Tag Archives: Outsourcing Articles

A Concise Guide for Outsourcing Success, Part Five



By Kathy Sisk

To conclude our series of articles on outsourcing success, here are two optional topics we need to address.

Consider an Independent Project Manager

If you are not comfortable selecting the ideal agency for your company and managing the relationship, or if you simply don’t have the time, you may wish to consider outsourcing this to an expert. Try one of the many independent project management companies in the business of helping you not only to select the agency, but also negotiate the terms and rates on your behalf. 

In addition, these companies can write call scripts, monitor agents remotely, and manage your account from beginning to end. Should you decide to outsource through an independent project management firm, be sure to use the steps provided earlier in this series to help you narrow down the selection process and find the ideal project manager for you.

Outsourcing is an all-or-nothing venture. Click To Tweet

Benefits of Strategically Small Outsourcing Ventures

Many believe that outsourcing is an all-or-nothing venture. But it doesn’t have to involve shutting down an existing operation or handing off the entire operation to a third party, thus leaving your employees jobless. 

Many companies have found that outsourcing even just a small percentage of calls based on specific times or call types can be an effective way for their organization to: 

  • handle heavy call volumes during peak hours-of-the-day, days-of-the-week, or weeks-of-the-year 
  • expand hours of operation
  • provide crucial coverage during service interruptions at the call center (disaster response and crisis recovery)
  • cut call-handling and seasonal-hiring costs 
  • free up agents to focus on more complex or profitable transactions
  • conduct outbound call handling such as cold calling or reviving lost customers

No matter what you decide, the call center industry is still thriving and growing. Call center excellence is essential today more than ever to ensure your operation. Or if you choose to outsource, you can access the right tools, hire exceptional talent, and provide ongoing soft skills training, monitoring, and coaching. 

Your customers are your most important asset. Therefore, handle your interactions with them with excellence. 

For more information about setting up, reengineering, outsourcing, and project managing your call center operations, Kathy Sisk Enterprises can help you. They have over forty years’ experience with satisfied clients and centers across the globe.

How Automated Analytics Can Elevate Agent Performance and Experience



By Brad Snedeker

As a business process outsourcer (BPO) or outsourcing contact center, your agents serve as the face of your clients’ businesses. Low performance and high agent turnover can have a negative impact on the overall business. This can manifest in reduced end-customer loyalty and satisfaction. 

Even in the best of times, high-quality agent training and assessment presents challenges. In 2020, with a sudden shift to agents working from home due to the pandemic, the emphasis on proper training, monitoring, and assessment has become even more critical. This applies not only to new agents joining your organization, but also to existing agents who may be taking on new roles, new clients, or new channels.

Through automated analytics, contact centers can also uncover training opportunities due to changes in their own processes. Click To Tweet

Automating Data Science for Improved Interactions

One traditional way of teaching agents how to interact with customers has been to shadow a top-performing agent. But job shadowing has its limitations. It’s difficult to learn how to respond to different customer needs, the trainer agent might act differently when the trainee watching, and the trainee has limited time to learn and ask questions. Even so, shadowing can be helpful for agents to get a high-level feel for the tone and language they should emulate. But training shouldn’t end there.

Today, contact centers can leverage software automation to record and analyze agent interactions over the phone, email, chat, and social media. Centers can also use this information in near real-time to enable virtual or on-site management insights and training inspiration. This approach to training offers a richer experience and helps build agent confidence. It also makes training more efficient since you’re not asking other agents or managers to listen to and respond to every scenario or question.

Interaction monitoring, recording, and analytics together can reveal the why, not just the what, of agent performance, allowing managers to uncover trends and improve interactions for better long-term outcomes. It offers an opportunity to improve training for specific agents and enhance the customer experience for future interactions.

Uncovering Best and Not-So-Best Practices

Using massive quantities of data and automated analytics to uncover specific areas where agent behavior is impacting a customer interaction can shed light on experiences both positive and negative. This shows agents specific areas where they can improve, as well as find examples of behavior or language that other agents can emulate. A well-provisioned quality management system can even allow a contact center to share best practices with the click of a button, creating a library of successful examples.

For instance, one contact center manager discovered that an increasing number of retail customer calls escalated from first-contact agents to a supervisor. This diverted the supervisor’s attention away from other aspects of the business and hindered unrelated KPIs.

Voice-of-the-customer (and employee) analytics allowed the team to isolate relevant interactions based on this pattern of escalation and apply speech analysis. The analysis revealed the exact point in the conversations where the agents needed supervisor assistance. This level of insight gave the retailer the why for agents who struggled to manage challenging and emotional calls.

Using analytics, the managers identified the agents who grappled with this type of interaction. This allowed them to implement targeted training and assistance, creating a new best practice for all agents. 

Not only was this beneficial for the retail brand’s reputation with customers, it also helped agents improve their skill sets and learn how to de-escalate situations by modifying how agents interacted with customers. Reducing the stress of interactions had the additional benefit of creating happier, more successful agents who were less likely to turn over. 

