How These Call Center Training Techniques Can Increase Your Call-Center Conversions


As direct marketers, we spend a great deal of time and money developing programs to make the phone ring. But it’s the call-center agents that truly make the cash register sing.

Therefore, I spend a great deal of time training customer service reps (CSRs) to be powerful brand advocates with the ability to make a difference with all customers. Personally, I hate calling a company and hearing some disinterested rep deal with my order in a lackluster way. It tells me the company I’m dealing with doesn’t get that the people manning the phones are the voice of the company.

A simple CSR training program can solve the lackluster attitude and increase conversion.

CSR’s should be trained to think on their feet rather than interacting with customers and prospects by reading a script. Of course, good call-center software with a scripted environment can be beneficial, but even the best scripting can’t beat a well-trained CSR’s instincts. It’s important to hire reps that can work this way, and then mentor and monitor them on an ongoing basis. A word of caution: Analyze call times to ensure your reps aren’t burning up phone time with the personal touch.

CSR training programs are quite simple. You don’t need elaborate monitoring equipment. Simply use a cassette recorder and some basic monitoring equipment you can buy at Radio Shack to record CSRs’ calls for a day, then listen to the tapes. Break the reps into teams of three or four and sit in a room together and listen to the day’s calls. Teach the reps to listen actively and objectively to the calls.

Let them coach each other on the cues and buying signals that sometimes get missed in real time. If you spot a missed buying signal, stop the tape — I encourage all of the reps in the group to stop the tape if they hear something — and role-play how the rep could’ve made a difference in converting the call.

Set up contests during the training process for the individual CSR and training team that generates the highest conversion rates. Drill the reps on making sure to be gentle and not pushy, as it’s human nature to get more aggressive to win a contest. Stress the quality of the relationship with the customer as well as the quantity of the order.

Using this simple technique at one company I worked with, we increased conversion rates by as much as 20 percent. Also, by fostering an atmosphere of teamwork and healthy competition, we increased the enthusiasm and morale in its call center as well.

Train CSRs to seek out opportunities to cross-sell effectively. Let your reps know which items complement each other, and coach them on the art of cross-selling. Truth is, sometimes all it takes is a suggestion, something like, “Do you know, Ms. Jones, that we have a beautiful top that complements the shorts you’re purchasing today?”

What Multichannel, Direct and Ecommerce Marketers Can Learn From the Way Old-School Retailers Do Business


This week I want to tell you a story, and pay tribute to a local businessperson who recently passed away.

I don’t live in a particularly small town (about 200,000 residents), but for the last 16 years — since I moved to Florida — I’ve been a regular patron at Howards, a local gourmet market named after its founder.

After a brief illness, Howard passed away on July 5. I found out the next day when I walked into the market and saw the looks on the employees’ faces. One look and I knew something was very wrong. In a short period of time, I saw quite a few people weeping — both employees and patrons.

On the TV monitor over the register a tribute was playing to the owner in a loop. I offered my condolences to some of the long-time employees, paid and left. As I walked to my car, I started to tear up, too. Now I’m not a particularly weepy person, so I found it odd that I started to cry.

But this man, and the business he’d built, had been a part of my daily life for a long time. The store would hold classic car shows, July 4th fireworks and more in its parking lot. When there was a hurricane, Howards stayed open to keep the community going.

I can’t tell you how many parties, BBQs, dinners, etc. my wife and I have enjoyed courtesy of the foods Howards provided.

And almost every day for 16 years, there was Howard by the front register talking to customers and building relationships with all who entered. He knew my family by name. Even gave my son, who was seven-years-old at the time, a job application to fill out (we had fun with that!)

So Why Am I Telling You This?
Think about your company: Do you know your customers by name, or are you just a nameless, faceless entity that people buy product from? How about your staff. Are they, especially your customer service reps (CSRs), connected to your customers? Via how many touchpoints?

There’s a lot to be learned from your old-school retailer. I wonder on a daily basis how to translate that to my business and clients. From trial and error, I’ve learned and hopefully taught the companies I’ve worked for how to build relationships with their clients. It used to be that people only bought “stuff” from retailers. I tell companies, “People don’t buy from companies, they buy from people.”

How Does That Translate in the E-Commerce Age?
Simple! Make sure all of your customer touchpoints “keep it real.” Have your CSRs build relationships with your customers. Send them a surprise email special. Connect via your blog, Facebook page or Twitter account. (Still don’t have these up and running? What are you waiting for?) Push your employees to the forefront. Do stories, biographies and contests revolving around them. Learn to use your website and social media efforts to project a real and personal voice. Respond immediately to complaints, issues, etc.

I could go on here, but you get the picture. Feel free to use the comments section below to tell us how you connect and engage with your customers. Go for it!

And Howard … RIP! You’ll be missed!

Your Call Center is Bleeding! – Connecting the Dots of Your Customer Touchpoints, Part 2


In part one of this series on customer touchpoints, I defined touchpoints as all the points of contact between your company and its prospects and customers. In part two, I look at one of the two main touchpoints: your call center.

Before I start any discussion on call center and web results, I always tell clients, “Look out — what you’re about to hear may bruise your egos.” I offer that same warning to you.

Here goes …

No matter what company I visit, I always come away with the same thing: They’re not as efficient at converting sales as they could be. I get that knowledge the old-fashioned way: I listen to calls in the call center, and I make a number of test calls externally. I also go to a client company’s website and order a product (or attempt to, in some cases).

