List Seeding Can Core the Bad Apples

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They say, "One bad apple can spoil the whole bunch," and this could not be truer of the teleservices industry.

I remember my worst call. I was sitting at the desk of my home office when the phone rang. I answered the phone, and someone who had the warmth of the woman from my high school cafeteria greeted me. She barked at me, "I need to speak with Mr. Ogen!" I responded, "That would be me. How can I help you today?"

She continued, probing with questions about my family in a way that made me think something was terribly wrong (of course, she mispronounced every possible name.) I tried to cut her off by asking, "What is this in reference to?" She ignored me and kept asking questions. Finally, I realize what was happening: She found my name and family information from my grandmother's obituary (she had passed away three days before this call.) This company wanted to jump at the opportunity to create the headstone. Although I was not the appropriate decision-maker, I am glad I received this call instead of my mother, who just lost her last living parent. Maybe if this company had a different approach and a much different type of representative on the phone, it would have been a helpful call; after all, we did need a headstone for the cemetery.

Have you ever picked up the telephone to find a teleservices call where the person on the other end of the phone was rude or did not understand the word "no"? Have you ever been repeatedly called for an offer that you declined or received wrong or misleading information about a product or service? Or was your bad call similar to my case, where you received a call you had no business getting? I know these calls are out there. I find out every time I tell someone what I do for a living. Fortunately, there is a solution to this problem.

For companies such as ours, these poor-quality calls are both a blessing and a curse. As a teleservices consulting firm with several quality assurance solutions such as monitoring, seeding and auditing services, we see a company we can potentially assist in its improvement of call quality and corporate image. On the other side, I often wonder how many people will be contacted before anyone realizes there is a problem. Put simply, this is the teleservices industry shooting itself in the foot over and over again. However, there are ways to stop the bleeding and, more importantly, to remove the gun and stop the shooting all together.

For a long time, independent third-party quality assurance monitoring has been touted as the solution to this problem. Yet, there is a flaw in this approach. Aside from the scam artists and criminals who truly give sales by telephone a bad reputation, call centers do not intend to engage in poor call quality or mislead potential customers. With this being said, walk through a call center during a scheduled monitoring session, and -- trust me -- in the majority of cases the representatives know they are being monitored. With this being stated, if you were to overlay calling and sales statistics between monitoring and nonmonitoring hours, in many cases there is a variance. Are the call centers doing something different when not monitored? The answer is, you do not know.

If you want to find out the answer and improve your program at the same time, incorporate list seeding into the mix. Remember, in most cases, it is not a call center directive but a few bad apples that stray from the program protocol.

What is list seeding? Seed the calling list on the front end with fictitious names, numbers and information. These numbers are dialed upon, where the call center and representative have no idea if they are speaking with a potential customer or a quality firm that will evaluate the conversation. The firm will answer the phone as a customer, score the call and digitally record it to have a record for the client and call center.

Seeding is effective for several reasons. First, a seed call is not scheduled and can occur at any time and any place. Anyone from the best to the worst representative can be seeded. By its random nature seeding ensures that the training and supervisory components of a call center are always maintained or improved upon. Second, seeding has a deterrent factor. Whether or not bad apple representatives are hit by a seed call or not, the possibility of getting seeded will ensure they stay on course and comply with program guidelines. Last, with seeding you can find out other key information. Our seeding center once received several callbacks after we said no to a particular offer. We found that there was a disposition error, and the dialer kept recontacting those people who declined the offer. This finding via list seeding saved the client a very large sum of money and, just as important, protected the company's reputation with the households they could have called back as a nuisance numerous times.

So what about traditional remote monitoring? Will it fade away, only to be replaced by seeding? Absolutely not! Seeding, coupled with remote monitoring is the one-two punch to improve call quality and help rid our industry of those "worst calls" we all have heard about. Here is the combination: Start with seeding and find out what is happening at the rawest level. Then, through remote monitoring, coach and correct areas of opportunity identified via list seeding; evaluate the program, scripting and customer response. Also, remote monitoring is the forum to train the call center quality assurance team on how to listen and provide feedback to your program. When these two components are married, once again overlay calling and sales statistics between monitoring and nonmonitoring hours, and you will find the variance has decreased.

Your corporate image is too important to be spoiled by a few bad apples. Seeding and QA monitoring might not rid the industry of the horror stories of bad calls overnight, but it is a step in the right direction. After all, your customers deserve it.


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