Outbound Customer Service: Tools for Success
Originally published: 11.01.06 by Susan Hart
How you can launch an effective calling program — quickly and easily.
While it’s critical to the future growth of your business, implementing a successful and consistent outbound customer-service program doesn’t have to be difficult. All you need are a few simple tools, a basic information-processing system, and a commitment to following up on the results. Here are the tools and the system that I’ve found most effective in establishing the two critical types of outbound customer-service calls that I described in September’s issue: the happy call and the special offer call.
First, let me stress again the importance of a happy call. By taking the initiative to find out how the company has performed as perceived through the customers’ eyes, you will identify what you need to improve so that you can improve it. In addition, you can use information gained from the customer to recognize and reward co-workers for jobs well done. Sharing positive results from happy-calls with your technicians, for example, provides motivational feedback and is a great source of recognition. You might even consider “spiffing” your technicians for each positive response on the happy-call questionnaire. Everyone enjoys a little added bonus when they go the extra mile!
Most critical to the happy call is a concise and consistent script. The questions you choose to ask are up to you, but a sample script might look like the one on below.
A few points to remember that will increase the effectiveness of your happy-call program include the following:
• Happy calls should be completed on each and every service or installation appointment. “Sampling” is not recommended.
• The customer service representative (CSR) should review customers’ history files before making the happy call.
• If a customer is unhappy, the CSR should have an immediate resource for resolving the customer’s concerns.
• Results from completed happy calls should be shared with technicians.
Tools for the Special-Offer Call
Soliciting business is the second element of an effective outbound customer-service program. Whether you are offering precision tune-ups to non-service agreement customers, or accessory products and services to current service-agreement customers, the over-the-phone solicitation should be conversational and informative. This is not a sales pitch; it is the opportunity for customers to hear about a product or service that will save them money, improve their indoor comfort, or both. Below is a conversation guide you may want to consider for precision tune-ups.
Be certain that the CSRs are completely comfortable with the guide. Their delivery should sound conversational, not robotic or as if they’re reading, so have them practice and allow them some delivery flexibility. The questions should not allow for a “yes” or “no” response. Instead, ask questions that require more detailed responses.
Customers will raise objections, and the CSR should be prepared to respond quickly, so arm them with an “objections guide.” The sample on page 25 provides responses to the most common objections for a tune-up special and can be revised based upon the product or service offering.
Tools for Tracking Performance
Tracking performance provides key information on the integrity of the marketing list, the sales performance of the CSR team, and how to adjust for improved performance.
Be sure to share performance standards with the CSR team during the initial training sessions and keep them informed on program results once it’s in place. Give each CSR a daily tracking form at the start of every calling period. Make it easy for the CSR to record their calling efforts — tic marks work well and can be recorded on a specific form.
To process appointments, provide the CSR with 3-inch-by-5-inch index cards or another simple form that you use to manually process sales leads or calls. Do not burden your outbound CSRs with lots of paperwork or with the task of entering appointments into a computerized dispatching system. You want them making as many telephone calls as possible. Remember, the more dials made, the more appointments set. Think of it as “dialing for dollars,” so keep them on the phone, not on the paperwork!
Have the CSR forward this sheet to the outbound customer-service supervisor, along with appointment information for confirmed sales. The supervisor should then consolidate the information from all CSRs from the previous evening and total the results on a weekly tracking form.
The weekly tracking form reports performance and results: Are Wednesday nights producing as many appointments as Monday evenings or Saturday mornings? Are the days before and after a three-day weekend producing less than the desired results? Once you’ve established a history and analyzed patterns, you will know when to staff-up to get the best results and will have the data you need to set realistic goals.
To keep outbound CSRs motivated, post highly visible goal boards. Set a goal each evening, and celebrate when it’s reached. Outbound CSRs are inherently competitive, so you’ll want to share their successes with their peers. Keep up the momentum by spontaneously announcing a “bonus” to everyone if a certain number of appointments are set during the evening, and/or a “super bonus” to the individual who sets the most appointments. Tickets to sporting events and local attractions, or gift certificates to favorite restaurants are other reward options you can offer.
What are the performance standards? Standards will vary market-to-market and by product or service, but some general guidelines for an outbound CSR working a 50-minute period in a four-hour timeframe include the following:
• Dials-Per-Hour: On average, expect 30 to 35 dials in a 50-minute period. A dial is a number dialed, regardless if the number is busy, disconnected, or a contact is made. The more dials made, the more money made!
• Contacts-Hour: Eight to 12 contacts (from the 30 to 35 dials) is the general rule. If this is not happening, you may want to examine the quality of your list.
• Sales-Per-Hour: You can expect one appointment per 10 contacts.
Although short-term rewards work best, long-term incentives can pay-off too. For example, you could award a grand prize, such as a television, to the individual who has set the most appointments during a specific promotional program. Offer smaller prizes to others who come in second, third, and so on. You should work to determine which incentives work best and offer them regularly. You can change from time-to-time, but be consistent in your efforts.
Outbound customer service is an excellent way to re-connect with your customers. You will not only increase your average revenue-per-customer, you’ll also grow your dedicated customer base. Happy customers will refer the company to family and friends, who will then refer the company to their family and friends, and so on. Consider outbound customer service as another advertising method to market your company’s products and services. The process is less expensive than traditional advertising, can be fine-tuned and adjusted quickly, and is an excellent recruiting and training resource for future full-time co-workers.
When you consider the benefits of a successful outbound customer service program, shouldn’t you get started right away? I hope you will. Happy dialing!
Susan Hart has been associated with the HVACR industry since 1980. She has worked in contracting, franchising, and consulting organizations. Most recently, she was responsible for the operations of a publicly held consulting and training subsidiary that offered proven programs and processes to both private and public heating and air conditioning companies in the United States and Canada. Susan now resides in the Atlanta area. Contact her at susan_hart@ bellsouth.net for more information, or to inquire about supporting conversation guides and tracking forms.
An important note regarding outbound customer service: Always check with your local and state laws to be sure you are in compliance with telemarketing regulations. In most states, you are permitted to telephone your current customers, but individual states define “customer” differently.
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