Mark Fichera - ContactCenterWorld.com Blog
When it comes to call center services representatives, there are traits that the star performers tend to have in common.
We’re talking specifically about call center outsourcing agents, who sometimes work on several clients’ customer service call center programs at once. The great ones are a special breed. Let’s look at their professional characteristics:
- Keep Calm & Carry On: Call center services representatives deal with thousands of people on the phone every week. Among those thousands are a number of people who are unhappy, mad, impatient or in some other way difficult. Some have unreasonable demands, and some are in a crisis caused by the call center’s client. The great call center customer service specialist always remembers that Job One is retaining the customer for the client if at all possible. The great agent studies effective techniques for successfully handling the difficult customer in ways that work toward successfully resolving the situation and satisfies (and retains) the customer. This requires the representative to remain calm, to be able to absorb a certain level of anger and even abuse and to constantly turn the conversation toward a constructive, positive interchange.
- Sales Message Mastery: The call center services star is frequently in a training class learning a client’s unique sales messages, product set, market and brand. This agent can master several clients’ messages and articulate them as need be throughout the course of the work day. This requires mental dexterity and determination to absorb new information on an ongoing basis.
- Computer Literacy: Customer service call center programs can be highly complex. Beyond the details of a client’s sales and product message, each client program has different ways of transacting sales, processing orders, transferring phone calls, accessing customer data, escalating customer issues, notifying clients of hot sales opportunities and recording results. All this requires knowing how to get around a computer. The star call center services performer gets around a computer quickly and accurately.
- An Ethic of Helpfulness: Great customer service outsourcing representatives gain satisfaction from help people find the products they want, the services they would like, the doctor they need, the information they lack and the problem resolution they seek. They get a charge out of helping people, it keeps them motivated and energized.
- Enjoy People: Call center services representatives enjoy the exposure their work gives them to many different people from many different walks of life. The star performers get their personalities into every customer interaction, they bring a personal touch to every customer service phone call.
- Flexibility: Call center customer service managers work hard at training representatives to anticipate myriad customer problems, but they can’t think of everything. The call center services star has the ability to think on his or her feet, to come up with an appropriate solution that keeps the customer happy.
- Attentiveness: It may seem obvious but it’s important nonetheless; the star customer service call center representatives listens attentively to what the customer is saying. Breakdowns in customer service often happen because the agent fails to pick up the details of the customer’s request or problem. This undermines customer service quality and leads to customer dissatisfaction.
Some outsourced call center services providers hire entry-level employees as representatives. But there are very few outstanding inbound call center representatives straight out of high school. It takes experience, proven desire and time to develop the skills required to be a star performer.
Mark Fichera, CEO
Call Center Services
Publish Date: January 31, 2014 5:31 PM
We all know bad customer service when we see it. But the process by which poor customer service happens is usually a long and complex. Here's OnBrand24's blog on how and why bad call center services happens: http://bit.ly/1iDY3o1
Mark Fichera, CEO
Call Center Services
Publish Date: January 28, 2014 7:58 PM
One of the most important ways in which call center services providers can be categorized is premise-based vs. virtual. That is, those whose employees work at a brick-and-mortar call center facility over against those whose staffs work from home.
Overall, virtual employment has grown quickly in recent years, up 73 percent since 2008, according to a study by globalworkplaceanalytics. It’s particularly prevalent in the call center industry for vendors trying to hold down their costs or boost profits.
But even as new technology enables workers and companies to remain hyper-connected, a new study indicates that the virtual staffing model has significant drawbacks. A recent article in Forbes magazine offers insights into virtual/on-site trade-offs. Yes, some employees are happier and more productive working from home. But in the larger scheme of things, the advantages of premise-based outweigh the downside, chiefly in the areas of teamwork and knowledge sharing.
To quote from the article: “A healthy organization has a culture that allows the sharing of values and ideas, the formation of a corporate identity, and the sense of competitive urgency that allows a company to be agile and innovative.” And this can only be accomplished when people are working in physical proximity.
In addition, “working from home can fail to fire up remote workers in the same way as a shared company environment.”
