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Executive Interview : Richard Blank from Costa Rica's Call Center Answers Must Ask Questions for the Industry
Richard Blank from Costa Rica's Call Center sits down with ContactCenterWorld.com for an extensive interview. His thoughts and actions towards gamification in his Contact Center is quite revealing and something you might want to consider for yourself.
What is your number 1 priority for your center in the short term (next 3 months) and why is it critical?
Moving to our new 14,400 SF building in order to increase our size, strength and call center strategy.
In your opinion, what is more important to you when managing your center? Net Promoter Scores? Customer Effort? First Call Resolution? Employee Engagement? Or something else and why?
A positive working environment overshadows everything in a call center. When the telemarketer is happy and feels comfortable, their work will create a "butterfly effect". Centers should expect an increase in QA scores, call metrics and especially, the customer experience.
How have you adapted to meet changing channels like Twitter, Facebook, Live chat, etc. and what challenges has this posed in the way you have run your center in the past?
Unfortunately, these social mediums control the mind and focus of many employees in the current working environment. I strongly support an old school mentality of spoken communication vs. a virtual world where texting and selfies rule one's ego. Unfortunately, vocal communication is becoming a lost art and is taken for granted.
How do you structure your team to make sure the customer reaches the most appropriate employee to answer the question at hand?
All agents assigned to a campaign should be ready to assist in any capacity. If a call is escalated or needs the reassurance of a supervisor, the team has been instructed to pass the call accordingly. Yet, our center does not want to give anyone the chance to not try to resolve the request on a first call and to just pass the responsibility to another telemarketer for lack of trying.
In your opinion, what technology has had the greatest positive impact on your customer satisfaction results?
Cell phones. It enables our telemarketers to reach a client at any time for a faster turnaround time on requests.
Away from reality for a moment - Assume you have unlimited budgets and could change 3 things in your center, what would you change and why?
1) Everyone gets a corner office with an ocean view.
2) Free company car and gas budget.
3) Pay each CCC call center agent the largest salary in Costa Rica.
What do you see as the 3 key 'hot topics' in the industry today and what are you doing as a center to address these?
1. Limiting the agent’s internet search capacities. Web navigation should be work related only and have all other unnecessary pages blocked.
2. Competing in the global BPO industry. Costa Rica must remain competitive in price, quality and services offered.
3. The disadvantages regarding virtual agents. In my opinion, educating the client on the infrastructure, discipline and nuances of an onsite call center location that would offset any savings working with home based agents.
From a Human Resource 'HR' perspective, what initiatives do you rate as the most successful when it comes to retaining talent in your center?
- Knowing their names.
- Free retro video arcade
- Secure and legal campaigns that the agents can be proud and tell their family what they do for a living.
- 9 years of stability and growth.
- CEO personally conducting soft skills and rhetoric training classes.
- Prime location for easy transportation.
- Strong online local presence.
- Happy work environment
What are some of the common mistakes you see or hear others doing in this industry - mistakes etc. that we can all learn from?
Giving the agents full web access at their work stations. Facebook and Youtube are company killers.
In your opinion, is the customer service you personally receive in your country getting better? Getting worse? Or staying the same compared to say a year ago?
Getting worse. The online forums and websites that allow employees to bash their company, employer, co-workers or industry in general. Less focus on improvement than the gripes and challenges to work for a living than career advice. Yet, there are some sites that do share tips and tricks and do filter haters, trolls or disgruntled employees that hijack threads to just cause a stir.
Artificial agents - will they kill or support the contact center industry? And how?
If someone makes a quality call and can fulfill the need of a customer, then I believe that anyone should have the right to take the call. If we can provide top service, then CCC phones will continue ringing. It is a fair shot for all and I am okay with some friendly competition and respect a phone artist with skills.
What are 3 ways you have fun in your contact center?
Retro video arcade machine and air hockey table (free play)
Friday popcorn (all you can eat and smells great)
Birthday parties for everyone.
What's the best way to schedule staff?
Human Resources have a transparent working relationship with all team members. All family obligations, health issues and psychological aspects must be taken into consideration to reduce attrition, tardiness and absenteeism. Priority schedules and perks only work when the agents feel that another has earned a preferred shift and that there is no resentment between coworkers. When there is a pattern of perfect attendance and time sheets, then it is obvious that the schedule fulfills the work/life balance the telemarketer requires to be successful.
Gamification - how does it affect the contact center performance?
CCC has invested wisely in an employee "free play" retro arcade at our call center.
A solid ROI since day 1 because the telemarketing staff has enjoyed a spike in morale, increased online industry community support and a flattering local reputation in Costa Rica as a great call center environment run by generous owners. I will personally continue to reward my amazing staff by a pace of 1 new arcade machine per 44 new telemarketing agents hired and hitting their monthly quota.
