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?”

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

New Year’s Recap Part 2: 19 Direct Marketing, Call-Center and Social Media Tips of 2009


Presenting 12 more tips to help your business optimize profits this year. Direct mail marketing and analysis, call centers, e-commerce websites, and customer testimonials are all examined.

(For part 1, and tips one through seven dealing with social media, lead generation and Twitter, click here.)

Direct Mail Marketing and Analysis
8. Concentrate 40 percent of your efforts on lists. Spend an additional 40 percent on your offer. Tie it all together by allocating 20 percent to creative execution.

9. Calculating cost per acquisition (CPA) by incorporating catalog costs helps you understand the relationship between sales demand and the costs required to stimulate that demand. Many of the most successful catalog marketers use CPA as a regular way of doing business. CPA can do a better job of evaluating the true performance of customer results vs. prospecting results, which have different cost structures.

You can even better evaluate the use of co-op databases, which have different results and costs. You’d expect customers to achieve positive CPAs — i.e., profit — and prospects to generate negative or true CPAs. The formula for calculating CPA is as follows: (net demand – cost of goods – mailing costs) / number of orders.

10. I’m also nuts about other financial analyses, such as lifetime value, squinch (square inch for measuring catalog space usage), cash flow, balance sheets, etc. To this day, I’m amazed at how many people I work with, smart people, who still want to practice direct marketing by the seat of their pants.

Marketing just doesn’t make much sense without financial understanding. Too many direct marketing companies think they’re brands. And too many direct marketers think they “know” what their customers want and, hence, perform no analysis.

11. The chatter I hear every day is that direct mail is dead. Mostly, this is perpetuated by pure-play internet folks who believe marketing is all about “pull” rather than “push.”

12. I particularly like this passage from the DMAchoice website: “Direct mail is a green way to shop. If Americans replaced two trips to the mall each year with shopping by catalog, we’d reduce our number of miles driven by 3.3 billion, a 3 billion-lb. reduction in carbon dioxide and a savings of $650 million on gas alone.”

Call-Center Tips (From the C-Level Down)
13. Want to know what’s going on in your organization? Run, don’t walk, to your call center and spend time listening to order calls, customer service calls and other inquiries. I guarantee you’ll be enlightened and find ways to improve your product(s) and service.

14. Talk to your call-center staff — especially frontline reps. These people are the true unsung heroes in your companies, and they intimately know what’s right and wrong with your products and service.

15. Want to see your average order values, conversion rates and lifetime values go up? Bring a call center into the mix. Think about it this way: If your website converts 4 percent of visitors, even the worst of call centers will convert at least 10 percent of callers. That’s a 2.5:1 ratio, on the low end.

16. Function under the guise that great — even sometimes so-so — direct marketing will make the telephone ring, but expertise in the call center will make the cash register sing!

Your Website
17. Prominently display your phone number on your homepage and ALL pages of your site. Make it big. Make it stand out. And put it in multiple places on pages. Your prospects and customers don’t want to have to work to find you.

18. Consumers don’t have the time to spend on your site figuring out how to contact you with their simple questions. They don’t want to search your FAQs or dig around for contact info. They want answers immediately; otherwise, they don’t care how good your products are, they won’t order. Don’t lose business over this.

Getting Testimonials
19. You’d be surprised how easy it is to get testimonials from your customers. In most cases, all you have to do is ask.

New Year’s Recap: 19 Direct Marketing, Call-Center and Social Media Tips of 2009, Part 1


After a careful review of all my columns this year, I’ve come up with a list of 19 top tips for you. Implement these strategies into your planning to help prepare your business for a prosperous 2010. Happy new year!

(Part 1 contains tips one through seven, dealing with hot-button topics such as social media, lead generation and Twitter. Then check back next week for tips eight through 19, focusing on direct mail marketing and analysis, call centers, and e-commerce websites.)

Social Media
1. With social media strongly in play — whether you like it or not — marketers don’t get to choose what’s said about their brands. Control of your brand image has been passed, torch-style, from the marketing department to your customers.

2. Are you afraid of negative publicity? If so, why? Don’t you want to find out what your customers are talking about? Or what you can do to fix or improve your company? If you bury your head in the sand, the ruthless truth is your customers will bury you. Like the proverbial Chinese alphabet character for “danger” having the same meaning as “opportunity,” now is your chance to become truly customer-centric — to finally understand by listening to the internet chatter about your company.

