Tag Archives: Managing Call Center Agents

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.

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

Three Steps to Ensure That Live Chat Agents Support Your Brand Identity

By Tony Medrano

AI and machine learning are more than just trendy buzzwords. In many industries, including e-commerce, rapid advances in Artificial Intelligence and machine learning are giving companies huge competitive advantages right now. These technologies power live chat agent communications and help companies scale faster than ever before. However, if your brand is your most valuable asset, you want to make sure that your live chat agents support your brand identity, not tarnish it, before you set them loose on potential customers.

Brand conscious e-commerce companies find that chat agents have an increased impact on customer satisfaction, build a more resilient brand identity, and foster lifelong customers, while freeing up chat team leaders to tackle unique issues. Empowering human chat agents with these insights from machine learning enables brands to make the strongest emotional connection with customers.

1. Understand Your Customer’s Expectations: The first key to training live chat agents is to make sure that your agents have a solid understanding of what the customer’s expectation is when using live chat. After all, you cannot exceed expectations until you know what the expectations are. A live chat agent is not a replacement for an entire customer service team. Click To Tweet

Customers who opt for live chat most often want immediate service, clear answers, and positive interaction. Fast service is not enough for most customers. They’re used to texting with friends and getting an immediate response. Your live chat agent needs to be able to react right away.

The way your live chat agent responds is important as well. They need clear answers they can act on to questions they ask. This means that answers should have direct links when appropriate and incorporate information specific to the customer. If you can personalize customer service, you’ll improve brand loyalty.

A live chat agent also needs to make the customer feel good about the interaction. You already know people buy more when they are in a good mood. This means your live chat agent not only needs to be efficient but also friendly. This includes using appropriate greetings, asking if the customer has any other questions, and ending a chat session with an appropriate sign off.

2. Understand Your Brand’s Identity: Brand-conscious e-commerce companies have these goals:

  • Present a correct representation of the brand
  • Offer high-quality service for each customer interaction
  • Communicate accurate information about products and logistics

Are you a luxury brand that fosters attention to detail about your products? Are you a big box e-retailer working in many verticals that prioritize order size and a flexible return policy? Communicating your brand identity to live chat agents is crucial to ensuring that your customer service strategy represents you correctly.

A high quality of service ensures that chat conversations reinforce customers’ positive brand associations while increasing the chances your brand is top of mind for your customer base. Achieving these tenets of brand identity through live chat will strengthen brand recognition, association, and loyalty.

Often a customer service interaction falls into one of two categories: product information or logistics. The former interaction likely occurs before a customer has made a purchase. The customer may need more information about a product before deciding to buy. The latter interaction usually occurs when the customer is ready to check out or already has. They may have a question about the purchase process, shipping, or product delivery.

3. Understand the Role of Your Live Chat Agent: It can be difficult for brand conscious e-commerce companies to provide immediate service while communicating accurate product information. When accurately representing a luxury product to support a purchasing decision, for example, a chat agent’s accuracy trumps the speed of the interaction.

The good news is that brand-conscious companies prefer using in-house customer service agents, eliminating many possible pain points. It’s easier to maintain brand voice when chat team leaders are in contact with other brand representatives in the company. Furthermore, the quality of interaction is facilitated by increased monitoring of chat conversation management. Chat team leaders can communicate immediately with superiors to adjust human resources to meet contact center traffic.

Solutions: Develop Proper Management Structure: The biggest mistake a brand can make with live chat agents is expecting them to do too much. A live chat agent can solve most of the customer service issues that come in. However, a live chat agent is not a replacement for an entire customer service team. A live chat agent can deal with 80 to 90 percent of customer queries. But if you try and force your live chat agents to deal with things that require too much improvisation or that the agents do not have authority to handle, you will trigger negative customer interactions.

If you are clear that your live chat agent will only deal with a specific set of issues, then you can train them to quickly get assistance from a team leader when issues are beyond the scope of their power or authority to resolve. Few things are more frustrating for a customer than spending fifteen minutes on live chat only to find out that the chat agent needs to bring in backup. This situation can often be avoided by training live chat agents to know when it is time to escalate the chat for resolution.

