Q & A with Call Center Leaders
At Philadelphia's "Focus on the Front Line" Town Meeting and panel discussion held in May, call center industry leaders came together to discuss some key issues facing those on the front line and their supervisors.
The panelists included: Mary Ann Falzone, president, Falzone & Associates; Steve Fagan, senior vice president, RMH Teleservices; Chuck O'Donnell, telemarketing consultant; and John Welsh, consultant and president, K-Tel Services.
Q. What's the ideal ratio of supervisors to reps?
Welsh: "It depends on what the reps do. For telemarketing, 1:12 is best; for customer service, try 1:8."
Fagan: "It depends on the ergonomics of the call center, and on whether you're handling inbound or outbound calls."
Q. What are some tips for training people on the front line?
Falzone: "Have a go-to person for different areas of specialty. This really helps with retention by giving individuals a sense of expertise. Try training people to be campaign, product and client specialists."
Fagan: "Supervisors need to understand how to read a production report to review who's hitting benchmarks and who's not. Before each shift, take the team and review the previous day's stats in production, efficiency, penetration, contact rates." These stats give supervisors a springing-off point for the supervisor to lead the reps.
O'Donnell: Make learning fun with good-natured competition. Try passing around an egg timer to reps to serve as a physical reminder of their goals. Just be sure that everyone has a turn holding the timer so no one feels singled out.
Falzone: "Take a holistic approach to training both reps and supervisors. Don't just base evaluations solely on monitored calls."
Fagan says he implements periodic written tests to make sure everyone is up to speed on procedures and rules.
Q. How much time should supervisors spend on calls?
O'Donnell: In deciding what percentage of time supervisors should spend on the phone, it's important to remember that having supervisors continue to do a certain amount of customer service work gives them credibility when it comes time to give feedback.
Q. How can I monitor for quality without compromising production?
Welsh: "In some environments, even good numbers don't mean much if the quality of customer service is poor." Don't be blinded by high figures, he adds, noting that a strong long-term relationship with a customer is ultimately worth a lot more.
Q. How do I spot talent in a future team leader?
Welsh: "Look internally first for new team leaders. Don't look for your best performer, but instead look for those who are helpers, the people others look to for guidance. Look for people who are patient."
Q. Some top agents may never become supervisors because they're too valuable to lose as reps. How can I bridge the salary gap?
O'Donnell: Try offering reps a base salary and an incremental raise structure. They can gain promotions by hitting pre-set production benchmarks, giving them an on-going sense of acknowledgement for their improvements.