Jeremy Booth feels like a broken record. He’s said time and again that the future success of call centers hinges on taking proactive performance measurements. Call centers need to stop looking at historical data that only depicts what’s already happened and instead they should focus on what is going to happen.
He is Associate Vice President of Cambridge Investment Research, which is an independent broker-dealer with 2,600 advisors around the country who are his clients. His call center has 40 agents, who field about 150,000 calls per year and they’re tracking to make $600 million in revenue this year. In this interview, he explains why call centers need to stop looking over their shoulders and start looking ahead.
Jeremy believes call centers keep looking over their shoulders. Traditionally, they focus on lagging measures – agent availability, average speed to answer, call length – and other metrics that track service when considering agent and call center performance.
While historical measures are great because trending analysis can be gleaned from them, it’s time now to focus on predictable, influence-able outcomes. The time is now to look into the top most important performance metrics looking forward to 2015.
The easiest and most impactful way to do this is by ensuring training is effective, hiring practices are in line with business need and other indicators that will have a direct impact on those lagging measures, Jeremy says.
“We’re of the mindset that if you focus on and are proactive on your upfront service — whether it’s operations or the service that’s built out (for example) … and don’t give our advisors a reason to call us for anything that’s not informational – if we cut out the issues, that our satisfaction scores will follow right along with that,” Jeremy says.
The future of call center performance, therefore, depends on the strength of its proactive measures. Centers need to be able to focus on predictable, influenceable outcomes. He likes to use the example of weight loss since it is a simple concept most people can relate to.
“If I stand on the scale every day, am I going to lose weight? No. It’s going to tell me I’m either going to go up, or I’m going to go down, or I’m going to stay the same. I’m still looking at it every day. It’s something that’s already happened. But if I know that my caloric intake and what I burn in calories are directly related, and those are influence-able things that I have going on in my life. If I can burn more calories that I can take in, I don’t have to check the scale every day. I can do it once a week or once every two weeks, and I will see progress if I stick with the plan,” he says.
Therefore, instead of focusing more on the numbers and the metrics, call centers should take a holistic view and then ask themselves, “Is this strategy aligned with the end business goal seeing?”
The theory behind excellent Customer Service isn’t complex: Do everything in your power to assist caller inquiries in a timely manner and do so with a smile. Simple, right? Not so fast. Support environments are complicated and mired with numerous hiccups.
Amy Latzer, Chief Operating Officer at 211 LA County, says providing excellent Customer Experience starts with proper training. In this interview, she answers the question, “How do you train and develop a staff that is able to possess a skillset that goes above and beyond the caller’s expectations?”
By Hannah Hager
What is it that your customer wants? This seems to be a simple question, yet the end goal of customer happiness often gets lost in support environments that are mired by multiple transfers, dead-end calls, impersonal agent interactions and disjointed communication across channels. These poor practices damage customer loyalty and, in turn, deliver your clients straight into the hands of your competitors. So how do you temper the issue of when a call center unintentionally loses sight of the end goal: a successful interaction — from the customer’s viewpoint?
An excellent customer experience is always front of mind for Amy Latzer, Chief Operating Officer at 211 LA County. 211 LA County is a private, nonprofit organization based in San Gabriel, CA. Its 60 agents serve all 10 million residents of Los Angeles County, fielding nearly half a million calls per year. The center, which has been in business for around 35 years, will soon celebrate its 10 year anniversary of receiving the 211 designation.
She and her team are in a unique position when it comes to implementing an effective Customer Experience strategy – 211 callers are most often in a state of mental or physical distress. Therefore, her team must respond in an especially caring and compassionate way from the get-go.
How do you train and develop a staff that is able to possess a skillset that goes above and beyond the caller’s expectations? Amy says it starts with training.
“It starts with the hiring selection. It really, really requires a very specific skill set and personality type. These are not easy calls. We’re handling calls from some of the most vulnerable, at-risk population in LA County,” she says.
Unlike many call centers that field requests that can be mitigated with the click of a few buttons, 211 LA County callers sometimes cannot comprehend or express the root issue of their problem. Further, not only do they not know what they need, they don’t know what to ask for or what resources are available to them. This has potential to significantly dilute the Customer Experience process and underlines the importance of hiring quality from the beginning.
Issues with Customer Experience arise when agents are devoid of training and instead are given checkboxes on a Quality Assessment scorecard. What happens then is that an agent will plug in an empathetic or validating statement somewhere in the call that doesn’t sound natural or make sense. This is not the kind of experience 211 LA County expects from its agents.
To deliver truly exceptional customer service, you have to impress a sense of humanity within your agents, Amy suggests. She trains her agents to be curious, sensitive and possess the natural ability to be and sound empathetic in order to offer the caller validation.
“Real Help” 211 LA County’s service delivery motto, means to impress that the call line is more than just a number and the agents are going to give more than just a number for another service.
Lastly, after the call is concluded, she and her team collect the information from each call in order to analyze the reason behind the call and determine the effectiveness of the service rendered. They couple this with the gathered demographic information, which helps tell the full story of who is really calling. In the end, these steps lead to better referrals and better service.
“Understanding our caller population helps us really paint a picture of our community, so that people are going to have a healthier life and families and individuals will thrive,” Amy says. “If we do not do a good job, if we do not create a good experience, those opportunities are going to go somewhere else. So it’s really important that we deliver on that promise.”