Category Archives: Articles

Customer Disservice



Sometimes a Call Center Is Its Own Worst Enemy

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Peter DeHaan, Publisher and Editor of Connections MagazineWhen call centers work as intended, they’re an amazing resource. They provide needed information and allow for the speedy resolution of problems. They’re fast, convenient, and effective—most of the time.

Though I like to celebrate call center success in this column, it’s more informative, as well as more entertaining, to talk about their shortcomings. By learning from their errors, we can take steps to avoid them in our call centers. This makes the industry better, as we serve callers more effectively. Here is this month’s story.

I work at home, and I rely on the internet. When it goes down, I’m usually the first of my neighbors to know. When the internet went down last month, I found a project to do that didn’t require me to be online. But after I wrapped it up, the internet was still down. I reset the modem and router without fixing the problem. I needed to call customer service.

Customer DisserviceMy internet provider’s rep did some remote testing and got confusing results. After several minutes she determined that she needed to dispatch a technician. Since it was midafternoon on Friday, she said most technicians were likely committed for the rest of the day and would be heading home at five. The next available slot was Tuesday afternoon. As firmly as I could state, and still be a tad polite, I told her this wasn’t acceptable. I explained that I work at home; without the internet I couldn’t work. She was sympathetic, but she offered no options other than to let the dispatcher know my plight.

As my neighbors began arriving home from work, our community Facebook page lit up about internet issues. My neighbors heard what I heard: There was no system outage, and our problem was unique to our individual homes. Their repairs were scheduled for Thursday, six days in the future. Everyone was fuming.

Not accepting the explanation that these were all isolated instances, I called again. This time the rep told me there was a major system outage affecting half the state. He also said crews were diligently working on the problem to find a solution and wouldn’t stop until they resolved it. He promised me a callback to let me know when the problem was fixed.

I posted this information on our Facebook page. I doubt anyone believed me. Even those who called after me received the explanation that their problem was isolated to their home.

By Saturday morning the internet was working again. One neighbor posted that he received a free speed upgrade because of the problem. I called for my upgrade. This rep said the system in my area couldn’t go any faster. When I mentioned that my neighbor had received an upgrade, the rep gave me a lame excuse that my neighbor’s feed was from a different source. However, we both live on a dead-end road and the internet feed for the whole neighborhood runs past my house.

Other neighbors also called for their free upgrade. One received it, but everyone else was denied. The explanation was that they were rolling out a system upgrade and our area should receive it in a couple months. Then we would automatically receive the higher speed.

On Monday afternoon I received a phone call telling me my internet service was restored. This came about sixty hours after the fact.

I don’t blame any of the reps for providing wrong information.

I do blame the company’s support system and the training their reps receive on using it. One rep knew it was a system-wide outage, yet the others couldn’t access this information. Two reps knew how to give a free speed upgrade, while the other ones insisted it wasn’t available.

How many extra calls did my neighbors make trying to find correct information and receive the same responses other neighbors received? By giving out wrong information, the cable company probably received twice the calls they should have had they been able to provide consistent and accurate responses.When call centers work as intended, they’re an amazing resource. They provide needed information and allow for the speedy resolution of problems. Click To Tweet

In the end, instead of customer service, they provided customer disservice. May we strive to do better.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of  Connections Magazines. He’s a passionate wordsmith whose goal is to change the world one word at a time.

Can’t We All Just Get Along?



By Sherry Gouel

Hiring the right person for a job is one of the most difficult tasks business owners face. There are so many factors to consider: experience, reliability, work ethic, honesty, professionalism, and the list goes on. Adding the wrong person to your team can be detrimental to the daily work environment, but it’s not really possible to predict if a candidate will work out.

There is another important question to keep in mind during an interview. Besides work skills, does this candidate have people skills? It’s one thing to complete a task well, but can this person work with others?

As with any new job, there is always a training period. A worker can eventually learn the necessary skills to accomplish their work, but if they don’t get along with their coworkers, it will affect the mood around the office. Call center agents must be team players, and tension between workers has a negative effect on the office atmosphere. Having staff that gets along and works well together reflect well on the business and how clients are treated. Having staff that gets along and works well together reflect well on the business and how clients are treated. Click To Tweet

Inclusiveness is an important factor in the workplace. An employee can be great at their job, be punctual, professional, and reliable, but if they cannot integrate with coworkers and be part of the team, it’s unlikely their employment will last. We’ve all met someone that for inexplicable reasons we cannot connect with. We might say, “They just rubbed me the wrong way” or “Their attitude just irritates me.” First impressions happen quickly and are difficult to change. We don’t set out to feel negatively about anyone, but it’s difficult to change our minds about our initial dislike. We tend to avoid this person and make no effort to give them a chance to prove themselves differently.

