The ‘Little Things’ Boost Telemarketing Efforts

I have been working in and around telemarketing centers for more than 15 years. I have worked on hundreds of programs and with thousands of agents. I have seen some interesting things, but nothing has been of greater interest to me than human nature. For years, I have studied human nature in a variety of environments, including the teleservices arena.

As a consultant working for large clients, I have seen programs that were spread across multiple agencies and centers. So I have seen how much of a difference there can be from one location to another – even within the same company.

With all things being equal, i.e., lists, dialers, program resources, etc., one location still will easily exceed the client’s goals while others will fall short. What is the difference? It must be in the people who are working on the program, right? Are people that different from one location to another?

There are differences in the caliber of agents from one center to another because of higher pay, better labor market, etc., but what about cases where there is no discernible difference? The difference is in how these agents are managed, motivated and inspired. It’s like two cars that are equal in every way, yet one outruns the other every time because of the driver and the minor adjustments that are made – attention to details. Success in teleservices is the same way. It’s not one big thing, it’s a hundred little things.

When we take over management of a client’s program, we always like to visit the top two performing centers and the bottom two performers. Sometimes, the top performer and the bottom performer are centers within the same agency. The following case history shows examples of the types of differences we see and the effect of these differences.

We took over a program for a large third-party marketing firm selling a product to mortgage files. Two of the centers were only eight miles apart. The file was split among mortgages that were initiated in Northern states and those initiated in the South.

The first center we observed was performing just above goal on the Southern states and far below goal on the Northern states. In our focus groups, we saw that the agents expected to do well in the Southern states, and they were convinced that it was almost impossible to sell anything to the Northern states. Unanimously, they thought the Southerners were more patient and friendlier while the Northerners were rude, impatient and had a negative view of any telemarketing call. After about three focus groups, I was convinced that this was the case.

We visited the other center – again, just eight miles away and a part of the same company – and guess what we found? For more than a year, the agents had been selling the same product to the same files, and they, too, had an attitude. They thought (and the numbers showed it) that it was virtually impossible to sell to the Southerners. The focus groups showed us that the basic attitude was that the Southerners didn’t really have an interest in the product, were too poor to buy the product, didn’t understand the offer, etc. This group did very well with the Northerners. Once a defeatist attitude exists, the results will always pale in comparison to the attitude of positive expectancy. As Henry Ford once said: “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, either way, you’re right.”

We found that the evening shift at one of the centers had great numbers for both the North and the South. Also, this particular shift had much higher numbers all the way around. The results on this shift were head-and-shoulders above the others, and I was intrigued. I made a point to drop by for a visit, and couldn’t believe the differences I was seeing. A college student who had been working for the center for about five years supervised this shift. The following are some of the differences that he was personally responsible for:

He had a full understanding from working on the floor for years that motivation is not a one-time thing. He felt that the agents need constant motivation. I observed him for two consecutive nights and found it very difficult to engage him in conversation. He was constantly moving for the full five-hour shift. He was patting agents on the back, writing kudos on the white board, double jacking side-by-side for coaching and encouragement, and he was answering questions. My interviews with him came after his shift was over. I couldn’t remember being more impressed by anyone at the center level. He got so much more from his agents than any one of the other supervisors. His agents had a cumulative sales-per-hour rate of 2.4, against his peers, who were at about a 1.5 – what a difference.

After the breaks, this supervisor invested about two minutes before the agents went back on the phones. He really got them pumped about the next hour. He always followed a break with some type of incentive. It could be something as simple as giving a candy bar to the agent who made a sale in the first 10 minutes. Often, he would give the agent with the first sale of the hour a 10-minute break, and he would take over the calling for that agent. He was constantly creative, understanding that agents typically have low production the hour following breaks. Interesting observation. The supervisor said that his success comes one hour at a time. String five good ones together and you have a good shift. Pretty simple, right?

He always spent about an hour with each group of new agents coaching them about script delivery. He said, “If an agent is going to spend thousands of hours delivering the script, it’s certainly worth one hour to make sure that they deliver the script the best they possibly can.”

So if you want greater success in your telemarketing efforts, pay attention to the small things. Find ways to make your people expect success, show them appreciation and make the job fun. It just requires a little creativity and a commitment to going the extra mile.

• Larry Latimer is senior vice president at TBC Consulting Group, Atlanta, a telemanagement consulting firm specializing in Web-based quality assurance monitoring, scripting and training services, and motivational speaking.

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