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Outsourced IT Support Services: 10 Steps to Better QA

Outsourced IT Support Services: 10 Steps to Better QA

Your help desk is the face of your IT.

After all, your users cannot always see, let alone appreciate the work your IT team does on your systems and security. In many cases, they are judging all of IT by whether the help desk is responsive, polite and competent.

Which means quality assurance (QA) is vital to the reputation of your entire IT organization. If you need to improve the quality of your outsourced help desk services (or your in-house help desk), you can build a reliable QA program in 10 steps.

As you implement these 10 steps, keep in mind that there are three keys to making the whole thing work:

Repeatability: You need to give your agents a standard to reach, and then encourage them to reach it repeatedly.

Objectivity: You must develop QA criteria that’s objective. For example, “This is the measurement I want to measure, or this is the criteria I want to measure. Did the agent do it?” The answer must be yes or no. It can’t be “maybe.”

Relevance: The metrics you’re measuring and standardizing have to be demonstrably relevant to your goals and important to your community of users.

Here are the 10 steps for a successful QA program you can apply to your in-house help desk or your outsourced IT support services:

Step 1: Identify QA Criteria for Agent Audio (Customer Service) Quality

What do you expect from your agents from an audio perspective? A silky-smooth, perfectly enunciated white glove experience? Or is “friendly and intelligible” good enough? For example, one criteria you can measure is your agents’ tone. Are they monotone or is their tone modulated? Is their tone welcoming? Is it respectful or is it dismissive? Is it inappropriately informal? If your callers are expecting pampering but get a monotone answer of “help desk” with no other greeting, is that good enough for you? Develop clear and objective criteria for audio quality that can be answered easily as a yes or no question.

Step 2: Conduct Customer Service Training with a Focus on Agent Audio Quality

Once you have developed your criteria, the next thing you must do is develop and deliver the training related to agent audio quality. In this customer service training, focus on your QA criteria that you’re going to measure your agents on. This way, all new employees understand from their first days on the job what’s expected of them.

If you consider your desk more mature in the area of customer service quality, consider delivering training on the four major personality styles that your agents are likely to encounter. Help them understand the audio clues to listen for to identify the caller’s personality tendency and show them how to adjust the call to match the caller’s style (for example, a Bottom Liner Personality is interested only in results and wants no idle chit chat).

Also consider conducting emotional maturity training. Train your agents on the components of emotional maturity to help them understand their own emotional maturity level. This way, they will be more self-aware, more socially aware, and more empathetic with the callers they speak with every day.

Step 3: Identify QA Criteria for Agent Ticket Quality

Identifying QA criteria for agent tickets is important because it reflects your internal IT communication standards. Starting with the help desk, there are somewhere between 5 and 15 things that agents do the same way on every ticket from a documentation standpoint. Agent Ticket Quality helps you ensure that your agents take all of these steps correctly. For example, do you require your agents to document the Knowledgebase (KB) article they used to resolve or handle the call? That’s one criteria you could measure.

So, identify what is important to document so that your QA standard is clear. And again, the answer must be yes or no. Either the agent did the step, or they didn’t do it.

Step 4: Train Agents on Agent Ticket Quality with a Focus on QA Criteria

Once you’ve identified the criteria for ticket quality, develop a training plan. If you’ve been around for a while, you should be able to find examples of good agent tickets – and bad ones. For example, find examples of tickets where the agent didn’t fill everything out that they were supposed to. Something as simple as “They didn’t fill out X, Y or Z field” is a valid QA metric. If you need each field filled out, did your agent do it? Yes or no?

Devote part of the training to setting expectations. Use those good tickets to communicate your expectations on how tickets should be documented. You want your agents to develop work habits that are predictable and repeatable, so that they know what’s expected of them as an agent and the other IT groups you work with know what to expect for ticket documentation when you reassign a ticket to them. You also want your QA reviewers to know what’s expected of them.

Step 5: Develop QA Criteria for Agent Chat Quality

If you use live chat at your help desk, look above at Step 3: Identify QA Criteria for Agent Audio Quality, and use the same process to create a QA standard for chat. Identify the kinds of responses you require your agents to use. Then determine:

  • When should they use each response?
  • What’s the maximum number of chats that an agent should take at one time?
  • How should agents open the initial contact?
  • How should agents close each chat session?

