Lessons Learned in Vendor Selection

By Nathan Teahon

What makes a good call center?  Better question, what makes a good call center partner?  It’s a good question, and not always a simple one, but something that I ask myself frequently as I am constantly working with several different call centers and always want to find opportunities to test new ones that can end up doing work with us for years to come.   I’ve worked with a lot of call centers over the years and have been fortunate that my good experiences have far outweighed the bad.  But, there have been bad experiences and there are definitely lessons to be learned from those experiences.  With every bad experience, do I believe I was working with a sub-par call center?  No, definitely not.  Sometimes the timing is just off and not everything gelled the first time around.  Sometimes two companies just don’t mesh well with each other for one reason or another.  And, sometimes, not often, but sometimes, you do come to the realization that you’re working with a sub-par call center and there is no nice way to sugar coat that.

Unfortunately, there isn’t an exact science to finding the perfect call center partner.  However, hopefully I can point out some important things to consider both if you’re in need of a call center but also some things to consider if you are a call center looking to be a solution for another company.

David vs. Goliath

Is bigger always better?  Well, obviously that depends on what we’re talking about, and it’s no different in vendor selection.  If you are a company that is looking for a single call center to staff a 200 seat credit card sales program then going with the company that has two centers at 50 seats each isn’t going to work for you—clearly.  But let’s say we’re looking at a program that is going to take 10-20 seats.  Is the same type of center that is able to staff that 200 seat credit card sales program the way you want to go?  There are other things to consider but in just looking at the size and nothing else you have to consider when a company is too big for a campaign.  When is your campaign going to be just a small fish in a very big pond?  Is it going to be assigned to an account manager that already has too much to handle and your new pesky program is more of an annoyance?  There is something to be said for the company that wants it more, needs it more, and is hungry for it.  What is a small fish to one company can be a game-changer for another.  There is something to be said for that feeling you get when you know the call center management team is going to put everything they have into making your campaign successful.

Location, Location, Location

Does the location of a call center really matter?  Just like using local telephone numbers for Caller ID to improve answer rates, having a call center in the right location for a program can be an important part of whether a campaign is successful or not.  Or, having a call center in the wrong location can be a recipe for disaster.  Offshore call centers, I’m talking about you.  Without diving headfirst into that topic, I will say this.  If the majority of your agents have a heavy accent of some kind, odds are that your call center is going to be the perfect fit for any program calling into a market that also heavily uses that accent.  However, you’re also probably a less likely fit for a campaign that is calling into any other market.  Obviously there is a lot more flexibility when you’re working with accent neutral agents.  And if you don’t care about your sales rates or the overall customer experience you’ll be delivering but rather want really cheap rates take your business offshore and don’t look back.  Zing!!!

Supervision

The supervisor position is, by a mile, the most difficult job in the call center industry.  The supervisor is the person that is most responsible for driving performance on their team, constantly pushing, coaching, and motivating.  A good supervisor has sore feet at the end of every day.  Having a good supervisor is everything.  Having a bad supervisor can be disastrous.  If a supervisor isn’t motivating they are probably bringing the team down.  This position is also the most difficult to evaluate if you are not physically in the call center to see the supervisor in action.  Most interaction that a client has with a call center is going to be through an account manager and there could be some QA interaction in monitoring sessions as well, but probably less with the front line supervisor.  It’s because of this that when you get to visit a call center in person that spending time with the front line supervisor is very important, and you will quickly get a sense of if the team is responding to that supervisor, if they are motivating, if they are focusing on the most important areas that need to be focused on, etc.

The next major question when it comes to a call center supervisor is looking at the kind of support that they are being given.   A common mistake that I see call centers make is that they have an incredible supervisor and they fail to provide that person with any support.   They have their supervisor and a team of 20 agents and they are on an island all by themselves.   Like I mentioned before, the supervisor position is the most difficult position in the call center industry, and is it being made even more difficult because of a lack of support.   Is there Quality Assurance staff that is also coaching the team so it’s not all on the supervisor?  If the program is dynamic and has a lot of moving parts, is there a Program Manager or some other position that is managing the dial strategy effectively, or is that on the supervisors plate as well?  Does the supervisor have more agents than can reasonably be expected to manage by themselves?  There are no blanket right or wrong answers to these questions.   The call center industry is so dynamic.  What works for one call center campaign isn’t necessarily going to make sense for the next one.  A supervisor for one program can handle 20 agents, another possibly 7, it depends on the program.  But when evaluating a call center it is good to understand the answers to these questions.  Understanding that the supervisor position is a critical role, it’s important that the right person is in that position, and that the right person is receiving the proper support to be successful.

