TIP SHEET – Call Segment Monitoring: A Highly Effective Root Cause Analysis Tool

TIP SHEET – Call Segment Monitoring: A Highly Effective Root Cause Analysis Tool

In a contact center, call monitoring is a critical practice for assessing output and for identifying agent performance opportunities. There are two primary approaches/objectives when observing an agent’s calls:

  1. To generate a score for an agent-level metric presumed to reflect call quality or process compliance, or
  2. To develop a remedial or coaching plan to improve agent performance based on root cause analysis.

Unfortunately, software firms have long pushed the scored call approach in an effort to make their recording platforms relevant and cost justified; however, small sample size has always been an issue (see below).  Some vendors are finally acknowledging that scorecard driven QA programs have under-sampled call volume for years, but this admission only comes to boost their sales rhetoric for automated call scoring through speech analytics.  While the automated approach may measure 100% of the calls for compliance, it is impossible to gauge the nuances of complex call handling with technology alone.  A true assessment of agent call handling effectiveness and skill gap identification requires intelligent listening and context, which will always involve the human element (i.e., supervisors or QAs).  Only when reporting on vendor (outsourced) operations does McIntosh recommend a scored approach.


Obtaining a statistically valid sample to generate agent scorecard metrics requires more monitoring resources than a contact center can afford, as explained by the chart at right.  The small monthly sample sizes generated by most contact centers along with the traditional “checklist” QA approach cannot yield the data insights required to improve agents’ skills.


McIntosh advocates for root cause analysis call observations and suggests that our clients utilize segment or partial call monitoring to deliver multiple benefits:

  • Less time is required to monitor segments vs. full calls, thereby improving observer productivity 
  • Monitoring is focused on a specific performance gap and is thus more likely to deliver actionable insights
  • Yields a larger sample of observations, which validates that performance defects are not anomalous
  • Represents a targeted vs. random sample, increasing probability that relevant data can be generated
  • Eliminates the scoring element, thereby relieving tension as the agent begins to understand that the monitoring and feedback objectives are to help him/her improve performance and be successful


To effectively monitor call segments, we must first identify the performance gap (e.g., high AHT, low sales conversions, etc.) and then listen to the call segment(s) most likely to reveal the underlying skill defect.  Based on findings, the supervisor can then develop a training or coaching plan to address the issue(s).

Metric Examples Call Monitoring Activity Examples
High AHT Look at drill down data for ATT (Average Talk Time), ACW (After Call Work) and Hold times to determine if any or all of the AHT components are excessively high.  Based on the area(s) where the agent is not meeting expectations, conduct segment monitoring on at least 10-15 calls.

  • High Hold: Monitor the 30-second period prior to the Hold to determine the reason for the Hold.  Was it used as a mini-break? Was the agent struggling with navigating desktop tools? Did the agent call the support desk to get help with an issue?  The Hold may have been appropriate or may have been an example of work avoidance or a knowledge/skill gap.  
  • High ACW: Extend the screen capture time for ACW and observe post-call activities.  Is the agent doing all documentation after the call vs. documenting as they move through the call?  Is the agent providing too much detail in documentation?  Is the agent using the additional ACW as a mini-break or spending time talking to other agents?  By analyzing multiple calls with long ACW and then doing additional side-by-side monitoring if you suspect the issue is work avoidance, you can confirm if it is a will or skill issue.
  • High ATT: Listen to the call from the beginning until you begin to identify/confirm behaviors driving high talk time including absence of call control, excessive summaries scattered throughout the call, poor listening skills demonstrated by asking repetitive questions, or rude/ unprofessional behavior such as talking over the caller, etc.  Keep in mind that you could identify more than one contributing behavior. 
Low Sales (Conversion Rate, Sales/Hour, or Revenue/Call) Listen to the call opening to verify that the call is a sales opportunity, and then monitor the call to confirm        the root cause of low sales effectiveness.  You may target both shorter and longer calls, each for very specific reasons:

  • Shorter calls: To determine if the agent is not following the sales process and failing to use effective      closing techniques (e.g., failing to provide features/benefits, not asking for the sale, no use of rebuttals) 
  • Longer calls: To identify stalling behaviors as an avoidance tactic or to see if the agent has poor call control 
Low First Call Resolution (FCR)  Typically individuals with lower than average FCR tend to have longer calls as they search for information; however, short calls can also be a concern if an agent relies exclusively on memory and gives out incorrect information.  The approach here is to listen to the call opening, determine if this is a call opportunity for resolution, and then listen for behaviors that negatively impact resolution results, including: 

  • Failure to obtain sufficient caller information to effectively identify the issue and resolve it
  • Misunderstanding of caller’s question/request, thus offering an inappropriate resolution
  • Failure to document properly, leading to a failure by the organization to process the caller’s request or agent’s resolution
  • Failure to navigate to the correct knowledge base, leading to inaccurate answers given to the caller
  • Failure to summarize the solution and set appropriate expectations for the caller

While there are other examples of root cause driving low FCR, these examples indicate the primary challenges experienced by agents.


McIntosh has outlined more performance management best practices in our recent Insights Article, “Work at Home Teams: Techniques for Enhancing Performance Results,” which can be found on our website.

Additionally, in conjunction with segment monitoring, McIntosh recommends the use of customized fishbone diagrams to identify and quantify the number of times specific behaviors are utilized by an agent on a call.  The fishbone replaces the traditional QA “checklist” form and is geared specifically for root cause analysis (no scoring).  For a free copy of a fishbone diagram that you can customize to your own operation, please contact Beverly McIntosh at bmcintosh@mcintoshassociates.com

McIntosh & Associates founded in 1997, is a call center consulting firm that offers its clients unparalleled expertise in the design, implementation and management of call center operations.