensures your customer service doesn’t go from five-star to DMV-level like Apple’s did. It helps you standardize good customer service practices as you grow from 10 to 100 to 10,000 customer service agents.

What Is Customer Service Quality Assurance?

Customer service quality assurance (QA) is the process of reviewing customer service conversations with the goal of delivering high-quality support.

Quality customer support could mean different things to different businesses, but in general, it includes: using the right tone and language, following protocols, solving customer problems efficiently.  Quality assurance ensures these goals are achieved consistently and helps detect any inefficiencies in the process.

To conduct a customer service quality assurance review, a QA manager listens to or reads customer support conversations across channels like email, phone, live chat, and social media and checks if they meet accepted standards of quality support against a quality assurance scorecard. Findings from these reviews are then used to coach agents for improvement.

3 Ways Customer Service Quality Assurance Helps Scaling Businesses

A customer service quality assurance program helps you standardize good support practices in your organization, irrespective of the size of your support team or the volume of tickets you receive.

Over time, quality assurance helps you:

Proactively improve agent performance

Agent unfriendliness, long wait times, and ill-trained agents are common causes of bad customer service. Customer service quality assurance helps prevent these by identifying where they occur in customer interactions, helping teams avoid the same mistakes again.

Deliver great customer service at scale

Delivering consistent, quality support should be a top priority for growing businesses, as it influences customer loyalty: 52% of customers go out of their way to buy from brands they love. Quality assurance helps you achieve consistency in service, no matter how large your support team grows.

Regular quality assurance reviews allow you to benchmark good support practices—the ideal tone agents should adopt, the fastest resolution times they can achieve without sacrificing quality, the tools they should use to be more productive. As you onboard new agents to meet growing support needs, you can use these as guidelines to train them. This ensures your support quality remains uniform and brand-focused.

Boost agent morale

Happy agents are more likely to feel empowered to solve customers’ issues. They’re also more likely to stay with your organization. Quality assurance is a good way to keep agents motivated.

Discussing quality assurance results with agents on a weekly or monthly basis helps them see the areas where they need improvement and areas where they’ve made progress.

What’s more, when managers conduct quality assurance reviews, they can identify instances of great customer service and reward agents. This improves agent morale and encourages them to do better.

All in all, a customer service quality assurance program is good for your team, customers, and, ultimately, your business.

How to Create a Customer Service Quality Assurance Program for Your Team

An effective customer service quality assurance program is the result of clear customer service values, a QA scorecard to evaluate conversations, and an actionable plan for your support team to follow through on support reviews.

Define your customer support values

The first step in creating a customer service quality assurance program is to define your customer support values. Your support values are an extension of what quality support means to you—they help you prioritize areas of customer support when grading conversations.

Ideally, your support values should reflect customer expectations, your brand values, and your team’s interests. Thus, your business might emphasize speedy responses and ownership, while another may focus on empathy and injecting humor into support conversations. It helps to revisit your support values as customer expectations and your brand evolve.

Take a look at Intercom’s support values: “thriving under pressure,” “connecting personally with empathy,” “being an owner,” and “being resourceful.” When they conduct support conversation reviews, they look for these qualities in their agents.

Create a QA scorecard

A quality assurance scorecard (also known as a rubric) is the backbone of your customer service quality assurance program—it allows graders to check if agents meet your support quality requirements.  A QA scorecard consists of two components. The first is a questionnaire, the questions for which are based on your support values. The second component is a system to grade agents for each question.

Questions in a scorecard might include “Did the agent follow X process?” or “Did the agent identify the customer’s issue correctly?” Most scorecards organize questions under different aspects of support such as brand and tone, protocols, and efficiency.

As for the grading system, graders might assign points or a grade for each question, based on whether or not an agent completed a specific task correctly. In some cases, they may assign additional or negative points to important questions or assign scores for each question on a scale of 1–10.

Here’s a sample question from a QA scorecard:

In this case, a grader might assign 0, 1, or 2 points to an agent, based on whether they used the right tone and terminology.