First Off, the Call Center
There are just too many missed opportunities in the call centers I evaluate. Missed buying signals, missed cues, reps not listening effectively, etc. I also see environments that are too tightly controlled and scripted, and others that are totally unscripted.

Of course when I tell clients this, often times I get a blank stare, like, “What do you mean my call center sucks? Do you know how much effort I put into technology, people and training there?”

And sometimes, right there, the messenger gets shot! But in truth, this does happen, and if you’re willing to spend time listening, you’ll hear it too. We reconvene here in two weeks. When we do, I’ll offer some simple call-center training techniques I’ve used to increase sales conversion rates by as much as 20 percent.

In the mean time, please listen to your calls, make test calls to your call center and soak in as much as you can. You may be in for an eye-opening experience. This is especially true if you’re in another department or are an executive in your company.

After the call-center training in my next post, I’ll move into web orders and how you’re missing the boat there.

Oh, and a last point: If you don’t have a call center, you ARE missing sales. We’ll discuss that next week, too.

Use these tips to connect the dots of your customer touchpoints, Part 1


Direct and multichannel marketers encounter moments of truth that make or break their sales and marketing effectiveness multiple times each day. How they interact with customers, prospects — essentially all consumers — is critical to their success.

Direct marketers touch consumers in both traditional (call center, website) and nontraditional ways (mobile, social media). Reputation management is everywhere.

Marketing in the 21st century, with the internet and social media in play, has become even more of a challenge as direct and multichannel aren’t fully in control of all of the messaging that’s communicated to (and between) consumers regarding their brands. This is why today’s brands need to make sure that all client-facing activities are buttoned up, in sync and consistent across all channels.

Well, at least that’s the goal to shoot for!

Over the coming weeks, I’ll be writing a multipart series on how to maximize results in all selling channels and at all consumer touchpoints — from your call center to your website to your Facebook page.

But before I get started, I want to offer you a challenge. I have some questions for you to ask yourself. I want you to become a detective in your own organization. And I don’t care if you’re the CEO or a customer service representative in a call center. Try the following:

  1. List all of the points of contact your customers and prospects interact with you in. The more specific, the better. For example, if you use landing pages for marketing campaigns, list them.
  2. Get out of your office. Go to your call center and listen to multiple customer service and sales-oriented calls. Do searches on your company name and/or products to see what your reputation is in the social mediasphere.
  3. Do a complete audit of all of the places your brand touches consumers. Note the good and the bad.
  4. Get others in your organization involved. My best suggestion to you is to get your CEO to put together a customer experience team to investigate the above. It should meet weekly to discuss its findings. Then build a plan to ensure your touchpoints are doing exactly what you want them to do — i.e., driving sales and engagement.

Stay tuned for part two of this series in a few days. But in the meantime, go ahead and post your comments, suggestions and even fact findings below

Gilbert Directs 6th Annual Preparedness Guide to Surviving a Disaster


This may be the most important blog post you read this week.  As I am writing this, there’s actually a tropical disturbance brewing in the Atlantic. We’ve already suffered through earthquakes in major regions and a catastrophic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Thus I felt it was time for my yearly guide to disaster preparation, right in time for hurricane and tornado season.

Much like a four-letter word, disasters happen in all forms just about anywhere, without warning, at any time. So prepare your company and yourself. Here’s a disaster-readiness checklist I suggest you look over carefully. If you think you’re on top of it, compare your list to this one to ensure you have all the bases covered.

  • Have a business survival disaster plan in place. Get your department heads involved as stakeholders. Let your employees know what to do in the event of any emergency.
  • Publish a list of all emergency contact numbers for your key personnel and vendors. Include home and cell phone numbers, as well as home email addresses as alternative ways of contact if main communication channels go down. And don’t forget instant messaging and Skype addresses, as well as text messages.
  • Twitter and Facebook can be effective tools for communicating with your employees, vendors and customers during times of crisis.
  • Designate someone in your company as chief disaster planning officer.
  • Back up your computers and computer systems regularly. Then back up your backups. Most importantly, keep them off-site. I have five backup drives and all my files backed up on DVDs. There are two kinds of computer users: those who have lost data, and those who will lose it. I fall into the first category: Last year one of my backup drives failed with more than 750 gigabytes of data on it. Luckily, while I lost three-quarters of a terabyte of data, I had almost all of it backed up on DVDs. I’m one of the fortunate ones who lost a little, not a lot.
  • Work with your call center so it can operate if a disaster strikes. If you use an external call center, inquire about its disaster plan.
  • If your call center is on-site, consider hiring a backup call-center staff to field calls in case of emergency (this saved one my clients’ bacon a few years ago).
  • If you host your own website, have a plan in place in case you lose all power. Find out what your ISP does if it loses all electricity.
  • If your business is in a disaster-prone area, buy a generator.
  • If your business isn’t in a disaster-prone area, contact any vendors that are. Disasters, either natural or man-made, can interrupt your workflow with printers, the Postal Service or any other vendors.
  • Don’t market into disaster-impacted areas because they won’t respond. If you’ve already marketed in a disaster-impacted area, adjust your projections downward.

Bottom line for all this, remember my motto (or is it the Boy Scout motto?): ALWAYS BE PREPARED!

Do you have a disaster plan? Feel free to add to this list by posting a comment below.

New content coming


Once again folks I apologise.  I’m so busy lately that I haven’t been able to follow up on my blog.  I will have 4 new articles posted this week.  Promise!

Jim

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