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Making the Case for Quality

May 2011

Supporting Customers and Driving

Excellence Through Quality
by Janet Jacobsen
At a Glance . . .
When a key client entered
a new line of business,
Firstsource earned the
contract to provide
inbound customer service
and technological support.
Metrics showed that 15
percent of calls for the
clients new business
were repeat calls,
leading to higher costs
and lower customer
satisfaction scores.
A cross-functional Six
Sigma team implemented
process improvements
that lowered the repeat
call rate to 9.6 percent.
This project was selected
as a finalist in ASQs
2011 International Team
Excellence Award Process.

As any successful service provider can attest, having the agility to meet customers ever-changing
needs is crucial. When one of Firstsource Solutions clients expanded into a new and highly competitive
market, the organization was ready to handle the inbound customer service calls.
It was soon apparent that Firstsource was falling short of industry standards for customer service on
this new contract. An unusually high percentage of repeat calls resulted in higher client costs and lower
profitability for Firstsource. To shore up this situation, Firstsource turned to quality as it chartered a
Six Sigma team to drive process improvements.

About Firstsource Solutions

Firstsource Solutions (Firstsource) is a global provider of customized business process outsourcing
services to the banking and financial services, as well as telecommunications, media, and healthcare
sectors. Its clients include FTSE 100, Fortune 500, and Nifty 50 companies.
The organization has a rightshore delivery model with operations in India, the United States, the
United Kingdom, and the Philippines. More than 22,000 people are employed at the organizations
42 delivery centers.
Firstsource implemented a business process management system (BPMS) in 2005. This nine-step model
governs, deploys, and manages the organizations processes that span multiple enterprise applications and
corporate departments. The BPMS provides a 360-degree performance snapshot to the leadership team as
the system tracks daily performance measures against targets on quality, productivity, and timely delivery.

Turning to Quality
When a leading telecommunications client entered the direct-to-home satellite television business,
Firstsource was selected as a strategic partner to provide inbound customer service and technological
service support. In this highly competitive media market, successful companies focus on revenue from
both new and current customers. To increase profitability, media companies, such as Firstsources client, must adapt quickly to market forces with streamlined operations and reduced costs while providing
a personalized customer service experiencein this case, through Firstsources Mumbai and Bangalore
service centers.
Shortly after the initial launch, the client asked Firstsource to improve its quality of service delivery
and reduce end-customer dissatisfaction caused by a low rate of first call resolution. In comparison to
customer service industry standards, the rate of repeat calls, defined as the same customer calling for
the same issue within one calendar month, was too high and resulted in higher costs to serve each customer. The repeat call rate was at 15.79 percent, well above the target rate and industry standards.
At Firstsource, leaders are always looking for improvement project opportunities, so the higher than
expected repeat call rate caught their attention. Ultimately, this issue was selected as an improvement
project for several reasons, including:


Maintaining a competitive advantage for the client by reducing the cost of operations through
streamlined processes.
Achieving performance levels to match industry standards.

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Using Quality Tools

Improving customer satisfaction through first call resolution.

Preventing revenue loss that would occur if service-level
agreements were not met.
Reducing the cost to serve each customera potential
savings of $250,000 annually.
Achieving strategic goals of high quality delivery and
innovation to provide value to clients and their customers.

One of the teams first tasks in the define phase was identifying
stakeholders using the supplier-inputs-process-outputs-customer
(SIPOC) quality tool. As illustrated in Figure 1, SIPOC is just
one of several quality tools used in each phase of the project.
The SIPOC exercise enabled the team to develop a clear profile
of stakeholders, as well as their roles and influence on the project.

Understanding the Process and Analyzing Data

Teamwork Using the DMAIC Approach

During the measure phase, the team used a process mapping

exercise to follow a call from the time it enters the interactive
voice response system (IVRS) at an associates desk, through the
call resolution phase, and to the final call reports. The next step
involved recording a baseline measure for process performance,
tracking it on regular intervals, and determining the top reasons
for repeat calls. Team members calculated the defects per one
million opportunities (DPMO) and process capability to determine
a Z value of 2.5. Defects or repeat calls were categorized and
the data was entered into Pareto charts. The first five bars of the
Pareto chartwhich included customer queries like recharge
related questions, requests for installation, account balance
information, requests for additional packages, and product
queriesconstituted 77 percent of the total repeat calls.

