Running a next generation 2.0 call center is the difference between keeping up with new demands and getting left in the dust. In this webinar, Convoso hosted a panel of experts to discuss how you can go from old-school thinking to new-world thriving.
Join outbound call center experts Heather Griffin [Call Center Advisor], Michael Velardi [SVP & Dialing Manager, Resource Marketing Corporation], Nima Hakimi [CEO & Co-Founder, Convoso], and Rob Seaver [Executive Chairman, Leads Council] for this masterclass on adapting to recent and upcoming changes for lead generation and outbound sales teams.
Key Webinar Topics on how to be a next gen call center:
- How to maximize agent efficiency (esp with virtual operations)
- How to hit ROI as compliant leads grow more expensive
- What you can do about call blocking/flagging to better reach customers
Watch the webinar video and/or read the recap below.
Read the webinar recap to discover what you need to become a 2.0 call center in 2021
The 1.0 Call Center
Before the DNC registry was introduced in 2003, call centers relied on the old school way of thinking.
“Before there was opt-in required, it was just , call as many people [as you can]. It was a numbers game. And let’s just be honest, it was too easy,” Hakimi said. “It was the wild wild west because many people tried to get as many people as they could on the phone and eventually you would get the sale, right?”
Then, in 2016, the TCPA was amended to require consent to call or text cell phones when using an auto dialer. In 2019, the TRACED Act gave the FCC and law enforcement more authority to prosecute robo callers. Because of all of these regulatory changes, call centers have to develop a new approach to outbound calling.
“The old method and way of doing things just doesn’t work anymore. Now, calls are getting labeled as spam/scam or we’re getting completely blocked,” he said. “You can no longer just dial away and try to get results by just getting people on the phone. It doesn’t work anymore.”
Maximizing Virtual Call Center Agent Productivity
Before the pandemic hit, many dialers offered just what call centers needed but not much more.
“In the old way that we did things, it was more like a flip phone, right? It had a limited functionality, but it still served 100% purpose. So we were maximized at what the tool would provide,” Velardi said.
In this new age of the call center, technology has developed and changed incredibly fast. These changes have led managers to use dialers differently, he said.
One of the biggest changes has been in management. In the 1.0 call center, you could only use encouragement to try to motivate your unproductive remote employees. Today, your dialer gives you deep insight into every agent. Even though you can’t walk the aisle to check on your at-home agents, you can use your analytics and data to dissect their behavior and look into any problems.
When Velardi had to prepare to send everyone home at the start of the pandemic, for example, thought leaders came together to determine how they could set agents up to be most productive from home. You couldn’t do group training anymore. Instead, you had to equip agents as best you could with your tools and dialer platform, along with example calls for training.
“Then it was, ‘How do I help them be more effective at home?’” Velardi said. “You can’t just simply say, ‘Hey, you’re at home, you better be effective.’”
Rather than using large video conferences to keep up with agents, he connects with everyone one-on-one. This helps him evaluate every agent personally while ensuring that everyone has what they need to be productive.
For Heather Griffin, things were a bit different. The majority of her 150 agents were already working remotely when the pandemic hit.
“So we were already regimented in policy and procedure,” she said. “We had rules, we had ways to engage our employees, we had onboarding, we had a number of different tools in place.”
Her company was in the midst of a merger just before the shut-downs, adding 300 in-house agents to their staff. In just a few days, they had to move all of these additional agents to a work-from-home set-up.
“What I can tell you is a good thing for our particular company is that we were able to merge our processes into the new people’s processes. That was because we already understood how to do this,” she said. “We have a morning meeting. We have after-lunch check-in. We have spin the wheel raffles. We have all kinds of automation already that keeps the employee engaged.”
The biggest thing they learned, she said, is the importance of using the right technology, such as powerful at-home Wi-Fi, plug-in ethernet cables, and company computers. They also had to learn how to transition employees who weren’t tech-savvy and help them adjust to the change.
“That was a hurdle to overcome. And some people didn’t overcome it, and some people did,” she said. “So I think a pro for us is that we were already working in this manner, we were prepared.”
For many call centers, the lack of team connections has been the greatest hurdle. You can’t fully duplicate the typical call center feel from home, Griffin said, but there are other ways to keep your agents connected.
“We do a lot of mentoring programs. We’ve done things like where we have a scavenger hunt,” she said. “Every time we get a transfer, agents go to a wheel of fortune thing that they spin and their team watches. So there’s fun ways to keep the person engaged. You can kind of overcome that.”
The switch to remote call centers has also allowed managers to connect more deeply with agents without typical in-house distractions.
“But one thing that we all forget is that our leadership team went from all these one-on-ones and all this admin work to being able to have true one-on-one connections,” she said. “And that bridges the gap.”
The move to virtual call centers also affected dialers and providers. As businesses set up their remote workforces, spread across hundreds of environments, internet connections, and computers, the technology struggled to keep up.