If you don’t want your e-commerce company to be left behind, you need to synthesize an AI and machine learning tool with your live chat training to improve your brand’s identity online.

Tony Medrano is the co-founder and CEO for RapportBoost.AI, provider of a suite of live chat agent training solutions that use advanced machine learning and deep conversational analysis to organizations to guide their human customer success and chat sales teams to build stronger connections with customers. He can be reached at tony@rapportboost.ai.

Job Diversification for Call Center Agents

By Kathy Sisk

An agent’s job diversity is as important as salary and is vital for long-term employee commitment. Additionally, advancing qualified agents gives recognition to those who deserve it and leads to higher levels of job satisfaction.

How can you achieve advancement within an agent’s current position? By increasing responsibilities and diversifying job functions. Here are several tips:

  • When appropriate, allow agents to conduct public relations with a client.
  • Have agents contact previous clients and ask questions to determine how the company performed.
  • Each week offer clear objectives on something new agents can spend designated time
  • Allow agents to contact clients and ask for referrals or upsell and promote other products or services.
  • Rotate agents into the QA department to monitor and evaluate other agents. Then discuss how they would handle the calls differently. This helps determine if they are ready for more challenging tasks, but it’s also an excellent training tool to help them perform better.
  • Provide advanced training opportunities to prepare agents for higher-level positions.Offering agents variety and empowering tasks helps them have greater self-worth. Click To Tweet

These activities achieve three key benefits. First, by offering agents variety and empowering tasks helps them have greater self-worth. Second, the company improves its relationship with clients. And third, agents feel supported when the company offers training for advancement opportunities.

When a company provides rewarding opportunities, it increases the agent’s motivation and reduces burnout. This also improves the attitude of employees toward the company and its customers.

Many opportunities exist for agents to have more challenging roles and help stimulate career opportunities within the company. This is especially important for a company that wants to provide staff with clear direction and achievable goals. In turn, agents become more dedicated, and the company improves its retention rate.

When a company extinguishes their agents’ motivation by displaying a lack of interest, support, or potential advancement, it is essentially spending its dollars to train capable employees to advance themselves just enough to work elsewhere, including for the competition.

Kathy Sisk, founder and president of Kathy Sisk Enterprises Inc., is a trainer and consultant, contributing thirty-five years of expertise to the telemarketing, sales, and customer service industries.

Keep Your Call Center from Suffering a Privacy Incident

By Sachin Kothari

Call center managers have plenty to worry about. Just recruiting and keeping staff, watching margins, and managing stakeholders (external or internal) can keep you busy.

In addition, you know privacy and data protection are rapidly becoming major issues for any organization gathering or using customer data. The last thing you need is a privacy incident to mar your organization’s reputation or lead to aggrieved customers.

You might even be pitching breach remediation work as part of your business plan. That pretty much becomes moot if you have an embarrassing breach yourself. Therefore it’s vital to know where a call center’s vulnerabilities are and how to prevent them. The breach experts all say the same thing: Speed matters. Click To Tweet

Social Engineering: Terms like phishing, spear phishing, and whaling all refer to the practice of criminals misrepresenting themselves to employees—even high-level employees (the whales)—and convincing them to give away important information of their own accord. While movies and television might make hackers into scheming geniuses behind souped-up laptops, a simple phone call is almost all they need to get some unsuspecting employee to hand over a username and password or other compromising information.

Luckily the solution is relatively simple: Train, train, train. Employees must understand how important it is to stick to your policies about how information is handled and think critically about what it is they’re being asked to do for a customer. Most phishing techniques are apparent once you know what to look and listen for.

In truth, it’s likely some of the good training you’ve given your employees—designed to help them deliver great customer service—has created good intentions that can have bad results.

Consider the case of an important client calling a frontline call center employee and explaining that he wants to make some adjustments to his account. Suddenly, right in the middle of verifying his identity, this big fish says that he must take an important call and explains that his assistant will finish up.

