Dialing up a call center?

1. Seek a similar corporate identity “You want a service agency that represents your company the same way you would represent yourself,” says Liz Kislik, president of Valley Stream, NY-based consultancy Liz Kislik & Associates.

2. Ask for a request for proposal Curt Barry, president of Richmond, VA-based F. Curtis Barry & Associates, recommends that you clearly specify all your performance expectations. For instance:

* Ask about the call abandonment rate (the percentage of on-hold calls abandoned before a rep can pick up); 2%-3% is acceptable, Barry says.

* Determine what percentage of calls are answered by a live operator within 20 seconds-it should be between 85% and 90%, according to Barry.

* Is there remote call monitoring so you don’t have to visit the call center once a week?

* How quickly do reps resolve customer complaints and inquires? Are most problems resolved when the customer is on the phone?

* Will reps cross-sell and upsell the way you want them to?

“First-time call center clients assume that dedicated reps will work solely on their accounts,” Barry says. “Companies need to understand that this rarely happens.”

3. Check online inventory capabilities Online inventory capability is crucial in a call center. If the center’s not online, Barry says, “how will you answer questions about inventory availability?”

4. Seek a desirable location While most catalogers prefer a call center located relatively close to the main facility, consider the labor and real estate costs in the area, which will affect the price of your contract.

To ensure telephone service in bad weather-winter storms, floods, hurricanes-catalogers sometimes partner with call centers in other climates.

Also, if you need Spanish-speaking reps to accommodate Hispanic customers, consider a southern location. But remember, Barry warns, “If you’re located in the Northeast, would a call center located in the South-with its accents-be detrimental? Conversely, if you are in the South, would the New York work ethic be acceptable?”

5. Get references “Thoroughly interview the service agency’s references,” Kislik says. Ask for references from clients who perhaps didn’t have a good first experience, but are happy now, Kislik says. “The value lies in problem-solving. There are going to be bumps in the road no matter who you work with.”

6. Inspect the premises “Lastly,” Kislik says, “keep your eyes open when touring the facilities! Check out the bathrooms-are they clean? Do they take care of their people? Are there three reps standing around trying to get help from a supervisor? If so, there could be underlying problems.”

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