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Inbound Call Center Magic and the Tao of Delighted Reps and Customers

“Hi, I called just to say thank you for your amazing product. Have a great day!”

How often has your inbound call center received a magical call like that?  The truth is, customers rarely turn to a call center to say thank you.  Typically they call for help; and most of the time, they're looking for timely assistance to an immediate issue.  Is your call center staff up for the challenge?

I've managed call centers for years and have seen many more in my work with 8x8 Virtual Contact Center customers, and the most successful companies have one characteristic in common—a culture that breeds a positive, can-do attitude.  Here are some of the practices of those who have mastered the Tao of great call center motivation and management:

1. Set clear expectations and reward good performance.

This is one of the single most effective ways to reinforce positive behaviors and let your reps know their performance is valued. It’s all about giving reps a clear sense of purpose. A good rewards program explains what is expected, sets clear and objective goals, and defines how success is measured.

And these programs work.  A 2012 study from Bersin & Associates found that companies with recognition programs have 31 percent lower voluntary turnover than their peers. For most call centers, that 31 percent is a substantial portion of the workforce.

Many successful call centers have formal monetary rewards programs in place.  However, the top-performing call centers also use less expensive ways of letting good reps know their work is appreciated. Hand-written thank you notes, birthday cards and extra break time are examples of these non-monetary rewards.

But to recognize performance, you have to monitor the variables that make the most sense for your business, and you have to have the data to show workers what they need to do to get the recognition they crave.  That’s why 8x8’s Virtual Contact Center has many standard monitoring and report-generation features built right into its VoIP call center service.

One call center manager uses the monitoring feature—which lets a manager select a current call and listen in—to "catch a rep doing something well." A small gift card as a reward can make a big impact on a rep’s outlook.

2. Empower workers with the right tools to assure their success—the first time.

Highly successful centers enable a culture of “first call resolution”—the expectation that normally, calls will be dealt with quickly and effectively.   This focus results in highly satisfied customers who don’t need to call back over and over again, and also enhances agent morale. 

Part of first-call resolution is giving workers the tools they need to do their jobs.  These include the following contact-center capabilities:

  • Interactive Voice Response (IVR):  This is your customer’s first impression.  Is your IVR user friendly?  Are your customers getting to the correct person with minimal hassle?
  • Case Management Systems:  Logging of customer cases (interactions) not only provides you with a history of your customer’s issues, but also provides valuable data in top call drivers that they are experiencing.
  • Call Recording: The ability to record and listen to agent interaction with your customers is imperative in understanding the customer experience.  
  • Quality Assurance (QA) Program:  All top-tier call centers employ some form of QA coaching, usually a combination of remote and “side-by-side” monitoring.
  • Performance Metric Reporting:  Metrics and reports that demonstrate trending of queue and/or a call center representative’s performance.

3. Train reps regularly and consistently.

Top-performing centers make call center agent training central to building can-do cultures. They all start with a classroom-like, new-hire training that typically focuses on call center processes and procedures. 

You also need a “nesting period,” where a supervisor pays particularly close attention to a small group of new workers, listening to calls and offering assistance to help trainees with tough calls.  This lets workers know that we don’t just bring people on board, throw them into the sea, and yell “Swim!” 

But what it is about training that improves even a seasoned rep's attitude?  The answer might surprise you. Training combats burnout because it gives reps a fresh new perspective on handling callers and a feeling of greater control over the situation.  Remember, competence builds confidence. 

So the next time you long to hear the "Hi-I-called-just-to-say-thank-you-for-your-amazing-product" call, ask yourself what you've done to recognize someone else.  If you're waiting for sales to drop or complaints to rise before taking action, you might someday find that you’re too late.  Don’t put off making some call center magic of your own today.