Quality Approach

Different companies take different approaches to how they handle quality monitoring.  I have worked with a number of organizations that have an actual quality department, with a department head and staff that is completely separate from the operations staff.  There are certainly pros to this kind of structure.  If an organization has created a structure such as this, they obviously hold quality in high regards, and keeping this kind of department separated from operations does ensure an unbiased approach in regards to quality.  Let’s face it, operations people can have absolute highest regard for quality, but results are top priority.  That doesn’t mean that quality is being sacrificed in order to achieve results, but campaign results are the first thing that an operations team is responsible for.  If asked, most operations people probably would categorically deny that, but those same people are reading this article and nodding their heads in agreement.  Again, it doesn’t mean operations managers are sacrificing quality one bit, but the results are the first thing on their mind, and quality comes directly after.  When you have a QA department that is separate from operations, quality is the absolute number one priority, and there is some value in that.

The majority of my career I “grew up” in the model where each call center had a Quality Assurance manager that was directly tied to operations, where the call center supervisors and QA managers all reported to the call center manager.  The pro of this type of model is that everyone is always completely aligned with expectations and the harmony between QA and operations is flawless because they are all working in conjunction with each other, as opposed to departments that are separated.  The question that arises with a QA department is who is giving quality monitoring feedback to the agents?  In a department setting, it is common for that feedback to be passed from QA to the supervisor directly overseeing those agents.   One disadvantage of this process is that the feedback can get diluted or lost in translation as the feedback is relayed.  So, which way is the right way?  Honestly, I don’t care.  It makes for fun debate but both ways have their pros and cons.  At the end of the day when evaluating a call center, you have to make a determination if there is a true commitment to quality assurance and does the process that particular organization has in place work well for them?  Citing previous examples, if the person you have doing quality assurance is also your supervisor, call center manager and IT person, then there may not be a proper commitment to quality.  Each company may have a different philosophy in going about quality assurance, but do they have a strong commitment to the process and can they demonstrate it works for them?

Also, when monitoring with a client, who should be leading the session?  More specifically, what should the role of an account manager be when monitoring with the client, even in the early stages of a client relationship?  Again, different organizations probably handle this differently, but when I’m working with a call center I do not expect the account manager to be leading quality monitoring sessions.  When it’s a first session with a call center or a launch of a big program, I would expect that they would attend and add value, but I prefer having a quality assurance manager lead the session.  First, I know that it’s the quality assurance manager that is the one constantly listening to the program and delivering feedback.  I want to be able to have a sense of comfort that the person that is always doing listening is capable in that role and we can align expectations.  When the only person I can monitor with is the account manager it’s harder to gain a sense of comfort that the actual quality managers are competent in their roles.

Don’t Do This (My Pet Peeves)

Any time that we talk about potentially adding a new vendor, there is one step that we always take prior to actually testing, and that’s listening in on some of the agents that the call center thinks would be a good fit for your respective dialing campaign.  If you test a call center without taking that step first, you are wrong.  Why do we do that?  Well, obviously it’s kind of one final sanity check before a company starts calling on your behalf.  The last thing I would want is, to start working with a call center on a campaign, and find myself thinking, “the agents really sound terrible” and then think, “Gee, if I would have just listened to them first this wouldn’t be such a surprise.”  Having that final sanity check is certainly a must and eases my mind prior to testing a company, but during this process there are other things that you notice that also have an impact.  For instance, I’ve listened to several companies, both big and small, that haven’t been able to figure out how to have a monitoring session with the sound projecting through the phone.  When this happens, I can almost always see the speakers being positioned carefully around the speakerphone.  That’s not a horrible thing, just a little tacky.  Where that does become a bit of a problem is that the sound quality of the session is obviously degraded.  As long as I can hear just fine, it’s not a problem as long as I have confidence that the actual sound quality of the call is good.  However, if my client wants to monitor, they aren’t necessarily going to realize that, and I wouldn’t want the client to have questions about sound quality just because we have to position computer speakers carefully around a phone in order to monitor.  If you’re a call center out there currently doing this, it’s probably time to find a solution.  There are simple and cheap solutions out there that allow you to have the sound emitted by your computer to transmit through the phone, eliminating the need for awkward speaker arrangements.

