4 Sales and Service Contact Center Tips for 2011

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I thought about writing some New Year`s resolutions but a recent study has found that most people who make New Year`s resolutions fail to keep them within one week of starting. So I thought I’d just share some tips for call center prosperity in 2011!

1. Get to Know Your People!
Life’s twists and turns can be interesting, can’t they? I once had dreams of playing in a band and becoming a famous rock star. Somewhere along the way, I took a turn into the lively world of contact centers. Who works on your team? Do you have any athletes? Super bowl Champs? Actors from an Oscar-winning film? Musicians? Preachers? I have worked with many call centers that have had employees that did. Your front line staff is often filled with amazing people with diverse backgrounds that are often under utilized. Take time this year to get to know your staff. Find out the intrinsic motivators of each individual. This investment will not only help in building strong relationships and loyal customers, it will also help identify high potential candidates among staff. I have worked with clients that have former ambassadors, brain surgeons, rocket scientists, CPAs, church leaders, all hidden among their frontline staff. Let me share a great way to start connecting. Make it a point to ask each of your employees this simple question. “What keeps you busy these days?” And then get ready. You will learn about family, pets, and hobbies – and yeah, maybe even some drama or things you never really cared to learn. BUT – you will also learn just how amazing your staff is. And you will identify resources you never dreamed you would have access to for future projects. I learned this early on in my career when I worked as a frontline Agent in a call center. I was also playing in a band at the time and my manager cared enough to ask me that question. When she learned I had this passion for all things creative, she assigned me to a special project to help raise awareness of customer retention. What happened next was the first time I realized “WOW – work really can be fun!” I worked with several colleagues on creating a very LOW budget training video to help inform and train employees on customer retention strategies. We even made an original soundtrack. This also allowed other talents – actors, comedians, and artists – to emerge in staring and supporting roles. It also was a great example of a culture where an organization really took the time to connect with its employees. Let me know who’s who in your center!

2. Put Customers to Work!
Sounds crazy, but you really should consider letting your customers do some work for you. Think about it. Customers are generally passionate, credible, reliable, and hopefully available every day. But most organizations rarely engage their customers beyond general satisfaction surveys. Customers can help coach and motivate employees, and identify performance gaps. Often times employee buy in occurs much quicker when areas for improvement are identified by their customers. The math is simple:
(Customer Needs & Wants) + (Company Actions & Strategies)
=
Highest Level of Service @ the Lowest Cost Possible

3. All Work & No Play Makes Jack a Dull Employee!
Many, many, MANY years ago, in an office far, far away… It’s Monday morning at 8:00 am in the contact center of a national cellular telephone company. I was beginning the first full week as a newly promoted manager. I now had 15 Customer Service Specialists reporting to me – most of which I had worked side-by-side weeks earlier. I was in my office working on a daily report testing my memory of what another manager had shown me the previous Friday, when I became distracted by a very interesting sounding call. Steve, a member of my team, was explaining a cellular bill to a very confused customer. He was doing a great job explaining all of the charges, the connection fees, the long distances portion – but what got my attention was the strange sound in Steve’s voice. It was not that he had a bad tone of voice, or that he was not speaking clearly, instead it was a quick burst of volume, and breathing that initially I mistook for the hiccups. I stepped outside my office and spotted Steve, looking much more animated than I could have possibly imagined. Standing next to him was another representative on my team, headset cord stretched across the aisle, and she was rubbing her feet on the carpet in order to create static electricity by his cubicle. I wasn’t sure what she was doing until several minutes passed, she stopped, and slowly reached forward and placed her finger in poor Steve’s ear. Once this mischievous finger made contact, Steve experienced quite the electrical shock followed by a hilarious grimace on his face, and then finally another mysterious hiccup found its way into his nearly perfect call.