This lack of connection is difficult to change. It’s best to be proactive by looking for initial signs of friction during the interview rather than finding out a month after hiring them. Getting staff members involved in the interviewing process may help reduce future problems by testing the dynamics between existing staff and new additions. This doesn’t guarantee that there won’t be problems, but it may detect tension that could cause problems.

While no one knows if the candidate will be the right fit, there are a few things that can help. First have a list of questions to ask. Then, keep in mind that while part of the interview process is determining how comfortable and confident you feel talking to this candidate, you aren’t the only one that should be doing the interviewing.

Have existing staff join in to see how they relate to the candidate. It is often during small talk that we get to know and connect with another person. Following the interview, ask your staff how they felt about the interviewee; listen to their feedback and read between the lines. If you’ve narrowed down your choice to a few people, have your staff weigh in on this decision. It will hold them partially accountable in making sure this person gets the proper training and helping them to succeed.

Imagine a different scenario if your staff is not included in the hiring process and the new employee either lacks the people skills or doesn’t connect with coworkers. Will there be any effort to help the new worker feel part of the team? On the contrary—they may do things to exclude or alienate the new employee, hoping to make them quit. Losing employees and having to hire new ones comes with a cost.

If including staff members in the interview process is difficult, then extend the interview time by showing the candidate around the office. Stop at a few stations and allow some of your staff to show the candidate what the job consists of. All it takes is a few minutes of interaction to allow your staff the chance to meet the potential candidate and have a say in the hiring.

No one can predict whether a newly hired worker will be the right candidate, but these steps can better the chances. While a recruit may appear perfect on paper, remember that compatibility with the existing staff is just as important.

Sherry Gouel handles sales and marketing support for Szeto Technologies.

Reasons Why Telemarketing Programs Fail



By Kathy Sisk

In my forty years as a call center consultant and trainer, I’ve witnessed many mistakes that could have been avoided or quickly corrected. I’ve observed many telemarketing programs that suffer from the same types of problems, repeated from one campaign to the next. The failures fall into three groups: before the calling begins, during the calling, and after the call.

The goal of a telemarketing program is ensuring a more positive outcome for everyone: clients, call centers, and customers. Equipping the right people with the right tools is essential and must be enforced. We’ll start with before the calling period begins.

Preplan the Campaign:

Calling shouldn’t start without a written plan, agreed to by all parties. I have identified twenty points to cover in a plan. It will change as the program moves along, but it’s imperative to follow a logical path. Without a written plan, blame for problems is usually misdirected. When this happens it’s difficult to rectify the failure.

To avoid this, my company maintains a project management guide (PMG) for every campaign. All parties are required to study the PMG and discuss any issues and rework them prior to starting the campaign. Whether inbound or outbound, we work to see what is effective and which areas that might require improvement. This is the testing, or ramping up, phase of the campaign.The goal of a telemarketing program is ensuring a more positive outcome for everyone. Click To Tweet

Program Objective:

All concerned parties must have the same understanding of the campaign objectives. This includes the client, service provider, agents, and assigned project manager (APM). The client communicates to the APM what they want accomplished, along with their campaign expectations and specifications. A comprehensive questionnaire form, the “account overview,” accomplishes this.

Once the client completes the form, the information is transferred to the PMG, and the assigned center’s staff is properly orientated and trained. A program can have several levels of objectives (such as setting appointments, sending literature, generating leads, taking orders, troubleshooting, conducting surveys, and so forth.) All objectives and levels are predefined and identified in the client PMG, which is the roadmap to success for the client’s outsourcing campaign.

In the next issue I’ll share the expectations and other vital aspects for setting up, managing, and achieving a successful campaign.

Kathy Sisk Enterprises Inc. has forty years of experience providing call center setup, reengineering, assessments, training, script development, and project management services to centers globally.

Improving Your Mental Game: Tips for Working through Difficult Calls



By Dean Kaplan

Whether you’re receiving customer calls or making outbound calls, if you work in a call center, chances are you manage at least one difficult call a week. If a call is truly challenging, it can affect all your other calls and possibly your non-work hours as well. Difficult calls are hard to prepare for because you often don’t see them coming. However, there are mental steps you can take to make handling a difficult call easier.

Be Prepared:

In an outbound situation you may know that a call you’re about to make could go poorly. Pull all relevant files, discuss the situation with a manager, and review notes from previous interactions before making the call.

For those at inbound call centers, make sure files are organized and you know where information can be found, but also know the appropriate escalation tactics. You can help coworkers prepare for difficult calls by taking good notes during your calls. A call often goes poorly the moment a customer becomes frustrated by having to repeat his or her story.

Stay Focused:

If you’ve worked on the same accounts for a while, it can be tempting to let your mind wander on a routine call. But you never know when a call can go wrong. Train yourself to stay in the moment, even when you are inclined to let your thoughts drift. Take breaks to clear your mind, study yoga and meditation techniques, and limit distractions on your desk.

