April 2007 - Backend Business

Raising the Bar Until Call Center Cloning Is Fashionable

By Bret Butterfield

The product is developed, the creative is produced and the media is bought. “Call now and get this incredible offer that will change your life.” Your local, friendly call center has live agents standing by to take those orders. Now the moment of truth: The customer actually talks to a call center agent. Does bonding take place? Is an order placed? Did the customer have a good experience to become a long-term customer? Or, did your customer not get through and have to wait for a long time to reach an agent? Did the call center agent sound like a Stepford wife, or did the agent stumble through the script like a kindergartner in a school play?

What can your “live” center do to raise the bar with their agents for better performance? Sometimes, the live call center is perceived as an easy target to beat up for price. Is it wise to beat up a call center for price when the customer’s first impression of your company begins with that agent? Let’s open the hood and discuss the “live” call center engine. Let’s discuss some ideas to maximize your live DR call center performance.

To begin with, from a “live” call center point of view, the number-one cost is labor. Call centers today have many challenges in hiring, developing and keeping great agents. Call centers are in the people business. The days of hiring people who could fog a mirror are long gone. Many call centers have developed various criteria in hiring call center agents.

Call centers are concerned about turnover as much as their clients. They really want to put more time into agent development, rather than new-hire recruitment and training. Keeping and training agents to best represent their clients really is a top priority. It is important to understand the pressures that call centers face, because this can impact your results.

Call centers have three tiers of agents. The top tier is the one all call centers want to clone. These agents usually lift the bottom tiers of agents with their conversion and revenue per call. They have good attitudes, are natural in their persuasion and can develop a bond with the customer. Some top-tier agents have a natural gift, but others have developed the necessary skills in order to survive. They have good attitudes, feel at ease in talking to people and are natural in their rebuttals. Frankly, just the act of showing up to work consistently makes them successful.

The question you need to ask your live call center is: Do you rank your agents for performance? If not, encourage the call center to do so. The next question is: How does your call center move its middle tier of agents to the top tier? How does it get the bottom tier to the middle tier? I suggest that you ask your call center how you can help. Why? Because companies will reap the benefits if their call center is pushing performance.

Wouldn’t it be great if all call centers could drive all calls to their best agents only? Technology can make this possible, but from a call center’s perspective, it needs all of its agents to help lower the media cost per call. And besides, the call center doesn’t want to burn out its top agents.

Next, how does your “live” call center train its agents? What does training really mean? Does it mean hours of classroom training? Do the agents gather around before their shift and use the product in some way or does the call center send out a memo and hope the agents understand the offer before the first call. Perhaps your call center relies simply on letting the calls come in and over time the agents learn how to sell the product.

It is important to understand how your call center partner agents are trained. Agents can gain experience over time to better handle customers’ objections or questions. But to shorten the learning curve, I recommend the following on what training should consist of before the phone rings:

  • Show or demonstrate the product to the agents.
  • Show the creative spots or portions of the 28.5-minute infomercial.
  • Review the script, call objectives, selling points and value proposition.

You want to listen or have someone listen to your calls. This is in addition to your call center’s quality team. Not only for quality purposes, but also for ways to help the agents sell better. This feedback tool is priceless in helping agents to maximize their performance. Sometimes, a sure selling script that we think is clever can turn out to sound more like a monologue instead of a dialogue. Sometimes, the script is just plain inappropriate. You want to change the “what were we thinking” response to “how can we change the script to maximize sales?”

Proper training is very important, but giving your product away for good test calls, or allowing the agents to purchase the product at cost is vital. I always could tell which products the agents were excited about, because the first question during Q&A training is: “What is the agent discount?” Providing a budget for agent incentives or appreciation goes a long way. You will be amazed how pizza goes a long way to motivate call center agents. Cash is always nice, but you must have a way to track all sales.

Finally, treat your call center as a partner. Bring the company in early before the campaign launch as soon as possible. Allow time to TNT (test and train). After all, today’s DRTV call centers have experience with thousands of campaigns. Push to keep raising the bar, at least until call center cloning is fashionable.

Bret Butterfield is a consultant for Maximize Marketing Direct. He can be reached via e-mail at [email protected].


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