When Change Dictates New Training

Through automated analytics, contact centers can also uncover training opportunities due to changes in their own processes.

For example, using speech analytics as part of its normal quality control efforts, one contact center identified a correlation between the use of phrases like “I don’t know” and calls placed on hold. Further, managers found a pattern in which calls placed on hold spiked when leaders deployed a new knowledge base. The company had inadvertently introduced its own problem. The analysis helped leaders quickly institute training in the areas where agents had knowledge gaps when new tasks were added, avoiding any long-term impact.

Unexpected situations can also trigger a need for extra training, but without analytics offering insight on changes and the new landscape of operations, leaders often don’t know where to start. 

According to a Calabrio study, 89 percent of contact centers had at least half their agents shift to a work-from-home model due to the pandemic. This compares to only 36 percent of contact centers with half their agents working remotely pre-pandemic.

Contact centers using analytics can stay close to their teams and quickly identify impacts on interactions and behaviors for new remote agents, as well as track how agents are functioning during this time of crisis. For example, KPIs might have indicated longer-than-usual call-resolution times. However, live interaction monitoring and analytics showed that agents were dealing with more customers who were scared, sad, or confused. 

This caused agents to modify their behaviors and spend additional time reassuring callers and working through fewer calls. New training, then, placed the emphasis on easy displays of empathy and ways to navigate complex interactions rather than on speed and low handle times.

Creating a Culture of CX Excellence

In addition to identifying weaknesses, centers can tap analytics to create a continuous culture of improvement. One area where this is especially important is with the customer experience (CX). Customer expectations will become more demanding in the future. In fact, 69 percent of contact center managers expect customers to have an increased need for emotional empathy in customer service interactions post-pandemic. Analytics can be a tool to support agents as customer needs evolve.

For example, sentiment analysis can help contact centers analyze customer and agent tone, as well as track how satisfied customers are based on their voice or text interactions. Radial, a BPO serving leading retail brands, used sentiment analysis to identify strategies to improve its end customers’ experience.

Using speech and text analytics, Radial identified instances of powerless-to-help language and phrases like “not allowed,” “unfortunately,” and “I wish we could” in customer interactions. Leaders correlated those to negative-sentiment scores. The results allowed Radial to create training and strategies to empower agents with the right tools, resources, and language to improve interactions and reduce negative-sentiment scores.

Simply by understanding the correlation between specific language and sentiment, Radial increased its net first-contact resolution by 3 percent, increased net customer satisfaction (CSAT) by 2.1 percent, and improved net agent demeanor by .56 percent. 

Not Just for the Customer

In the past, analytics-based insights had the stigma of being micro-managerial or critical toward agents. However, modern analytics use is meant to be pro-agent, offering support when needed and credit when deserved. By leveraging workforce engagement management tools together—including recording, quality management, workforce management, analytics, and reporting—contact centers now have the technologies they need to understand the details behind the good and the not-so-good customer-agent interactions. With this knowledge now easily accessible, applying training to make each interaction a positive one has the potential to improve every aspect of contact center work.

With more than fifteen years in the industry, Brad Snedeker has extensive knowledge of the contact center space. As Calabrio’s director of innovation, he ensures that customers have access to the best training available. He works directly with users to develop new and innovative techniques to implement workforce optimization best practices.

A Concise Guide for Outsourcing Success, Part Four



By Kathy Sisk

Once you select the agency you feel most confident in and the contract is signed, the real challenge begins; you must manage the venture. This includes preparing to transition calls to them and overseeing ongoing performance. 

The following three practices will help you effectively manage your outsourcing venture:

Take whatever steps you need to ensure that the outsourcing venture remains transparent to your customers. Click To Tweet

1. Take Control from the Start 

Assign a management team from within your call center or organization to oversee the outsourcing venture and openly communicate with the agency on a regular basis. This includes selecting the specific account management team at the agency that will manage your account. 

Some call centers opt to have one or more of their managers work on-site at the agency to closely supervise the activity each day. Take whatever steps you need to ensure that the outsourcing venture remains transparent to your customers and that they receive the best possible service that is representative of your organization.

2. Provide or Oversee All Training

Your company is responsible for ensuring that the supervisory staff and agents at the agency receive all necessary training to handle your specific account. Have your management team or internal trainers educate the agency’s supervisors and trainers on your products and services, upselling and cross-selling preferences, call scripts, and incentives. The agency’s staff can then deliver the same training to its agents under your supervision. Or you may want your manager or trainer to provide such training to the assigned agents.

3. Evaluate the Agency’s Performance Regularly 

Ensure that the agency sends your management team regular reports on call statistics, agent performance, and customer feedback. Also make sure your management team provides the agency’s managers and agents with any necessary feedback and additional training as needed. 