Recess play has been lost in memories of youth and days long gone. Not at my call center. The recreational advantage at our call center speaks volumes. Once the word spread, the game room has been packed with our amazing staff having a great time.
Telemarketers and customer service agents may burn out after a period of time. That is a fact. CCC firmly believes that the more an agent stays away from their virtual cell phone world; the more they will increase their interpersonal relationship building among other employees.
We took a chance when most call centers do not utilize a common medium of old school retro arcade gaming. Many people in the outsourcing call center industry will question the distraction ratio, loss production or adverse effects towards an arcade game room. Well, the risk of an arcade game room was definitely worth the reward. The most common reaction from the agents is that they are "letting off steam". All telemarketers are able to function better by structuring their break times around a more productive activity than checking their email, text messaging or having a cigarette. The average call center agent will smoke a minimum of 4 fewer cigarettes a day via our game room. I always promote finding a healthy alternate than chain smoking outside in between calling sessions. We have noted that once a professional telemarketer leaves the game room, they feel recharged. From a scent perspective, they do not emit an odor of tobacco that carries on the calling floor.
All agents are given the option to arrive early to play the games or they may choose to stay inside and enjoy the machines during the evening while waiting for their ride to safely take them home. More new friendships have blossomed in the game room. The average age of our Costa Rican call center agents correspond with the virtual gaming boom that grew up mastering Nintendo has amazing skills.
Just like on a golf course, we are able to use a game room during a conversation, find alternate ways to focus and share BPO ideas than spending time in a board room with a projection screen and QA recordings. Bottom line, we have the option to have gamification meetings when communicating with today's new work place demographic.
Call centers and video games do have something in common regarding performance and success. A professional telemarketer's natural ability to become in sync with their rhythm, pace, concentration, decision making and a positive attitude emerge stronger through video games. BPO agents return to the phones in motion after going into the arcade during their break. Combining a gaming experience to help motivate, focus and relax the work place mind set is priceless and makes perfect sense.
Our Human Resources Department was intent on a positive learning experience through gamification.
How to reward your best staff - what do you do that makes them more loyal and perform better?
Money is the best motivator. When they can produce solid metrics and increase margins, then everyone shares in the success accordingly. Pizza parties can only go so far.
Do you believe the future leaders of this industry are the people at the front line, or others coming in from other industry sectors or parts of the company and why?
In my personal opinion from 15 years of experience, the best leaders in BPO have walked the same paths, in the same shoes and felt every pebble along the way as all call center employees.
Unless the CEO, supervisor or QA director has not put in their solid time of telephone inbound support, appointment setting or sales, they will never receive the level of respect or results they desire from their staff in the outsourcing industry.
Do you believe in the saying 'Happy Staff = Happy Customers' and why?
Pure attitude dictates the majority of the results. Patience must be displayed and simple soft skills can convert the toughest customer into a thankful positive experience.
The agent must always remain consistent in their delivery for an endurance to handle an 8 hour shift. Shifting energy and changing phonetic patterns will only increase stress on the agent and will have them lose steam before the end of a shift.
Outsourcing your contact center to a 3rd party - good or bad and why?
It all depends on your specific project and needs.
Personally, I like to control all aspects of my business when a word is given to all of my clients. Accountability is very important to my moral fiber and my persona. To find myself in an unlikely position where my reputation is solely based on a 3rd party is an uncomfortable option for my current business model.
ContactCenterWorld.com is the Global Association for Contact Center and Customer Engagement Best Practices and is the largest networking group for contact center industry professionals with over 145,000 professional members. Founded in 1999, ContactCenterWorld.com helps members improve service, performance, reduce costs, enhance sales and employee engagement.
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About Richard Blank:
Richard Blank is the Chief Executive Officer for Costa Rica’s Call Center, a division of Cheyenne Consultants, a company incorporated in Costa Rica. At the beginning of the decade, Mr. Blank relocated to Costa Rica to train over 500 employees for one of the larger call centers in Central America. By utilizing his motivational public speaking style backed by tactful and appropriate rhetoric, he has successfully prepared and managed some of the finest telemarketers in the country for the past seven years.
About Costa Rica's Call Center:
Costa Rica''s Call Center (CCC) is a telemarketing outsource company located in the capital city of San Jose, Costa Rica. Our main focus has been, and will always be to personally train each and every call center consultant so that we may offer the highest quality of outbound and inbound telemarketing solutions to small and medium sized international companies, entrepreneurs as well as fortune 500 companies.
Published: Friday, May 13, 2016