I visit at least one catalog company each week as part of my job. I always ask for the tour — it’s my favorite part of the visit. More often than not, I’m shocked at the overall state of many companies’ call centers. Some offices are downright slovenly, and the average customer service rep couldn’t care less about his job or the company. The employee time clock mentality prevails. Business owners and managers too often complain, if not openly joke, about how difficult it is to find good people for call-center work at $10/hour. I often find myself standing there trying to be polite, but wanting to scream.
Although providing advice and counsel on the call center is outside the scope of my visit, I often can’t resist giving my opinion. Here’s a rundown of eight suggestions I politely offer:
1. What happens in the call center (i.e., the results it does or doesn’t achieve) is the boss’s responsibility. So, if the boss isn’t happy, he has no one to blame but himself. Take responsibility.
2. Your customer service reps are your lifeline. They’ll make or break your business as surely as you breathe. Negative attitudes and antipathy are the kiss of death. This is especially true during tough economic times, such as these, when customers have so many alternatives to turn to at the first little whiff of “attitude.” (Recently I tried to make a reservation with Radisson Hotels and got so much attitude from the phone rep when I asked questions that I just hung up. I’ll remember that negative experience for a long time.)
3. In today’s environment, your call-center reps not only have to do a great job, they need the customer to say they did a great job, as well. For example, try calling AT&T to ask a question about your phone bill. It does a terrific job with customer service. You can tell right away by talking to the reps that your issue is their highest priority. My local cable company, on the other hand, is the exact opposite.
4. Ask for, and respect, customer preferences. Nowadays customers are “driving the bus,” so you better ask them how often they’d like your full-line catalog, your sales catalogs, your e-mail newsletters, your special customer sale e-mails and so on. Confirming basic customer information and asking for preferences are part of inbound sales reps’ jobs. They need to do it seamlessly, effortlessly and make the customers feel they’re working for them in the process.
5. Remember, what may seem like a stupid question to your call-center rep is obviously not to your customer. Any question should be answered respectfully, along with a reference or referral for more detailed or related information. When I tried to make my hotel reservation at Radisson, my question on how many square feet the hotel room was was scoffed at. It seemed like a logical question to me.
6. Hire some “racehorses” for your call center. Pay them double your normal rate, and expect double performance. More experienced, mature reps can often change the attitude on the floor and provide leadership.
7. Post performance metrics for each call-center rep every week. Nothing silences complainers like knowing they’re in the bottom quartile of performers and, as such, have little credibility and may be in danger of losing their job.
8. Make sure every senior manager in your business walks through the call center each day, knows all the reps by name, demonstrates respect for the importance of the position and has productive conversations about what’s going on with customers.
Your inbound call-center reps are your front lines. They hear the “pains” of your customers, receive new product and service ideas, among other things, all while building relationships, loyalty and repeat business. If your call-center staff isn’t the happiest, most productive group in your business, you’ve got work to do.
Terence Jukes is president of B2B Direct Marketing Intelligence LLC, a strategic B2B direct marketing consultancy based in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., that services clients in the U.S., Canada, France, the U.K. and Germany. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or (954) 383-5221 (direct line).Terence Jukes is president of B2B Direct Marketing Intelligence LLC, a strategic B2B direct marketing consultancy based in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., that services B2B catalog company clients in the U.S., Canada, France, the U.K. and Germany. You can reach him at tjukes @ b2bdmi.com or (954) 383-5221
Comments or questions are welcome.