In addition, if possible, have your management team visit the agency often and get directly involved in the monitoring process; however, this can be done remotely. Don’t be afraid to request a particular agent or supervisor be removed from your account if you are not satisfied with their performance.

[In the next issue, we will wrap up this series with a look at some additional topics.]

For more information about setting up, reengineering, outsourcing, and project managing your call center operations, Kathy Sisk Enterprises can help you. They have over forty years’ experience with satisfied clients and centers across the globe.

A Concise Guide for Outsourcing Success, Part Two



By Kathy Sisk

Should you decide that outsourcing may be right for you from a financial standpoint, consider the following steps to assist you in selecting a specific agency that will meet your specific budget and service requirements.

Step 1: Design an RFP (request for proposal).

Make sure your request describes the nature of the venture and exactly what you are looking for, including agent skill sets, specific service-level objectives, technology requirements, reporting capabilities, and previous experience with your account type. 

Think of the RFP as a job description, but more in-depth. To ensure the best match, include information such as forecasted outsource volumes by hour-of-day and day-of-week, average call length, and even agent incentive strategies that work at your existing center. 

An agency's tone of voice and the way they conduct themselves is often representative of the kind of performance you can expect from their staff once they begin handling calls. Click To Tweet

 Be sure to ask each candidate to provide you with a list of their existing clients, including contact information, as well as information on the agency’s fees and other additional charges. Ask specifically for information on monthly base charges, programming and connectivity costs, telephone usage costs, and labor costs.

Step 2: Review returned RFPs and narrow down the candidates.

Select proposals that are complete, concise, and meet your minimum specifications. Check out the agency’s references. While it is unusual for an agency to give you contacts who will prove to be bad references, you can always read between the lines if you ask the right questions, such as: 

  • How productive are they now compared to when you first started doing business with them?
  • If you could improve in any area, what would it be?

Take careful notes during your reference checks.

Step 3: Conduct a phone interview.

Call each agency that survives the initial weeding-out process. Have a list of detailed questions prepared and listen to how well they represent themselves. Their tone of voice and the way they conduct themselves is often representative of the kind of performance you can expect from their staff once they begin handling calls. 

[In the next issue, we’ll cover steps 4 and 5 of selecting a call center agency.]

For more information about setting up, reengineering, outsourcing, and project managing your call center operations, visit Kathy Sisk Enterprises. They have over forty years’ experience with satisfied clients and centers across the globe.

Do You Need a 24/7 Contact Center Vendor?



By Patricia Qvern

As consumers, we want every call center that provides us with service to operate twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. We want to be able to call and order a “thingamabob” at 1:00 a.m. or reach a live person when it’s 90 degrees and the air conditioner isn’t working. As consumers, we love to have the convenience and reliability of picking up the phone and getting what we want or need on our schedule. The reality is, thought, we don’t always get what we want. We must compromise, and this often means calling during regular business hours. In some instances, this is okay—just a little inconvenient.

But what about the times when you need immediate customer service? And how does a business determine if offering 24/7 inbound call center services is necessary?

When I step away from being the consumer and look at it from a business perspective, there are several factors that companies should consider to determine if a 24/7 contact center vendor is necessary for handling their inbound customer contacts. If your contact center vendor can’t recruit good, reliable people for the middle of the night, then your program may be better off playing a message letting callers know your hours of operation. Click To Tweet

24/7 Challenges

First, the bad news is that 24/7 staffing is more difficult and more expensive than normal business hours staffing.

  • When a contact center vendor provides staffing for sixteen hours a day or twenty-four hours a day, the added cost isn’t just the additional staffing. The contact center vendor must also ensure that the team has support from management, quality assurance, and technical staff.
  • With a 24/7 operation, your contact center vendor never closes, so making software adjustments or equipment repairs require careful scheduling. This minimizes any disruption to the service provided to your customers.
  • With a 24/7 call center operation, you must determine how to handle holidays. Do your customers expect 24/7 coverage 365 days a year? If so, scheduling can become a significant challenge, and many state laws require paying employees double time on holidays.
  • Forecasting call volume to staff the nonstandard hours is more delicate. It’s on a smaller scale than standard hours, and this means your accuracy could make the difference between being understaffed or overstaffed.
  • Managing a 24/7 call center operation with different call types, including order taking, customer service, billing questions, technical support, and other types of calls may require you to cross-train more staff to work the nonpeak hours of operation. This will ensure that you have needed staff to cover all the different skills required for different incoming call queues.
  • Another factor to consider when evaluating if your contact center vendor needs to be 24/7 is the availability of a good quality workforce during the graveyard shift. If your selected contact center vendor can’t recruit good, reliable people for the middle of the night, then your program may be better off playing a message letting callers know your hours of operation and asking them to call back—especially if the volume of calls is very low.

24/7 Situations

The following questions can help you determine if you require a 24/7 contact center vendor.