Of course, this woman doesn’t know her boss’s credentials. That’s silly. He was just there on the phone, right? This shouldn’t be a problem. No one would fault that call center employee’s instinct to be helpful and make sure this assistant gets the important changes accomplished. This is an important client, and the assistant sounds nice and seems harried.

Of course, the call center employee has just found herself victim to a data breach.

Teach your employees about these scenarios and emphasize the importance of verifying identity according to your policy, without exception. Hackers are smart. Give them even the tiniest bit of personal information, and they can exploit it.

Who Can See What?: Even in today’s digital world, people need to write things down when working with customers. It’s a part of the call center job that will likely never go away. Make sure there’s a policy in place for destroying that piece of paper. How handy is your shredder?

Unless the shredder is in steady use, the janitorial staff could be selling client info to the highest bidder. Ideally your cleaning personnel has training and knows to destroy compromising information pronto, but custodial staff are often third-party vendors. Does your contract with them require training in information handling?

You should also make sure that your call center employees don’t have keys to every digital door. Invest in software that redacts information based on role and scenario. That way employees only see the information necessary for the call they’re handling.

Procedures for Escalation: Perhaps the most common issue is a lack of proper plans for what to do should something bad happen. What does your employee do if she gets a call from a customer saying someone has accessed their account? Does that employee know where to go for help?

The breach experts all say the same thing: Speed matters. The faster your security team knows that something is amiss, the faster they can act.

Just a single sign of improper access could mean a typhoon is coming. Maybe your security team recognizes a hot new piece of malware and knows how to quickly contain it. It’s vital that all employees, from frontline staff and shift managers right up to the chief information officer, know what the response plan is. 

Conclusion: Unfortunately, this is just the start. There are books that address this issue in detail. I hope you have auditing capabilities and smart procedures in place for screening potential employees to make sure they are who they say they are. If not, you should start by addressing this.

Regardless, the simple message is this: People make mistakes. They make more mistakes, however, when they don’t have any training to help them avoid making them.

Privacy and data security should be standard at call centers, no matter where you’re operating. Otherwise you might find you’re not operating at all.

Sachin Kothari is CIPP/US and director of online privacy and compliance at AT&T.

Three Steps to Establishing Positive Training ROI

By David Mathews

Training is one of the last remaining areas in business whose value and ROI are taken on little more than faith. We all get it.

Training is important. People need to know how to do their job. Managers need to know how to effectively lead. Companies need to protect themselves legally through annual compliance courses.

Luckily, training resources are everywhere. Whether you have a robust in-house learning and development team, outsource all of it to third parties, or are somewhere in between, there are thousands of companies, consultants, books, and platforms to help you accomplish the never-ending task of knowledge transfer.

But one area where there is shockingly little discussion or resource allocation is in what some call learning effectiveness or training analytics: How effective is your training as it pertains to your bottom line? Measured effectively, employee and manager training can verifiably produce dividends that far exceed the initial training investment. The key word here is verifiably.

Consider the following three steps to discover and then improve your organization’s total return on training.Capture data at a macro and micro level before and after the training. Click To Tweet

1) Ask the Right Questions: Learning effectiveness is more than a survey that learners fill out after a class. And while there are good reasons to know how your employees feel about a given training, ROI isn’t one of them.

Hopefully they liked it, but so what? Did they do anything differently because of it, or did they simply have an enjoyable four hours off the phones?

It’s the same thing with knowledge tests. No one would argue that knowledge is irrelevant. It’s clearly important, but by itself it isn’t predictive of behavior change. We all know eating pizza isn’t good for us. We all know exercise is important to our overall health.

The overarching goal of any training is to increase the profitability of the company via some intermediate objective. These objectives are simply a means to an end. They could be things like increased first call resolution, higher close rates, reduced average talk time, higher morale, lower attrition, and so forth.

If you want to accurately quantify the fiscal success (or lack thereof) of a given training, start with asking whether and by how much the metric of the objectives moved. From there it’s just a matter of translating that into dollars.