3. I understand times are tough right now for many, but merchants need to start operating on the following premise: If you listen, they will come. Your customers are the ones who should drive your business. Social media means you have to work harder at serving your customers, but the rewards are greater customer loyalty and lifetime value.

Using Twitter
4. Tweet news and information about your company and products. New products, company news, press releases, corporate milestones, testimonials and “meet-the-employee” articles are great examples of things to tweet. Anything you think will get people both familiar and, more importantly, emotionally involved with your brand is worth your while.

5. Ask questions. Twitter, like any social network, is all about conversation. Have someone who can spend time working with your followers to answer their questions. Engage your followers to provide information about how to make your company even better. If harnessed correctly, Twitter can be an exceptional customer service tool as well.

Lead Generation
6. Catalogs.com offers in-depth descriptions of the catalogs it promotes, along with links to the catalogers’ websites, allowing for further research on a particular product, price, etc. This helps you gauge whether a catalog’s list may be a good fit for your business. Getting your catalog listed on this site will help you add new customers within your allowable cost per acquisition.

7. Catalog requests — say it loud; say it proud. Believe it or not, people still love to shop via catalog. Some people, myself included, still prefer the tactile feel of leafing through a catalog. And here’s a bonus for you: Multichannel buyers spend more money per channel.

The more channels consumers spend time in, the more engaged they are from an emotional perspective in your products and business. This yields buyers who in most cases will spend more per order and over their lifetimes. That said, why is your catalog request link not more prominently displayed? Make it big, and make it stand out so it’s easy to find

6 key takeaways for getting a handle on this new-fangled social media customer service


A few weeks ago, I downloaded a Monopoly game from a company called GameHouse. My son was itching to play the computer version with us on our family night (mostly because I move too slow).

Downloading was a success, but I had problems finding the activation code for the software, so I went in search of a company contact.

I jumped on GameHouse’s website, and my first instinct was to look for a phone number to call its customer service department. If you read part 1 of my “You Lost Me There” series a few months back, you know that I’m an adamant believer in having your contact info prominently displayed on your website. Another one of my pet peeves is the ubiquitous page with the contact form. Or, more importantly, how long it takes to get a response from said form.

To me it’s simple: Make it easy to speak with me or my business goes elsewhere. I couldn’t find a satisfactory way to contact GameHouse, and I grew frustrated. But there was a big (really big) “Follow us on Twitter” button, so I clicked it. I sent a tweet to GameHouse — and the rest of its followers — on how I was having problems and was aggravated that its website had no contact info. For good measure, I joined its Facebook fan page and sent the same message.

It didn’t take GameHouse long to respond. Thanks to Kristy, who manages GameHouse’s Twitter presence, I had an easy way to establish communication with the company and resolve my issues. Turns out that I also ordered half a dozen copies of Monopoly as I tried to get the activation code. Kristy helped me get squared away with GameHouse’s billing department, too. It took about a week of back and forth to get all the additional orders credited to my account. Kristy had one of GameHouse’s customer service reps work closely with me throughout the process.

Then — and this one blows me away — about a week later I got a package from GameHouse with a different version of Monopoly inside. Also inside was a handwritten card thanking me “for my patience” signed by Kristy with the note: “A little gift for all your troubles.” My son loves it, and everywhere I go (including a lecture I did last week) I tell of my exceptional customer service experience with GameHouse. With this in mind, I offer up some useful pointers.

6 Customer Service Takeaways

  1. I sent my “You Lost Me There” article to Kristy, who said she’d pass it up the food chain. I hope GameHouse heeds my advice and makes it easier for customers to be served by adding a prominent phone number to its website. I’m not sure everybody will use Twitter like I did, however, meaning the potential for a negative customer service experience is present.
  2. I was also quite surprised by how seamless the customer service experience can be without “traditional” contact methods being in play. As a “stone age” customer, once I adapted I was happy again.
  3. Serve your customers in all channels. Social media is having a dramatic impact as a customer service tool; customers will self-select the channel of their choice.
  4. Exceptional customer service can (and should) be the rule in all channels — online and offline.
  5. If your customer service isn’t exceptional, expect to see negative reviews expressed publicly. Also expect to see bad customer service stories spread virally. Had I not been totally satisfied by the work of Kristy and her team, this column would have read very differently.
  6. Upset customers can easily be turned into advocates with proper service. Today’s angry customer is tomorrow’s best customer.