Since there is no audio during an online chat conversation (unless the agent has to make an outbound call), you’re going to transition from chat-specific criteria to the chat ending up in a ticket, almost like a written ticket. So, you have some potential overlap with the ticket quality criteria that you have already established (Step 4, above).

Step 6: Train Agents on Chat Quality with a Focus on QA Criteria

Develop a training plan that teaches your agents about chat quality. Then train your agents, set expectations, identify good chats and bad chats, and so on. Spell out clearly what you expect to see in the documentation, and in the chat interaction. Describe how long agents should be idle before they can respond to a person who has been waiting (and spell out how many concurrent chats someone should be able to handle).

Step 7: Develop a QA Scoring Method

Once you have created your criteria and developed your training plans, you determine a way to calculate a standard QA score. Remember that you’re going to have individual scoring for audio, ticket and chat. You are going to consolidate that scoring in a database. And then you are going to determine the score that agents must meet.

This score can be a preset value for each of the above criteria. Or you can measure agent scores against the overall average of the help desk for a period of time. Your QA scoring can happen in real time for measuring audio or chat tickets, or after the fact to measure ticket quality. The important part of doing QA scoring on a timely basis is that you give the results to individual agents, and then provide QA coaching, as we’ll discuss in the next step.

Step 8: Conduct QA Reviews and Coaching

Once you have created QA criteria and trained your agents on it, and once you start scoring your agents on QA, you are going to discover that sometimes agents won’t meet your QA standards for audio, ticket or chat.

You don’t need to address every QA ticket with every agent, but if you see a negative trend with an agent or with a set of a tickets, then you need to conduct some remedial training or coaching. Show the agent how they can improve and encourage them to find a reminder system that works best for them. Conducting a help desk QA program is useless if you don’t do something with your results to change the help desk work environment or change agent behavior.

Step 9: Create Service Levels at the Team Level

What are the service levels for your help desk team? These can be set by your company, or you can set them internally within IT. Examples of service levels include average speed of answer, average abandoned rate, first call resolution and response rates.

Setting service levels helps to set expectations for agents as well as for users (if you share your SLAs). If you do share them, the user community expects you to deliver on them. If you don’t have documented expectations, the user community may not find your help desk very helpful and may look for support elsewhere, possibly through underground support methods.

Before you set a service level at the team level, make sure it meets these three essential criteria:

  1. The service level is important to your users
  2. You are going to measure it
  3. You are going to hold teams accountable for it

Step 10: Conduct Customer Satisfaction Surveys

Customer satisfaction is a lagging indicator, since it only tells you how satisfied your customers were in the past. But when it comes to improving the quality of your help desk services, your customer satisfaction scores are vital because they gather feedback not from metrics, but from living, breathing users.

The way to gather this data is by conducting customer satisfaction surveys, typically at the conclusion of a support call or once a support ticket has been resolved and closed.

There are three steps to getting the most value from your customer satisfaction surveys:

  1. Ask the right questions. Think of the common reasons that your customers give for being dissatisfied with your help desk and ask questions about those issues.
  2. Aim for a scale. This is actually one place you want to avoid yes/no questions. Instead, invite users to rate your performance on a scale from 0 to 5, for example. You not only want to know if you are hitting (or missing) the mark, but by how much.
  3. Follow up with dissatisfied customers. Very few help desks do this, but it’s incredibly important: Follow up with users when they leave you a bad review and tell them you are calling to get their feedback so that you can make it right. Not only will this help you improve your service quality overall, but it also goes a long way toward mollifying an angry user. After all, the only thing worse than a poor customer experience is knowing that management doesn’t intend to do a thing about it.

Bonus Step 11: Outsource All or Part of Your Help Desk

Improving the quality of your help desk service is 1) a matter of establishing objective and repeatable QA standards for audio, tickets and chat, 2) training your agents on these standards, and then, 3) measuring performance to arrive at scores for individual agents and teams.

When it comes time to implement a QA program, you may find it a lot harder than simply reading about it in a blog.

If those challenges are familiar ground for you, consider outsourcing all or part of your help desk function. Partnering with a trusted IT help desk outsourcing firm like Global Help Desk Services, Inc. is an excellent way to get your help desk up to the quality you need – without you having to spend any extra time hiring, training and coaching.

Learn more about the many benefits of help desk outsourcing.

IT Help Desk Outsourcing