Required Reading: Bottom-Line Call Center Management

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Author David Butler has conducted extensive research on the call center industry. Bottom-Line Call Center Management: Creating a Culture of Accountability and Excellent Customer Service (Elsevier Butterworth-Heinemann) reveals his findings. Targeted at call center managers, the book provides advice on issues from accountability to call center location to hiring. CRM magazine spoke with Butler about these issues. CRM magazine: Are call centers tied closely enough to headquarters?
David Butler: The growth of call centers as a back-office industry has removed people in these centers from face-to-face daily contact with the vice presidents and presidents of corporations. Call center managers are running their operations farther from the headquarters, so they're somewhat at a disadvantage. These managers must fully understand the mind-set of their corporate executives, and their perception of how a company can run and should run. The call center manager needs to be in direct contact [with corporate executives] to ensure that their center is fully aligned with the goals and strategy of the corporation. CRM: What are the musts for a call center site? DB: Availability of labor, labor skills, and local and statewide incentives offered--for example, training incentives, equipment costs, tax benefits. The availability of labor [most significantly] affects the location decision of a call center. With a 30 percent average turnover rate and a 100-seat call center, every year 30 reps have to be replaced. Over the course of five years, companies may experience shortages of labor, especially if the call center is located in a small community or an area where labor skills or availability are low. On the other hand, managed correctly, companies can reduce turnover rates to 3 or 5 percent. The more effectively a call center is managed the lower turnover rates will be, and the more flexibility it has in location choices. CRM: What is the most important criterion for hiring call center reps? DB: You must hire for attitude--this is absolutely critical. If someone comes [to the call center] with excellent skills, but his attitude stinks, it will not work. He will either leave voluntarily or be fired. In addition, there is the idea of an employee being a multiplier: One bad attitude will lead to multiple bad attitudes. You're much better off taking a person with a good attitude and training [him] to the center's needs. It is attitude more than skills that gets communicated to the customer, and becomes a positive multiplier. People who you hire not only become the voice of the company, but most of the time are the only connection to a company the customer will have through the toll-free service number. CRM: What characteristics are essential for managers? DB: A manager must be a leader, and must have sympathy and the empathy-building skills to understand what is taking place during inbound and outbound calls. I also suggest something called getting down to the trenches, where once a month or so managers get on the phones and do the same processes as the representatives. This makes [managers] fully in tune with what's happening in the call center, allows them to interact with customers, and shows the reps a willingness to perform. It's not necessarily the performance that matters--ideally, in fact, your employees should be better at customer service performance--but the willingness to understand how this process works can turn you into a strong, positive multiplier helping to create a positive culture within the call center. It is the leadership style in a center that attracts and keeps employees. More Page Turners Playing fair will get you far and win you friends--you heard this message repeatedly as a child. Now you can hear it from Terry Bacon and David Pugh, in The Behavioral Advantage: What the Smartest, Most Successful Companies Do Differently to Win in the B2B Arena (Amacom). They explain that many of the most successful companies don't just offer superior products and services, they also provide customers with the care, respect, and commitment that their rivals fail to. In addition to a step-by-step strategy to help companies promote customer connections, the book includes seven tough questions to ask client companies, and an eight-step how-to guide for creating a winning proposal.
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