Monitoring the monitors

Using software and management skills to get the most out of central station operators
Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Though many in the security industry think IP video when they think Verint, we report this month on Monitronics doing business with Verint’s other corporate half, which deals with call center operations software. No, Verint’s not getting into alarm automation software, but central stations in the industry are increasingly trying to get the most out of their operators, whether to train them to handle more intricate video monitoring operations or to simply reduce turnover and increase the quality of their customer service, and Verint helps them develop metrics to monitor employees and better manage their comings and goings.

“There are about 15 metrics most call centers rely on,” said Rajeev Venkat, solutions marketing director for Verint Witness Actionable Solutions. “So they can configure what’s called a pulse screen that will show them at a glance what’s actually happening, what was forecasted and planned for, and show them the comparison on a real-time basis.” In this way, a shift manager or central station manager can look at how a shift or individual is performing on anything from a call-by-call basis to the past month’s worth of shifts.

“We look at four basic categories,” said James Griggs, manager of the Stanley Security Solutions National Account monitoring team, “productivity, accuracy, quality and their attendance.” Essentially, Stanley, which also uses Verint’s software, counts an operator’s inbound and outbound calls, alarms acknowledged, divided by the time the operator spent working, and come up with a productivity number.

Lot of centers can do that. The Verint functionality also allows calls to be recorded right along with whatever the operator was seeing on the screen, “so when the managers go back and review the quality of the work,” said Steve Walker, vice president of the customer service center for Stanley, “they can listen to the call and hear how the employee was navigating through the system; were they following the correct procedures?”

Every performance metric Stanley finds important, along with results of regular call audits, is compiled into weekly report cards delivered to station operators, which are then backed up with quarterly one-on-one performance evaluations.

Kevin Hardester, who with Griggs will be presenting on the topic of “Measuring Central Station Operator Performance” at the inaugural ESX show in Nashville, June 25, values metrics as well, but also warns against “dispassionate objectivity ... [and] ... the pitfalls of looking at numbers and not looking far enough into them and making a snap decision.” As secure operations manager for Interface Security Systems, Hardester has had to dial down into any number of sticky employee productivity situations.

He offered an example of an operator who was suddenly answering 50 percent fewer calls inbound. Sure, that indicates her productivity is down, but is the average talk time higher? Are her refused calls up? All of her numbers might indicate her performance is way down, “but you have to pull her aside and see what’s wrong,” said Hardester. “Is she being standoffish and quiet? You have to look at the relationships between numbers and behavior. People can say, ‘Yeah, duh,’ but when you’re in the work environment, you’ll have people come up to you saying, ‘This person is lazy. This person doesn’t get it.’ But they’re just looking at numbers. This example really happened and it turned out the person had a personal issue that had come up and really affected her job performance. If we weren’t aware of that, one of our highest performing people might be out for no real good reason.”

Hardester said another operator’s numbers said he was the most productive member of a shift, handling twice as many calls as the next guy. Then Hardester looked at his average time of call: 28 seconds. Turns out this great performer was simply hanging up on people, churning through calls to get his numbers up.

This is where numbers can come in handy.“I talk about eliminating plausible accountability,” Hardester said, “don’t allow an escape route by using good data. When we confronted ‘Bob,’ I made sure we had accurate data, set up a meeting with this employee, showed him the business impact, showed him the numbers, then asked, ‘What happened?’ He says, ‘I don’t know.’ So I had the assistant supervisor sit with him for an hour or two hours and watch him directly and guess what happened: It was a Christmas miracle. Every call was perfect.”

So what do you do when an employee is underperforming?

“We pull that specialist aside,” said Griggs, “we lay out statistics, and we start to coach. And our last resort would be disciplinary action, a performance improvement plan.”

“Someone on a plan,” Walker elaborated, “might have a call audited on a daily basis, so we can go over with them how they can improve their numbers, and we’ve had some good success with that. Any time you can save an employee, that’s a big win. It’s expensive to lose employees. You do anything to salvage an employee.”