Filling Your Call Center with Proactive, Self-Reliant Agents

By Luis Echevarria

Direct response is a scripted environment, but every client would love to know they have an army of agents who think for themselves in the call center selling their product and managing customer needs and expectations. These agents would have been trained to put themselves in the caller’s shoes and, as a result, know how to close the deal, save the sale, or solve a difficult customer service issue.

This confident, high standard of performance is a team effort, however, and not up to the agent alone.  While call center management should take care in picking agents who already have sales competency or call center experience and who approach the position positively, there are key ways in which you can boost any agent’s level of confidence and responsiveness on the phone and thus increase their sales. During my time managing call centers, I have discovered three components that are an absolute necessity in creating thriving, self-reliant agents:

A Proactive, Considerate, Sensible Outlook: Although upbeat, optimistic attitudes are important and encouraged, what is integral to being a top-performing, thoughtful agent is the ability to be proactive.

First, an agent must be confident enough to be proactive with management whenever they see room for improvement. They should be assertive enough to make suggestions on offers, scripts, or whatever may be on their mind.  Similarly, an agent must be self-assured enough to work smoothly with a customer on the phone, especially on up-sells and cross-sells.  In both of these situations, agent thoughtfulness and consideration should be encouraged. This is advantageous when dealing with cultural nuances, and this empathy is especially important when agents are easing the customer into a sales conversation and evaluating the best path to a successful outcome.

It is vital to employ agents who embody this empathetic, vibrant, sophisticated personality and who can think on their feet and solve problems quickly when the need arises.

Providing the Best with the Best: The equation is simple: call center agents can perform at their best when they are working with the best possible technology available.  Even the best agents are not necessarily going to be able to pick up every call that comes in.  Advanced software allows outbound callbacks to be automatically queued when call volumes are high, calls are not answered quickly, or customers abandon their call. This allows agents the time it takes to carefully handle each call and finish the sale, and it affords them the peace of mind to know they can simply dial back the calls they missed in the interim.

If you are careful, do your research well, and take the time to implement, leading technologies such as this will allow your agents to perform at maximum levels. You will not only be raising the confidence and ease that agents feel in every one of their interactions, but in turn you will gain a substantial return-on-investment.

Reward for a Job Well Done: Every call center should have a compensation plan in place that rewards performance and positive behavior, and every marketer should opt for a call center that does.  Why?  Because performance rewards empower agents to achieve outstanding results and ensures that everyone in the call center will do the best job possible.  HR will focus on hiring the right kind of employees – those who stick around and perform above the norm. The training department will produce agents who are ready to perform as they leave the classroom. Operations will be motivated, from manager to supervisor to agent, to make sure that goals are met. Even the IT staff will keep operations functioning at the highest level.  This happens best when each individual in the organization has income at risk.

In my experience, the system that works best is one in which more than half of the agent’s wage is based upon performance and incentives.  The agent is not only encouraged to do their best for the sake of their own paycheck, but is then rewarded in some way when they do exceptionally well.  This is ideal for both the employee and the company. Additionally, the culture of the company as a whole will be geared toward the success of the clients.

When you provide agents and support staff with the best possible tools to do their job, the outcome will be simple: the best possible product for your call center and your clients.  While everyone wants agents who think for themselves, the truth is that employees are only self-propelled and self-assured enough to get the job done right when they know they have the tools and motivation necessary to do so.

When you take these steps, you will see results – and you’ll be glad you did.

Luis Echevarria is CEO and cofounder of Vixicom in the Dominican Republic.

[From Connection Magazine Jul/Aug 2011]

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