Listen:

When a customer is explaining a problem or situation, don’t interrupt. Instead, as they talk, write down any details and questions and ask for clarification after the customer is finished talking. Not only will listening to the whole story first give you a better idea of the issue or question involved, but it will also help the customer feel better. There are few things more frustrating to an angry caller than not being heard.

Be Respectful:

Sometimes it can be difficult to treat customers with respect. This is especially true if you think the problem you’re handling is related to a mistake or poor behavior on the customer’s end. However, if you can’t be respectful of the customer and listen to their story with empathy, you should not be on the call. Remind yourself before each call that everyone has a story, and everyone deserves empathy.Being respectful also means respecting their time. Click To Tweet

Being respectful also means respecting their time. If you are making an outbound call, ask if this is a good time or if there’s a better time to call. If it’s an inbound call, you can try saying something such as, “It sounds like you’re driving; would you prefer to call me back when you get to your location?”

Learn to Recognize a Difficult Call:

We tend to think of difficult callers as people who yell or stonewall us, but there are many other types of difficult calls. People aren’t aware of what they need, they ramble, they are irritated for reasons unrelated to the call or are distracted, or they have genuinely upsetting stories. The sooner you recognize that a call may turn difficult, the easier it will be for you to mentally prepare.

Let It Go:

The most important part of handling a difficult call is once the call is over. Make appropriate notes, then take a deep breath and let the call go. When you hang up the phone, hang up on the call as well. Dwelling on the stress of dealing with a difficult situation can make other calls more difficult than they have to be and even affect your relationships outside of work. If you know that you’ve done the best you can, there’s no need to keep reliving a bad call.

Learning how to handle difficult calls takes practice. You must learn appropriate negotiation techniques and answers to frequently asked questions, and you also must develop skills necessary to listen, empathize, and emotionally move on from a call.

Dean Kaplan is president of The Kaplan Group (www.kaplancollectionagency.com), a commercial collection agency specializing in large claims and international transactions. He has thirty-five years of international business experience, traveling to over forty countries to negotiate over 500 million dollars in mergers and acquisitions and other business deals.

Lead Your Team to Success



By Elizabeth McCormick

Whatever the project or initiative, a successful outcome requires focused leadership. Here are five tips to assure that your leadership and team directives match the result you envision.Who does your project most affect, and who needs to know about the progress? Click To Tweet

1. Know Your Destination: When you begin with the end in mind, you have a distinctive vision of your desired direction and destination before instructing your team to launch. It doesn’t matter how big or small your project is. If the direction, intention, or desired outcome isn’t clear, it will be tough to move your team to your goal. Assume nothing, clarify everything, and have it in writing. If some aspect is open to interpretation, close that loophole, or better yet, ask your team to contribute to the ownership of the project by being open to their quest for clarity.

2. Engage Your Team: Once you have communicated the objectives to your team, start by having team members restate the goals and desired outcomes in their own words. Confirm and clarify often. This naturally highlights any variance between intention and perception. You can also use this opportunity to start fleshing out the project, brainstorming with the team, and adding detail to the project. This will help jumpstart the comradery as your group begins working together as a team toward a common goal. It will also enhance the collaboration necessary to ensure that proper communication can take place from beginning to end.

3. Plan Your Work and Work Your Plan: Once everyone is on board and the team is headed in the right direction, be sure you have established the proper safety devices, benchmarks, and signposts for you and your team, so that if there is any drifting off course, it will be recognized and realigned quickly without much time or effort wasted. Make sure work is broken down into manageable, measurable, short-term goals to aid in motivation and increase productivity. Work organized into logical segments also aids focus and self-management of direction.

Complex projects lend themselves to digressions and diversions. Spelling out where you should be, and when, keeps efforts centered on the essential goals originally intended.

Another way to encourage motivation and productivity is to take the time to get to know your team and their strengths. Don’t randomly dole out tasks; be strategic in aligning tasks with specific gifts and skills, allowing team members to take control of their part of the project.

4. Own Your Results: As a leader, it’s your attitude, stamina, direction, commitment to the project, and work ethic that establishes the environment and culture of your team, as well as the success of your project. If you are unclear of your destination, you can be sure your team will have a tough time understanding the purpose of the project and the direction you are trying to communicate.

One of the biggest reasons people drift, get distracted, and are taken off task is that the purpose for their assignment isn’t strong enough to keep them engaged. If this is happening, recognize it and take some time to clarify your purpose and destination. Then let your team know you wish to communicate better as you share your vision more clearly and effectively with everyone involved.

Sometimes the best of plans don’t achieve the intended results. It happens. Maybe it was due to misinformation, miscommunication, not enough research, too many agendas, a drastic change in the economy, or an unexpected shift in trends, to name some of the ever-changing facets of being a leader in business.

Regardless of why it happened, own the results. Empower your team to help you assess what went wrong, develop the proper benchmarks and guardrails to prevent that from happening again, and then map out a new plan.

