Talking the talk about call centers

Carolyn Klossner
Telemarketing opera­tions supervisor, G2 Direct & Digital

The call center is the voice of your brand, but sales can be sabotaged by negative customer experiences with agents. Fortunately, most issues can be easily avoided with careful planning. Successful telemarketing requires that you recruit, train and equip agents to meet your objective and the specific needs of your target audience.

Use skills-based testing to qualify recruits. It’s easier to teach call center 101 than sales techniques. Start with a full understanding of what you need to accomplish before you hire.

Listening is often overlooked, but it’s the most important skill in order to understand customer needs. Sometimes agents don’t have the training to identify or resolve common issues. Prior to pro­gram launch, incorporate and test script tools including answers to frequently asked questions, rebuttals to sales obsta­cles, product description and detail and current advertising samples.

Scripts with qualifying questions keep dialog structured but conversational, while open-ended questions maximize the opportunity for cross- and up-sell. This is especially effective when agents have hands-on experience with your product and testimonials from users.

Randomly recorded calls — monitored daily — will keep you in touch with customer needs. But how you monitor calls is just as important as how often they are monitored. Clearly outline expectations in advance and agents will better understand their goals. Review incentives to ensure they are consistent and appropriate. For example, don’t reward for the highest number of calls completed and then expect a quality, consultative sale.

Agents are more engaged when they understand their role. Tailored training will allow you to educate and assess the group dynamics. Leverage individual strengths and weaknesses for role play to demonstrate potential call scenarios and acceptable responses. Agents with this type of ongoing training typically sound less scripted and make better sales.

The way recorded calls are monitored is just as important as the frequency


Gary Pudles
President and CEO, Answernet Network

If you want your representatives to be successful, they need to be interested in succeeding and have a personality that matches your call center’s profile.

While training is a big part of creating the perfect representative, the training won’t stick unless you find an employee who is not only dedicated to his or her work, but who is also pas­sionate and genuinely enjoys the work as well. Selling in a call center environ­ment is demanding work that is not for everyone, so success is often determined in the recruiting stage.

Once you find that right person through screening and interviews, it is important to invest in the person through training. The training should supplement that person’s strengths. Aside from training him or her on the fundamental duties of the job, it’s important to train them on why they’re doing the job. For a telemarketer, they’re essentially selling somebody else’s prod­uct over the phone. Training should also teach them to believe in the product they’re selling.

The third part of the training must be sales training. At our company, we spend a great deal of time with our agents teaching them about the sales process, closing techniques, handling objections and the like. Many call center trainers focus so much on client specific-training or the call center technology training that they fail to focus on the representative’s need for basic and advanced sales training. The more your representatives can understand the sales process for the products they are selling, the more successful they will be.

Passionate call reps who believe in the product will increase productivity


Rich Simms
Development manager, DialAmerica

Ten seconds. That’s all the time salespeople have before they get a “No, thank you” from their audience. If we can keep the customer on the phone long enough to relate the benefits of the service you are offering, you will have a chance to secure a new customer.

So how do you prevent early rejec­tion? Call center representatives can successfully sell by phone by simply sounding better. Well-trained representa­tives know how to gain and hold the customer’s attention early in the con­versation by building a relationship and then by maintaining call control.

It’s important to build rapport and trust. Some psychologists believe there are only four stages of human emotion: mad, glad, sad and scared. To make a phone sale we must first put the custom­er in “glad.” In today’s world of caller ID, consumers know it is a sales call before they even pick up the phone and this often places them in “mad.”

Building rapport and trust begins with giving the customer more than what they expect from the start. That means impressing them with your confidence, professionalism and enthusiasm — immediately taking the customer from “mad” to “glad.”

Maintaining control of the conversa­tion is also key. Today’s consumer is savvier, more sophisticated and expects more from us – they want us to be product knowledgeable, direct and to the point. Less is more when it comes to securing customers. Call control is a technique successful sales representa­tives use to keep the conversation going just long enough to share the message.

Well-trained CSRs build rapport and maintain control of the conversation


Victoria Kreutzkamp
Director, call center business, Jenny Craig, Inc.

The customerservice call-in center is one of the most critical compo­nents of any business.

At Jenny Craig, this is the team that helps represent our brand, deals with emotions and needs to have empathic listening skills and a passion to help. Our service team engages in a blended learning approach to increase their pro­gram knowledge, systems proficiency and, most importantly, soft skills.

The first step is hiring the right people. Not only do we use behavioral interviewing questions to get a good sense of how the candidate will serve our clients, but we have them role play a few scenarios so we can see their soft-skills in action. If they’re not showing their ability to ask open-ended ques­tions, we coach them to see if they’re trainable. If they can’t show empathy we consider that a red flag. As Jenny Craig herself once said, “You can teach people how to sell, but you can’t teach them how to care.”

Once they are hired, representatives have their soft skills inspected on a daily basis through live monitoring, coaching and feedback. We focus on their ability to ask open-ended ques­tions to gather information from our clients, check for understanding, then focus on solutions to resolve the clients’ individual questions or concerns. When they need help in one of these areas, we’ll pull them off the phone for a quick skill workout, then listen to them put it into action with the next client.

Not every situation can get resolved in the way the client might like it to be. However, by making the client feel listened to and demonstrating that we truly care, we’re able to end the call in a positive way.

Above all, it’s not about managing the queue. It’s about focusing on the skills to support the person waiting on the line.

Hiring the right people is essential — reps must be able to show empathy

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