The improvement project followed the define, measure, analyze,

improve, and control (DMAIC) approach and began in late
February 2009. The goal statement and the time frame were both
brief: Reduce the percentage of repeat calls to 10 percent in just
two months.
The Master Black Belt and project champion selected members
of the Six Sigma team based on the candidates functional
competencies and demonstrated ability to serve as change agents
in their respective departments. Team members and their roles
were as follows:

Sourabh Ghosh, project sponsor

Arun Rao, project champion
Ruchi Ajatshatru, project leader
Anurag Mishra, Master Black Belt
Krishnan Kavikkal, operations lead
Ajay Janardhanan, service excellence lead
Shashank Khare, workforce management lead
Deepak Khare, client representative

Discovering Potential Causes

In the analyze phase, the team started with the evident process
gaps from the process mapping exercise and completed a 5-Why
analysis for each of the five top categories to arrive at the root
cause of the problem. Other tools used to identify potential root
causes were focus groups, failure mode and effects analysis
(FMEA), and the fishbone diagram. At the end of these exercises,
the team uncovered 34 potential causes. Stakeholder input was
also critical during this phase as it provided key information regarding process gaps in the system that were leading to repeat calls.

All team members, with the exception of the client representative,

completed Six Sigma Green Belt training in preparation for the
project. Ajatshatru, the project leader, says that cross-functional
representation was critical for the success of the project and helped
to steer the changes required at various levels of the organization.
Representation of the client in the project team helped us drive
the changes and improvement steps that were in client-controlled
areas, she adds.

Next, the team reviewed these potential causes and how they
related to the top five drivers for repeat calls. Brainstorming
sessions helped the team narrow the 34 potential causes to 24.
At this juncture, the team performed a sample call study to
authenticate the 24 potential causes and then created an effort vs.

Figure 2Quality tools used in each phase of the

DMAIC approach
Standard operating

Tree diagram
Solution design matrix
Effort vs. payoff
Post Pareto
Test of hypothesis
Control chart

Defects parts per

million opportunities
and Z level



Business quality function deployment (QFD)

Stakeholder identification
Team charter
Critical-to quality tree





Detailed process mapping

Data collection plan
Establishing the dashboards
Prioritization QFD
Process capability and control charts

Pareto charts
Focus group
Process FMEA
Sample call study
5-Why analysis
Fishbone diagram

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impact grid. This eventually led the team to reduce the potential
causes to eight high impact causes, as illustrated in Figure 2.

Figure 2Eight improvement opportunities and root

cause validation
Opportunities for improvement


Process design gaps

Process FMEA and segmentation of

repeat call reasons in the sample call
listening study

Lack of updated and proper

training module

Training process walkthrough; lack of

version control for training course

Lack of prior proper definition of

repeat calls as a measurable metric

No evidence of proper operational

definition of repeat call as a metric from
client end

Lack of regular dashboards

to monitor performance

Absence of team-level dashboards made

it difficult to track performance

Lack of definition for top

repeat call drivers

Absence of regular dashboards

Lack of proper and user-friendly

knowledge management system

Knowledge gap evident in knowledge

tests and quality audits

Associates knowledge gap

Knowledge gap evident in knowledge

tests and quality audits

Customer prank calls and IT issues

Voice of customer and IT downtime tracker

The eight causes/opportunities for improvement were then

divided into four categories: process, technical, associate, and
customer issues. Another sample call study was completed
where each repeat call was assigned to one of the four opportunity
categories. This sample study indicated successfully addressing
these causes could resolve nearly 80 percent of the defects or
repeat calls.

Selecting and Piloting Final Solutions

To determine the most effective solutions the team performed
an FMEA. For each of the failures, risk priority numbers (RPN)
were calculated for severity, occurrence, and detection measures.
Remedial actions for the highest RPNs were evaluated in more
depth. An effort vs. payoff matrix, as illustrated in Figure 3, was
prepared to help the team determine the most effective solutions.
The team would first implement the solutions with the lowest effort
and highest impact, shown in the lower left quadrant of Figure 3.

