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Monthly Archives: November 2015

51,150,000 Turkeys

The great philosopher Cicero reminds us that, “Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others.” On November 26th, nationwide we will gobble 51,150,000 turkeys and devour 2.4 billion sweet potatoes. As we’re digging in, we have abundant reasons to be grateful: the opportunity to collaborate with many talented people, super smart colleagues, and the company of a dynamic team. But above all, amazing clients like ours make the job worth doing and top our list.

May you also be in great company and savor delicious eats.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Team SBR

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Brainiest Innovations Come From Playtime @ Work

As Thoreau tells us, “It is not enough to be busy…the question is: What are we busy about?” Lately we have been busy on our clients’ most active season leading up to the end of the year when sales outcomes can make or break their goals for the next year. For our health insurance clients locked in the middle of their Annual Enrollment Period (AEP), October through December is game time. Not really fun “game time”, more keep your nose to the grindstone and get the job done time.

While we all love accomplishing tasks, sometimes crossing items off of our Basecamp list becomes too much of the focus. If you are anything like us, you even add completed to-dos just to get the satisfaction of crossing them off.

Studies continue to suggest that it is not good to be busy all the time. In fact, it’s bad: “Constant stimulation is registered by our brains as unimportant, to the point that the brain erases it from our awareness,” said University of Illinois psychology professor Alejandro Lleras who led a study on how taking mental breaks improves performance in the long run.

Athletes live by this rule. Any coach worth their weight will tell you that recovery time is invaluable for performance. So why is it that businesses still value busy above break time?

We’re intent on breaking this trend at SBR.

Not All Breaks Are Created Equal

It turns out that what we do during our downtime is just as important if we want those breaks to have a meaningful impact on performance. Exercise, meditation and naps have all been shown to produce optimal outcomes.

Sharon enjoying some Shuffleboard

Sharon enjoying Shuffleboard

Researchers studying brains through fMRI scans confirm that the areas associated with problem-solving are actually highly active when we are daydreaming. This was once a shocker to us because we believed that only rigorous, focused attention led to results. But after years of working on simplifying complexity, we have seen some of our brainiest innovations come about during non-work time.

Sharon, our fearless founder and leader, believes some of her best ideas come in the shower. In fact, it was in this very locale that she came up with an idea to extend the call center hours until midnight (while our client’s competitors were closed) to maximize on a condensed shopping period. This was a simple, albeit profitable, concept that helped one client significantly increase membership.

Whenever we feel stuck we immediately try to switch venues or activities. In the adjacent picture you can see Sharon enjoying a game of Shuffleboard, a perfect diversion during the workday.

Taking breaks and doing something relaxing has undoubtedly improved our happiness at work.

SBR’s Break List
In our office, we have a growing list of possible breaks to get a mental reboot. So without further adieu, here is our list of short-but-sweet breaks that you can enjoy too…

  • Take a walk at Todd’s Point
 (lucky us, our office is near the water)
  • The office coloring books always need some attention!
  • Grab a coffee and a magazine at Espresso Neat
  • Whip out the yoga mat or head over to Kaia Yoga, our neighborhood studio
  • Plug in your headphones and head over to the SBR Soundtrack on Spotify 
  • When in doubt, step away from the computer and catch up with your co-workers (they’re pretty cool people)!


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5 Ways to Boost Your Call Center Communications Right Now

If you’ve been in the call center business for more than two minutes you know that the word “scripting” is about as detested as background noise. For the most part we understand why: leaders worry that their agents will sound like mindless, monotonous robots.

While this fear is real, it doesn’t mean that the problem is scripting itself. In fact, let’s just throw out the word scripting altogether and instead focus on crafting compelling communication guides. The latter equips agents with a clear path to engage callers and ultimately focus their attention on sales or customer service (or both). A successful call guide actually makes for a more natural conversation, especially when the product or service is complex. A powerful guide will allow for individual agent personalities to shine.

This is not just lip service. In call centers that lacked a call guide, we’ve been able to increase sales by 5% to 27% simply through streamlined communication guides and associated training.

