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Human Resources Development
January 2000

 

How Companies Recruit Qualified Call Center Management: The Inside Story

BY CATHRYN DEMARTINO AND DAVE HABERMAN, LUCAS GROUP

As call centers transition from cost-draining operations to profit centers, the personnel managing a facility become even more important to its success. Having the right call center leadership can make a tremendous impact on the bottom line. But in a growing industry, and with record-low national unemployment, these professionals are in high demand and often difficult to find.

The industry is changing. Companies that once hired passive customer service representatives (CSRs) to handle incoming calls now desire aggressive, yet friendly, personnel. The trend is for inbound customer service centers to also function as sales centers and drive revenue by cross-selling and upselling while the customer is on the line. For example, a credit card customer may call to inquire about the card's interest rate. By glancing at the caller's profile, the CSR might say, "I notice you've recently rented numerous automobiles. Let me tell you about our frequent rental program." It requires marketing savvy to turn 'Hello, may I help you'" into a sales opportunity.

Hiring A Call Center Manager
The right call center management is critical to this process. Cross-selling skills, financial know-how and technical prowess are essential. Today’s call center manager has three to five years of experience and commands a salary of $50,000 to $70,000.

Following is an example of an interesting placement. A credit card company was seeking a manager for an inbound sales and retention call center. The operation was a revenue-generating facility with 180 phones. The company was hoping to find a candidate with strong experience in a sales-oriented center.

An excellent candidate, “Bill,” was identified through industry contacts. He had seven years of experience successfully running an operation for a paper company, as well as eight years in unrelated fields. In the world of call center management, it is not unusual and is often desirable for prospects to have experience outside a client’s industry because “cross-pollination” brings new ideas and valuable skills. Although Bill had completed three years of college, he had not earned a degree. At one time, this might have been an issue, but because good candidates are scarce, many companies will make exceptions at the manager level if an impressive candidate meets other requirements. The call center Bill managed had 75 phones and was primarily an outbound, sales-generating operation.

An initial phone interview was conducted by our recruitment firm to assess Bill’s skills, and he was determined to be a strong contender. He was then provided with the client’s Web site address. The Internet is an outstanding resource to obtain information about a company, and having a candidate contact a company and visit its Web site is an excellent tool to determine initiative and encourage communication between the client and the candidate.

Bill was set up with a first phone interview with the client, who was interested in a meeting after reviewing his resume. The next component of the process was grueling. Bill spent an entire day at the company. The schedule included a half-day panel interview with the site vice president, the human resources director and another call center manager. The afternoon included a series of tests to assess education and behavior to determine how the prospect would treat people in the workplace. Even with the tight employment market, many companies today use tests to screen candidates. Their philosophy is that the wrong hire is worse than making no hire.

Bill cleared the interviews and tests with flying colors. One more in-depth meeting occurred before an offer was extended. He met with the site vice president for a situational interview. The client asked questions to determine the prospect’s strategic thinking abilities. “How would you handle this situation?” he was asked. “What would you do the first week on the job?”

Once again, the client was impressed. The negotiations for salary and benefits began. Bill’s annual base salary with his former employer was in the $50,000 range. Bonuses were limited due to low profit margins. He was motivated to change jobs because the paper industry was stagnating. He did not wish to relocate, and coincidentally, the new position was in the same Midwestern city.

The final offer included a $60,000 range base salary, a sign-on bonus of $5,000 and the opportunity to earn more though a performance bonus. Additional enticements included participation in the company’s stock plan and four weeks of vacation during the first year. The base salary was a bit higher than the 20 percent it usually takes today to entice candidates to make a change. The client, however, was delighted with the candidate selection. With continuing enticements from an industry desperate for qualified personnel, the outstanding offer could help ensure loyalty should another job opportunity arise.

Hiring The Call Center Director
While the process to hire upper management (directors or vice presidents) for call centers is similar, there are differences. Directors should have five to eight years in the industry with strong experience managing profit and loss statements. A master’s degree in business is preferred, but again, lack of candidates sometimes leads companies to overlook this requirement. Salaries usually range from $70,000 to $100,000.