As the solutions did not involve large financial investments, the

team piloted them to a group of customer service agents and
then closely observed performance through rigorous monitoring
of the reasons for repeat calls. Ajatshatru says the pilot phase
was a key to the success of the project: It helped us correct a
few flaws in the improvement process design. So the costs and
effort required for the change management of launching these
new steps and the risks were mitigated considerably.
Just one week after implementing the pilot phase, data indicated
the solutions were creating the expected impact, which paved
the way for full implementation. The improvement steps were
also measured by analyzing a post-improvement Pareto, which
showed a clear decline in the top repeat drivers. This was
followed by the hypothesis test of two proportions, which gave
an estimated difference of around 6 percent and a p-value of
less than .05.

Overcoming Resistance and Obstacles

Team members say they faced the type of resistance thats
common in most improvement projects as employees were a
bit hesitant to accept change in their work activities. The team
overcame resistance by conducting process walkthroughs,
sharing data before discussions, and communicating in a timely
manner about all process changes and the expected impact.
In addition to some internal resistance, the team also faced
challenges because many of the root causes were centered in
the clients domain rather than within Firstsource. According
to Ajatshatru, all of the major causes were process design gaps
and technological deficiencies built into the customer service
process. She says the team overcame this challenge by selecting
a data-centric approach. While the client representative on
the project team and the project sponsor and champion helped
drive and track the recommended action points to closure, the
use of simple data analysis tools like the Pareto chart and repeat
call predictability report helped us quantify the impact of various client-controlled Xs [causes] and portray it to the client,
Ajatshatru explains. She adds that by converting these numbers
into a dollar impact and showcasing the feasibility study of the
various process changes to the client, the team was able to drive
the changes to closure.

Figure 3Effort vs. payoff matrix


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Achieving Results and Sustaining Momentum

Sharing Lessons Learned

Figure 4 illustrates three key measures that summarize the

projects results. In just a few short months the team actually exceeded the project goal as the percentage of repeat calls
dipped under 10 percent. In addition, the project resulted in
reduced costs to serve customers and higher productivity rates
for Firstsource. Intangible benefits included improved end-customer satisfaction, customer loyalty, and a competitive edge for
Firstsource as the organization exceeded industry benchmarks
for performance.

This project was one of four team-based improvement initiatives that Firstsource entered in ASQs 2011 International Team
Excellence Award Process. All four projects were selected as
finalists and each has the opportunity to give a live presentation during the final round of competition at this years World
Conference on Quality and Improvement in Pittsburgh, PA.

Figure 4Results of the improvement project



Alignment with clients goals and achieving status as a

strategic partner rather than that of a service provider.
Innovation through some radical ideas generated as part of
the project.
A culture of excellence within the supported line of business.


Repeat call percentage









Ajatshatru says this project was a good candidate for the ITEA
process because it not only aligned to the organizations vision
of driving excellence through continuous quality improvement,
but it also helped deliver the following:

Ajatshatru says that Firstsource works to align to the clients

business strategy for improvement projects like this. In turn,
[this] helps Firstsource as being seen as a strategic partner for
any client rather than being just in the role of a service provider,
she notes.
Once the solutions were in place, the team moved to the control
phase with a comprehensive plan for monitoring and sustaining
the improvements. As part of this plan, performance dashboards
to monitor quality levels and internal audit trends were established. Standard operating procedures for updates and feedback
mechanisms were created and then monitored daily with a strong
governance structure around the metrics.

She adds, This project helped us build a set of common reasons/

learning to help us overcome problems of a similar nature across
the organization. So this project was thought as an apt one to
feature in ASQs team competition.

For More Information

Contact Ruchi Ajatshatru, project leader, at ruchi.ajatshatru@ to learn more about this Six Sigma project.
For additional information about Firstsource, visit the
organizations website at
Read about Firstsources team-based improvement activities
and the results of the organizations other team projects at
Complete details on ASQs International Team Excellence
Award Process are available at

About the Author

Janet Jacobsen is a freelance writer specializing in quality and
compliance topics. A graduate of Drake University, she resides
in Cedar Rapids, IA.


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