2) Acquire Data: Now that you’ve defined the appropriate questions, it’s time to collect data. This can be as simple or as complex as the metrics you are measuring. If you have an analytics team in place, they likely can help you acquire the data you need. In many cases you probably won’t need anything more complex than a spreadsheet. The important thing is to collect the data.

It’s usually a good idea to capture data at a macro and micro level before and after the training. This will help you to effectively isolate other variables that could affect the metric, thus leading to a purer training impact analysis.

3) Analyze the Results and Create a Plan: Take the results at face value, but also dig deeper. Numbers on their own are great for a PowerPoint presentation, but the story they tell is where you will get the biggest impact. Maybe you find that post-training, first call resolution improved by 10 percent—but why? Was it isolated to a particular group or manager? If there were folks that didn’t complete the training, did they show a similar increase? Find the story.

Monetize it. This is where training analytics has a chance to really shine. If you were measuring the impact of a coaching class for managers and you find that final written warnings decreased by 20 percent as a result of more effective coaching skills, then that can be quantified. If you know that 50 percent of all final written warnings end up in employee separation, know the onboarding cost of a new rep, and know how many fewer final written warnings there were, you can easily assign a fiscal return on that training. Put that number against the overall cost of the training program and you’ll have an accurate training ROI.

But why stop there? People learn by association and through repetition. Now you have concrete evidence to justify a phase two of your coaching class. Act on this new plan, keep measuring, and you will keep achieving.

The Bottom Line: A small step for training is to say that training is a bottom-line issue. Any job posting for training director job titles is likely to include some verbiage about business results. This is a good start.

A giant leap for training is to measure things that really matter, tie them to your bottom line, and take that data to make your training program even better. It’s a positive feedback loop.

With verifiable positive training ROI, it’s much easier to budget for more.

David Mathews is president of Training Analytics and Consulting LLC. With over fifteen years in the learning and development field, he has helped pioneer robust training analytics operations at some of the most well-known companies in the world. David is a recognized expert at translating raw data into meaningful and actionable business insights that will increase the impact and ROI of any training organization. Contact David at david@trainingtac.com or 469-626-7980.

Enhancing Call Center Culture That Increases ROI

By Dwayne King

Many call centers measure success by how fast they can close tickets and get off the phone. In contrast, customers seek deeper connections with the brands they love, and often their only direct human interaction with that brand is through the call center. Even if your company doesn’t push for and track metrics on closure rates and resolution time, call center personnel are trained to treat conversations as transactions. Their goal is to resolve the issue at hand and move on to the next customer. These approaches ignore an opportunity to connect with customers, build stronger relationships, and increase loyalty.

In one study, 87 percent of respondents said they were more likely to recommend a brand based on a great experience, 80 percent were more likely to consider a brand if they knew they would have a great experience, and nearly six in ten organizations were prepared to pay more for a brand that offered a great experience. A transactional interaction, focused on closing the ticket quickly, squanders the chance to build a lasting customer relationship and positive brand appeal. It also misses an opportunity to reinforce the culture and values that build customer loyalty.

In this crowded and noisy world, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to attract and maintain attention all while building a loyal customer base. So how do you ensure that your customer service team is looking beyond merely answering the phone and taking orders? How do you help them empathize with each caller and offer the deep human connection customers crave?

We often see linear customer life cycles that start with identifying the customer and end with support. This reinforces the idea of support as a cost-center. However, with the right culture, training, and mind-set, support centers can become brand ambassadors that provide a human connection to illustrate and reinforce culture and values.Ensure your brand promise by defining how you’re going to treat your customers. Click To Tweet

Yet while customers are trying to connect with a company, call centers are often geographically distanced from the main operations of a company. Without intentional effort to include them, they can develop their own culture and values that separate them from the company’s brand promise. Understanding the values and culture of an organization is pivotal to creating and delivering the experience companies want to give their customers and the experience customers want to have. Here are the ways we encourage call centers to promote a strong and successful culture to drive loyalty, sales, and a higher customer-lifetime value.