Along those same lines, be conscious of the background noise on your calls.  No one wants to listen to a monitoring session where we’re listening to Sally, and are plainly hearing the conversation of Bill who is sitting right next to her.  If we hear it in monitoring, the customer probably hears it too.  And even the most conversational sounding agent has a hard time selling a conversation if the customer hears someone in the background saying the exact same things.

Set Yourself Apart as the “Vendor of Choice”

As far as the Do’s, I believe there are some obvious ones.  Do be good people to work with.  Good people like working with other good people, and I’ve been fortunate to have the pleasure of working with a lot of good people in a lot of good organizations.  And at the end of the day, do under promise and over deliver.  I’m not talking about sandbagging goals or expectations, but what I do mean is don’t bite off more than you can chew thinking you can figure out how to make something happen later.  More times than not more than one person ends up dealing with a difficult situation.  If you can communicate what you can do that’s all you need.

Nathan Teahon is Director of Operations for Quality Contact Solutions.   He may be reached at [email protected] 

 

Dean Garfinkel Named Treasurer of ATA

Aurora, Nebraska – Quality Contact Solutions’ Chief Operating Officer, Dean Garfinkel has been selected to serve as Treasurer of the American Teleservices Association (ATA). In his new capacity as an Officer and Treasurer of the association Dean will continue to serve the membership promoting the channel. As an eight year veteran of the National Board of Directors he has been instrumental in developing and implementing the Self-Regulatory Organization (SRO), which has been credited by the Federal Trade Commission as a positive step in the teleservices industry in addition to many other board initiatives.

Dean Garfinkel joined the Quality Contact Solutions team in 2010 as Chief Operating Officer. In addition, Dean leads Quality Voice & Data, Inc. and Quality Online Solutions, Inc. divisions as President.

Well-known within the telecommunications and teleservices industries, Dean has more than 30 years experience in a wide-range of technologies, including TDM, SS7, IP, SIP, WIFI and Wireless, and specializes in value-added solution development. Garfinkel invented TeleBlock®, a patented call routing system, which has become a national telecom standard and is sold by telecom carriers including AT&T, Verizon, Qwest and PaeTec. He is a leading expert on telecommunications, CallerID and Do Not Call compliance, and is a regular speaker within the industry circuit.

About Quality Contact Solutions:

Headquartered in Aurora, Nebraska, QCS and its divisions, QCS Telemanagement, QCS At Home, Quality Online Solutions, and Quality Voice & Data, create customized in-house and outsourced call center solutions to boost inbound, outbound, or online call center results. A value-added approach ensures each customer contact is enhanced through higher quality and increased productivity.

For more information about Quality Contact Solutions, please visit qualitycontactsolutions.com.

About the American Teleservices Association:

The ATA is the only non-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of companies that utilize call centers as an integral channel of operations. Founded in 1983, ATA represents more than 4,000 contact centers that account for over 1.8 million professionals worldwide. For more information at the ATA, please visit ataconnect.org.

Maximizing Results for Outbound Telemarketing

By AJ Windle

John Quincy Adams once said “Patience and perseverance have a magical effect before which difficulties disappear and obstacles vanish”. I think the reality in this quote speaks to the fact that challenges in this industry are not in moderation, with every program comes new challenges and with every venture come new obstacles. Because results are directly impacted by these ever changing variables, pushing through the challenges to create success is what makes us great.

Outbound telemarketing is a fast paced, ever changing industry with growing demand for increased results and with those expectations our performance must follow. We all want to be riding that cloud nine at the end of the day looking back and knowing that we are ahead of the game. Just like anything else we are going to have bumps along the road but it is how we as an industry handle these things that affect us in the long run.