So you want to make your agents better? Here are five things you can do right now to boost your call center communications. You can pick and choose from this list but instituting all five will give you the most bang for your buck.


1. Create a Callflow

Organization isn’t just relegated to your closets. When it comes to drafting call guides, creating a callflow and outline is
the first step. This will also help cut down on call time if that is your goal.

Callflow Brainstorm

Brainstorming callflow for a complex service product

Let’s take the example of health insurance sales. A prospect calls the Health Insurer to get help selecting a health insurance plan. This is a high stakes decision and they want an expert to help. The agent needs to take charge and get from point A to B so that the caller’s needs are uncovered in a way that leads to the ideal plan for them. By deconstructing the flow of a call in advance, you can be sure that key topics are attended to in a logical fashion. Otherwise the agent can go on making extraneous comments or worse yet miss key information.

With pen and pencil, identify your callflow for a general sales opportunity. In the adjacent snapshot you can see our Communications Specialist brainstorming the big picture guide for a complex product sale.

A call guide can be written verbatim for more junior staff or when you are launching a new product. Bullet points will achieve the same goal for more expert and seasoned agents.


2. Design the Right Questions

Asking questions is a foundational sales method simply because it works. Frankly, most people like to talk about themselves and asking them questions will make them feel part of the process.

Big word of caution here: in a call center environment you want to ask closed-ended questions (as opposed to open-ended ones). For example, asking someone, “What are you looking for in a health insurance plan?” is far too general and can lead to responses like, “Free, 100% coverage” rather than a realistic fielding of the person’s needs. Closed-ended sales questions include:

  • About how much are you comfortable spending on PRODUCT TYPE?
  • Are you planning on using this PRODUCT TYPE mostly for home or the office?
  • Thinking about the year ahead, about how often do you think you’ll be visiting your doctor? (Health insurance sales)

All of these questions will lead to a response that helps the agent vet the products available. We’ve built algorithms for our clients to automate this process and it makes the Q&A process that much easier for both agent and caller.


3. Slay the Opening, “How are you today?”

This is SBR’s biggest pet peeve. Asking, “How are you today?” is one of the first things agents say over the phone. Managers like to fight us on this one so if you’re a Doubting Thomas here’s why…

Asking “How are you today?” is perfectly fine during in-person exchanges and can work quite well in field sales when one can gauge the situation through body language, energy and the like. But over the phone this phrase often stifles the exchange. The caller feels the need to synthesize their day, or, even worse, complain. Either way, it impacts time.

Instead, acknowledge the caller and move to find out how the agent can assist. After all, that is the reason for the call. Don’t get us wrong; there is nothing better than a smart, kind, warm agent who is interested in helping the caller.  But asking, “How are you today?” lies flat when, “How can I assist you today?” is really what people want to hear.


4. Cope with Legalese

Sometimes your Legal team mandates certain clauses in order to meet adherence requirements. Fighting with lawyers is usually a lost cause so we typically concede. But when faced with long, complex legalese, break up the content with pauses to the caller:

  • “Do you have any questions before I continue?”
  • “Do you have any questions about the information that I’ve just covered?”

This prepares the caller for any clarifying points and the next phase of heavy content.


5. Test & Then Test Again

Expert agents are an invaluable resource. Involve some of your top agents in testing the call guide. Some are excellent at crafting the ideal communication. They can help work out the kinks and test the most natural sounding call guides.

We like to test calls with the top agents while the content is still in development. Once we feel pretty secure with the call guides, we then move to middle-level agents to be sure that the guides are scalable to the entire agent-force.

A final suggestion on lawyers: Because of our many years in the complex product arena we are accustomed to the requirement that the legal staff must approve the call guides. If this is the case in your organization, we find that engaging the legal team in the process and educating them on how call centers work either by having them sit with agents or monitor calls is worth the time and effort.


One Final Thought…

If you institute just one of these activities your call guides will invariably improve. Do all five and you should see a boost in productivity across the agent pool. Of course there will be those bellicose agents who will rant and rave about having to follow a call guide. When their call monitoring, quality and sales all improve, they will thank you.


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