5. Share Your Progress: For most people there’s (hopefully) an effective boss who helps ensure that there are proper reports on progress, with the responsibility to follow up. What happens, though, when you’re the boss? Who does your project most affect, and who needs to know about the progress of your company, your goals, and your overall destination? Stakeholders? Staff? Clients? Other departments?

Regardless of who your project affects most, it is important to communicate, collaborate, and share your progress. Your strategic plan very well could be a thing of beauty, worthy of a business textbook. The marketing department, however, may have new information that invalidates an initial premise or puts your data out of date. Informing them only at completion risks the success of your entire project. Or your biggest clients may be ready to sell their business and retire, which now means your project is underfunded.

Include progress updates to those your plans will impact, so that changes can be incorporated along the way. Sure, detours are inconvenient, but navigating them minimizes backtracking and maximizes the effectiveness of your efforts.

Successful Outcomes:

With the direction of your project embedded in the planning and with contingencies made for changing conditions, you’ll soon see that the extra work in project planning serves to increase productivity. When the path is clear, your direction is plotted, and your plan is in place. You and your team can achieve success.

Elizabeth McCormick is a keynote speaker specializing in leadership, sales, and safety presentations. She is a former US Army Black Hawk pilot and the author of The P.I.L.O.T. Method: The 5 Elemental Truths to Leading Yourself in Life! For more information, please visit www.yourinspirationalspeaker.com

Opportunity Calling: Tapping into Disability Recruitment for Call Center Staffing



By Keith Meadows and Kevin McCloskey

Companies understand that there is no more critical point of engagement than between customers and call center representatives, yet employee turnover rates range between 30 and 45 percent in the call center environment, and nearly 40 percent of employers have challenges hiring qualified employees. In reality a talent pool of people exists that remains underutilized, even though it includes job seekers with a diverse range of education, degrees, professional certifications, work experience, and skills: people with disabilities.

What Is a Disability?

It is important to understand the wide range of people this talent pool represents. One in five people in the United States have some type of disability, and many face challenges in getting hired. The term disability includes people with hidden disabilities such as depression, PTSD, anxiety disorders, and ADD/ADHD. It also includes developmental disabilities such as Down syndrome and physical disabilities that impact mobility, dexterity, vision, or hearing. A final group includes disabilities due to medical conditions, injury, or aging, such as Parkinson’s, stroke, traumatic brain injury, or cancer.

While it might seem that most disabilities are physical and visually apparent, 70 percent of all disabilities are hidden. A large percentage of individuals with disabilities include those “aging into disability” for the first time, as well as veterans with disabilities returning to the civilian workforce. Some well-known celebrities with hidden disabilities include Justin Timberlake, Olympic record breaker Michael Phelps, and Apple’s Steve Jobs.

Disabilities do not discriminate; they cut across all dimensions of diversity including gender, race, and ethnicity. Within the disability population is an even larger range of experience, education, skills, and knowledge.

Business versus Charity:

Contrary to the historical view that hiring people with disabilities is a charitable thing to do, leading companies such as PepsiCo, Synchrony Financial, Aramark, and Staples have demonstrated that diversifying a workforce has a tremendously positive business impact.

Call centers that have implemented a comprehensive disability recruitment strategy to fill crucial talent gap realize beneficial results. When hiring, managers spend less time interviewing. Turnover is lower, productivity is higher, savings are achieved, and there is more time to develop and support current employees.

Market Value:

In addition to attracting an untapped talent pool, there is a market opportunity for companies. When companies hire people with diverse perspectives, they can inform product and service development, advertising, and customer service to engage diverse customer markets. Currently people with disabilities are the largest minority in America, with a combined annual spending power of 645 billion dollars. Additionally, seventy million families have a least one member with a disability. Family, friends, and allies are fiercely loyal with their purchasing dollars and will support companies who hire those with disabilities by consciously selecting their products and services over competitors.

Case Study: Pepsi ACT:

Pepsi ACT (Achieving Change Together) was developed as a best-practice model in attracting and hiring talent with disabilities across PepsiCo. It has been implemented in nine locations in the US, including a call center in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. In this call center, there are two sides of the business: sales and equipment repairs.

Partnerships were developed with surrounding community-based organizations, including the state vocational rehabilitation offices, workforce centers, and others to create a three-day training course for job seekers with disabilities interested in a call center career. Job seekers could choose to apply directly to the job opportunities or take advantage of the training course.

The training consisted of interview preparation, soft skills practice, call center education, and personalized Q&A sessions with Pepsi HR professionals. The process resulted in job seekers being prepared and ready for consideration, and in turn, new employees ready to work. More than fifty people were hired. The retention of the employees proved to be above average, and the recruiting team cut their interview-to-hire ratio by half. A bonus was a surprise visit from former Secretary of Labor Tom Perez, along with national and local recognition.