Preparation

A well organized and extensively thought out plan is what it will take to get a program off to a good start. Cross your Ts and dot your I’s when you are ramping up a program. Do we have everything you need? Do we have goals set? Have we communicated clearly the expectations of the program? Have we tested the system? These are all good questions to ask ourselves when beginning a program start up. Make sure you have everything you need to hit the ground running. Even a small piece of information or miscommunication can throw a huge wrench into how performance kicks off.

Training

Training is a pivotal part of the success of any program. If the agents are not prepared to handle all the aspects of the program they will lack confidence and their results will typically follow suit. Make sure that all the information of the program has been communicated thoroughly to the agents in a way that can be easily translated to the work they will do on the phones. As you focus in on training don’t be so concerned with the length of the training but more with the content that is involved. A lengthy training can have its benefits but if the agent isn’t moving forward then they are standing still and can begin to lose focus. There does come a point where training in the classroom will reach a standstill and the only way to increase the agent’s knowledge is through experience on the program.  Develop program training by being cognitive to the fact that everyone learns in a different way and in order to create a strong team in all avenues you will need to use engagement, visual, lecture, and curriculum based styles of training. Grow your agent’s knowledge, experience and confidence in training and you will see a dramatically positive outcome in your programs performance.

Analysis, Ideas and Action

One of the greatest things about results and performance is they are measurable. In order to really know where you are at and where you need to go these statistics must me analyzed frequently. Because variables change it is important to set up specific KPIs on programs to measure performance in a consistent fashion. These KPIs will help you to identify trends, weaknesses and opportunities within your outbound dialing. They will help you formulate creative ideas with your team and will help when making decision about what actions need to be taken to increase your results. Tracking these numbers on a consistent basis will help you to analyze if your changes are making a positive or negative impact to your numbers.

Statistic analysis should be evolved around both the universal level as well as a granular perspective. Because of this, it is important to think not only about what KPIs you will be using but what directly affects these particular numbers. Its cause and affect, it is not enough to see that you are or are not hitting your completes per hour you need to know why. Do we need to dial more aggressively? Are we reaching our DMCs? What is our Wrap time? What’s our conversion rate? This is where monitoring at a granular level really comes into play. Think about it, average team numbers are great to look at but if they not coupled with a more magnified observation approach they can be a little misleading. Say for instance you are hitting your metrics on completes per hour, while this is great if you were to jump down to the granular level you might find out that there are several people riding on the shoulders of the few that are way above goal keeping your numbers just where you need them to be. The result of this can be eye opening but also a great opportunity for increased performance on any program. If you have a solid group of individuals that is far exceeding goals you now have two things working in your favor. One is you have identified people who need additional coaching, one on one sessions, or more training. The second thing going for you is the fact that you have people who are excelling on the program who you can use to share best practices and make your team even stronger. No matter how you look at it, this is a win, win situation.

The bottom line is that excellent performance and exceeding results don’t come without struggles, hard work and determination. We all have been in a situation where we ask ourselves how can we get better, and what can we do to increase our numbers? While there is really no simple answer to these questions, proper preparation, a well developed training and program measurement will help get you on the right track to maximizing your results on your Outbound Telemarketing Programs.

Outsourcing to an Outsourcer

Nathan Teahon, QCS Director of Operations Espouses Benefits of Using a Telemanagement Company to Manage Inbound and Outbound Telemarketing Programs

Working in telemanagement for me has been a very gratifying experience. I also believe that it has been a very gratifying experience both for our clients and the call center partners that we work with. But outside of that circle that has very close links to our telemanagement process I still get the sense that many feel it’s an abstract concept. Some of the initial questions that pop up include if we have a physical call center, are we brokers, is our service quality monitoring, and more. Those questions, however, are all very easy to answer within just a few minutes.

