Part 1 of a 2-part Series, Authored by Dick Bucci, Analyst
at The PELORUS Group and Patrick Botz, Director of Workforce Optimization
W. Edwards Deming once said, "Quality is
everyone’s responsibility." This is especially true of the public safety answering
point (PSAP) environment, where many different individuals and technologies
must work together for a common cause -- to serve the public. As the initial
point of contact and central hub of all communications, it's absolutely crucial
for call takers and dispatchers to perform well on a consistent basis -- lives
depend upon the speed and accuracy of their actions. In the PSAP environment,
a strong and thorough quality assurance (QA) process is gradually being recognized
as an essential component in the ongoing quest for performance and productivity
improvements. Call takers and dispatchers work under very stressful conditions
and can benefit enormously from the ongoing feedback and coaching provided
by the very personalized approach of modern
QA solutions. Quality assurance is the process of listening to live or
recorded calls for the purpose of assessing how well the call taker handled
the call. The primary objective is to improve individual and group performance
based on identified call quality criteria. But what exactly defines a "good"
QA process? The days when a supervisor pulled up a chair next to a dispatcher
and ticked boxes on a paper form are long gone -- or should be. Today's advanced
QA solutions and best practices enable managers to take a much closer
look at the performance of their call takers, and have been developed to make
the process much easier -- and much more effective.
Getting Down to Basics
Most PSAPs today deploy older, legacy analog
recorders that lack the search tools needed to extract calls by agent, by
time, incident and other important variables. These systems may also record
voice interactions only, making it impossible to reconstruct the entire incident,
including the speed and accuracy of work processes. The better
QA software packages simultaneously record screen actions with voice.
This allows evaluators to examine the call taker's ability to follow procedures,
enter data correctly and properly use the applications.
You may be struggling -- like many other
PSAPs today -- with challenges associated with consolidation and/or the implementation
of new, disparate technologies. A lot of public safety communications centers
have, or will soon implement, a combination of digital, analog and IP phones,
conventional and trunked radio, and multiple types of CAD systems used at
multiple sites. This introduces a new level of complexity into unified recording.
Today’s most advanced
interaction recording systems offer universal or adaptable voice and data
interface designs that allow for easy conversion of the same system for recording
of any combination of communication systems. Regardless of the source, all
audio and data should be recorded, stored, accessed and reported on in a unified
fashion. This is a necessary foundation for efficient retrieval and use of
the recorded information—essential for effective QA.
Don't Miss the Importance
QA personnel are looking for specific call
handling attributes. The attributes are determined by management and dictated
by regulations. In the PSAP environment, these attributes may include: fact
finding, call control, adherence to processes and procedures, voice clarity,
ability to calm caller, listening skills, empathy and stress control. However,
many of these attributes are subjective and may be gauged and scored to varying
degrees by different supervisors based upon their personal outlook and opinions.
In a small PSAP with only one or two supervisors there will likely be consistency
in the way judgments are made. In very large PSAPs there will be several supervisors
or even dedicated trainers who can also perform the QA evaluations. In that
case, it is prudent to conduct calibration sessions among the personnel that
conduct the evaluations periodically. The aim is to help assure consistency.
In these sessions, several recorded interactions are broadcast over PC speakers
or via some other means and then each evaluator separately conducts their
ratings. The moderator then asks each evaluator to explain and defend their
ratings. Over time, all personnel will have a common basis for rating subjective
attributes like "call control" and "empathy."
The Nuts and Bolts of
The aim of QA is not so much to identify
weak links -- although this may be a consequence -- but to identify areas
for training and coaching opportunities. Since supervisors can only listen
to a small fraction of total calls, it is important to select calls that present
coaching opportunities. The calls may be monitored real-time, as a supervisor
listens in on a remote phone, or by selecting stored calls from the recording
device. The latter approach is preferable as personnel tasked with monitoring
responsibility need the flexibility to conduct the monitoring sessions when
time is available.
To really get the most from your QA process,
it's important to ascertain just how many calls, and which in particular,
you need to be monitoring. Fortunately for the general public, call volume
per call taker is relatively light. In the commercial world, an agent working
in a typical 100-agent contact center would handle more than 1,000 calls per
month. Commercial contact centers would typically grade five to 20 calls per
month per agent. A smaller number -- say two to four calls per month per call
taker would suffice for small PSAPs. For example, for an emergency communications
center based in Charlottesville, VA that serves a population area of approximately
200,000, the QA program requires that at least two percent of call taker calls
be monitored each month. The number and frequency of evaluations should always
be higher for new hires during the probationary period.