Case Study: Synchrony Financial:

Launched as a pilot in Synchrony’s business operations center in the Dayton, Ohio, area, attracting and hiring people with disabilities has become a part of the company’s day-to-day recruiting strategy. The initial focus was on roles with anticipated workforce growth, including customer service representatives who assist cardholders with a myriad of services and collections representatives.

Both roles require positive customer service, patience, problem solving, and empathy. The pilot resulted in sixty hires within the first year and recently expanded to the Phoenix, Arizona, operations center, where seventeen new employees with disabilities have been hired.

Results:

Companies show a 14 percent higher retention rate among the employees hired with disabilities than overall in the same roles. They have also seen an increase in self-disclosures by 50 percent (which are important to compliance for corporations with federal contracts) and a strengthened workforce diversity. This also reflects a positive workplace culture where employees feel comfortable bringing their whole selves to work.

How Do Employers Do It?

Companies have several ways to connect with job seekers with disabilities. Cultivating talent partnerships is an important part of creating strong talent pipelines in the community. Corporate consulting services are available to create customized, inclusive, hiring strategies and forge these talent partnerships.

Call center managers also can take the following steps:Family, friends, and allies are fiercely loyal with their purchasing dollars and will support companies who hire those with disabilities by consciously selecting their products. Click To Tweet

  • Conduct research within your geographic recruitment community. There often might be fifty to seventy-five community-based organizations in your area. It is important to start wide to identify partners who can connect you with job seekers who meet your talent needs.
  • Utilize those partnerships to increase your pipeline of talent through a variety of pre-application engagement activities. These can be on-site informational sessions, call center-specific trainings, or simply a guide to help partners prepare their referrals prior to application. This leads to qualified and work-ready candidates heading your way.
  • Post open positions on employment websites for people with disabilities; this is a great way to begin building a new pipeline of talent. For instance, more than 300,000 people with disabilities visit the Disability Solutions online career center every month to find a job.
  • Give feedback through open communication. Focus on talent acquisition and retention. It is reasonable for a business to expect a new employee to arrive day one with the requirements and abilities to perform the job, but expecting new employees to know everything it takes to be successful with your company right away is not. Smart employers focus on developing talent.
  • Provide natural supports, mentors, and ongoing training to develop the best employees and promote retention.

People with disabilities represent both a talent and customer market that call centers should engage with for success. As with any new effort, getting started can be the most difficult part. Companies who are leading the way and seeing positive results have developed a strategy, communicated their commitment both internally and externally, and committed the resources to effectively attract and reach out to job seekers with disabilities and partners with community organizations. Ready to get started?

Kevin McCloskey is the director of partnership development and Keith Meadows is the hiring and engagement consultant at Disability Solutions, a division of Ability Beyond. Disability Solutions is a national nonprofit consulting service headquartered in Connecticut that partners with corporate clients to hire job seekers with disabilities. For more information visit www.disabilitytalent.org and www.disabilitysolutionstalent.org.

5 Keys to Writing a Successful B2B Telemarketing Script



By Nathan Teahon

Recently someone asked me how to create a strong B2B telemarketing script. It’s a good question, and even after having helped create and implement thousands of successful scripts over the years, I don’t have quick answer to that question.

Instead I have multiple questions. What is the goal of the script? Is there an underlying goal lurking beneath the initial goal? Whom are you contacting? Why are you contacting them? Are you selling something? If so, what? Is it a service or product?

Many books have been written about creating calling scripts for telemarketing services, and many of those books address some of the above questions, but these only begin to address the situation. I’m not going to do that. I’m going to share five keys to create a successful B2B telemarketing script.

1. Thirty Seconds to Buy a Minute

In B2B telemarketing, you typically call someone who isn’t expecting your call. Even if you aren’t prospecting and you’re calling a current customer—for instance, to renew a subscription—that customer isn’t sitting by the phone eagerly awaiting your call. You are calling someone at work while they are presumably trying to do their job.

Most people are like me in that they don’t want to be unnecessarily distracted while working. If this is the case, you have a short window to capture a person’s attention in any meaningful way. The guiding rule is that “you have thirty seconds to buy the next minute of a person’s time.” Don’t waste it.

The first and most common mistake in a B2B telemarketing script is having the agent ask, “How are you today?” Managers who insert this into a script and agents who like to use it think it helps to build some rapport. No, it doesn’t. It does the opposite. If I don’t know you, don’t ask me how I am. At best, I’ll roll my eyes. You don’t care how I am. I don’t care how you are. We don’t know each other. It’s disingenuous.

At best, you’ve wasted twenty seconds of your thirty-second window to capture my attention in a meaningful way. At worst, you’ve captured my attention in a negative way, and you have no time to turn this into a productive call.