Solidify Your Brand: Ensure your brand promise by defining how you’re going to treat your customers. Then make sure it is consistent through every channel, especially for your support team. To create this consistency with agents, we recommend training that includes developing their empathy, deep listening, and reframing skills.

Build Empathy: Conduct an empathy-mapping exercise with your team. Begin by having them list the types of customers they encounter, letting them explore different attitudes, complaints and situations. Now have them create empathy maps for each type of customer. What might the customer be thinking, feeling, doing, or wanting? What are their pain points? Lastly, have the team discuss and document how they could best serve each customer, solving pain points and creating delight.

Understand Deep Listening and Reframing: Train your team on interview techniques that identify a root cause versus a symptom of the customer’s issue. Help them focus on the problem they’re trying to solve and not what customers are necessarily asking for. What is not enough; coach them to ask why.

Henry Ford famously said, “If I’d asked my customers what they wanted, they’d have said a faster horse.” Instead of raising thoroughbreds, though, Ford considered why. Americans actually wanted mobility and speed—an affordable and quick way to move from home to work. Ford’s ability to reframe a request enabled a massive shift in class and quality of life, first in the United States and eventually around the world. To be more like Ford, teach your team that, in order to identify the root cause of a problem, they need to reframe the client’s request to deliver the best experience for the customer and the most value for the company.

Implement Training: Create training sessions where an employee role-plays as one of the customers identified during the empathy mapping exercise. Have him or her call in with a request or issue. Then take turns practicing various scenarios to exercise your employees’ deep listening skills.

Questioning strategies include the following:

  • Use open-ended questions: Avoid questions that lead the caller to a specific answer, and be careful not to introduce a biased opinion.
  • Watch your language: Use simple words and short, single purpose questions. Also, be mindful of internal company jargon that may confuse the caller.
  • Utilize your tools: Understanding a conversation or request may require an agent to combine insights gleaned from the empathy-mapping process with the root cause behind a call. Using these two strategies, call center staff can reframe an order or issue into a more expansive opportunity.

Influence your brand narrative by creating a positive, productive experience that leads to a memorable interaction. Not only will it increase customer lifetime value, but it can transform your contact center from an operating cost to a valuable brand advocate.

Dwayne King is the chief strategy officer at Pinpoint, a design strategy agency in Portland, Oregon. He has led creative teams for over fifteen years. Dwayne believes in digging into business and customer needs first, and he transforms himself in every project from a questioning student to a confident strategist.

Ten Tips to Create Inbound Telemarketing Incentives That Work

By Kaela Heft

Managing inbound incentives for telemarketing services can be easy if you know your team, what they like, and what drives them. It’s also the fun part of the job, for both the frontline team as well as the managers. Call center work is a tough job, and shame on us if we don’t take every opportunity we can to make the job more fun.

It’s All About Prizes, Money, and Recognition: Many managers think the best incentives that drive a team to do better are prizes and money. Yet if there is one thing I have learned in eighteen years in the telemarketing services industry, the biggest prize that drives the frontline team is recognition for a job done well. Yes, prizes and money are great, but the satisfaction of hearing your manager give a shout out such as “Great job” or “Thank you” is something much more valuable. Recognition is a guaranteed confidence booster, and it will drive reps to want to do better and keep them motivated and happy. Motivated employees are productive employees, and happy employees create satisfied customers. The biggest prize that drives the frontline team is recognition for a job done well. Click To Tweet

Great Incentives Help a Team Hit Their Goals: Of course, money and prizes are an added bonus that no one will turn down. The key is to find what motivates the team and helps drive performance.

Here are my top ten tips for successful inbound incentives.