  • Is the volume substantial enough to cost-justify staffing the contact center vendor operation during all hours of the day, seven days a week?
  • Do your customers and prospects require 24/7 support? For healthcare organizations or home service contractors, the answer is often yes. Life happens at any hour and can require immediate attention or the outcome could be life altering. Some professional services, such as financial, insurance, and legal, may also benefit from around-the-clock phone coverage. Also, consider the retail industry, where accessibility, convenience, and being able to talk to a customer service representative at 1:00 a.m. makes them stand out from the competition.

While the decision isn’t always clear, these are some points to consider when analyzing if your contact center vendor needs to be 24/7. Many companies can benefit from providing an open line of communication with a live person at all hours. It promotes confidence, trust, and reliability. It’s up to you to determine if the cost is worth the benefit.

Patricia Qvern is an operations manager at Quality Contact Solutions, an outsourced contact center vendor. Patricia has twenty years of experience in the telemarketing and call center industry. As an operations manager, she is responsible for managing the day-to-day relationship with clients and front-line contact center teams.

Outsourced Telemarketing: Data Collection Best Practices

By Melissa Hinrichs

Capturing data during a telemarketing call seems straightforward, doesn’t it? The telemarketing agent simply types in what the customer says. However, when it comes to analyzing data and running reports from that data, it becomes evident that the more streamlined the data capture process, the better the data is. Here are four basic steps I follow when setting up the data capture process with any new telemarketing program.

1) Understand Client Expectations: The first rule is: Never assume anything. Assumption can be a killer for all parties involved. Make sure you clearly understand what data elements are required by the client. In addition, make sure you clearly understand every data field that will be required, the file layout format requirements, the data capture limitations, and the fields that can be overwritten with updated data during the telephone call.

Set up a meeting with a client or make a phone call to clarify some of these answers if necessary. A client will respect you for caring about their data enough to take the time to ask.

2) Set Up Data Capture: Once you have identified the data capture requirements, make sure you set up your program so you are able to limit any possibilities of mistakes during the data capture process. While this may seem to be a time killer in the beginning, it will save you time in the end. There are many ways to try to limit the possibility of errors. Here are my recommendations:

  • Drop-Down Lists:It’s helpful to limit fields to specific answers, such as yes/no or a list of choices. This enables the telemarketing agent to move through the script more quickly and also helps ensure that the captured data is accurate. One example is providing a drop-down list of relevant or acceptable titles to choose from to prevent getting VP of Sales, Vice President of Sales, Sales VP, or some other combination. Check with your client and create a single list of standard titles.
  • Field Requirements: This can mean many things. For instance, for required fields, make sure the agent must provide an answer in those fields. If it’s a field that should only be a number, restrict it to a numeric field so agents can only enter a number. In addition, if the data field has a length restriction, limit the data capture field length. This will ensure that data isn’t truncated, and it saves valuable time later spent trying to figure out how to fix the data on the back end.
  • Rules: Determine what capitalization rules the data must follow, and then make every field require the proper use of capitalization. It looks sloppy if you have some fields in uppercase, while others are both uppercase and lowercase. Take a close look at all drop-down lists or pre-populated fields to ensure that you’re following consistent capitalization rules.

3) Create Checks and Balances: The program is now up and running and the data is captured. Great! You’ve set up everything so the data should be captured correctly, so go ahead and send the data to your client. Wrong! As much as I wish that all data collection processes resulted in perfect data, there always seems to be occasional errors. As data specialists we must catch those errors before the client catches them for us.

The best thing is to set up a system to double-check the results. This step takes place after the raw data is extracted from the telemarketing database and before we send data to a client. It’s best to do this double-check on a daily basis. If you find an error on day one, you can create a systemic fix that potentially prevents that type of data entry error from occurring again.

Ask the following questions: Are there answers in a field that should be blank? Are there answers missing in fields that should be populated? Are all the required fields completed with the relevant data? Doing a careful double-check on a daily basis helps ensure that data errors are not passed on to a client.

4) Deliver the Data: Bravo! You’re ready to deliver the data your client has been waiting for. There are three key pieces of information when delivering data:

  • Is the file type comma-delimited, tab-delimited, or in Excel?
  • What is the deadline for the data to be submitted?
  • Will the file be submitted via email or SFTP?

When you’re working with a new client, it’s a good idea to find out the answers to these questions before you start the telemarketing program. This helps ensure that you’re not scrambling to access this information at the last minute. In addition (and particularly with more complex data files), it is always a good idea to send a sample data file for the client to approve before sending actual data.

When it comes to the world of data, following these four steps ensures the delivery of good clean data.

Melissa Hinrichs is director of client services for Quality Contact Solutions, an outsourced telemarketing organization. Melissa leads a team that ensures that client data and reports are delivered on time and without errors. With more than twenty years of database management and reporting experience, Melissa loves helping her clients make better business decisions by providing them with relevant data and reports on a daily basis. Reach Melissa at melissa.hinrichs@qualtiycontactsolutiosn.com or 516-656-5125.