Social Media and the United Breaks Guitars Video – A Cautionary Tale for ALL marketers


With more than 5.3 million people having already watched it, Dave Carroll’s  “United Breaks Guitars” video has become an internet social media phenomenon.  I first saw the video posted on Facebook by a friend.

For the last year I’ve been saying — screaming actually — that companies better have their acts together, otherwise they’re sitting ducks in this new age of customer centricity. If your customer service, products and brand image aren’t all buttoned up, you risk getting skewered on the internet, i.e., the people’s media.

The video I’m referring to is really amazing to see. Here’s the story behind it: United Airline’s baggage handlers break a passenger’s guitar, and the next thing you know 5.3 million people hear about it in a catchy, four-minute ditty on YouTube. Viralocity at its finest (and scariest).

The song has gone so mainstream that you can now buy it on iTunes. For just 99 cents, you too can help spread negative publicity about an airline. I hate to admit it, but I actually feel sorry for United. Well, to a point anyway.

As a marketer and consultant, I’ve seen every variation of apathetic customer service and crappy products sold by spin and hype alone. As a 30-year student of marketing and advertising — and, of course, firsthand experience — I’ve witnessed brands whose positionings were so far divergent from their actual customer experiences that you have to wonder what the C-level execs were thinking when they were sold hook, line and sinker on some overzealous, over-researched agencies’ campaigns. I can just hear it now: “Well, our market research says that if you … ”

But none of that scares me more than the internet and social media, and their power to kill your brand dead with a song, tweet, Facebook status update, blog post, thumbs down, etc.

You should be terrified, too. If you’re reading this column, let it be a call to action for you. Let my words galvanize you into looking into how your customers and prospects experience  — I’ll say it again — your customer service, products and brand image. I know I sound preachy, but how would you like a song written and gone viral about your company?

I strongly urge you to get together with your key staff members to pick apart every one of your company’s touchpoints to ensure every contact in every touchpoint is handled in a pristine manner.

To close out my sermon for the week, I want to leave you with a personal recollection from my early days in direct marketing. In the ’80s I was selling direct marketing media, and to hone my craft I read a book called “How to Sell Anything to Anybody,” written by a car salesman named Joe Girard. Girard had this rule, the rule of 250, which basically stated that any person you come into contact with knew and could influence 250 other people — positively or negatively. That one rule both terrified and inspired me. Here it is expressed mathematically: 1:250.

Thanks to social media, Joe’s rule has expanded just a little, I’d say. Take the United Airlines case, for instance, and do the math. It’s 1:5,322,806.

Oh, and by the way, check out the sequel to “United Breaks Guitars” here. It takes square aim at United’s policies and people who refused to pay for the guitar to be fixed. It’s already climbing the charts.

Guest Article: What Has the Most Impact on CSRs’ Performance?


In the last 20 years, I’ve primarily focused on improving one area of multichannel retail: What’s the key to improving a customer service rep’s (CSR) performance in the call center? Continue reading

We’re on a mission to create the best direct marketing education forum on Linkedin


3 weeks, 540 members strong. Join us: http://www.linkedin.com/e/vgh/2080726/ We have members from all area’s of direct marketing ready to share their expertise with you.  We also have international members.

Want to know more about search, blogs, direct mail, telemarketing, lists, social media, and all direct marketing disciplines, then join us.

If you are an expert in direct marketing, please join us too.  And our members are using this group as a great networking tool!

Thanks, we look forward to seeing you there. http://www.linkedin.com/e/vgh/2080726/

Jim Gilbert

You lost me there part 5 – Your call center is bleeding!


I recently had the opportunity to do some work with a company that had a pretty decent DRTV campaign running. I say decent because it had a good product and the DRTV campaign’s production values were excellent. But the product was complicated and lent itself to a complex offer that a two-minute spot couldn’t fully explain. The spot generated much interest and strong call volume, which would suggest that the campaign was a winner, right?

Until those calls hit the call center.