  1. Make sure everyone knows the goal. Your key performance indicators (KPIs) won’t be achieved if everyone isn’t aware of them and working to reach them.
  2. Gear incentives around different products reps are not used to pitching. I call this “moving their cheese.” The more they pitch the product, the better they understand it.
  3. Offer incentives that relate to their job—something they can use in their office, such as a headset, office supplies, or a bookshelf.
  4. Plan incentives around each season. For example, in the summer I like to give away outdoor rewards such as a fire pit, a grill, or a water tube.
  5. Give the reps an opportunity to tell you what they would like to see for incentives that month. Get them involved.
  6. Play a game each month, and make it something different from month to month to keep your team excited.
  7. Base incentives around their successes. For example, if they score a 90 percent or above on their quality monitoring, have a prize geared around that.
  8. Set goals—not only for the team, but for each individual.
  9. Engage with agents. Asking telemarketing services frontline reps to share successes with the team is another huge motivator. This lets your frontline know that you recognize their abilities and appreciate their hard work and dedication. This also helps reps who are struggling to get a different perspective on how to improve.
  10. Tap positive competition. A little friendly rivalry never hurt anyone and is good for the team. Create it and reward it.

Whether you are looking for telemarketing services or you are working to improve your own team in outsourced telemarketing, knowing what motivates your staff is crucial. Every team is different, and when you can determine what works and what doesn’t, it’s a win-win situation.

Kaela Heft is a customer service supervisor for Quality Contact Solutions, a leading outsourced inbound and outbound telemarketing organization. Kaela has been in the telemarketing business for over eighteen years. She currently supervises a team of customer service representatives with QCS At Home, a work-from-home telemarketing and call center operation.

Take Care of the People Who Take Care of Your Call Center

Szeto Technologies

By Sherry Gouel

The priority in running a successful call center is keeping clients satisfied. Although the primary focus is customer service, the people who provide client satisfaction also should be acknowledged. The success of your business relies on the efficiency and professionalism of your staff. The agents who answer calls and interact with clients reflect the company. Business owners acknowledge and thank their staff for their efforts, particularly during the holiday season, but many things can be done throughout the year to show appreciation, too. It’s critical to communicate that your agents are important to your business and that their well-being matters.

Some common health concerns agents face are neck and shoulder tension, eyestrain from monitors, and back problems from sitting too much or a lack of movement. Some problems are less obvious but just as problematic – such as job monotony and feeling unappreciated.

Here are a few ideas to help agents who sit in front of a screen for extended periods.

Desks: Recent health news calls sitting the new smoking. Health professionals warn that too much time sitting is detrimental to your health. Research shows that excess sitting can cause health problems, such as increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, and cardiovascular diseases. In “What Are the Risks of Sitting Too Much,” Mayo Clinic’s Dr. James A. Levine explains, “Spending a few hours a week at the gym or otherwise engaged in moderate or vigorous activity doesn’t seem to significantly offset the risk.” Regular movement throughout the day is important.

Encourage agents to get up and move around regularly. Many desks address this by allowing users to alternate between sitting and standing while using a computer. These standing desks are height adjustable, which encourages workers to stand and move during work hours. Adjustable desks start at about $300. A less costly version sits on an existing desk. Its platforms (one for monitor and one for keyboard) can be raised or lowered to accommodate standing and sitting positions.

Chair Massage: Massages are always a welcome relief for tense neck and shoulder pain. Rather than send your staff to a massage therapist, why not bring the therapist to the office? Employers can surprise employees by offering a ten-minute chair massage. This helps alleviate neck and shoulder tension while at work, and it’s a great way to thank staff as you show concern for their well-being.

Change the Routine: Workplace monotony can have a number of negative consequences. Employees who repeat the same tasks every day can become unmotivated and uninterested in their work. Need proof? Listen to an agent’s voice at the beginning of his or her shift and again at the end. The latter will not have the same vitality and enthusiasm as the first.

Employee cross-training can benefit everyone. Employees trained to work on different aspects of the business can vary their work by performing different tasks throughout the week. Cross-training also creates versatile employees who can substitute for an absent or sick coworker.