[From Connection MagazineJuly/August 2016]

Ten Steps to Finding the Right Car or Outsource Call Center Solution

By Stephen Ferber

Although my wife and I have been in the car-buying market before, this time is different. The car is not for us. It is for our soon to be sixteen-year-old daughter. For the first time, so many new factors have been part of our decision-making process: Buy or lease? New or “pre-owned?” How much to spend? How does cost play into safety concerns? What do we do with the car when she goes to college? Does our thirteen-year-old son acquire primary rights to the keys when he turns sixteen during the middle of our daughter’s freshman year in college? I could go on, but you get the point.

So, after we made our automobile decision, the complex (or dysfunctional) circuits in my brain, no doubt affected by my years in the call center industry, sent the following question to the front of my mind: Can we draw parallels between buying or leasing a car with making an informed decision about picking the right outsource call center solution?

I found an article on Edmunds.com, the self-proclaimed “US Online Resource for Automotive Information.” The article is called “10 Steps to Finding the Right Car for You.” It was comprehensive and well-structured, yet simple as well.

I took Edmunds’s ten steps for acquiring a new car and applied them to selecting the best outsource call center solution. This is not meant to be something formal – just something you can add to your file of call center resources.

There is nothing super-mystical about this. As with most strategic business decisions and transactions, there are three steps to take: 1) sound planning as to what you want to achieve; 2) a well thought-out and implemented process to get there; and 3) trusting your experience, your advisors or teammates, and your gut instincts to make a selection.

Step #1: Consider Your Needs Rather Than Your Wants.

Automobile Needs: How many passengers do you want to carry? What type of driving do you want to do? Is fuel economy a priority? Which is more important, functionality or styling?

Call Center Needs: How many call center agents do you currently need? How many do you anticipate needing at any seasonal or other peak periods? What about permanent ramping down the road? Do you require customer service, technical support, sales, inbound, outbound, back-office, social media support, or a combination of capabilities? How important are the economics to you? Can you evaluate your call center options based on a healthy balance between quality and cost? Or is cost the driving factor? How much weight do you assign to operational processes, company culture, results, and management versus the beauty of the building, furniture, flooring, layout, overall appearance of the facility, and desirability of the geographical destination?

Step #2: How Much Can You Afford?

Automobile: What is your budget?

Call Center: What is your budget?

Step #3: Should You Lease or Own?

Automobile Lease Pros: You can drive a more expensive car for less money. You can drive a new car every few years. There are no trade-in hassles at the end of the lease.

Call Center Outsourcing Pros: You can save capital expenditures, not carry fixed costs, and avoid underutilization of resources. Your outsourced provider is responsible for hiring, training and management, facility and technology maintenance, and upgrades. At the end of your outsourcing agreement, you do not have any hard assets to sell or try to re-allocate.

Automobile Ownership Pros: There are no mileage penalties for increased driving. In the long term, your car expenses will be lower. You have the right to modify your car to your tastes.

Call Center Ownership Pros: To the extent your available capacity exists, you can leverage your fixed costs and investment. If you can run your call center efficiently and at full capacity, in the long term you could save money after covering your initial capital expenditures, continued fixed costs, and ongoing maintenance and upgrade requirements. You have the ability to modify anything you want in the call center to your tastes. Step #4: Have You Considered All of the Costs of Ownership?

Automobile: Depreciation, insurance, maintenance, financing, banking fees, repairs, fuel costs, and more.

Call Center: Capital investment, depreciation, amortization, salaries and wages, benefits, payroll and other taxes, healthcare, utilities, technology licenses, maintenance, fixed costs (selling, general, and administrative costs), disposition costs, and more.

Step #5: Have You Considered Comparable Options?

Automobile: Have you evaluated similar cars in your class (based on your analysis in Steps 1-4)?

Call Center: Have you evaluated call centers with similar capabilities (based on your analysis in Steps 1-4)?

Step #6: Check Availability.

Automobile: What dealers have the car you want in stock?

Call Center: What specific locations, geographies, and call center providers have the capabilities to meet the above conclusions?

Step #7: Schedule a Test Drive (“Kick the Tires”).

Automobile: Take a test drive.

Call Center: Conduct a site a visit and perform due diligence.

Step #8: Take Your Test Drive.

Automobile: Drive it the way you would use the car if you bought it. Spend enough time to look it over. Consider your intuition and follow your instincts.

Call Center: During your site visit, evaluate the call center’s capabilities based on the criteria that motivated you to go there. Consider whether the people who work for and manage the call center operation are people you trust, who are qualified, and who you would enjoy working with each day. Spend enough time at the call center so you can really digest what makes it tick, and see it for what it truly is. Then, consider your intuition and follow your instincts.

Step #9: Make Your Decision.

Automobile: Sleep on it. If you need to, take several steps back and drive more cars. Realize there isn’t one perfect answer. There could be several good choices, and it’s really a matter of individual taste and intuition.