If you haven’t created one yet, here’s an in-depth guide on creating your first QA scorecard. It covers everything from generating a list of questions to the best grading scale to use to measure your support team's performance.

Hire a specialist or set up a QA team

When support requests pile up, customer service quality assurance often falls by the wayside in favor of recruiting, onboarding, and reporting. An independent specialist or dedicated team for QA helps you avoid letting QA take a backseat.

For businesses with a large support team, it makes sense to hire a QA specialist for grading support conversations. A specialist may focus only on grading customer service conversations, as well as provide in-depth analysis and suggestions.

But if you’re a startup with a small support team, you may want to set up a quality assurance team consisting of senior support managers and team leaders. Such a team can funnel their expertise and knowledge into performing quality assurance reviews. You’ll want to ensure they can keep up with quality assurance in addition to other responsibilities.

Teams with an open and accessible culture can also do peer-to-peer quality reviews.

Choose the right conversations to review

Choosing the right number and type of support conversations you review ensures you’re not spending too much time on grading, getting an incomplete picture of customer support, or missing important customer service insights.

Most teams review between 1% and 5% of customer service conversations. Smaller teams with dedicated QA specialists may review at least 5%. The number of conversations you review depends on the resources you have at your disposal and the volume of support conversations you receive.

When it comes to the type of conversations to review, it’s best to keep it random so you’re getting a holistic picture across all channels. You’ll also want to keep an eye on problem tickets. For instance, the team at MeUndies makes it a point to grade tickets with low customer satisfaction (CSAT) scores, in addition to reviewing tickets randomly. This helps them delve deeper into why customers were unhappy with an interaction.

Make it scalable

Scalability makes your quality assurance program easy to manage, even when the number of agents on your team increases or support conversation ticket volume grows.  

Your QA program’s ability to scale depends on the processes and tools you choose to manage it. While small support teams often run their QA program on Google or Excel spreadsheets, such systems often fall apart when ticket volume increases. Graders end up spending more time navigating spreadsheets than on grading and analysis.

To make your QA program easy to scale, consider investing in a dedicated QA tool such as MaestroQA. A specialist QA tool provides graders with automated conversation review suggestions for different support channels, a simple way to log scores and feedback, and an organized dashboard to coach agents.  Ultimately, it helps graders review a large number of support conversations in a more efficient way.

MaestroQA also has a screen capture feature that allows QA mangers to look at a specific moment in the customer-agent conversation from the agent’s perspective. With this tool, QA managers can identity gaps in workflows and resources that are inhibiting their teams from performing at their best.

Use QA to coach your team  

For quality assurance to improve your support team’s performance, you need to use QA findings to actively coach your team.  

To keep your reps focused on improvement as their ultimate goal, Jeremy Watkin, director of customer support and CX at NumberBarn, recommends not giving agents their QA score until they’ve been coached. Coaching should focus on what the agent did well, where there’s room for improvement, and practicing desired behaviors together.  Then, at the end of the session or in a separate session, managers should provide QA scores.

Apart from using QA for individual coaching, you can also use it to spur team-wide improvement. For instance, Postmates runs a monthly team-wide “State of Quality” presentation to provide actionable insights from QA data. This helps their team learn from one another’s hits and misses.  

3 Tips for Creating a Customer Service Quality Assurance Scorecard

The success of your QA program depends largely on your quality assurance scorecard—the better your QA scorecard, the more accurate your QA findings will be, and the more efficiently your graders can do their job.  

Here are some tips to make your QA scorecard more effective:

Keep it simple

You might be tempted to create a QA scorecard with hundreds of grading criteria and a complex grading scheme. But think of all the work it will create for graders and how difficult it will be for agents to interpret scores. A simple QA scorecard will save graders’ time and be easy to manage, even when demands increase.

Two cardinal rules for a simple QA scorecard: Keep it short and stick to a simple grading scheme.

Take a look at this simple quality assurance rubric from eero:

It only has three grading criteria and a simple Pass, Fail, Coach system to grade agents.  

It also helps to better organize questions in your scorecard, either according to the areas of customer support they relate to or the order of a regular support conversation.

