College Adapts Call Center for Blind Telemarketer

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As it upgraded its outbound telephone recruiting efforts into a more automated operation, Mount Mary College in Milwaukee faced the dilemma of how to improve efficiency without alienating one member of its telephone recruiting staff who is highly effective, personable - and blind.


The school, which uses telemarketing to encourage prospective students to apply for financial aid, hired Steven Gastreich as it undertook a project to create a more cohesive telerecruiting program through the installation of a predictive dialer and other technology.


"He was very upfront with us from the start and he told us he was blind and had had an internship with a radio station," said Yvonne Hennigan, dean of enrollment management at Mount Mary College. "He's bright, he has a great voice and tremendous communications skills, and we wanted him to be a part of our team."


While Gastreich had experience as a telemarketer and could work from braille scripts, the new technology the school was installing meant he would not be able to read the name of the prospective student the dialer called when it appeared on his computer screen, nor see the fields for data entry.


"We were founded by the School Sisters of Notre Dame, whose whole philosophy is outreach and diversity and color blindness," said Hennigan. "We figured because of who they were, and as a small Catholic institution, a women's college, it was important to embrace someone with physical disabilities."


Working with Collegiate Technologies Inc., Zephyrhills, FL, to develop its telerecruiting program, Mount Mary College began experimenting with ways to accommodate Gastreich.


Using technology Gastreich has at home which translates screen text into audio messages, Collegiate Technologies determined what information had to be transmitted verbally for him to carry out a conversation as effectively as the other telemarketers.


"When we first started, we gave him everything that was on the computer screen," said Alan Braslow, CEO of Collegiate Technologies. "It was a nightmare. It was information overload. So we worked with him to determine what he needed to know."


Initially, the project involved having a member of Collegiate Technologies stand behind Gastreich and whisper the name of the person the dialer had called as it appeared on his computer screen.


The solution was to use text-to-voice technology that told Gastreich the names of prospects contacted and basic talking points, such as where prospects attended high school, their grade point averages or SAT scores.


As he enters information into the computer, the system reads back each letter as he types it so he knows he entered the information correctly.


To pay for the text-to-voice technology, Mount Mary College was able to tap into special state funding from Wisconsin for helping the disabled succeed in the workplace. Gastreich uses a standard workstation and keyboard, and has become so adept at the system that he is also able to use the mouse to find his way around the fields.


"We learned a lot from working with him. For example, I learned that all keyboards have a raised point on the 'f' and 'j' keys to indicate where the index finger should go," said Braslow. "He's a quick learner. He's gotten to the point where he can navigate the system better than some of us can."


The system the school implemented includes Educall, a predictive dialer from Stratasoft, Houston, that Collegiate Technologies has customized using proprietary programs appropriate for educational institutions. In addition, Collegiate Technologies supplied the college with training and assessment performance management software from British company ISV and CD-ROM tutorials on manipulating computer programs from Learn to USA, Collegiate Technologies' sister company in Zephyrhills.


In addition to selecting the technology, Collegiate Technologies president Cliff Dorr worked with the school on training and developing telephone representatives and creating an overall strategy for running the call center.


The center, which previously used enrollment counselors to make calls, now has three telephone recruiters working the phones from 4:30 to 8:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday. On most nights, the dialer tries an estimated 1,200 phone numbers, and makes approximately 500 contacts that result in 200 conversations. That's an increase of 200 to 300 percent from the amount of contact the enrollment department made before the new system.
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