A Little Flexibility: Having flexible schedules is difficult at call centers, but a little flexibility makes a big difference. Find out if an employee prefers to work early in the morning or later in the day, or if starting fifteen minutes later will provide relief since it will allow them to bring a child to school instead of having to find an alternative solution. If it’s easy to accommodate without affecting service levels, then why not allow it? Those extra fifteen minutes can greatly relieve a stressful situation. These little benefits are highly valued by employees and reduce turnovers.

Free but Invaluable: Another small gesture, cost-free yet invaluable, is engaging with employees and showing an interest in their personal life. Take the time to grab a coffee with a staff member and ask about his or her family or what would make that employee’s job easier. Do you know your agents’ birthdays? No one wants to feel invisible. Taking a few minutes to acknowledge an employee is crucial in making him or her feel like part of the team.

Small acts can mean a great deal. It’s all about feeling appreciated. Take care of the people who take care of your business.Szeto Technologies

Sherry Gouel handles sales and marketing support for Szeto Technologies.


It’s Time to Replace the Annual Performance Appraisal

By Donna Fluss

Providing timely job-related feedback to agents will improve the customer experience along with the performance of your contact center or back-office operating department. Most employees welcome constructive feedback, suggestions, and coaching, particularly when tied to events they remember. Quality assurance (or quality management) programs are designed to provide timely feedback to employees so they know what they are doing right and where they can improve their performance.

Why Agent Reviews Must Go: The annual performance appraisal process is disliked by managers and employees alike. When it comes to contact centers, the annual appraisal is frequently irrelevant, particularly when it’s not tied to the quality assurance (QA) process. Even worse, it’s often demotivating for agents and a huge time drain for managers who go through the process simply because it’s required.

It’s ironic that the most important goal of the review process is to motivate employees, yet after waiting an entire year, most leave the discussion feeling alienated from their managers, undervalued, disengaged, or worse yet, “surprised.” In most cases, the feedback itself is a case of “too little, too late” and too far removed from the events or demonstrated behavior to have a positive impact on improving performance. And when these annual evaluations are used as the primary factor in deciding salary increases, it negatively affects the effectiveness of the quality assurance program, since agents learn quickly that QA results have little effect on their performance appraisals. Clearly, something has to change.

Performance Management Improves the Employee Experience: Historical and real-time contact center performance management should be used to replace the annual appraisal process. Performance management solutions act as consolidators, creating balanced scorecards that provide a quantitative view of agent and department performance.

These solutions collect performance data from QA, customer surveys, the automatic call distributor (ACD), customer relationship management (CRM) system, sales and collections applications, and more to assess how well agents and managers are doing to meet their goals. While they don’t address qualitative issues, they present a single system of record and promote a sense of fairness that helps to create a cycle of success, as compared to annual reviews that often drive employees away.

Real-time performance management has the ability to transform the employee feedback process by giving managers, supervisors, and employees the real-time data they need to become active participants in managing their performance and development on an ongoing basis. Real-time performance management aligns employee key performance indicators (KPIs) and goals with the enterprise’s strategic objectives and provides real-time, data-driven insights on employee performance relative to individual goals, peers, team, and the contact center.

This high degree of transparency delineates how each individual’s performance directly affects enterprise goals. The emphasis on aligning goals and identifying positive corrective action promotes accountability and motivates employees to modify behavior and improve performance, thus resulting in the delivery of a better customer experience and creating a performance-driven culture.

Final Thoughts: Real-time performance management provides feedback to give employees and managers actionable intelligence that empowers them to take corrective measures on a timely basis. Knowing where they stand at all times promotes awareness and drives ongoing modifications in behavior that result in greater employee engagement, improved agent performance, and ultimately higher levels of customer satisfaction. Real-time performance management transforms the performance appraisal from a static hindsight event to a dynamic, forward-looking process that provides ongoing, targeted feedback and recognition to drive incremental improvements.

Donna Fluss is the founder of DMG Consulting, a vendor-independent research and consulting firm that analyzes contact center and back-office technology and best practices. Contact her at donna.fluss@dmgconsult.com with any questions you may have or to learn how to make today’s innovative and powerful technologies and best practices work for your organization.