2. Don’t Monologue

You have a product to sell, and you must explain the concept, capture the prospect’s imagination, and give five reasons why this person needs that product. And don’t forget that special promotional offer! Before you know it, your script is seeping onto a second page in a block-like format with eleven-point type.

If you want to put someone into a coma, this is the way to do it. People don’t like to be “talked at,” and they don’t tend to respond favorably when they get the impression someone is reading a script to them. Break it up; build in some engagement and consultative questions when appropriate. It’s less about building a script and more about building an agent-controlled conversation.

It’s important to note that engagement and consultative-based questions in your script doesn’t mean you must sacrifice structure. It’s not an exclusive situation; you can build a script that allows agents to create engagement without sacrificing structure. Create a compelling introduction that leads into an engaging question. Let the customer’s response dictate where the script should go next, but plan for likely positive or negative responses accordingly.Engagement and consultative-based questions in your script doesn’t mean you must sacrifice structure. Click To Tweet

3. Understand the Players

This point is twofold. First, realize that not every B2B telemarketing script can be executed in the same manner by each person. Certain agents are going to pull off a conversational script better than others. Those same agents may struggle if you ask them to follow a script verbatim, and vice versa.

Hopefully you can tailor your team around the needs and message of the program. If not, you need to carefully consider your approach and assess whether the team you have can execute it.

Second, consider your audience. Will your message resonate with those you’re attempting to reach? Is the offer compelling to them? Are you selling a product that solves a problem for the prospect? Is it affordable?

This is where quality assurance (QA) is key. A good QA department will not just focus on the individuals they’re listening to but also will be listening to see what resonates with the audience. Do you have the correct market targeted? There are several questions you need to understand about your audience when creating a script, and then monitor for these things once the campaign begins.

4. Call to Action

In many cases I refer to this key as “asking for the sale.” However, depending on the objective of the script, perhaps this isn’t the exact call to action. This is probably the biggest no-brainer on the list, yet it is still a common coaching area for agents. Sometimes this issue has more to do with ensuring you have a proper call to action in the script itself.

I’ve encountered many amazing presentations that ended up being for naught due to simply not asking for the sale. Things get weird and a little awkward. It’s like asking a girl to the dance; she knows it’s coming, except you don’t ask because you’re afraid, so she never responds, and you both end up disappointed. It’s simple: you won’t get a yes if you don’t ask.

 5. Test

It’s rare to create the perfect script on your first try. You must listen carefully to how the message resonates, see what people respond to, and determine what they ignore. Adjust accordingly.

Also, when you have found that perfect script, don’t think it will be perfect forever. Your audience will change over time, and a periodic review is essential.

Nathan Teahon is the vice president at Quality Contact Solutions, an outsourced telemarketing services organization. Nathan grew up in the business and intimately knows (and has played) every position on the field, including supervisor, quality assurance, call center manager, program management, account management, and call center psychologist. Contact Nathan at nathan.teahon@qualitycontactsolutions.com or 516-656-5133.

Are Insurance Call Centers Putting Customer Data at Risk?



By Ben Rafferty

Imagine if you had to read your PIN out loud at the ATM to make a transaction. With the possibility of someone overhearing and maliciously using your information, this notion is unthinkable. So why is it still commonplace for call centers to ask customers to read their card numbers, sensitive authentication data (SAD), and other personally identifiable information (PII) over the phone?

A recent secret shopper survey of leading insurance companies’ call centers unveiled that insurers are inclined to use the outdated, risky practice of asking customers for verbal confirmation of payment card details. In fact, ten of the top insurance companies in the United States anonymously surveyed said that they require customers to read their card numbers out loud to pay for insurance services over the phone. Moreover, four out of those same ten insurers admitted that customer services representatives (CSRs) read card numbers back to customers. Although many customers and CSRs may not think twice about verbalizing sensitive data, there are far too many risks involved. And, given the 371 percent increase in data breaches in the insurance industry, and the 113 percent increase in call center fraud, insurers cannot afford to be complacent.

Inside, or CSR fraud, is a real threat. As customers read their information aloud, the CSR could be copying it down for fraudulent use. Without clean rooms (no bags, pens or paper, or cell phones) and other stringent security measures, there is no telling what the CSR may do when exposed to sensitive data. Also the customer may be reading the information aloud in a public place, such as the grocery store. Who knows who may be listening and jotting down their information? Insurers who practice stop/start or manually scrub recordings of PII are noncompliant. Click To Tweet

When it comes to call recordings, the verbal confirmation of card numbers poses additional security concerns. This survey showed that eight of the ten insurers record calls, but how (and if) they remove PII from recordings varied. Some CSRs said they rely on a program to automatically block card details from the recording as callers talk. Others said PII is manually removed from the recordings after the call is completed. One insurer said they randomly record calls and keep recordings for thirty days before deleting them. Overall, it was also clear that CSRs were unaware or uninformed about how to shield sensitive information from recordings.

