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.
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.