High-Tech Call Center: The Sweet Sound of Success

The call center is the heart and soul of The Nailco Group (TNG), a multi-million dollar wholesale beauty supply distributor headquartered in Farmington Hills, Mich., and with continued growth as well as less ability to monitor calls, train salespeople, and maintain strict service standards, the company knew it needed a tune up.

The solution came in the form of a sophisticated CRM call center solution that improved customer service by enabling sales managers to provide on-the-spot feedback to customer-facing agents. "When the new call center technology upgrade was installed in 1998," says Maureen Mann, this vice president of catalog sales, "customer service improved significantly as a result of the ability for enhanced training and follow-up."

Call Center Problems

The Nailco Group is an experienced 15-year-old wholesale beauty supply distributor that boasts more than 100,000 clients worldwide. Part of this success, says Mann, is that TNG prides itself on its employees. "In 1994 we were doing about $12 million in sales," she says. "That year, at the company Christmas party, our CEO, Lawrence Gaynor, promised a brand new automobile for any employee who was still with the company when we reached $50 million. We've reached that goal and he bought 23 brand new cars. He's promised to do it again when we reach $100 million."

The Nailco Group call center wasn't broken. It just was not operating as efficiently as the company would have hoped. At that time the company was using a 16-bit Windows 3.1 system with very limited network ability that dated back to 1996. With this system, TNG used a very basic evaluation process done through the phone system. "We had no idea how to evaluate our agents and no idea what their production was," says Mann. "We couldn't tell what percentage of their day they spent on the ACD (automatic call distribution) and we couldn't record their conversations for training."

At that time, TNG was rapidly expanding its market penetration and appropriately, increasing the size of its call center staff, which only exacerbated its call center woes. With more than 50 agents working at one time, the call center "seemed" to be working well, but there was no effective way to find out. It became apparent that an infusion of new technology was required.

Better Quality Control

After evaluating a number of call center applications from various CRM vendors, the best solution, says Mann, came from Telecorp Products, a Michigan-based provider of call center technologies. Telecorp's CentrEE Solution Suite offered TNG a vehicle for reporting and observation that enabled supervisors to obtain quantitative statistics for customer service agents.

CentrEE is comprised of three major technology modules, representing the three areas of expertise in which Telecorp Products specializes. TNG uses Telecorp's Total E-Call technology module to instantaneously track the performance of the operation as events happen. This can be viewed by both a centralized system and each workstation user. The Instant E-Play module features observation and recording tools that allow management to oversee all calls or selected calls of an individual sales agent, record them and then archive them for future use. The final module of the triumvirate is Rapid E-Port, which includes total historical reporting functions, viewable through easily comprehensible graphs.

The Telecorp solution gives Mann the ability to know exactly what is happening on the sales floor at all times. She even has a speaker on her desk, which allows her to listen in at her convenience throughout the day. "The feature I liked about Telecorp the best is Total E-Call," says Mann. "I don't have to walk around people's cubicles to see what state their phones are in, whether they are busied out or reading a magazine."

Day-To-Day Operations

"Any time a sales agent walks into my office, they can hear their co-workers," she says, quickly explaining that it is not to catch them doing something wrong but is used as a means of rewarding them for doing their job well. "When somebody has had a great call, we make sure we follow up with a reward." The reward is usually Nailco dollars, an incentive program that can be used to purchase gift certificates, products in the Nailco catalog and, if the agent so desires, days off.

Bogdanos says the supervisors can discreetly monitor someone if they feel that person is not doing a good job on the phone, explaining that if she feels there is a problem, she can listen in on four or five calls and try and figure out what is going wrong without sitting with the agent and making him or her nervous. "I rely on the system so much," says Bogdanos. "If there is a day the system is down, I feel bare."

According to Lori Bocklund, a call center practice manager at Vanguard Communications, a Morris Plains, New Jersey-based consulting firm, the ability to monitor calls is highly valued in call center operations. "While call centers have been doing monitoring for a long time, the new and different thing these days is they are very focused on quality. Not just looking at who is doing what and how long is the call lasting, but also recording the call and scoring it against a set of criteria."

By doing this, says Bocklund, call center management is not only looking at productivity and how sales agents are spending their time, but at the quality of the calls and the improvement of sales processes. Call center managers can use this technology to improve individual performance and change training techniques if necessary. "There is a high burnout in call centers," she continues, "and quality monitoring is a great kind of incentive. Everybody is looking for the next incentive that is going to make people enjoy working there and be happier doing their jobs."

Software Installation

"The Nailco Group is a very interesting and unique customer," says Keith Collins, a Telecorp sales person who was first hired on in the company's tech department. "They are very aggressive in managing the activity of their sales people in order to evaluate them. "Nailco is a company that wants to help their agents do something right, and such a system can get a lot of agents very apprehensive. So when the product was introduced, they recorded a well-done call and passed it around the company with kudos." As a result, he says, TNG was able to significantly reduce their attrition level, the greatest problem call centers have.

Mann agrees. "We were in search of a system and made the initial contact with Telecorp Products. We didn't need a major overhaul, but more like an addition. It was not a difficult implementation. Short of installing software and putting up the reader boards, there was really nothing to it. No glitches or major failures whatsoever."

The recording function was a feature installed in 2000. Before that, TNG was not able to record or playback calls. Now it is considered an invaluable tool. And by using the auto delete function, the tape starts automatically when a call comes in and stops the minute it ends, thereby leaving no dead air time. Tapes are routinely kept for 30 days, and stored on the hard drive before being erased.

Increased Level of Service

If the Telecorp Products software was not a major overhaul, as Mann says, but rather an addition, was TNG able to ascertain measurable improvements from the new installation? The answer is an unqualified yes. The biggest increase Mann noticed was that the level of service afforded by the new software was on an upward curve. "Our catalog is released twice a year, and in January we were taking about 3,000 calls inbound every day," Mann says. "When you're taking that many calls, everybody has to be on their toes call after call after call.

In addition, says Mann, the length of each telephone call began to decline as well. Today, each agent will receive about 150 calls during an eight-hour shift averaging three minutes and 30 seconds. While TNG says they do not have exact figures on what the average length of each call was before The Telecorp Products software installation, it is down significantly.

Another method TNG saw improvement in was the their survey cards, sent to customers on a regular basis. "Our goal for customer service is 90 percent superior service," says Mann. "That's a tough cookie to get because we offer no incentive for the customer to send the card back. What we find, however, are customers who really want to say something about us. We get an incredible amount of superior cards back as far as overall experience with a sales rep, as well as comments about how quickly their call was taken."

As TNG continues to grow, Mann is taking a hard look at the future and potential upgrades to Telecorp Products' software. Her biggest objective, she says, is keeping up with the rate of growth of her call center sales agents as well as keeping their attrition rate low. "A great deal of my call center people are licensed cosmetologists or nail technicians," she says. "If you're going to sell someone a perm or a color, the inbound caller is going to want to know how long it will take and my agents better be able to answer."

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