(by Paul van Ladesteijn)
There is a new quality standard for contact centres. The “European Contact Centre Standard” (ECCS) was published in the spring of 2010[i]. The ECCS is an initiative of the European Commission. Years of dissatisfaction of customers about long waiting times, lack of clarity about the costs of service numbers, wrong answers, endless transferring of calls and unfriendly treatment; Brussels did not fail to notice. Reason enough for the European Commission to ask the European standardization institute CEN to draw up a European norm for customer contact.
For the drawing up of the European Contact Centre Standard they looked at which requirements were already written down in existing national contact centre standards. A lot of countries already had their own national standard. Also the American COPC standard served as inspiration. Drawing up the new standard took several years. It was necessary to find harmony between the participating European countries, where the cultural differences in the contact centre work field turned out to be as big as in daily life.
Eventually all the obstacles were overcome and the ECCS was ratified by all European countries in the fall of 2009. A total of 30 European countries are going to use the Standard.
The ECCS is a voluntarily standard. Contact Centres can decided whether or not they want to comply with the requirements of the ECCS, comparable with ISO quality standardization.
ECCS’ set-up is broad. All aspects of the contact centre are handled in the ECCS and can be found in the structure of ECCS. This structure is based on the EFQM model and consists of seven parts.
Illustration 1: ECCS model
For every part: management strategy & policy, CC agents (contact centre employees), infrastructure, processes, customer satisfaction and social responsibility; requirements that the customer service of the contact centre has to fulfil are formulated. There are guidelines for selecting, hiring and training of agents, the organisation of the contact centre management, the set-up of customer processes, quality monitoring, rosters and planning and the measurement points for which reporting is required.
These measurement items, also called KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) are party compulsory. There are 12 compulsory KPIs. These are – amongst others: Service Level, progress, forecast accuracy, abandonment, customer satisfaction, First Contact Resolution, average handling time and two KPIs for the quality of customer contact. There are no benchmarks or fixed values for these KPIs. The ECCS says that there need to be agreements between the contact centre and the customer of the contact centre about the nature and quality of the service. The ECCS assumes that the KPI goals that are determined with these agreements are challenging but realistic and that they are in line with what is common for the contact centre field.
Hard and soft quality
The ECCS standard makes a distinction between hard and soft quality of the contact centre. Soft quality is the treatment of the customer at the telephone, the friendliness of the employees, empathy, speaking voice and so on. Hard quality means that the customer gets the correct answer. ECCS calls this Factual Accuracy. Beforehand it is necessary to define what mistakes can take place in the customer contact process. Then this has to be measured by counting the number of mistakes in a statistically representative sample survey of customer contacts. For the measurement of soft quality a value scale needs to be used, for instance with unsatisfactory, satisfactory, good and so on. In order to measure both kinds of quality there needs to be a good quality monitoring process.
ECCS has a lot of attention for the employees of the contact centre, especially for the agents. The quality of the service depends for a large part on the quality of the employees. They need to be skilful and equipped properly in order to do a good job – answering and handling the question of the customer. The ECCS contains requirements with regards to the training of agents, work circumstances, recruitment and selection, required skills and work place equipment. The motto: “Satisfied employees bring about satisfied customers” is applicable for the ECCS.
A requirement that is hard for lots of contact centres, is the “traceability” of customer contact. A past customer contact needs to be traceable, preferably during the conversation with the customer. This enables agents to anticipate to the needs of the customer and to reconstruct a customer question of customer case.
How ECCS will catch on in Europe cannot be predicted. So far the interest is very big. A lot of contact centres have shown their interest. Most interest comes from inhouse contact centres that want to distinguish themselves in the market with their quality, but also other contact centres show a lot of interest.
In a lot of countries it will also become possible to get certified for ECCS. A contact centre with ECCS certification distinguishes itself with its quality as compared with other contact centres. The ECCS quality mark will be a guarantee for customers that they get a fast, direct and correct answer and that they will be treated in a friendly way. From that point of view it is hoped that the European Contact Centre Standard will be applied by contact centres throughout Europe.
Paul van Ladesteijn is manager at BRW Groep and chairman of the Dutch Norm Commission, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
[i] EN 15838: Customer Contact Centres – Requirements for service provision, Brussel, 2009.