What is Six Sigma and why you should care

Spoken | August 9, 2016

If you have anything to do with quality, you’ve probably heard of the term Six Sigma and are aware that it is a method for dealing with organizational problems and quality. But Six Sigma actually has a very interesting history you might not be aware of.

What is Six Sigma

Six Sigma is a set of techniques and tools for process improvement. It differes from previous methods in that it is a highly disciplined, data-driven approach and methodology for eliminating defects. It has its origins in the manufacturing process (thus the drive toward six standard deviations between the mean and the nearest specification limit), but is applied in practice to many different processes from products to services. The value of Six Sigma lies in the ability to define on a quantitative level how any process is performing. By defining what a defect is and offering a statistical model for the frequency of defects, any process, from manufacturing to customer service, can be evaluated and improved.

Six Sigma was first introduced in 1986 by Bill Smith, an engineer with Motorola. Jack Welch, of GE brought it more into the mainstream when he made it central to his business strategy. Now, many of today’s top companies employ Six Sigma to quantitatively measure and improve their processes.

What is the key to Six Sigma

The DMAIC process (define, measure, analyze, improve, control), an inherent part of the Six Sigma system, is applied to existing processes that might be falling below specifications and seeks to make incremental improvement.











Define the problem
This step is just what it says, the opportunity for management and staff to come together and discuss what isn’t working within their process or system of doing things.

Map out the current process
This step would likely consist of writing out step by step the current process allowing the group to see where the problem is creeping in.

Identify the cause of the problem
Pretty self-explanatory, but a key step in the process. This step allows the group to pinpoint where the breakdown is occurring.

Implement and verify the solution
This part of the process is where the solution is determined and implemented.

Maintain the solution
Make sure the new process is actually being implemented, pay close attention to how well it’s working and tweak the new process to make improvements along the way.

This is a very basic overview of the DMAIC model, but a great way to see how the process can work.

Why should you care: a case study

The benefit of the Six Sigma model is that it removes the element of guesswork from the quality process and replaces it with quantitative measurement. Let’s take an example in the customer service space. We worked with one customer, a lifestyle and health care retailer with over three million customers.


They had two challenges: resolution rate wasn’t being consistently tracked, and their percentage of dissatisfied customers was as high as 11%.


And the next step is where many organizations fail: taking the time to painstakingly map out every element of the current customer journey, from first touch with the brand to the latest customer service experience. This step can involve a tremendous amount of time and resources, as the process is typically spread out over several departments. When HyperQuality performed this step, we first divided the factors into three categories: agent-related causes, process-related causes and other (caller hung up, for example).


Next comes the analysis to discover the weak links in the process that are the best targets for improvement. In this phase, we drilled down to discover what were the drivers of resolution in terms of both agent behaviors and process-related factors, and we determined four of each. The agent behaviors drivng the issue were:

  • Lack of ownership
  • Not maintaining pace with the customer
  • Lack of confidence
  • Frequent interruption by agent while customer explained the issue

The process elements driving the issue:

  • Return: Agent would say “As the order exceeded XX days, we cannot exchange / refund the product”
  • Warehouse: Agent would say “We are sorry that we cannot modify the order as the product is already processed 
to warehouse”
  • Third Party: Agent would say “We cannot access the account as the order is placed with OtherCompany.com”
  • Refund: Agent would say “We cannot refund as the product is not received at company”


In light of this information, we recommended training agents to keep the customer informed on steps being taken for resolution, particularly on calls where the reason for call is either to request a refund or an order status/incomplete order. Whenever required, the supervisors should be readily accessible in order to keep the customer wait time as low as possible, thereby avoiding potential call disconnection and improving the overall customer experience. HyperQuality strongly recommended the tracking of dropped volume to study the causes (people or technology) of disconnection.


We worked with the organization to close the identified gaps and monitored for six weeks. The consolidated list of recommendations was fed to cost benefit analysis to generate opportunities for the company that require immediate focus to improve overall resolution. These high bar opportunities cumulatively translated in to potential revenue gain of over $2 MM with improvement of 4% in overall contact resolution and 3.4% in customer experience.

Even if your call center measures every metric and does frequent reviews, it’s not uncommon for goals and strategies to get out of alignment over time. If this is the case in your contact center, call HyperQuality, and let us show you how Six Sigma can bring significant improvement to your organization.

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