• March 1, 2018
  • By Leonard Klie, Editor, CRM magazine and SmartCustomerService.com

Running a Contact Center from the Inside Out

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What prompted Televerde to look to prisons for staffing its contact centers? When did the company open its first facility inside a prison?

The model just made sense when we opened our first contact center facility inside the Arizona State Prison, Perryville, in conjunction with our founding in 1995. It still makes sense today for the same reasons.

Most technology companies struggle finding proficient resources for demand generation and sales acceleration activities. Once they find them, training and retention gets expensive.

Contact center employees often take the job to get a foot in the door so they can look for other positions within the organization. We have a staff of women who are passionate to change their lives and eager to learn skills that will be marketable upon their release from the institution. In the meantime, while waiting for their release, our staff is extremely loyal, interested in learning about our clients and their technologies, and driven to do the best work they can do.

How are the prison facilities managed? Are they staffed from entirely within the prisons, or are they supported by staff outside the prisons?

The prison facilities are managed by a group of corporate employees that work each day at the prison locations. Each contact center has a director and maintains a management staff, with a ratio of one manager for every 15 agents for demand generation and one manager for every 12 agents for sales development/inside sales. Our corporate team also provides sales, marketing, client success, training, and back-office operations. Our employees inside our prison contact centers serve as the agents, trainers, project coordinators, data and systems coordinators, and quality control, and provide support in various administrative roles.

I would imagine there are very specific criteria for which prisoners are eligible to participate in the program. What are those criteria? What kind of screening is involved in selecting the prisoners, and who does it—Televerde, the prisons themselves, or an outside party?

We are very selective about any employee we hire, whether inside a corrections institution or not. The eligibility criteria for employees inside a facility have been established over the course of our 23-year partnership with the corrections community. The department of corrections staff screens against type of offense, education levels, and institutional behavior. Once that step is complete, applicants are then screened by Televerde staff for competency and skill set. We use a number of tools to help assess behavior patterns and learning ability to determine role fit.

Which kinds of transactions do the prisoners handle? I would assume, based on where they are located, there are very strict limitations on what kind of information the prisoners can take, for example.

We only perform B2B-related activities, so no information of a personal nature is exchanged. Our conversations focus on discovering pain points and challenges associated with the prospects’ business to determine if the solution offerings represented would be a fit.

What kinds of interaction channels are supported? Is it just phone, or are other channels in the mix, like email, chat, social media, etc.?

As a business, we support all interaction channels, including those you mentioned. In the correctional facilities, the main difference is that the channel needs to be secured and monitored. If we do not have the ability to secure and monitor, we’ll develop it or house it at one of our other locations.

What kind of training is provided to the prisoners before they begin interacting with customers?

Starting with our new hire program, which is college-accredited and provides participants with six college credits for successful completion, our training programs focus on technology, business acumen, sales/marketing, research, and call performance mastery.

Additionally, we provide ongoing access to college courses and exposure to specific training programs offered by our clients. All in all, our agents spend about 20 percent of their time in training.

Once they start interacting with customers, do prisoners operate under the same service-level agreements and company expectations as other employees of Televerde? How is the prisoners’ performance measured, monitored, and maintained?

We are a for-profit business first. We just happen to have a model that focuses on workforce development for an underserved population. We manage all of our agents the same, regardless of location. Key performance indicators, metrics, quality control scores, and call recordings are regularly reviewed. Agents are measured against these criteria and compete against each other no matter where they are. Managers hold coaching sessions to discuss areas of improvement on a regular cadence. Stacked ranking is used and shared with the teams.

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