Call Center: Sleep on it, but maybe for more than one night. If you need to, take several steps back in order to determine if there are other call centers you should visit. Realize there isn’t one perfect answer. There could be several good choices, and it’s really a matter of you and your team’s taste and intuition.

Step #10: Complete the Deal.

Automobile: Make sure the agreement for the car you choose matches the deal and specifications; make sure it is the exact car you acquired. Then drive it off the lot.

Call Center: Make sure the agreement reflects what you wanted, contains all the important business terms, and matches the expectations set between the parties. Then begin the implementation.

As for my daughter, we bought her a new four-door Honda Accord.

Stephen Ferber is the managing partner for Golden Gate BPO Solutions.

[From Connection Magazine December 2013]

Corey Kotlarz Opens Outsourcing Advisory Firm

Corey Kotlarz, former vice president of an award winning outsource call center service agency, opened Outsource Consultants, a call center outsourcing brokerage and consulting firm. After nearly twenty years in the call center industry serving as vice president of new business development, Kotlarz has the experience and expertise to launch his own brokerage and consulting firm. He is helping companies save time, find the “best fit” call center, and reduce costs when switching or selecting a new call center outsourcing partner.

“My focus is to clearly understand the key call center outsourcing objectives of my clients and match them with the call center or BPO company that best meets their specific requirements. These requirements could be language, location, industry expertise, price, call type specialization, and many more,” says Kotlarz.

Outsource Consultants works with clients looking to reduce costs, increase ROI, and enhance CSAT scores by using call centers in the United States, near-shore, and offshore markets. Their experience includes working with clients in many industries, of all sizes, from startups and Fortune 500 clients.

For more information visit www.outsource-consultants.com or call Corey Kotlarz at 952-303-2478.

[Posted by Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD  for Connections Magazine, a contact center publication from Peter DeHaan Publishing Inc.]

Best Practices for Implementing New Programs with an Outsourced Call Center

By Richard Hamilton

The difference between a good program start-up and a poor program start-up is well-executed implementation. There are many variables to an implementation plan, and every call center program is different. What type of communication will take place – inbound calls, outbound calls, emails, IM, or mail? Know the goal of each communication: Is it sales, customer service, lead generation, collections, surveys, or appointment scheduling? Are there any regulations that need to be adhered to? What kind of reporting will be required, and how will it need to be transmitted? What type of technology is necessary and available for the program? How many seats will be required for the campaign?

Even though any two programs can be completely different, each one should follow the same general plan for successful implementation.

Steps to Successful Implementation: The first step is to clearly define and understand the vision for the new program. This means taking the time to speak with the client – whether internal or external – and any other stakeholders. Make sure you are in agreement about how the program will function, when it needs to launch, and the goals associated with it.

With an understanding of the client’s vision, create the plan to achieve that vision. The key to this phase is the internal team used for the project. Stephen Covey aptly noted that the greatest success comes from teams, not individuals. “Dependent people need others to get what they want,” Covey said. “Independent people can get what they want through their own efforts. Interdependent people combine their own efforts with the efforts of others to achieve their greatest success.”

The first step is identifying who needs to be on the program launch team. In addition, consider the following: What types of technology will be used? What reporting demands will there be? Who can best manage the program after the initial implementation? Does anyone within the company have past experience with a similar program? What agent resources will the staff need? Getting the right people involved early and often will lead to a more successful program.

Second, meet with the newly created program launch team and help them understand the client or stakeholder’s vision so that each member can better contribute based on their area of expertise.

Then, as you begin to put the program together, listen carefully to each member’s ideas, thoughts, and concerns. Along with using proven processes, encourage team members to think creatively and suggest new ideas. Each member’s input will help to establish the milestones and the tasks needed to reach those milestones.

Finally, based on the team’s input, create the plan complete with milestones, tasks, and dates to accomplish them. This will help the team understand how their individual tasks tie in with the rest of the team and the project. Set up a timeline to achieve all tasks based on these needs. (However, be aware that the time determined by the client is usually shorter.) Carefully creating the plan is vital to an on-time completion.

The new program plan can be organized in many ways, such as with project management software or a Gantt chart using a spreadsheet. The important thing is that it’s a plan all team members understand and refer to as needed.

Implementation: Once the plan is in place, set up reoccurring team meetings. Communication is the key to a successful program implementation. These meetings will help the team to communicate progress as well as bring up any issues the team needs to be aware of, and solve problems together.

It is important to be flexible and solution-oriented, since a new program will always encounter unforeseen issues and obstacles needing resolution. If timelines slip, be prepared to make adjustments so that the end date is still attainable.

Make sure to spend sufficient time testing the new program. After the team has tested all processes, have other employees – including the agents who will work on the new program – test each process to make sure everything works as planned. It is better to adjust the program during the testing phase when only a few people are involved then after it is launched and an issue affects the success of the whole program.