Unfortunately, the problem goes beyond the ambiguity and lack of a standardized approach to avoiding capturing card details. Most notably, a common method of removing card details cited in the survey was some form of “stop/start” or “pause and resume,” whereby the call recording is stopped, paused, or muted, either manually by a CSR or automatically. It is then restarted, resumed, or unmuted once sensitive information is captured. Stop/start systems are particularly inadequate, as the CSR is still exposed to verbalized information and in some cases is also responsible for pausing and resuming the call recording. Here there is opportunity for CSRs to misuse the system, whether intentionally or unintentionally.

What if the CSR pauses the recording to leave out portions of the call while he or she engages in fraudulent behavior? Or what if the CSR accidentally forgets to pause the recording? This could log sensitive information, leaving it vulnerable in the event of a data breach.

On top of these risks, the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS), which governs all card payments, explicitly prohibits the recording of card security codes and the manual intervention of staff to remove data from recordings. Thus, insurers who practice stop/start or manually scrub recordings of PII are noncompliant.

Fortunately there is a simple security solution for call centers in the insurance industry and beyond, and it involves de-scoping the call center. This is most effectively accomplished by using dual-tone multifrequency (DTMF) masking technologies. Such solutions allow customers to enter payment card information on their telephone keypad and shield the numbers from the CSR and recordings by replacing DTMF tones with flat tones. Payments are sent directly to the payment processor and never touch the call center’s systems. These technologies enable call centers to keep customer data safe and out of their infrastructure, thereby reducing the risks associated with a reputation-damaging data breach. This also cuts compliance costs.

Because insurance call centers hold so much PII, from credit card numbers to social security numbers, it is in the companies’ and their customers’ best interests to ensure that their security and compliance efforts are in order—before it’s too late. This begins with making the practice of reading payment card numbers aloud over the phone a thing of the past.

Ben Rafferty has fifteen years of experience of delivering speech recognition, IVR, and contact center automation on CPE and hosted platforms. At Semafone, Rafferty is responsible for the smooth deployment of solutions into hosted environments and for the overall management of Semafone’s hosted offering.

Choices and Consequences

By Wayne Scaggs

Events in our lives seldom just happen to us, regardless of what we tell ourselves or our friends. Somewhere along the way, we made a decision that caused certain events to happen. We make choices every day that put us on the path that leads to the events that occur in our lives. We go to school, get a diploma, and find a job or start a business. Somewhere along the way, we have a family.

Believe it or not, we made all the choices that guided us along the way; things did not just happen to us. Some of our choices were excellent (sheer genius), and we stick our chest out for a while. And then some of our other choices . . . well, let’s just say they did not make us, or anyone else, proud, and we won’t say any more about that.

Some may say we are lucky, although in most cases luck is a by-product of desire, choice, and continual productive efforts that pave the way for opportunity to cruise by. If we are aware, we can latch on and ride opportunity (luck) as far as it will take us. Choices affect not only us but others in the process, so the choice should be the very best one. Click To Tweet

My choices along the way have given me the opportunity to write this column and express the delight in knowing I have made a positive difference in the lives of many people. Some I know, and others I don’t.

Being part of this industry, which is people-oriented and service-driven, has allowed me to fulfill a childhood and adult desire. Deep within myself I know that through the choices I’ve made, I have helped more people than I will ever know in more ways than I can imagine. One of the ways came from someone who told me I was the reason they could start their own business, feed their family and, on top of all that, provide employment to others who were also able to feed their families. There is no substitute for the feeling we get when we help someone fulfill their dreams.

Few times in our lives do we get to make such monumental choices that affect not only us but others in the process, so the choice should be the very best one. Choices of this magnitude take time, forethought, and many restless nights weighing the pros and cons. In the end, when we are offered an opportunity that only comes along once in a long while and it is all that we wanted it to be, we take it. We jump at the opportunity and make it better than we thought it could ever be.

The recent merger between Alston Tascom and Startel Corporation is the very best possible next step for Alston Tascom, Tascom Systems, and the industry. This merger has answered questions most wouldn’t ask, such as “How long will Wayne be around?” “Is he getting up there in age?” “What is going to happen to Tascom?” Or more specifically for some people, “What is going to happen to my Tascom System and my business?”

Startel and Alston Tascom share the same technology. The biggest challenge ahead is not the competition. The elephant in the room is the speed of changing technology. The company’s road map is to bring the best minds in our industry together, sit down at the same table, and combine our talents to evolve what we have into the best-in-class system needed to stay in front of our customers and the competition. Staying ahead of what your clients need to be competitive in their market is the target. We are all in this together, and my desire is that we will be better than we were yesterday.

Wayne Scaggs is the president of Alston Tascom, provider of call center database information and network telephony systems.