As another example, a high-tech manufacturing company initiated a confidential search through our recruitment firm to hire a call center director. “John,” a candidate with 15 years’ experience as a call center director and about 10 years of additional experience, was identified. He was located in another city, made in the $80,000 range annually and had a Bachelor’s degree. In his present position, John was responsible for starting up a center that expanded from 0 to 595 seats in his first year and received 12 million inbound calls annually.

The client has a 300-seat station, which handles business–to-business calls from about 800,000 customers. CSRs answer administrative and technical questions about the company’s products. Although annual call volume is lower than those received by John’s current employer, the revenue potential for each call is greater. While the client’s facility functions primarily as an inbound call center, an outbound group exists. The company wants to switch gears and move from a cost center to a revenue-generating operation. With that in mind, the client sought a candidate with outstanding experience in a sales-oriented center.

The initial interview was conducted by a high-level human resources manager via telephone. With her strong recommendation, the hiring executive then conducted his own phone interview. They then proceeded to personal interviews, flying everyone to the job location, where John also met with the head of technical operations. Following an extensive background check, the client offered a base salary in the $90,000 range with a 20 percent target bonus (if the operation reached certain goals). The offer included a generous relocation package of $30,000 and John could keep unused funds.

Acquiring A Call Center Vice President
A vice president was recently recruited for another client’s call center. These positions usually require 10 to 15 years’ experience and a Master’s degree — in some cases, this requirement is not negotiable. Salaries range from $100,000 to $150,000. The client operates a facility that handles outsourced calls from other businesses. They needed a candidate with solid strategic experience who could handle sales and negotiations with the company’s clients.

This opportunity took advantage of a serendipitous occasion on which a resume was submitted to us at the same time this client’s search began. It couldn’t have been a better match. The resume was from a woman who was a college graduate with 17 years of call center experience, including strategic planning and analysis for a large company, and had personal experience starting and owning her own outsourced call center. Her employer had just sold the business and she was concerned about job elimination. She was seeking a vice president position with a well-respected company.

Personality played a huge role in this hire. Everyone involved simply clicked. She interviewed with two other vice presidents and then, based on their recommendations, flew back to meet the company’s CEO. He gave her a thumbs up. The offer amounted to $120,000 in salary plus $5,000 in stock and a $20,000 relocation package. Her previous annual base income was in the $90,000 range.

Several methods exist to recruit top-notch call center management. In these real-life examples, money certainly played a critical role. Each of the candidates required significantly more money to make the transition. But finding the right person demands more than money. Screening tests and background checks play important filtering roles, but in-depth, probing interviews provide an opportunity to scrutinize the prospect and determine how they interact on a personal level. In each case presented, careful screening took place. Even in the final incident, in which a decision was based largely on instinct, a final meeting with the company’s CEO was scheduled to ensure a good decision. In your quest to operate a successful call center, remember the right management plays a critical role.

Cathryn deMartino is vice president of Lucas Group, a national recruitment firm specializing in financial, executive and military searches. Based in Atlanta, deMartino is responsible for managing the division’s national search activities and overseeing specialty markets, such as the call center industry. Dave Haberman is a senior recruiter with 15 years’ call center experience.


Putting The Customer Experience Into CRM

BY TED LUBOWSKY, COMVERSE INFOSYS, INC.

The frenzy over customer relationship management (CRM) in the past year has raised some interesting questions for call center managers and executives alike. The movement to enhance the customer experience by improving agent performance through monitoring and coaching has surely met its match. CEOs and call center managers are looking for new ways to manage their customers’ experience and to win their loyalty. While CRM is usually associated with database software, it conceptually includes people, processes and tools aimed at recording the customer’s history and experience, preferences and patterns. The goal is to better understand the customer and provide the intelligence required for more effective strategies aimed at customer retention.