Before launching the program, take the time to properly train your staff. If management was involved in the creation process, they can be more heavily involved in the training of the agents. Although having agents help with testing is a good way to familiarize them with the program, formal training is still needed. Focus your efforts on those processes that are new to the agents, while briefly reviewing processes they have used before.

Follow Up: After the program launches, there should be a specified timeframe (agreed upon during the planning stage) to continue to monitor the new program to make sure it is running properly. It is important to respond to any issues or concerns the agents or client have as quickly as possible.

During this time, an evaluation should take place, looking at the new program from all areas. Make note of those ideas and concepts that worked well so they can be used on future programs. Don’t forget about the obstacles and issues that came up, and learn from them so they can be avoided or planned for in the future.

Throughout the entire process, make sure to document the processes and procedures associated with the new program. You will want to have everything written down so everyone involved in the new program understands how the program is designed to run most effectively.

Starting a new program can be exciting and stressful at the same time. Strive to strike a balance between following a proven game plan and engaging in innovative thinking. Clearly understanding what your client’s goal is and working hard towards achieving that goal using the steps listed here will lead to a successful new program launch.

Richard Hamilton is director of implementation and team improvement at Quality Contact Solutions.

[From Connection Magazine September 2013]

Lessons Learned in Vendor Selection

By Nathan Teahon

What makes a good call center? A better question might be “What makes a good call center partner?” It’s a good question, and not always a simple one, but it’s one that I ask myself frequently. I work with many different call centers, and I always look for opportunities to test new ones. In my career I have been fortunate that my good experiences with call centers have far outweighed the bad. But there have been bad experiences, and there are definitely lessons to be learned from those incidents.

With every bad experience, do I believe I was working with a sub-par call center? No, definitely not. Sometimes the timing was just off, and not everything gelled the first time around. Sometimes two companies just don’t mesh well with each other for one reason or another. And sometimes (but not often) you come to the realization that you’re working with a sub-par call center, and there’s no nice way to sugarcoat it.

Unfortunately, there’s no exact science to finding the perfect call center partner. However, I hope I can point out some important things to consider if you’re in need of a call center.

David Versus Goliath: Is bigger better? That depends. If you are a company looking for a single call center to staff a 200-seat credit card sales program, then going with a company that has two centers with fifty seats each isn’t going to work for you. But if you’re looking at a program that is going to take ten to twenty seats, is a center that is able to staff that 200-seat credit card sales program the way you want to go? There are other factors, of course, but you have to consider when a company is too big for a campaign.

Is your campaign going to be a small fish in a very big pond? Is it going to be assigned to an account manager that already has too much to handle and will view your new program as more of an annoyance? There is something to be said for the company that wants it more, needs it more, and is hungry for it. A small fish to one company can be a game-changer for another. There is something to be said for that feeling you get when you know the call center management team is going to put everything they have into making your campaign successful.

However, sometimes there has to be a little give-and-take. A ten to twenty-seat campaign might be a small fish in a “Goliath” organization, but rarely does it become a “Goliath” organization without having developed many good processes. Sometimes, those processes can be lacking in the “David” organizations. When your call center manager is also your account manager, supervisor, quality assurance manager, and information technology (IT) person, it becomes challenging. And when you have a non-IT person doing IT functions, that’s when the red flags really start to rise. Most telemarketing campaigns are worthless without having good quality data as part of the campaign deliverables, whatever data that may be.

Of course, these are extremes; there are many companies that are neither David nor Goliath but fit somewhere in the middle. There isn’t a right or wrong answer to the question, but when it comes to size, you need to consider whether the program is going to be meaningful to the call center or not. Is it something they are going to be hungry for, and do they have enough of the proper resources to devote to the program that is going to make it successful?

Location, Location, Location: Does the location of a call center really matter? Just like using local telephone numbers for Caller ID to improve answer rates, having a call center in the right location for a program can be an important part of whether or not a campaign is successful. On the other hand, having a call center in the wrong location can be a recipe for disaster. This particularly applies to offshore call centers. If the majority of agents have a heavy accent of some kind, odds are that your call center is going to be the perfect fit for any program calling into a market that also heavily uses that accent. However, you’re also probably a less likely fit for a campaign that is calling into any other market. Obviously, there is a lot more flexibility when you’re working with accent neutral agents. If you don’t care about your sales rates or the overall customer experience you’ll be delivering but want cheap rates, then take your business offshore and don’t look back.

Supervision: The supervisor position is the most difficult job in the call center industry. Having a bad supervisor can be disastrous. The supervisor is the person who is most responsible for driving performance, constantly pushing, coaching, and motivating. If a supervisor isn’t motivating, he or she is probably bringing the team down. This position is also the most difficult to evaluate if you are not physically in the call center to see the supervisor in action.

