Quality Assurance in any industry is key to a product’s success. In software development, we measure quality in terms of conformity to requirements and freedom from defects — quantifiable qualities. In customer service, quality is more difficult to define and measure. Because there’s no tangible product, our industry is as much an art as it is a science. Tone is important. Context is essential. Language matters. Empathy is everything. These qualities (tone, language, context, empathy) are difficult to quantify, to chart, and to report. As with artists, human emotions are often critical to our success.
That’s not to say that none of our metrics are quantifiable; we can measure first response time, resolution time, ticket volume, CSAT scores. We can generate charts and reports with these metrics. But these metrics don’t deliver a complete picture of quality. For example, CSAT scores can be unreliable; like social media reviews, they can turn into a customer service version of Yelp. Customers only reply or post when they are very pleased or very unhappy. The majority of our customers —those without strong opinions — fail to respond.
In addition, while response time and CSAT scores are important metrics, they don’t get to the heart of what differentiates one business’s customer service from another: the quality of the response and the inclusion of those difficult-to-measure, impossible-to-quantify qualities like empathy or attention to detail.
How do we measure quality when much of what we want to measure isn’t easily defined and is even more difficult to measure? And more importantly, how do we use the information that we gather to improve the quality of our training and the service we provide? How do we iterate?
At PartnerHero, we have spent a great deal of time thinking about these questions. The answer that we have found is peer-driven review and feedback. This article outlines the steps that we use in our peer program at PartnerHero.
How to add peer-driven feedback and training
Step 1: Create a culture of trust
For peer feedback to be successful, team members need to feel safe providing and receiving honest feedback. Before beginning, examine your company’s core values. How do they influence your culture and guide behavior? Are team members focused on others’ successes as well as their own? Are they rewarded for helping others grow professionally? In a recent study by Paul J. Zak, Harvard researcher, he discovered that “compared with people at low-trust companies, people at high-trust companies report 74% less stress … and 40% less burnout.” High-quality support starts with high-quality employees, so creating a culture of trust is key to any peer-driven system.
Step 2: Define quality
Including your team members in conversations that define quality creates a shared understanding. Use tickets to generate discussion. For example, if everyone agrees that empathy and listening are important, how do ticket responses demonstrate empathy and listening? If a customer shares an experience or an emotion, does the team member responding to the ticket reflect that emotion? Does the team member create a rapport with the customer?
Step 3: Create rubrics and determine benchmarks
Create rubrics and weight the criteria according to your values. If you have decided in steps 1 and 2 that professionalism is important, add this to your rubric. Determine if it is more important than correctness or empathy, for example. Rubrics work best when there are no more than four to five criteria. Our rubrics include correctness (Is the response correct?), completeness (Did the team member answer the customer’s questions?), empathy (Did the team member personalize their response and acknowledge the customer’s feelings?), and professionalism (Did the team member demonstrate good email etiquette?). Here’s an example rubric we created at PartnerHero.
Find a range of ticket responses that you can use as benchmarks. As a group, evaluate the responses based on the rubric you created. This benchmarking exercise generates a second discussion of quality and gives team members practice using the rubric.
Step 4: Ask team members to reflect on their own ticket responses
Research in the fields of business and education has demonstrated the importance of reflection in learning. In her article “Why You Should Make Time for Self-Reflection (Even If You Hate Doing It)”, Jennifer Porter asserts that reflection allows us to pause, sort through all of our experiences and observations, and create meaning, which then becomes learning. Researchers found that “…call centers demonstrated that employees who spent 15 minutes at the end of the day reflecting about lessons learned performed 23% better after 10 days than those who did not reflect.” Making time for reflection in the peer review process prepares team members to learn.
Step 5: Train team members on how to provide feedback
Spend time with your team discussing what good, effective feedback looks like, sharing specific examples. Good feedback should focus on what their team member did, what the effect was, and what steps they could take next.
Feedback should be specific and, in the case of criticism, it should include suggestions for improvement. Here are a couple of examples:
Offering a suggestion for improvement
“When you told the customer that they were having an issue, they became defensive. Next time, consider placing the blame on the device rather than the customer, defusing the situation.”
Reinforcing good service
“When you shared your personal experience with the customer, you reduced the tension. Great work!”
Step 6: Begin peer review and share feedback
By including team members in defining quality and giving them the opportunity to reflect on their own responses, we avoid surprises in the feedback process. Team members know how their tickets will be evaluated beforehand.
Once the peer review process is done, give team members a second opportunity for reflection that captures what they learned during the peer review process. How did their own self-assessment compare to their peers’ assessment? Use this reflection to guide goal setting as well as training. Optimax uses peer reviews and has noted that they avoid potential pitfalls “by giving the reviewers clear guidelines and by contrasting the employee’s self-review with peer reviews so they can compare self-perception with team perception. That also helps the reviewers to stay objective in the process – they act as coaches, relaying information.”
Step 7: Provide training based on the results of the peer review
Like you, we spend a great deal of time recruiting and training employees, and like you, we want to retain them. Providing opportunities for continued professional training signals to employees that we value their growth. Tying their training to the peer review process demonstrates the relevancy of the quality assurance process. Collecting peer review data enables us to offer training opportunities to a whole team if, for example, we see patterns that indicate that more training is needed on email etiquette. Alternatively, individual team members can pursue training to strengthen specific areas based on feedback from their peers. Tracking this data over time demonstrates growth for teams and individuals.
Step 8: Repeat steps 4-7
We repeat steps 4-7 monthly. We revisit rubrics and benchmarks less frequently. However, we encourage team members to continue these discussions in their daily work. Ideally, team members reach out to each other as they’re responding to difficult tickets, for example.
Peer review takes time and commitment from all of us. It’s not easy to designate time in our business day to read and respond to others’ tickets. Still, we believe it’s worth it. It keeps our focus on our customers, the quality of our service, and on continuous improvement.
Deliver consistently high-quality service
While NPS ratings and other scores are useful business indicators, they don’t answer the question “Was our response to this customer up to our internal standards? Does it connect with the customer? Does it demonstrate those intangible qualities that deliver a higher-quality customer experience?” Peer reviews, as outlined here, can help you achieve that consistent, high-quality user experience that will differentiate your business.