How to Improve Call Center Operations Using Six Sigma

Call centers are the hubs of dynamic change. They are places of continuous workflow, with often poorly understood interrelationships, dependencies running from the bottom-level employees to the top management and a workforce that requires streamlining and standardization in a business of evolving trends and customer satisfaction.

One of the tools used for evaluating continuous progress is the Six Sigma methodology.

Six Sigma refers to a set of techniques that dynamically improve the quality of output of any organization by a cycle of identifying and limiting defects in the process management and minimizing the chances of abrupt variability by using data to negate the possibility of deviations.

The same is applied in call center software to assess the performance and improve the quality of service. By doing so, the Six Sigma process seeks to eventually tone the manufacturing and production process in a manner that approaches ideally to increase the quality of output produced.

The Six Sigma procedure was developed in the late 1980’s, and has frequently been used in the manufacturing industry. Today, it finds the effective use in call centers owing to the sort of traffic they handle and the role that customer service plays in the growth of business.

Six Sigma borrows heavily from statistical modeling to accumulate data, identify irregularities and build a model replacing those irregularities to make it more streamlined and efficient.

There are two methodologies that Six Sigma projects follow. The methodology to be adopted depends on the state of the business.

DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control) is the methodology preferred for projects that look to improve the output of existing businesses, whereas DMADV (Define, Measure, Analyze, Design, Verify) is used for new businesses or new product designs.

Call centers operate on the principle of continuous improvement. The solutions for complex business problems are rooted in cutting out the waste in processing.

The Six Sigma approach emphasizes the understanding of the right tools to approach the solutions to the right problem, thus negating self loops in the middle and reducing rework, to bring out a more efficient output.

Six Sigma applied to Call Centers, revolves around understanding client requirements and subsequently collecting data to effectively reduce callbacks, produce optimal staffing to respond to customers, cut down on wait times and any other inefficient process that impacts the quality of customer service.

Anything that has a process falls under the category of projects suitable for Six Sigma implementation,” says Anna Kozlova, TELUS International’s Global Director of Business Process Excellence. “

Almost any metric can be improved with Lean Six Sigma, but it is most effective with traditional metrics like customer satisfaction.”

She highlights the importance of using a data-driven tool for decision making, to eliminate unfavorable variation, even with variables as unpredictable as needs of a customer.

Now that we have established what the Six Sigma procedure is, what it aims to achieve and how it proves to be beneficial, let us talk about how it is to be implemented. Here are some tips to improve call center operations using Six Sigma.

1.    For a process to work, the people involved have to be intent on finding a solution rather than finding a way to work around the problem.

A change in mindset is as important as a change in tools. While there are software which effectively guide the changes to be implemented, it depends on the personnel to execute those changes.

2.    Lean Six Sigma should be woven into the fabric of the company’s core strategies, rather than being confined to back-room talk as an alternate strategy.

It is important to trust the power of data head-on, and follow the trends it dictates.

3.    Enterprises should be powered by the urge for continuous development to implement Six Sigma programs. Very often companies face an issue but do not give due importance to the possibility that there might be procedural flaws within their manufacturing structure that are responsible for the inefficiency in output.

4.    Industry experts believe that Six Sigma is best implemented in a top-down approach, which means the higher and middle level managers are to be engaged first in these processes before gradually percolating it down the ranks to the lower level employees.

5.    Implementation of Six Sigma methodologies for sharpening call center operations requires careful consideration and detailing.

It is best to consult experts in the field and even hire a Six Sigma expert to implement it for your company for the best results.

6.    Not only is a top-down approach necessary to pick the right influencers, but the right projects must also be identified for the application of Lean and Six Sigma methods.

You need to identify the projects which are high-profile, and which deliver results that people care most about, since these are the places where the application of Six Sigma will be the most noticeable change.

7.    A metric of measurement is the key to the evaluation and subsequent modification process. What cannot be measured cannot be improved.

Therefore, the usage of data to make intelligent decisions necessitates that the right measurement systems be in place. All data must be recorded and compared against standardized limits for evaluation.

8.    Even though Six Sigma talks about standardization, it is important to note that the metrics are to be customized to suit an environment.

There is no solidity to the establishment of goals in businesses which deal with human requirements. Therefore, companies have to acknowledge that there will be differences in metrics with variations in internal and external factors.

9.    The cornerstone of improvement lies in analysis of data. For this, companies must be involved in as much of communication and feedback mechanisms as possible.

Having continuous communication, and establishing various channels of communication, are the important elements to continuous development.

10.    In today’s call centers, the integration of shared values is critical to the sustenance of the quality that it maintains.

Therefore, the adoption of Lean and Six Sigma techniques must be followed by knowledge management processes that put the entire company on the same page.