Most of the interaction a client has with a call center is with an account manager. There could be some QA interaction in monitoring sessions as well, but probably not much with the frontline supervisor. Because of this, when you personally visit a call center, spending time with the front line supervisor is very important; you will quickly get a sense of whether the team is responding to that supervisor, if they are motivated, if they are focused on the most important areas, and so forth.

The next major question when it comes to call center supervisors is looking at the kind of support that they are being given. A common mistake is that call centers have an incredible supervisor but fail to provide that person with any support. The supervisor and a team of twenty agents are on an island all by themselves. The already difficult position of being a call center supervisor is made even more difficult when support is lacking.

Is there quality assurance staff that is also coaching the team so it doesn’t all fall on the supervisor? If the program is robust, is there a program manager managing the dial strategy, or is that on the supervisor’s plate as well? Does the supervisor have more agents than one person can reasonably manage?

There are no right or wrong answers to these questions. The call center industry is so dynamic that what works for one call center campaign doesn’t necessarily make sense for the next one. One program’s supervisor might be able to handle twenty agents and another possibly only seven – it depends on the program. When evaluating a call center, it’s vital to understand that the supervisor position is a critical role, that the right person is in that position, and that the proper support is being provided.

Approach to QA: Different companies take different approaches in how they handle quality monitoring. I have worked with a number of organizations that have an actual quality department, with a department head and staff that is completely separate from the operations staff. There are certainly advantages to this kind of structure. Such an organization obviously holds quality in high regards, and keeping this kind of department separated from operations ensures an unbiased approach in regards to quality.

Let’s face it, operations people can have absolute regard for quality, but results are their priority. That doesn’t necessarily mean that quality is being sacrificed in order to achieve results, but campaign results are an operations team’s first responsibility. When you have a QA department that is separate from operations, quality is the absolute number one priority, and there is some value in that.

Within a QA department, though, who is giving quality-monitoring feedback to the agents? In a department setting, it is common for that feedback to be passed from QA to the supervisor directly overseeing those agents. One disadvantage of using this process is that the feedback can be diluted or lost in translation.

For the majority of my career, I “grew up” with the model where each call center had a quality assurance manager that was directly tied to operations, and the call center supervisors and QA managers all reported to the call center manager. The advantages of this type of model is that everyone is always completely aligned with expectations, and the harmony between QA and operations is flawless because everyone is working in conjunction with each other, as opposed to departments that are separated.

Both ways have their pros and cons. In the end, when evaluating a call center, you have to make a determination if there is a true commitment to quality assurance and if the process they use works well for them. Citing previous examples, if the person doing quality assurance is also your supervisor, call center manager, and IT person, there may not be a proper commitment to quality. Each company might have a unique philosophy regarding quality assurance; you’ll want to determine if they have a strong commitment to the process and ask if they can demonstrate that it works for them.

Also, when monitoring with a client, who should be leading the session? More specifically, what should the role of an account manager be when monitoring with the client, even in the early stages of a client relationship? Again, different organizations handle this differently, but I do not expect the account manager to be leading quality-monitoring sessions. During the first session with a call center or at a launch of a big program, account managers should be present and add value, but I prefer having a quality assurance manager lead the session. First, I know that the quality assurance manager is the one constantly listening to the program and delivering feedback. I want to be able to have a sense of comfort that the person who is always doing the listening is capable in that role and we can align expectations. When the only person I can monitor with is the account manager, it’s harder to gain a sense of comfort that the actual quality managers are competent in their roles.

My Pet Peeves: When we talk about adding a new vendor, there is one step that we should make prior to actually testing: listening to some of the agents the call center thinks would be a good fit for that campaign. Don’t test a call center without taking this step. It’s one final sanity check before a company starts calling on your behalf.

The last thing I want is to start working with a call center on a campaign and find myself thinking, “The agents really sound terrible,” and “Gee, if I would have just listened to them first, this wouldn’t be such a surprise.” Having this final sanity check eases my mind prior to testing.

When listening to agents, several companies I know, both big and small, haven’t been able to figure out how to have a monitoring session and effectively project the sound through the phone. When this happens, I envision the speakers being positioned carefully around the speakerphone. That’s not a horrible thing, just a little tacky and the sound quality of the session is obviously degraded. As long as I can hear just fine, it’s not a problem, as long as I have confidence that the actual sound quality of the call is good.

Along those same lines, be conscious of the background noise on your calls. No one wants to listen to a monitoring session with Sally and plainly hear the conversation of Bill, who is sitting next to her. If you hear it in monitoring, the customer probably hears it too. And even the most conversational sounding agent has a hard time selling if the customer hears someone in the background saying the same things.

Look for the Good: Good people like working with other good people, and I’ve been fortunate to have the pleasure of working with many good people in many good organizations. Look for call centers that under-promise and over-deliver. Be on the alert for those who are taking on more than they can handle, hoping to figure it out later. All you need is a center that communicates simply and honestly about what they can provide.

Nathan Teahon is director of operations for Quality Contact Solutions.

[From Connection Magazine Jan/Feb 2012]