“And so while the system worked well to begin with we really had to figure out, ‘How do we make the system lighter and less resource-intensive?’ which was a big challenge,” Hakimi said. “But it’s something that, you know, eventually we were able to figure out to make sure that the call quality is really good, right? The internet connection and the call quality is everything. So we figured out how to do that.”
Despite the challenges, Convoso has seen growth across the board. Companies are now relying more on data and technology to run their call centers efficiently.
“I want to say part of that is because people are more willing and open to hire remotely now. But you can’t do that unless you manage things by the numbers, right?” Hakimi said. “So I think it also forced, from what I’m seeing, it forced customers to look at the numbers and the data and see what’s working and what’s not working, which makes them more comfortable to hire agents remotely.”
Limited in-person interactions may hurt teamwork, but it can also decrease the number of HR incidents you have to deal with. This allows your leadership to address other issues that might be affecting your productivity.
“So what it allowed for is for our leadership team to really get structured, schedule one-on-ones, and really listen to the calls and develop the employees,” Griffin said. “We only saw a surge in production. In fact, the first couple of months is 50 to 70% higher than it was.”
Stepping outside of typical KPIs can also help your team see better results. Velardi uses a milestone approach to his agent productivity. He sets small goals, such as meeting a threshold of calls within a three-hour time frame. With this multiple-hour analytical approach, he can get a better understanding of the agent and any potential problems.
“And that way, if they’re off, you’re setting just a small-term goal in a small period of time for them to try to achieve that goal,” he said. “And if that goes off, then it kind of allows you to go and micro-focus in on what maybe really is standing in the way of them achieving that.”
Getting Your ROI From Your Leads
Since you can no longer just dial leads until they pick up, you have to be better about your dialing strategies.
“Now with all the compliance measures and the regulatory measures and just consumers getting more savvy, you have to be really thoughtful with each type of data source,” Griffin said.
There are multiple types of leads that you have to sort through and understand. Once you know what you’re working with, you can develop a call cadence that will produce the best response without risking your compliance.
“So my advice would be, look at the type of data you’re dialing. Is it low intent or high date, high intent? Look at if it’s exclusive or semi-exclusive, someone else buying at the same time as yours. And then have a really savvy technology that you can write a workflow for every single lead type,” she said. “So I would look at my sources. You have to be more granular and more efficient now because there’s less legal data to dial. You can’t just take the phone book and dial them again over and over again.”
To get a return on your leads, you have to use a dialer that is helping you connect with prospects. Some companies try to save money by using a cheaper dialer, Griffin said. All too often, however, they end up paying more in payroll and data costs than they save in technology.
“Because what I can tell you is I’m spending $50 a lead, and I’m only getting a 20% contact rate. I’m throwing away 80% of my leads,” she said. “So I just want to say when it comes to technology, your biggest cost right now is probably one you don’t even know.”
Preventing and Solving Call Blocking and Spam Labeling
Avoiding spam labels and blocked calls is a call center’s top priority today, a goal only achieved with a dialer that is actively preparing for regulation changes.
“So I just want to add every system is different. But the very first question, and I’ve shopped a lot of them for a lot of different companies recently, is it they need to be able to connect the calls. That’s the very first thing,” Griffin said. “If you’re using a system that has no plan for STIR/SHAKEN, you’re in trouble.”
Though other dialer features can be beneficial, they are often used to distract buyers from the platform’s inability to offer the core features you need.
“There’ll be dialers that have weaker platforms that are forced to add thrills and frills to make it look like it’s a qualifying platform,” Velardi said. “But when the quality core systems operate so good, you don’t need all the extras. You need STIR/SHAKEN, DID, you know, really understanding your reputation scoring and all of the things that are fundamental to a solid based system.”
One of these fundamental features is the ability to analyze and understand your list performance. Looking at this data on a micro level supports real-time, informed decision making.
“I believe that’s one of the biggest problems that contact centers have is that they don’t have the ability to look at information at a granular level to make the decisions they need to run the call center. Every hour counts,” Hakimi said. “So if you don’t make those digital decisions on the fly, and you don’t have the data available to you, you’re gonna lose that production for that day, or hour, or whatever it might be. And it’s really costly.”
Preventing blocked calls starts with sound strategies that vary for different types of leads, he said. Use different campaigns and different caller IDs for your low and high intent leads.
“If you have a really expensive lead, you want to make sure your calls don’t get blocked because what we’re seeing is some of the caller IDs are getting flagged and blocked, and some are not,” he said. “But you need to make sure that you separate it so you can look at your data and have real-time insights that will tell you what to do.”
One of the biggest problems associated with call blocking is that it can happen without warning, leaving call centers in the dark with dropping contact rates. Griffin offered two easy ways to determine if you’re getting blocked.
