Shaker Heights Chamber of Commerce

Always Helping You Mind Your Business

When the Cat's Away

Secure your front line-Protect Your Profits!

It’s not uncommon to contact a business by phone only to reach a customer service (call center) rep. who answers a simple question with the line “If you go to our website, it’s all there”. I often explain that I’m driving and unable or unwilling to pull over to go to the internet and look up their website to find the answer to my question. Then I ask, “Since I called YOU, why don’t you give it a shot?”

This is a frustrating situation on many levels but it’s a sign that even though ‘calls may be monitored for training purposes’, no one is analyzing the calls and the call center staff knows it.

 Another complaint is when all calls go through a call center or customer service phone bank. If a customer wants to talk to another department or anyone in management, it’s like jumping through a circus ring of fire. Here’s a tip: THIS MAKES CUSTOMERS VERY ANGRY AND OFTEN BREEDS SOCIAL MEDIA BACKFIRE! If you’re available to take their money, be available to listen to the customer.

  Often small and medium sized businesses consider front line staff training as an unnecessary expense. The assumption is that if the employee was hired into the company with ‘experience’ and interviewed as a ‘self-starter’, training will not be required beyond: That’s your desk, there are the restrooms, these are working hours. Not so fast! Rarely is there an orientation for new hires in small companies. This is where the problem begins. If your staff sees their job as a series of tasks, and not as a critical part of a complex operation, you’ll have a hard time getting them to act as a team. If the culture isn’t set and monitored by the leader of the organization (you), productivity will suffer; thus profits shrink.

  Solutions? Micro-managing isn’t the answer, although it is often looked upon as the way to get things in order. A much more effective way to manage a wayward front line is with expectations laid out at the beginning. Many small companies don’t have staff meetings, the assumption is everything’s fine and expected to run along smoothly until we hit a bump. Remember your staff is never as dedicated to YOUR business as you are. Host a weekly or monthly staff meeting to communicate and observe attitudes. Learn the politics in your office. Manage the posturing and keep an eye on body language. Make sure employees don’t feel they’re in dead-end, task oriented positions or they’ll act accordingly.

  If orientation and training is in place, the next step is monitoring. There must be secret shops or impostor recorded phone calls into your front line. Smartphones will record conversations, there’s an app for that! Use these as training tools. Of course, the phone will be answered properly when the boss is in the office. What happens when you’re not there? Test and you’ll be surprised as to what is said to potential new customers over the phone (i.e., Check our website). Have friends call and ask ‘silly’ questions and see how testy your people are. You’ll get an eye-opener!

  The bottom line is unprofessional behavior on the front line will quickly send your marketing and advertising budget over the top. Could it be that you don’t think the advertising is effective because the person answering the phone at your business says, ‘I’m not sure if we have it in stock, but you can come in and I’ll check’. Tell your front-line that the goal is NOT to get the person off the phone as quickly as possible (as an interruption: task oriented) but to get the potential customer into the business to look around. Perhaps you don’t carry what they called in for but what they need may be something else that you DO have. The goal is sales, which turns into profits, which in turn keeps payroll happening. Employees must understand that their goal is to keep the business profitable so they have a job. It has to be more than a ‘show up-get a check’ mentality. If you haven’t set the culture and expectations, you won’t get dedication.

 Be firm. Don’t be afraid to give out verbal and/or written warnings if things are not happening according to your company standards. In today’s economy, there are many more seeking good employment than employers have jobs available so be sure to train, monitor, and correct or replace. Just take a look at social media. Complaints are mostly about attitude on the front line or lower level management. Often a customer wants good service or an apology. Don’t just assume that just because sales hit a certain number, customers are happy. Is the boss available? Ever call a customer to ask what their experience was at your business? Most customers would fall out of their chair! Good customer service goes a long way to building a lasting and profitable relationship, but you knew that. This is just a friendly reminder.

 The key to more profit? Protect your flanks!! Because when the cat’s away…..


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