The one question that does sometimes pop up that is nails on the telemanagement chalkboard is, “Why would I want to outsource to an outsourcer.” Now, is this a totally unreasonable question? No, of course not. If you have never lived with the telemanagement process then you don’t know what you don’t know and it ends up being a good opportunity to educate others on the process. Nonetheless, the question still makes me want to bang my head against my desk at times. If the process was just “outsourcing to an outsourcer”, then it would not be telemanagement at all, it would be nothing more than brokering. Finding an appropriate call center to handle the calls for our clients is merely the first step in the value that the telemanagement process provides.

The value that the telemanagement process provides our clients is that they don’t have to worry about managing the call center directly. If a company has a product or service that they are selling for example, they are most likely experts regarding their product or service and the corresponding industry. They are 95% of the time probably not experts regarding the call center industry, so why does it make sense for them to manage a call center? Our goal for our clients is to allow them to focus on the things they are experts at. Let it be our job to work hand in hand with the call center to insure things go smoothly. One client for QCS said, “The reason that I prefer the telemanagement model that QCS operates on is because it puts an expert in the industry right in the middle of my business. I have the comfort level knowing that my business is in highly capable hands and is being taken care of and watched over very well. This allows me to focus on other issues that impact my industry and my specific customer base. I rely on QCS to be the eyes and ears for me while I tackle other challenges that are equally as important to managing the business.”

It’s certainly a win for our clients, but what about our call center partners? It’s a win for them as well. Instead of having a client that is not familiar with the call center industry all of their contact is with us and part of our job is to make the lives of our call center partners easier. Once one of our partners has completed a program with us, it’s very simple for them to set up following programs after that. We help them in every phase of project setup, including training development and execution. Once a program is up and going, we stay involved on a daily basis with data and reporting, quality assurance, and overall project management. Mike Needham with Premiere Business Solutions has been working with QCS for over a year and said, “Working with QCS and their model has been a pleasure. They are very devoted to making things easier for us and helping to put us in a situation where we can be successful for them and their clients. It’s been a great partnership.”

Telemanagement is much more than just “outsourcing to an outsourcer.” At least good telemanagement is. This was a high-level look at the value telemanagement can provide, both for our clients and our call center partners. If you want more information regarding the specifics of our telemanagement processes, please don’t hesitate to contact us. I promise I won’t bang my head on any desks.

Dean Garfinkel Joins Quality Contact Solutions

(Aurora, Nebraska) – Angela Morris, President of Quality Contact Solutions (QCS), is pleased to welcome Dean Garfinkel as her new company partner. As his first order of business, Garfinkel will expand the technology solutions available to their call center clients.

In addition, Morris and Garfinkel will soon be announcing a host of new, innovative call center technology solutions that will fall under the QCS umbrella. “Our new technology-driven products will ensure our clients have access to leading edge contact solutions,” said Morris. “QCS offers unparalleled experience and capabilities, and Dean adds a whole new layer to the organization that our customers will appreciate.”

Well-known within the telecommunications and teleservices industries, Garfinkel has more than 30 years experience in a wide-range of technologies, including TDM, SS7, IP, VoIP, WIFI and Wireless, and specializes in value-added solution development. Garfinkel invented TeleBlock®, a patented call routing system, which has become a national telecom standard and is sold by telecom carriers including AT&T, Verizon, Qwest and PaeTec. He is a leading expert on telecommunications, Caller ID and Do Not Call compliance, and is a regular speaker within the industry circuit.

Garfinkel is a member of the National Board of Directors of the American Teleservices Association, and was instrumental in developing and implementing the Self-Regulatory Organization (SRO), which has been credited by the Federal Trade Commission as a positive step in the teleservices industry.

Headquartered in Aurora, Nebraska, QCS and its divisions, QCS Telemanagement, QCS At Home, Quality Online Solutions, and Quality Voice & Data, create customized in-house and outsourced call center solutions to boost inbound, outbound, or online call center results. A value-added approach ensures each customer contact is enhanced through higher quality and increased productivity.

Angela Morris is an industry-leader in call center operations and performance management, with more than 20 years experience. She has been extensively involved with the American Teleservices Association, and is a founding member of the ATA Midwest Chapter. She is a frequent writer and speaker on call center performance and regulatory compliance. Morris holds a B.S. in Telecommunications Management, an MBA, and is a certified ATA-Self Regulatory Organization auditor.