This goes a long way towards ensuring long term development of services and inculcates a culture of learning from trends in the data.

11.    Elimination of work that does not add value to the process is achieved by taking a look at the bottlenecks in the steps that make up any process.

Replacing these bottlenecks with systems that help to balance the workload and spread it out optimally to ensure better time management occurs without compromising efficiency, is achieved by software that runs the numbers taking different factors into account.

12.    One of the most effective implementations of Six Sigma is the reduction of common cause variation. Common cause refers to variation in processes that exist on a regular basis, such as manpower, materials, environment, etc.

Eliminating variations in such processes makes sure that the procedure follows a pattern, leading to increased efficiency.

13.    A company must have contingency plans to deal with special occasions. The most obvious example for a call center would be the shortage of agents to field calls during rush hours, or following an occasion such as a  new product launch.

In such cases the company must have backup agents, or staff shifting techniques to deal with the high call volume.

14.    While the focus of a lot of techniques lies on reducing variation, our businesses run on specifications. Therefore, the incentive of Six Sigma techniques is to ensure that the process output, with or without variation, adheres to the standard specifications or not.

Only if the output quality is skewered negatively does the company need to take steps to actively interfere with the underlying process.

15.    For a call center, the most crucial point of business is maintaining top-notch quality of customer service. For this, they must continuously evaluate the processes that they have implemented and the results that have been produced.

This evaluation, if backed by data and trends, is the way to improve proceedings by understanding problem statements in a more nuanced form.

This is where Six Sigma is most effective, by introducing the concept of learning from raw data and implement what it has learnt to produce another batch of more favorable data, and this cycle goes on till the maximum efficiency is achieved.

The Case Study

We have seen how Six Sigma methodologies can improve call center operations. The best call center software work on this same principle of continuous improvement.

Six Sigma techniques are proven to show positive results in various diverse fields in the industry for quite some time now, so it also gives the added assurance of being tried and tested extensively enough to be applied effectively as a call center solutions procedure.

Hopefully, the tips of implementation provided above gives a clue regarding how to go about putting in place a system that helps to reduce variability in order to boost efficiency of output.

If you are still not convinced, let us take a real-life example and analyze the effects that the implementation of Six Sigma techniques had in the past.

For the sake of anonymity, let us call the company ABC. Consider ABC to be a call center providing telemarketing services for an established organization.

In this case study, we will take a look at the situation that the company was in, the challenges it faced and the solutions that its top leaders managed to incorporate to eradicate those challenges.

We will also devote some time to understanding the effects of the changes that were brought about and how the results showed a positive change.

The Problem Scenario

The company that hires ABC places extreme importance on the quality of customer service that it offers. ABC itself is a call center that prides itself on the services it provides.

However, despite nothing going noticeably wrong, its output quality has stagnated, and there are complaints coming in from some forums.

The company is struggling to identify the exact point of weakness and is looking for a change in approach so that they can embark a path of positive change.

ABC hires over a 100 professionals for on-phone activities. They are looking for a strategy that can motivate this entire workforce to reinvent itself and produce better results.

The managers are looking for techniques that provide impetus towards achieving high standards, and they are on the lookout for any call center software solutions that might aid them in this regard.

The Challenges

Some of the major challenges that the company faced are listed below.

1.    The managers were unable to detect which sectors were under-performing and causing the entire call centers services to drop in quality. They could not pinpoint which processes should be optimized to produce better results.

2.    Customers were starting to face quality issues and complaints were creeping in. Some of these complaints pointed at higher waiting times and longer queues, while others were directed at not receiving the services to their satisfaction.

3.    Time management was becoming an issue. The inability to finish projects on time was allowing competitors to grab a larger chunk of the market share. This was especially problematic because it signaled a loss in foothold for an already established company.

The Solutions

The managers of the company recognized the need to implement swift changes to produce a turnaround in fortunes. They compiled a list of solutions to counter the problems that they faced in implementation.

1.    The analysis of data was delegated to the call centers which projected the trends and practices that are to be adhered to for a better result.

2.    Employees were trained in the Six Sigma techniques to identify and resolves issues at run-time dynamically so as to streamline the process of operations at the call center.

3.    Bottlenecks were identified and resolved, and workload was delegated in a balanced manner to produce the best out of every individual, which collectively contributed to increased outputs for the company as a whole.

The Results

The results took some time to be visible. However, after successful implementation of Six Sigma practices for three months, customer feedback turned far more positive and projects were completed within schedule.

The adoption of Six Sigma techniques also transformed the mentality of workers in the call center and kept people motivated to provide the best service.

We could see how the adoption of Six Sigma techniques has positively affected the operations of a call center. It has proven to be beneficial for corporations all over the world, because it works on a principle of eliminate waste processes and streamlining the organization.

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