Don’t Got Metrics? Then You Won’t Get Change.

As the old saying goes, “you get what you measure” and trying to make change happen in your organization is no different. I worked with a telecommunications client a few years ago who was trying to transform their collections call center. Customer satisfaction surveys were spotty, agent turnover was high and while the supervisors and managers tried all of the usual call center agent motivation tricks of pizza Fridays and drawings for free movie tickets, the center had a pretty negative view of its customers and behaved accordingly.

It should be no surprise to our readers that paying your bill late does not necessarily make you a deadbeat. Some of us get caught up in other priorities like work deadlines, school plays and making arrangements with that unreliable plumber and somehow mundane tasks like paying the phone bill (if for some reason you have not put it on autopay), don’t happen exactly on time. We remember the great package deal our phone company offered us in the beginning, but it turns out that our likelihood of remaining with them is strongly impacted by our later interactions with customer service, including those annoying collectors who call to remind you that you missed your due date. Or worse, trying to return that elusive plumber’s voicemail only to find that those idiots at the phone company have cut off your service. So how the collectors handle this moment is both delicate and has a direct impact on future company revenue.

As my team and I interviewed the agents, supervisors and managers within the call center, listened in on customer calls, reviewed the reports assessed by management and observed what was posted on the walls and cubicles, a few things became evident. First, in an effort to drive efficiency, a large part of the agent measurement was talk time, or how much time they spent on the phone with customers. Great idea but in practice, without a balance with quality, agents become highly motivated to end your conversation and hang up on you, which may not be conducive to a good service experience. They were also measured on promises taken, which means that you agreed to pay something by a certain date (from as simple as “oops I forgot, I’ll send the payment today” to “sorry I lost my job, I’ll need to pay you in installments). But if they are motivated to get to the end of the call quickly, getting you to say anything and recording it as a promise is good enough. And in speaking with the agents and supervisors it turns out that they were behaving this way because it directly impacted their paychecks, not because they thought it was the right thing to do. And when they became tired of customers complaining to them about their aggressive tactics, they quit.

Few decisions will impact the result of your organizational change like selecting the right performance metrics. While intrinsically people may want to do the right thing, if their bonuses and performance evaluations target something different, you can guess whether intrinsic desire or performance goals will triumph. I worked with a financial services client to help them in outsourcing their internal IT support help desk to India. Now say what you want about Indian call centers and quality definitely varies, but in this case I have never met a group of people more focused on making sure they signed up to the right metrics out of the gate so that they would be successful down the road. And a conservative bunch they were as well. But once they committed, every transition milestone and every performance objective was met. In fact they knew their business so well that they even overachieved on some of them. And when you’re an outsourcer metrics can directly impact the bottom line as contracts typically assess penalties for missing Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and sometimes bonuses for overachieving.

So do you really want your organization to change? Do you really want to change professionally? Then what are your KPIs? What goals have you set for you and your team and how are they being measured? Are you reporting on them weekly? Sorry, monthly simply allows too much time to pass before progress can be assessed and in course corrections taken. Do you think that as a small or medium sized business you’re exempt from these best practices because you know your team so well and you talk every day? Think again. It is incredibly easy to get caught up in the daily minutia of our to do list or the firefighting “urgent/important” quadrant of the famous Eisenhower decision matrix popularized by author Stephen Covey (more on that in a future segment). But here is a great habit. I’ll borrow from Covey and call it the eighth habit of highly effective people. It’s a bit like Habit 2, “Begin With The End In Mind” but more focused on organizational and personal change management. And it’s really quite simple…”If you want to achieve a goal, set a corresponding KPI and report on it weekly. It is good discipline and will help you to remain focused on your change objective.

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