While many still try to relate CRM to agent quality monitoring, in fact, the pendulum has swung. The emphasis is on the customer side and the customer experience has become increasingly paramount in the equation. Good customer experience is like good theater. Theater goers are moved by a good performance and feel a bond with the actors on stage. They laugh and cry with them and leave the theater feeling moved. They rush to tell their friends about their experience and even volunteer to see the play again if their relatives or friends care to join them. So pleased by the performance, they will see it again and again if only to share their joy with others. A bad customer experience is akin to bad theater. Patrons feel empty, disappointed and can barely stay until the end. They frequently leave at intermission and complain that the performance was terrible and that they “threw away their money.”

Customer relationship management is aimed at improving the customer experience by empowering the agent and the enterprise through knowledge of the customer. But there is little in the way of customer experience today in CRM. The customer experience is there only in a second-hand account of the interaction offered by the agent, who is not trained to evaluate it. Thus, it will be necessary to include the customer experience in CRM. And what better way to capture the customer experience than in the customer’s own words?

Voice As CRM
The customer experience, in its truest sense, is best represented in the customer’s own words. Yet there is no voice in CRM. Why not? Start with a sophisticated rules table to determine which customers to record and when. Choose your best customers, a sampling of customers, any customer calling for certain reasons (i.e., complaints, sales, inquiries, service requests, etc.) and determine when and how often to record them. Use a powerful CTI integration or API to determine who is calling and for what reason. You can even trigger such an event right from a CRM screen. Record the customer’s voice and then convert the conversation to a nonproprietary, standard file format. It can then be stored in the CRM software or link-embedded in the CRM record to a standard server. And in this nonproprietary, open environment, anyone in the enterprise can have access to the true customer experience. It is at the disposal of the agent, the key call center managers, the key executives of the firm, the account team responsible for the customer’s territory, and even the CEO, from any desktop, anywhere throughout the enterprise, through the use of a standard Web browser and Intranet or Internet access. Everyone can hear the voice of the customer and the customer experience without having to buy a recording playback tool or software.

The Effect
So what has happened here? The customer’s experience is now available in his or her own words and everyone who needs to interact with or hear that customer has access. If the recording system has multimedia capability, it can record e-mail, Web and fax interactions as well, and you can begin to measure the customer’s experience and how it may differ by customer-chosen media. Not only is it available across the enterprise, but the recording system will deposit the standard file in the CRM database, in the correct customer file with specific customer, call or request data, as a binary object. The customer experience is now part of your customer database.

Who Will Benefit Besides Customers?
How much more effective does CRM become if multiple ears, in charge of marketing, sales, service and the business in general, get to hear the customer directly? Marketing executives can listen to what customers think of the products, advertising, marketing campaigns and future product needs. Sales executives can hear the customer’s plans and the clues to future business or defection that often escape the ears of the typical agent. Service executives can listen to the real reason behind complaint calls, and the CEO can randomly sample the largest volume customers to share their experiences.

But this does not go far enough. A system such as the one described here will not only record the customer experience, but will analyze it. Powerful search engines and algorithms are employed to scan the captured words over night. By daybreak, a summary appears in each executive’s or manager’s electronic in-box. Based on the rules set for capture, it can be ascertained what percent of calls were complaints, inquiries, purchases, angry callers, etc. Many questions can be answered with this kind of system, such as what were the products mentioned most frequently yesterday? What were the most common complaints mentioned and what was the percentage of calls for each type of complaint? In a brokerage house, what stocks were spoken about most often by customers day-by-day? In the insurance world, the customer’s voice describes a claim in the same section that the agent typed the report. What trends were developing on the customer side? What was the customer experience like after long periods on hold or numerous transfers? What was the customer’s experience like on an exceptionally long or short call? What about the calls that displayed a high degree of stress on the part of a customer or an agent? The same analysis can handle all customer interactions in the contact center, no matter what media.

Once the executive looks at the report, he or she can click and see a table of the specific calls in that category. Double click and the Web browser will open and automatically reach out to the standard file stored in the CRM database. Playback begins.

If a customer falls in the CRM forest and there is no one able to hear his voice, does the lost customer still make a noise? This is the question we will all be asking without the true customer experience in CRM.

Comverse Infosys, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Comverse Technology, Inc., is a leader in the development, manufacture and marketing of Intelligent Recording™ and Quality Monitoring solutions for call centers and other organizations.







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