Hearing empowered

Evaluating telephone reps’ performance during customer transactions is crucial to ensuring quality service. Call monitoring systems, which let supervisors listen in undetected as call agents speak to customers, are the means by which most catalogers train new phone reps and assess how current agents are doing.

In the past year, however, some catalogers have recognized that the ways in which they use call monitoring, and the information gleaned from the monitoring experience, could be improved.

Littleton Coin Co., for one, used to monitor calls only sporadically, says Carol Bamberry, manager of customer service and sales for the Littleton, NH-based coins and gifts cataloger. “But two years ago we had six telephone reps; now we have 18,” she says.

So last year, Bamberry helped Littleton Coin implement its “customer service telephone plan.” Once a month, she says, supervisors and reps meet one-on-one to discuss patterns heard on calls, such as running through a script too quickly or displaying a lack of product knowledge.

The rep is then evaluated in 10 required areas, such as the proper upselling or cross-selling of Littleton’s assortment of collectible coins, and the maintenance of standards in areas such as listening skills. “We wanted to stress that our call monitoring program is not designed to catch somebody doing something wrong,” but to help reps do their jobs better, she says.

Quality not quantity According to Kathleen Peterson, CEO of Bedford, NH-based PowerHouse Training Consultants, catalogers typically monitor call agents anywhere from once to five times per month. Catalogers should allocate time on a weekly basis to monitor, so that the time is built into the schedule and becomes a regular event, she says. But it’s not how many calls you monitor that determines success; it’s what information you pull from the calls.

Hardware cataloger McFeely’s started a call monitoring program 18 months ago for its eight telephone reps, says president Jim Ray. “We monitor for a proper greeting at the start of the call, and to see if our phone reps ask the necessary questions,” Ray says. For example, customers buying square drive screws should always be asked if they have the proper driver bits to use with them. The Lynchburg, VA-based cataloger has seen a dramatic increase in its “quality” calls, citing customer feedback from the bounceback cards McFeely’s includes in every package.

In its quest for quality customer service, ñ39 million Burlington, VT-based cataloger Gardener’s Supply Co. last spring implemented a “service observing” program to monitor the calls of its 65 telephone reps. “We don’t even use the words ‘call monitoring’ anymore,” says office operations manager Tena Perrelli.

Senior management, Perrelli says, wanted to involve the reps in creating a new monitoring program. “We brainstormed and dissected the different types of calls, and we came up with a list of elements that made for a quality call, such as accuracy, empathy, and listening skills.”

The new call monitoring program evaluates phone reps by giving them scores ranging from “excellent” to “needs improvement.” Thanks to improved training as a result of the service observing program, Perrelli says Gardener’s Supply Co.’s number of upsells and cross-sells have increased over last year.

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