By Michael Blankman
Outbound calls are misunderstood and under-appreciated in the call center industry. However, prior to outsourcing becoming the global business it is today, call centers were largely the purview of telemarketers. In fact, just 15 years ago when I looked to outsource high-touch, high- value financial services calls, the vendor showed me the frozen food support section of the call center that they were operating.
At the time, he felt the customer care being provided for those calls would most closely resemble what I was I was looking to outsource. In retrospect, it was these inherent differences in perspective that drove home the need to respect everyone’s expertise and highlighted the crucial role of clearly delineating roles and responsibilities. Vendors bring scale, and a commitment to technology and innovation, which leads to lower costs. The outsourcer will always maintain the business expertise and relationship with the customer. These calls are now an accepted part of the global market place, have become fundamental to a companies communication strategy, and builds loyalty / B2C revenue.
As this relates to services provided out of Latin America, there is a clear need for bilingual call capabilities as the Hispanic audience continues to grow and for the demographic and expense reasons the region is already attractive. High touch and efficient customer care skills are critical when providing these services and training is the key!
Outbound Sales Call Program Design
When designing outbound sales programs (the term sales is used broadly to capture the use of outgoing calls as a closing activity) traditionally call centers have relied on incentives that provide a short-term improvement in results accepting their clients demand for pure pay for performance compensation. However, as with all successful call center partnerships, it is really about instituting behavioral changes that create an environment of sustainability.
A strict pay for performance model, drives behaviors that are counter productive in the long run and sacrifices quality for quantity, which reinforces the negative stereotype of this business. These relationships should be treated no differently then high touch inbound customer care calls. Outbound calls rely even more on subtle persuasion, empathy and soft skills for success.
McCoy Enterprises, a leader in call center performance consulting, has designed an employee development program tailored specifically for these types of calls. McCoy has identified a four-step program:
- Immersion – training the trainers, line management and agents
- Line management reinforcement
- Agent reinforcement
Assessment requires an across the board review of all agents and line management. Usually agents are challenged by these calls because they require a specific skill set focusing on persuasion and overcoming objections. There is specific sales training required as well as the soft skills necessary to take the call to closure.
From a line management perspective there are many developmental opportunities to provide sales coaching and call calibration among peers. There are clear performance expectations. This is accomplished through specific training, discussion and group workshops, complimented by individual mentoring, and role-plays and call evaluation sessions. Assuming the agents have call center experience, training for agents and supervisory personnel can be completed in a week for each group.
Bob Madonna, Principal and EVP with McCoy Enterprises says, ‘The intensive development of line management training enables supervisors to be prepared with a full understanding of agent tips and tools and to be ready for coaching. Calibrating and tracking results also needs to be done. Developing sales expectations that are measurable and achievable within specific time frames are a critical deliverable” The immersion phase includes interactive teaching, role-plays and reviewing case studies. Among the most important results of this phase are understanding the best ways to ask probing questions, objection management and closing the call.
Key Performance Indicators
Value added versus more punitive Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) are critical to tracking progress and managing expectations; KPIs at multiple levels are important. The vendor will determine performance at the supervisory and agent level, but overall revenue targets will be agreed to contractually at the program level. Immersion focuses on product strengths and probing in a way that will uncover needs and opportunities, enabling agents to maximize revenue per call.
It should be noted that the relationship between the supervisory personnel and the agents is more stressful because of the added impact of revenue targets. The training has to sensitize the supervisors to managing this or the environment can be toxic. Reinforcement requires the coaches or line management to work closely with the agents on an ongoing basis. This will ensure that the skills and strategies are assimilated into the business as usual culture assuring continuous improvement.
Traditionally it is reinforcement, monitoring, call calibration and one on one coaching that often fades away over time post implementation in outsourced relationships. It is one of the key reasons it is stressed that the outsourcer needs to maintain a vigilant-permanent liaison team of subject matter experts, complimented by value-based KPIs that can be tracked. All this will also make it easier to have performance-based discussions. Sales calls are easier to track and calibrate then inbound calls because the closing includes a specific event such as new revenue, completed surveys, or achieving fund raising targets, etc.
In addition, there is a series of actionable skills that can be taught and tracked which will directly improve the results. A tracking matrix utilizing both hard and soft skills needs to be created. McCoy Enterprises has a nine-block grid that can be easily synthesized to a numeric result. However, scoring can be accommodated by existing call scoring formulas. Bob Madonna states, “With the appropriate training and reinforcement practices in place, the four week program will grow revenue by double digits.”
This all leads to an environment that does not work in the traditional pay for performance model. Often times a hybrid model will have significantly better results without negatively impacting an outsourcer’s budget. A hybrid model establishes a minimum hourly/per call rate. This helps to insure that the relationship does not rely solely on sales. It is important to remember that call centers that can accept both incoming and outgoing calls can change the operating economics of a center and have more agents available to better manage the variability of call volume. Once these skills are taught they are transferrable to any suite of product offerings.
Editor’s Note: Contact Michael Blankman at Michael@michaelblankman.com and Bob Madonna at firstname.lastname@example.org.