Training Packets Key to Better Results

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Pretend you are an agent in a call center. You are practicing your presentation. Polishing it. Making it your own. The offer is good, and you are ready to start.


As an agent, your success hinges on confidence, consistency and preparation. Look around - you have so many tools at your disposal. Your script provides a coherent framework for delivering your message. Your automated system directs your call flow, ensuring internal rules are met. Your skills have been nurtured through individual conferencing and a tiered training program.


Chances are, you also have a training packet nearby. Is it tucked in a three-ring binder, with sections neatly separated by tabs? Can you access it with the click of a mouse? Or is it a maze of memos tacked to your wall?


Now, step out of your agents' shoes. Consider this: A training packet may be the most underrated tool in any call center. It ties together every element of a project. It acts as a reference, expanding a script's scope and reinforcing agent training. It is your agents' fallback when the unexpected happens. In short, a good training packet holds agents accountable: Knowledge is grounded in fact, not interpretation or memory.


A training packet's content stems from a project's objectives. For example, a customer service program might emphasize step-by-step solutions, while outbound sales may be geared toward overcoming objections. Either way, every element in a training packet must contribute to one goal: giving agents the tools to maximize the value of every call.


The following are training packet elements that can help you achieve this end:


Project background. Your agents are the front line. They are the people your contacts will associate with you or your client. This is why they must be well-informed. The training packet should provide the product, market and company information that agents need to communicate confidently with current and potential customers. When you develop a project background, ask yourself the following questions:


• How does your product or service work? How is it different from similar products or services? How do these differences give it a competitive advantage?


• Who is your competition? What are their strengths? Weaknesses?


• Who are your strategic partners? How do your partners' products and services work with your own?


• What is the market like? How has it changed in the past five to 10 years? How will it change in the coming years? How is your company on the leading edge of these changes?


• What does your company do? What strategic initiatives does your company have planned for the coming years?


• What common technical terms are used in this industry? What do these terms mean? How do these terms relate to your product or service?


• What is your company's reputation in the industry? Is there any press coverage, either positive or negative, to which your agents should be prepared to respond? What should their responses be?


• What is the goal of this telemarketing effort? Are there particular criteria, such as sales per hour or talk time, to which agents should pay particular attention?


• How does this teleservices effort correspond with other company marketing efforts? Is it reinforcing a direct mail or e-mail campaign? What expectations are set in these marketing pieces?


• Answers to commonly asked questions. Pretend you are the prospect. Look at your product or service. What questions would you ask an agent? Here are some questions your agents should be prepared to answer:


• Total cost of product or service. How much is shipping, handling and sales tax? Are there additional charges, such as installation fees or parts not included? What volume discounts are available? What credit cards do you accept? Do you accept purchase orders or check debits? What options are available beyond the standard service package?


• Terms and conditions. What are your refund, exchange and cancellation procedures? What payment installments do you offer? When is the payment due? What restrictions or limitations are inherent to your product or service?


• Delivery. When will it be delivered or set up? By whom?


• Unique requirements. Does your product or service require added personnel? New equipment?


• Installation and training. What customer support services do you offer? How much time, money and effort are involved in implementation? Who will do the training or installation? When will training be done? What are your customer service hours?


• Personal references. Who uses product or service in the contact's vicinity? What are the phone numbers or e-mail addresses for these references?


• Company location. Where is your nearest sales office or distributor? What is your Web site address? Customer service number? Corporate headquarters location?


• Gatekeeper responses. How did you get my name? Why are you calling? How long will this call take?


You can also derive potential questions from the unique qualities of a product or service. For example, if you are registering businesses for a conference, you may receive questions about workshop schedules, travel arrangements, exhibitors and continuing education credits.


Objections. Evaluate your product or service. Where is it vulnerable? Examine your industry. Who are your true prospects? What are their biggest concerns? Study your competition. What expectations have they set?


Once you have answered these questions, you should find many possible objections. Once you decide how to answer these objections directly, develop short, benefit-driven rebuttals that end with an assumptive close.


For example, if you are setting appointments for home safety inspections, you can counter a "send literature" objection this way: "We'll do better - we'll send you an expert. That way, you can see where your home is vulnerable and have your questions answered right on the spot. We'll even leave you a fire extinguisher as a free gift. Our consultant is available next Wednesday or Saturday. Which works better for you?"


Although many objections are based on factors unique to a particular industry or product, you should always prepare rebuttals for the following objections:


• Too expensive.


• Already use something similar to your product.


• Requires too much change/inflexibility.


• Missing a particular feature.


• No use for your product.


• Had a bad experience with the company.


• No time to talk.


• Does not like to do business over the telephone.


Benefit statements. Imagine that you have never heard about your product or service. Look at it. What features strike you? Write everything down. When you are done, ask yourself how those features make life easier. Shape these thoughts into five to 10 benefit statements. Start with a particular feature. Explain how it saves time, money and hassles. Follow up with examples that prove your assertions. These examples illustrate this approach:


• "Our system contains a three-tiered architecture, so if the first server fails, the next one will pick up and continue operating. You will never have to worry about downtime or losing critical documents."


• "This service will make your department more productive while cutting your labor costs. Here's how: We will put all your critical documents online. That way, your staff can access them with just the click of a mouse. They will be able to retrieve data faster - and solve issues right from their desks."


Benefit statements should be succinct and packed with images. You want your contact to envision using the product or service before you transition to a close.


Probing questions. In its purest form, telemarketing is a dialogue, not a monologue. You cannot help people without first understanding their unique environment. Open-ended consultative questions, when used strategically, create this dialogue. They arm agents with information to resolve a call favorably. For example, when qualifying a prospect, agents could ask, "What things are most important to you in a vendor?" To flush out important factors like buying experiences and company politics, they could follow up with: "Why is that important?"


Be sure your agents understand the value of each probing question, when to ask a particular question and where to transition the call, based on the response. Without this context, calls can quickly disintegrate into inquisitions.


Skill reinforcement. Have you ever noticed your agents require additional training in a particular area?


Insert a training module in a packet that reinforces this skill. For example, if you anticipate a flood of customer complaints in your inbound program, develop a module for handling angry customers.


By tying the module to a particular project, agents can practice these techniques in context, increasing the likelihood of retention.


System training. If your automated system encompasses complex functions or branching streams, consider adding system training to the packet. For example, you can make print screens and overlay dialogue bubbles to explain what happens on each screen. If your project requires accessing a Web site, include instructions for navigating that site.


There are other elements such as quizzes and motivational quotes that you can incorporate in training packets. Remember, do not overwhelm your agents with content. For information-intensive programs, prioritize the content so agents know what is mission-critical and what is reference material. One way to make this differentiation is to create separate packets, such as basic and advanced.


Your agents are the voice of your company or client. Great voices require confidence, conviction and clarity. To reach this end, these voices must first be tempered by knowledge and discipline. Training packets help agents find their collective voice. They prepare agents to solve problems proactively and maximize customer interactions.


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