Call Center Magic

How to create and manage call centers that build customer relationships and drive sales.

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Today’s call center is the interactive communication channel between customer and organization in the multifamily industry. It is the forum that drives sales, leases and customer care opportunities. Businesses are learning that repeatedly touching customers and prospects makes a difference on the bottom line. Yesterday’s simple call center has become today’s touch point. Everybody wants a call center. Everybody loves call centers. So what are the critical components of a great call center? What does it take to drive a call center initiative? Are you ready to introduce a call center to your organization?

It’s essential to recognize that a call center is about people. Nurture people and results will follow. Many call centers suffer through the pain of building customer relationships because they don’t recognize the value of structure and people. It’s critical to recruit and train the right people.

In the case of third party call centers, people are an even greater factor; who represents your business? What training do they receive?

In the 1990s and through the first part of this decade, call centers were technology-focused. The coolest technology won and there were enough choices to confuse even the savviest experts. Technology is undoubtedly the force that makes great call centers. But “Customer Relationship Management” (CRM) is the rage.

Integrated screen pop ups, customized scripts and reporting make results clear. But nobody falls in love with technology. Customers, prospects and staff fall in love with call centers because of the people, from management to telephone agents, who make the call center fly. People are endearing and compassionate. They listen to complaints, needs and wants. Technology provides the whiz-bang. People provide passion.

Developing people, and in turn grasping the complexity of call center operation, is my bread and butter. I’ve started, upgraded, rehabbed and rescued numerous call centers. Based on this experience, I’ve created a methodology that helps an organization create a call center and successfully manage its people. The end result is a performance-driven, inbound/outbound, direct mail and email call center that successfully contributes to the corporate bottom line. Here’s how it works:

There are six important keys to every call center operation. Each contains hundreds of systems that make the call center thrive. More than a conglomeration of different systems and structures, the call center is six keys combined to create a mighty flow. These are:

1. Management practices
2. Culture
3. Recruiting, hiring, policies and procedures
4. Quality assurance
5. Training
6. Systems and technology

Not all call centers are created equal, and not every call center management team bears the same challenges. In each organization, the six keys may be more or less imperative. The beauty of the six key method is that it can be customized to meet any requirements.

I recently introduced the six key call center method to an organization with a mediocre understanding of call center operations. Their technology was superior. No new systems or re-engineering was required. Senior management needed to implement existing systems and manage communication between employees and customers. By analyzing data provided by reporting mechanisms never before used, we benchmarked performance standards, designed training programs, and improved touch points with customers and prospects, all by optimizing an existing technology platform.

This company simply needed to improve their call center culture. Quality assurance was part of the mix. It was critical to teach them appropriate expectations, and then by improving their management practices, create the space in which their expectations could be met and exceeded.

Every call center is unique. The six key method must be specifically carved out to the needs of the center as keys don’t carry the same value across the board. Whether your company is creating its own call center or outsourcing, remember – the “people key”� is most important. Here are the six keys to a successful and financially lucrative call center.

MANAGEMENT PRACTICES
Management Practices is core to developing any call center. The premise is simple: Everything must be planned ahead, developed on paper, created using forms, and spelled out clearly in order for people to succeed. Weekly reports, performance development programs, job duties, and bench-marked objectives on a daily, weekly, monthly and quarterly basis are just some examples of the management practices key. Whether outsourced or in-house, management practices are imperative.

CULTURE
Because people are the central element of your organization, they need a central philosophy and common vision. The passion (or lack of it) in your call center transfers to customers and prospects. Providing staff opportunities to grow, publicizing their achievements and personal recognition play a large role in call centers. Budgeting your dollars and time, and consistently executing plans create a dynamic internal culture and a well implemented vision for customers and prospects.

RECRUITING, HIRING AND PROCEDURES
The most overlooked key, recruiting and hiring, dictates success or failure more dramatically than any other. Recruiting the right candidates is fundamental. Look for people who want to stay, not just drop by. The longer they stay, the better they become at representing your business. Behind every good recruiting and hiring program are crystal clear policies and procedures.

QUALITY ASSURANCE
Quality assurance is this decade’s sexiest pursuit. Organizations now recognize that a successful call center lives on thorough, consistent, objective analysis of telephone performance. Quality assurance is more than simply monitoring. It involves coaching, critiquing and learning to use customer and prospect feedback to improve the entire organization. I have a client with a spectacular quality assurance program; it impacts marketing, sales and new business development. Every single call that goes in and out of the call center is recorded and analyzed. Customer comments are analyzed night and day. Quality assurance has become an every day system improving the customer and employee experience.

TRAINING
Call centers worldwide are implementing full scale training platforms as their guarantee of success. Outsourcing is no longer an “out of sight, out of mind” arrangement. Today, companies provide training manuals, onsite personnel training and follow-up training to ensure programs roll out and operate smoothly. The importance of ongoing training cannot be overemphasized in today’s marketplace. The best companies incorporate e-learning to deliver a wide range of telephone and sales skills.

SYSTEMS AND TECHNOLOGY
If people matter so much, what happens to the systems and technology? In fact, people make the systems and technology go. Engineering packages ensure that staff speak clearly with customers and prospects, tally results of calls, help regulate outbound follow-up calls, and even schedule and generate email campaigns. Long-term success depends on the technology driving the call center.

Author: Dan Coen