What do you get when you mix a complicated product offer with call-center staff that doesn’t have the training (or sales acumen) to convert? A company that’s bleeding potential customers in the call center. In essence, a lower than what should be call-to-order ratio, with a giant chasm between the prospect’s understanding of the offer and the customer service rep’s (CSR) ability to close the sale.

(For part 1 of this series, click here; part 2, here; part 3, here; and part 4, here.)

The Great Call-Center Disconnect:
Companies need to function under the guise that great — even sometimes so-so — direct marketing will make the telephone ring, but expertise in the call center will make the cash register sing! Ask yourself the following questions when evaluating your call center’s effectiveness:

  • How’s your call-to-order ratio?
  • Is there blood in your call center?
  • Can you convert more inquiries to sales?
  • Are your CSRs properly trained?

My Biggest Pet Peeve (and One for You to Ponder)
Ask yourself this question: With the millions of dollars companies spend on inventory, marketing, and general and administrative expenses, why are the people on the phones the least educated and, most importantly, lowest paid employees in the company? These are the people on the front lines of your business every day. Every penny of spend filters through either the call center or your website.

Forget sales conversion for a moment. What about contact capture?

What are you doing to ensure that every call that comes into your call center becomes an opportunity? Are your CSRs doing all they can to entice callers who aren’t ready to buy into giving out their information and blessing to continue the sales dialogue? Some examples include the following:

  1. Are you offering callers who don’t buy some sort of company literature — brochures, catalogs via regular mail, PDFs via email?
  2. How about an email newsletter opt-in? If they don’t buy, this is a perfect opt-in point.

Handling Missed Opportunities
There are many ways to capture consumers’ contact info in your call center. But be sure to also look at missed opportunities to convert more sales.

  1. Are you downselling a less expensive product or a different, yet related, product?
  2. How much time do you spend listening to your reps on the phone? I’m often shocked by how little time call-center management spends on listening. I’m less shocked that marketing and merchandising people don’t listen to calls. And when was the last time someone from the C-suite listened?
  3. How much time do you spend training your reps?

I’ll continue this series next week with some simple, yet effective, call-center training techniques that’ll help you convert more sales.

Jim Gilbert is president of Gilbert Direct Marketing Inc., a full-service catalog, direct marketing and social media agency. His LinkedIn profile can be viewed at www.linkedin.com/in/jimwgilbert. You can email him atjimdirect@aol.com, follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/gilbertdirect or read his blog atgilbertdirectmarketing.wordpress.com/.

You lost me there part 3 (losing customers in the call center)


In part 3 of this series (Jim’s note: originally written for All About ROI Magazine, formerly Catalog Success), I’ll continue to recap a presentation I gave a few weeks ago to the Florida Direct Marketing Association titled “The Second Half: 50 Tips, Tricks and Tactics to Make You a Direct Marketing Superstar.”

In particular, this week I examine the value of the call center.

I’ve engaged in debates before with multichannel marketers who don’t believe they need a call center. I spoke briefly about this in part one of this series, but I believe it warrants mention again.

If you believe — and many of the purest of pure-play Internet marketers do — that you don’t need a call center, think again. I’ve seen this debate lost over and over again. People still want, and sometimes need, a human voice to help with their orders, especially if you offer products that are complicated and/or higher in cost.

It’s not that difficult to add a call center these days. And as I’ve said before, there are even call-center companies that allow you to buy blocks of time. Other call-center companies charge a flat fee per call or per sale.

Want to see your average order values, conversion rates and lifetime values go up? Bring a call center into the mix. Think about it this way: If your Web site converts 4 percent of visitors, even the worst of call centers will convert at least 10 percent of callers. That’s a 2.5:1 ratio, on the low end.

If you want to create your own internal call center because you think you can do it better, you may be right, but you might want to enlist the help of a good call-center/operations consultant to get set up correctly. The good news: These days there are many software as a service products that can get you set up quickly and efficiently.

So back to what I said in week one of this series — make it easy for people to contact you. Promote your phone number and you’ll see excellent results.

Next week I’ll discuss more ways multichannel companies can capture customers with some tips and techniques designed for your call center.

Have a comment? Want to add something? Disagree with me and want to start a duel? Post it below. Speak to you next week.

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