Vendor Profile: Szeto Technologies



Szeto Technologies is a manufacturer specializing in developing equipment for telephone switching and voice and data communication. For over thirty years it has provided technical solutions for the answering service industry to automate and enhance service offerings. Szeto Technologies develops equipment for telephone switching and voice and data communication. Click To Tweet

Open Source: Its latest products include the SSS-100 Call Linx, a Linux-based system with an internal built-in Asterisk telephone switch. Linux, being an open-source operating system, is reliable, secure, and constantly maintained by thousands of technical users worldwide. Its license-free availability makes this operating system very cost-effective.

Asterisk, being a Linux-based telephone switching software, harmoniously forms a natural bond with Call Linx with its internal built-in voice logger and VoIP SIP trunk capabilities. Szeto has integrated Asterisk software seamlessly with its Call Linx TAS system.

Innovative Solutions: Call Linx comprises local and remote work stations, which are connected to active, redundant servers via a computer network. Functions and features are always designed with an architecture that emphasizes redundancy, reliability, capability, and flexibility, the main criteria for a service-provider system.

As telephony, computer, and internet technologies evolve, Szeto relentlessly experiments and develops new features and functions for its products, as well as tools to help its customers stay ahead of their competitors. These capabilities help Szeto users streamline operations and diversify revenue streams. Sometimes they are custom-fit to a user’s specific requirements; other times they are separate modules that create new service offerings.

Szeto products offer turnkey solutions. Users of its equipment include a vast variety of industries: telephone answering services, call centers, radio-paging services, airlines, and the U. S. military.

Powerful Design: The Szeto Call Linx TAS system is designed with reliability, flexibility, and user-friendliness, where all human interface is conducted via graphical tables in window-style displays. All functions are easy to navigate. No command keys need to be remembered. Auto-fill technique keeps typing at a minimum.

Call Linx has many expanded features to reduce the stress in telephone answering, not only making the task pleasant and enjoyable, but most importantly minimizing errors and ensuring service reliability. Its fully integrated and versatile Linx scripting, OnCall reminder, and built-in appointment features, coupled with automatic “chain deliveries” and many automatic functions, form a powerful system.

Evolving Technology: The technology behind telephone answering services has changed in the past thirty years. While answering calls, taking messages, and delivering information continues to be the basic service offered, the nature of how this service is handled has changed considerably. Computer technology has given rise to service automation. The widely accessible internet has fueled market expansion.

The major characteristic of Szeto Technologies can be summed up in one word: customization.

Streamlined Operation: Call Linx provides many automatic functions to relieve operators from manual executions of routine functions. This is especially valuable during high rush-hour traffic. These functions are designed to improve work quality and reduce operator workload. Some examples are:

  • Automatic verification of call-forwarding lines and confirmation of forwarding calls
  • Automatic identification of subscriber calls to operators
  • Automatic telephone line audit to assure the phone lines are working properly
  • Automatic follow-up calls and reminders
  • Automatic inhibition of call recording during credit card entry

Call Linx also provides many automatic functions to facilitate call processing and message delivery efficiencies. It helps to decrease operator training time, minimize typing errors, and increase delivery accuracy. Some examples are:

  • Auto-fill for “repeat entry” in scripted processing
  • Auto-fill entries based on caller profile
  • Auto conditional call branching based on caller answer
  • Automatic selection of message recipient dynamically from on call lists
  • Automatic web launch
  • Order entry and nearest dealer locator

Secured Messaging: Information security and privacy has become a major concern to clients using answering services, especially for the medical professions with the need to ensure HIPAA compliance. Szeto Technologies offers bidirectional secured message mobile apps under a generic label (with a Szeto designed icon) or a private label (with a unique icon dedicated specifically to the call center).

Software for both options resides in the customer’s equipment and is solely owned by the call center. Key features include:

  • Bidirectional service operators-to-users and users-to-users among groups
  • Speedy operation coupled with cell battery conservation
  • User and operator reminders for unread messages after timeout
  • Message transactions logged for traceability
  • Mobile APP locked for added security
  • User-defined quantity and duration of message retention in the device
  • Personalized ringtone for certain models of cell phones
  • Multiple recipients and contact groups for message broadcast
  • Option for delayed message delivery
  • Note attachments with transmitted messages

To ensure the flexibility of services in the offering of secured-message service, Szeto Technologies also provides software interfaces to third-party providers (TigerText, OnPage, eVigil, DocHalo, and SecureBridge) via specially designed APIs (application program interface).

Summary: The digital communications and internet world is continuously developing new technologies and protocols. The engineering team at Szeto Technologies is committed to keeping their clients ahead in this ever-changing industry. Szeto firmly believes that every piece of equipment its customers use should be oriented to their unique business needs. All Szeto products are customizable and flexible. They are designed to be simple to use, smart in functions, and cost-effective.

Szeto TechnologiesFor additional information please contact them at info@szeto.ca or 877-MY-SZETO (877-697-9386).