Ok. Now all of you customer service professionals can relax. Yes, I realized there was a need to ensure that any “playful” activities in the work place should never sacrifice the quality of service provided to a customer. And while I did pull them aside, shared a laugh with them, and explained my concern regarding the possible customer perception towards a “hiccupping” customer service professional, I did encourage them to find additional ways, or modifications to their current strategy, to maintain their fun working environment. What struck me about this later was the fact that their motivation was to create a “fun work environment” which happened to be part of our corporate mission statement. I was lucky to work for a company, and more importantly a department within the company, which really recognized the need for exceptional quality and service both internally and externally. The simple formula that happy employees equate to happy customers was taken quite seriously. Love your employees and they will love their customers! These two members of my team were happy. They were creating a family atmosphere at their workplace, as were most of the employees within this department, and it showed on the first call as well as the 150th call they took each day.

So have a little fun! Surprise your team by doing something completely out of character. It may feel a bit risky, but your team will enjoy seeing a very different side of you. If you are tone-deaf, sing! If you are uncoordinated, dance! If you are not very artistic, draw! It will give your team something to talk about for many months to come! Identify games that can be played in your center that reinforce key job duties. Sometimes a game of bingo can improve schedule adherence and attendance. Make mystery calls that randomly ask agents customer service trivia questions. Playing games can create a team that works hard!

4. Manage Your Personal Queue!
One of the statements heard most in any contact center is, “How many calls do we have in queue?” (or “How many calls are holding?”). We do this because calls on hold are a priority, and we don’t want to lose or abandon any of them. Now ask yourself another important question: “Is there anything else I have on hold in my life that I don’t want to lose?” Don’t get me wrong; managing wait times in the contact center is important. Our businesses rely on servicing and selling to our customers, and if they abandon, we never have that chance. There should definitely be a sense of urgency in your contact center. But for now, we would like to use this concept of abandonment as an illustration for other areas of your job or even your life.

First, if you are managing a contact center, you will have people reporting to you, either directly or indirectly. These employees have their own queue for you–the one for spending time with you on feedback sessions, one-on-ones or just casual conversation. Now think about the last time you analyzed their hold times. Do you know how many of them abandon because of extremely long wait times? For the same reasons we don’t want our customers to hang up, we want to keep this from happening to our employees. We believe there is a direct correlation between employee retention/satisfaction and customer retention/satisfaction.

How should we handle our employee queues? First, let’s think about how we handle call queues in the contact center. We use software or spreadsheets, pen and paper or even a calculator to forecast calls and schedule agents. Forecasting is also a great first step in improving your employee queues. Take a look at your required number of observations. Look at when reviews take place. Look at how many people need a one-on-one session this month. When you have all of the data, look at your calendar and begin scheduling time with each of your employees.

Another great way to gather data is to survey your employees. Ask them how accessible you are. Let them know you strive to handle their concerns in the same way they handle your customers’ concerns. Ask them for suggestions on how to improve their wait times. Find out how many “contact channels” you have and look at the queues in each of them. Do your employees tend to e-mail, call, leave you a note or walk over to your office most often? Have you let them know the best ways to contact you, depending on the nature of their needs?

The next thing to do is expand this concept to the rest of your business. How are your other queues? Do you have other internal customers to deal with? Other departments? Are their “hold times” satisfactory? Finally, what are your personal queues? If we took a moment and looked at our priorities, most of us would probably rank work, say, fourth or fifth. That’s where it falls on my list, anyway. Yet our main focus is often on work and not letting those customers abandon. We can’t let life’s priorities abandon either. Take time to schedule for your faith queue, your family queue, your hobby queue, etc. You don’t want to slow down one day and realize those queues have been cleared by abandoned calls. A well-managed and happy personal life leads to a well-managed and happy professional life. Now what’s on hold in your life today?

So with that I wish you an awesome and prosperous 2011!

Are you Customer Driven? Are your customers working for you to reduce operational costs while improving employee performance?

Take the free Customer Driven challenge and put your customers to work today. Visit the Tamer Partners Corporation website at www.tamerpartners.com to find out how!

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