Understand the Challenges
The people part of running a call center is always challenging. Reps work in very tight spaces and are peppered with calls all day long. Sometime the callers are mean. Lockout and late-fee days are difficult because there will be unhappy customers. There will be times when the phone volume won’t stop and the reps barely get a breather. Your idea of what should be said and how calls should be handled doesn’t always match what the call-center reps envision and can certainly conflict with how callers like to be treated. Managing these competing pressures is often more art than science.
That being said, the people side of the equation is not so difficult if the call center hires the right candidates for the job, gives them proper training and support, makes things fun once in a while, and shows appreciation for their accomplishments. Ask your call center how it recruits, hires and trains staff. It should have some very deliberate methods you might find interesting.
The technology part of running a call center is also demanding. There are different approaches and many layers working together. Technologies are more complicated and interdependent. Just understanding the flow chart of how the voice, data and call recordings interface with the servers, nodes and circuits takes patient study.
The best approach is often a strategic one. How does the call center serve your particular sales and service strategies? How can you help simplify and improve the call center’s ability to serve them? If the call center can grow and support its people while keeping its technology from becoming a 12-headed monster, you as the client should see some great results.
The technology side can be less challenging if the call center invests in proper scale and function, develops good relationships with its vendors and service people, and creates contingencies for the typical problems. The one constant in the hardware and software game is stuff breaks. The call center should be prepared for that.
Ninety-nine percent of call-center failures are completely invisible to you and your customers if the call center builds its technology platforms with potential hiccups in mind, investing properly so its systems allow for occasional disruptions. Ask your call center representative to talk to you about contingencies and redundancies. You might be surprised at the lengths people will go to ensure the flow of normal business.
Get the Stats
Again, call centers generate a lot of data. Ask your call-center rep how the business uses the statistics it generates for planning and to evaluate performance. Find out what information is actually available to you, and then determine how you can best use it to make better operating decisions. You may only be using a portion of what’s accessible and have an opportunity to learn more about your business by looking at a wider range of information.
However, you have to be careful that you don’t bury yourself in data or draw too many hasty conclusions. Even where you’re capturing reliable stats, know that many things can influence them that aren’t apparent at first glance. There are also some activities and effects that simply cannot be measured.
When partnering with a third-party call center, know what you’re getting into and make some deliberate, strategic decisions. Talk to your call-center representative and learn more about what the company does in general and what it will do for you specifically. This should put you in a good position to make the most of your call-center relationship in 2013.
Tron Jordheim is the director of PhoneSmart, an off-site sales force serving self-storage owners for more than 10 years. For more information, visit www.phone-smart.info .