For example, questions related to tone, language, and brand voice could be grouped together. Or questions like, “Did the agent greet the customer in a friendly manner?” could be at the beginning of a scorecard, and “Did the agent thank the customer?” at the end.

Align your scorecard with customer expectations

The goal of a quality assurance program is to ultimately improve customer experiences by improving agent performance. Thus, you don’t want to create a QA scorecard without any real customer expectations or insights to guide you. If that happens, you’ll find your QA scores may be high, but your customer satisfaction scores still remain low.

To align your QA scorecard with customer expectations, keep an eye on metrics like CSAT, Net Promoter Scores (NPS), and first response time (FRT). You also want to track customer feedback in support tickets and on social media. This gives you a more holistic picture of the quality of support that customers expect from your brand.  Use those findings to tweak your scorecard.

For instance, it’s possible your customers care greatly about personalization and empathy, but your scorecard only prioritizes quick responses within a certain timeframe. In this case, it would make sense to assign equal weight to both of these aspects on your scorecard.

Clarify grading criteria

Clear grading criteria keep grading uniform and objective. As Intercom found in their peer reviews, a lack of clarity around “good tone” resulted in three different evaluations of the same conversations.

To bring more clarity to graders, break down subjective aspects of support such as tone of voice, empathy, and clarity into specific qualities graders can pinpoint. Share your scorecard with agents for transparency so they know what a good experience looks like, but make sure grading criteria are easy to remember and not complex.

For example, Intercom uses a  simple acronym, “PREACH,” to evaluate conversations. It stands for “proud, responsible, empathetic, articulate, concise, and human.” It’s easy to remember and helps graders check if agents use the right tone of voice in a conversation.

Customer Service Quality Assurance Checklist for QA Managers

As you try to scale customer service quality, a customer service QA checklist can be a great resource. It ensures you don’t overlook an important aspect of quality customer support when creating a questionnaire for your QA scorecard.

In this checklist, we’ve organized various support criteria around the pillar framework, which defines quality customer support as being comprised of three main pillars: soft skills, issue resolution, and procedure.

Customer Service Soft skills

  • Grammar and spelling: This includes correct punctuation, spelling, and construction of sentences.
  • Tone: Good tone includes slow, thoughtful responses, use of positive language, and flourishes like thanking and welcoming the customer.
  • Empathy: Empathy means using phrases like, “I understand your concern” or “I would’ve felt the same way.”

Customer Service Issue resolution

  • Effectiveness: This includes a few different aspects: identifying the customer’s issue correctly, resolving the issue on the first try (first contact resolution), and reducing customer effort.
  • Clarity: This means using simple language, free of jargon and complex sentences.
  • Product knowledge: This refers to accuracy in product-related answers, knowledge of key product features, troubleshooting, and staying updated about product changes.

Customer Support Procedure

  • Productivity: This means resolving issues swiftly without hurting support quality. It includes presence of mind and the ability to find the right information quickly.
  • Compliance with processes: This refers to how well agents use internal support tools and resources such as a knowledge base and canned responses. It also includes tagging tickets correctly and routing or forwarding calls with care.
  • Compliance with privacy policies: This consists of regulations your reps need to comply with, such as PII (personally identifiable information) or HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act), and declaring that a call may be recorded.  

You don’t have to grade each conversation for each of these criteria, but it’s a good starting point for creating your own scorecard or adding questions to an  existing one. Note that it works for both written and oral customer service conversations.

Takeaway: Customer Service Quality Assurance Lays the Foundation for Growth

As businesses scale, their customer service quality should, too, or it will become their weak link.

When mattress startup Amerisleep launched, they noticed how their competitors Mattress Firm and Sleepy’s had “grown so big, they’d forgotten to empathize with customers.” They decided to use it to their advantage. This scenario plays out a hundred times in the startup world. Companies grow quickly, but support quality doesn’t scale—it worsens. New startups use this shortcoming to fuel their growth.

Customer service QA allows businesses to grow without the fear of poor customer service bringing them down. Over time, it makes high-quality customer support their secret weapon against new players.

If you need help scaling your customer service processes with quality assurance, request a free demo with MaestroQA today.

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