This refers to the crucial element of collaboration and the creation of innovative ideas that happens when employees talk to each other, swap suggestions and building on each others’ thoughts.
Concludes Forbes, “…teleworking generally doesn’t work well, because corporations still haven’t solved the issues of remote learning, knowledge sharing, or firing up ideas. If that ‘magic’ is to happen, you still need office face-time.”
These insights apply to the call center industry. Teams of representatives, working in dedicated or shared teams on inbound customer service/order processing or outbound lead generation and appointment setting, work best when they work in collaboration. Agents and program managers can swap experiences, compare best practices and share ideas in team meetings. All of this invaluable activity is impeded, or eliminated, by agents working from home, with the client hurt by the loss of collaboration.
Mark Fichera, CEO
Publish Date: August 7, 2013 5:03 PM
Jan. 3, 2012 -- It’s been over a year since we signed on as the outsourced call center for a large, regional hospital (1,000+-bed) for non-clinical physician referrals and class and event registration, so we thought it was a good time to get a progress report.
We interviewed the call center manager for the hospital (which requested anonymity), and the feedback was very gratifying.
“You guys made a night-and-day difference,” she said.
She breaks down the benefits delivered by OnBrand24 into four categories:
• Improved Customer and Patient Support Services: Compared with the previous outsourced call center, OnBrand24 has reduced patient inquiries referred to the hospital’s in-house staff by 70 percent. This is a major efficiency benefit to the hospital, whose staff now has more time to focus on higher-level administrative and patient programs. It also means that patients receive more prompt service because their inquiries receive first-call resolution.
In addition, complaints from patients about call center service quality, which had been frequent, have been virtually eliminated.
This improvement reflects OnBrand24’s ability to go beyond scripted responses. Our patient support specialists are trained to communicate with patients on an individual basis and to take the initiative to research patients’ needs. Above all, our patient support specialists are problem solvers. They enjoy helping customers gain access to the resources and information they require. The result: according to our hospital client contact, OnBrand24 has significantly improved patient support service and customer satisfaction.
• Dedicated, Premise-based Team: Our team methodology represents a major area of difference and improvement. The hospital’s previous call center had a virtual staff model, with agents and the team manager working from home for a variety of clients. By contrast, OnBrand24 has implemented a dedicated, premise-based team approach. This means a relatively small team of patient support specialists and managers work together only on the hospital’s program, and they all work from within our call center facility.
This ensures strong communication, accountability and responsiveness between the hospital and our dedicated team. It also enables the hospital to know each of our team members individually. And it means our team continually becomes more expert about the hospital, its program and its brand. Lessons learned are not dispersed among agents working for other clients. Instead, they are absorbed by a contained team.
HIPAA compliance also is enhanced because patient records are handled by a limited group of agents at a single location.
Finally, because our Team Leader is dedicated to the hospital’s program, system changes and updates are a top priority and immediately put into effect – the Team Leader is not juggling the needs of other clients.
• Flexible Software and IT Infrastructure: The hospital reports that OnBrand24, in combination with LVM’s Centaurus software, quickly implemented a customized program that supports the hospital’s business processes and patient care practices.
In addition, according to the hospital, OnBrand24 quickly makes system changes and updates, such as adding new classes and changing class schedules, making additions to the physician referral network and changing drop-down menus.
Centaurus is both user-friendly and powerful, enabling our Team Leader to quickly make updates without the involvement of programmers on our IT staff. And because of the ease and speed we can make those changes, we do not impose incremental charges to hospital, helping them realize significant cost savings.
This contrasts with the previous call center, which charged extra for a wide range of tasks, such as adding physicians to the referral network, making changes to event schedules, completing patient survey, and so forth. Charges for these activities added up to thousands of dollars per month.
• Cost Savings: The hospital reports that in addition to achieving enhanced patient service, greater customization and overall responsiveness, OnBrand24 has reduced the hospitals monthly outsourced call center costs by roughly 35 percent.
It’s good to hear “Job Well Done” from a client, particularly one with the complex requirements of a major hospital. We look forward to continuing a successful partnership with the hospital moving forward.