More important than the number of calls
is choosing the right calls to evaluate. If you simply select calls randomly,
then you may not find many coaching opportunities. Remember, the intent is
not to establish a statistically pure set of metrics but to find ways to make
individual call takers perform better at their jobs. You will never have enough
time or resources to perform a statistically significant random sample of
calls for each call taker each month. Therefore, it's vital to establish which
calls you need to target. Emergency calls -- generally considered the most
important call taker responsibility -- can be sourced for QA purposes from
incident coding or outcome. Calls representing a long handle time should also
be monitored because, while there should never be a limit on how much time
it takes to resolve an issue, call takers that consistently take longer than
the norm may need coaching in CAD skills, basic information gathering, call
control and multi-tasking ability. Short-cycle repeat calls from the same
number should be reviewed as this may indicate that insufficient information
was communicated during the initial call. For example, the address was entered
incorrectly causing a delay in service delivery.
Building an Effective
QA Rating Form
The rating form must reflect the goals
and vision of your individual PSAP. It's a good idea to take the time to poll
your contacts at other PSAPs or local association officials to find good QA
form examples. Additionally, many mid-size to larger local governments have
service-centric contact centers to dispense general information about available
resources. These organizations are probably already using QA and may have
forms that you can review. You may ultimately have to modify your existing
forms or start from scratch. Try to keep your forms short, with no more than
20 rating factors -- ideally closer to 10. Be sure to use scaled responses
rather than the rather unhelpful yes/no option, and stick with five-point
scales, which are familiar and easier to analyze than seven or 10-point scales.
Remember to address each of the key functions and skills and always use different
forms for different situations or incident types.
The New Age of QA Technology
Until recently, the PSAP QA process had
not been embraced with the enthusiasm it so rightly deserves. Many PSAPs found
the process tedious and cumbersome, yielding minimal intelligence. Times have
changed and QA is now recognized as essential to the overall performance and
productivity of the communications center. New enabling
QA technologies are helping PSAP professionals to effectively and efficiently
manage QA with advanced capabilities that take out all the guess work.
Ideally, you should be looking to implement
a QA solution that simplifies and automates the evaluation process. In addition
to automatically selecting the most coachable calls for evaluation, the application
should also be able to associate the correct form for the individual call
type and automatically deliver both for evaluation. This way, your supervisors
will simply fill out the form from their workstation. The newer PSAP technology
solutions provide model forms and an authoring tool for creating and editing
your own forms. Since the software is accessible via the Web, supervisors
do not have to come in after hours to evaluate night-shift workers. They can
conduct any call taker's evaluation directly from their desktop at the office
or even from home over password-protected broadband telephone or data lines,
assuming that appropriate security is in place.
These advanced technologies will automatically
tabulate the scores for each monitored skill and add the latest scores to
the call takers' database. Management can use the resulting information to
view performance metrics of individual call takers or your entire communications
center, choosing from a wide array of graphs and charts to determine whether
a call taker requires more training, qualifies for a promotion or is in line
for termination. Management can also provide prompt, personalized feedback
to call takers and dispatchers by providing exported evaluations with the
related communication recording for review, or by using Web-based scorecards
and employee desktop tickers that link to additional information. They can
create trend reports to see how performance has changed over time and pull
in individual performance metrics to add to the profile. Managers and supervisors
can choose to visualize data in dynamic, easy to understand heat maps, charts
and reports that allow for easy navigation through layers of information.
Intelligence gathered can help determine whether any process of the 9-1-1
communications center or remote dispatch point requires modification or change.
It's important to spend "quality" time
with your PSAP. If you've been neglecting the QA process you could be missing
out on a wealth of information and insights that could significantly boost
the productivity and performance of the communications center. With the right
QA technology in place, you should experience a very quick return on investment,
making it even easier to justify the adoption of these truly invaluable solutions.
Patrick Botz serves as Director
of Workforce Optimization at VPI, the
world's premier global provider of digital voice logging and quality management
solutions for public safety, security, and government agencies. As a quality
assurance practitioner, Patrick focuses on the mission-critical aspects of
capturing real time intelligence and improving communications center quality
and performance. He holds an MBA from Pepperdine University and a BSE in Engineering
from Arizona State University.
Dick Bucci is Senior Consultant
for The PELORUS Group where he specializes in contact center technologies.
He has authored eight in-depth reports on workforce optimization applications
and numerous articles and white papers. Dick is also managing director of
Technology Marketing Associates, a marketing consulting firm. He has more
than 30 years of experience in the telecommunications industry. Visit www.PelorusAssoc.com
to learn more.
To learn more about best practices in
QA, visit download your free resource guide
Best Practices in Public Safety Recording, Quality Assurance and Training,
by industry analyst, Dick Bucci.
here to read Part 2 of this article series: Keeping Up With
the Times: Best Practices in PSAP Quality Management
and Multi-Channel Logging and Incident Reporting