- Mark Fichera, CEO
Publish Date: January 4, 2012 7:08 PM
Leading marketing strategists are embracing a powerful new concept: “Customer Experience,” or CE.
CE elevates existing notions of customer service and CRM to the next level. According to a Bloomberg BusinessWeek study, CE means creating “a practical and emotional manifestation of how a company delivers on the promise it makes to its customers, through all encounters, on all channels.” Social media, email, advertising, public relations, POP.
And the call center.
The CE payoff: “The development of loyal lifetime advocates for your brand.”
Very exciting stuff. But the study shows that while 80 percent of surveyed execs said CE is critically important, most concede their existing CE is less than optimal.
Because it puts a voice and a personality to your brand, the call center is a critical component in effective CE strategies. Your customer service agents and outbound lead generation specialists must work in concert with all of your media and communications tactics to create an emotional connection between your customers and you.
Your call center – be it in-house or outsourced – must be strategic and brand-aware enough to support your overarching CE plan. OnBrand24 supports CE operations at Virgin HealthMiles, Sappi Fine Paper, Alpha Software and other B2B and B2C companies.
You can read case histories about them on our site.
- Mark Fichera, CEO, OnBrand24
Publish Date: September 28, 2011 3:38 PM
The last thing businesses can afford is to pay for services not rendered. Yet it’s amazing how many sales managers do just that.
In the call center industry, particularly at in-house contact centers, customer service agents spend significant time sitting idly by non-ringing phones. Yet for each minute that happens, the agent is receiving full salary and benefits. That’s money out the window.
But there’s a solution. It’s called the “time-on-task” billing model. It means only paying for customer service when customer service is being delivered. When there’s no activity, there’s no charge.
Most of our inbound clients choose this billing model (a.k.a., “shared agent”). They like paying strictly for the time we’re helping customers place orders, answering product questions, checking order status or answering customers’ emails. When call volume and email traffic decline, so do costs.
Of course, time-on-task isn’t the right approach for all companies. For those with higher call volume programs, or highly technical products, a dedicated agent model may be more appropriate. There’s also the hybrid model that dynamically combines both approaches. When call volume increases, a dedicated agent model is adopted; when volume moderates, the program reverts to time-on-task.
We started offering time-on-task long ago because it makes such complete sense. We can measure call length and track call outcomes. We can cost-out average talk time, first-call resolution and revenue-per-call. We can gauge ROI in a heartbeat.
It’s perfect for clients who like to quantify, analyze and maximize the cost effectiveness of their outsourced customer service program. And it’s great for managers who hate seeing meters running when no work is being done.
If time-on-task makes sense to you, we should talk.
Publish Date: March 1, 2011 3:41 PM
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Publish Date: December 3, 2010 5:02 PM
There’s nothing like the “Fourth Quarter Hum” to lift the spirits of a marketing manager, and that’s exactly what we’re seeing and hearing at OnBrand24.
Providing outsourced customer services – in the form of catalog order taking and e-commerce order processing for companies like Sappi Fine Paper, Dancing Deer Baking Co. and SodaStream – we’re experiencing a noticeable, healthy and heartening uptick in activity. The noise level in our inbound call center has risen to a steady din of orders placed and customer questions answered.
The Fourth Quarter Hum has never failed to materialize in our 25 years in the call center business. But with the economy so slow we couldn’t help wondering if it might arrive in a reduced state this year. We’re happy to report that such worries were unfounded.
You’ve heard me preach in the past that there’s never a good time to cut back on customer service. But a recession may be the worst time of all. Marketers need to leverage every cost-effective resource available. Providing customers extended access to friendly and informed customer service agents to assist with product orders, facilitate sample shipments and answer product questions by phone or email, is a significant competitive advantage.
It’s a major difference over companies that tell their customers to “call back during normal business hours” or leave a message in a general voice mailbox. The costs associated with extending personalized service are quickly outpaced by maximized revenue and stronger customer loyalty.
So if the Fourth Quarter Hum hasn’t visited you give me a call. Enhanced customer service could be the boost you need.
Publish Date: November 10, 2010 3:24 PM
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