“The first one is if you had a data source that keeps getting a lot of busy signals or operator intercept, it’s likely a blockage. So say the source was always going great and all sudden you look at your dispositions and suddenly there’s a ton of busy numbers,” she said. “I would try to call some of those busy numbers from your own cell phone and see if they connect right. So what happens is carriers add in that busy signal when they don’t connect your blocked number, but when you make your phone call from your cell phone, you’ll see the number still connects.”
You can also do the reverse, she said.
“The other thing is you can put your phone number in and call it from your system and see what it rings as and if it connects,” Griffin said. “So we try that with all four different carriers. It is just a good way to see if you’re kind of falling in that trouble area for free.”
Using these methods has shown differences in the call blocking made by all four carriers. Two are very aggressive, she has found, and one almost never blocks calls. Though you may be hesitant about the cost, investing in technology that can identify the carriers blocking you is essential.
“But I keep doing quick math. You’re losing 80% of your data. If you increase your production by 30%, how much money would you make? Okay, this software costs $1,000 a month? Is it worth it? Right?” Griffin said. “There’s a lot of software out there that’s being programmed to be worked on and innovated right now to get around this exact problem.”
That said, it’s okay to start small. Check with your dialer provider to see if they are working on their end to improve blocking and labeling for their customers.
“But I’d say start at your infancy. If you’re not looking into this stuff, just call your telephone company and say, what’s your plan for STIR/SHAKEN?” she said. “And I’ve done this on like seven companies in the last three weeks and only one had an answer. So it’s a little concerning.”
In the next generation contact center, preparing for these changes starts with a shift in mindset. Just adding more data and more leads won’t make up for labels and blocking. Instead, you have to move completely away from the old-school way of thinking.
Integrating omnichannel tools is one way to avoid blocking and labeling, but they have also been affected by new carrier rules.
“You’ll have carriers that say you cannot send more than X number of text messages from a specific number and a specific period of time,” Hakimi said. “So it’s translating from calls to text messages as well.”
For this reason, Seaver said, you have to have a full picture of your customer journey. This can help you understand the disconnect between customers that show intent, but don’t answer your calls.
“That’s why it’s so important to have a system that can touch the point of email or social media interaction to text message to call and be able to tie all that in so that there’s a full picture on that consumer,” he said.
Just be sure to carefully monitor your contacts, Griffin said. If a number is registered on the DNC list, you can’t call or text that person. Accidentally texting one of these numbers, even if you have it marked in your dialer, is an issue that can easily slip through the cracks if you’re using a separate system for texting. That, she said, is why using one omnichannel system is much easier than juggling multiple solutions.
Preparing for STIR/SHAKEN
Along with carrier-blocked calls, outbound call centers have to worry about the various blocking apps available to consumers. As STIR/SHAKEN goes into effect next July, things get even more complicated.
STIR/SHAKEN requires all calls to be signed before reaching consumers. Carriers will sign calls with an A, B, or C attestation rating, which indicates their confidence in the identity of the person making the call and the caller’s right to use that caller ID. A-rated calls will reach customers, but B or C rated calls may be blocked.
Call centers need to be working today to prepare for these changes. Unfortunately, there isn’t an easy answer.
“So you really have to be prepared and know how to handle it when there’s not one single solution on how to solve this problem,” Hakimi said.
Smarter dialing strategies and managing caller IDs
First, create smarter outreach strategies for your high-intent leads. If your call doesn’t get a response, use an omnichannel approach to continue pursuing the lead.
“Send a follow-up text, send an email, try different channels to communicate with them to get them on the phone. Don’t over dial the leads,” he said. “We say call a maximum of seven times, but it doesn’t mean don’t call it again. But give it a rest. Let it go. Maybe try again in 30 days from now.”
Though it can be hard to let leads rest, it’s critical to manage your DIDs. You have to look into where you are calling. You also need to have enough numbers to cover every location you reach. The more human your call cadences seem, the better you can avoid problems.
“Unfortunately this is the case right now, where you have to kind of operate in a sense where you don’t look like a robot, like an auto dialer, making calls, right?” Hakimi said. “You’ve got to make it seem like it’s a normal call, which, again, if you have consent to call these people, you should have the right to get ahold of them.”
Lastly, he said, you need to present your identity in a thoughtful way. This means registering your numbers with the three analytics companies that will whitelist them. You also need to use the tools available, such as the upcoming Verified Calls by Google, to improve your contact rate. That hopefully includes help from your dialer.
“Convoso is doing something where we’ll be able to provide call blocking info for all major carriers and show that data by carrier. That’s what we’re working on at the moment that will really give you that insight,” Hakimi said. “You should know if your calls are getting blocked. I mean, that’s the bottom line.”
Once STIR/SHAKEN is implemented next year, Hakimi hopes it will stop scammers while offering a positive impact for legitimate businesses. To avoid any negative effects, call centers have to use a dialer provider that will help you get the highest rating for every call.
“And so what you want to make sure is that your dial provider actually has a plan in place that the calls will be signed at that level,” he said. “And of course, the customer has to go through a due diligence process to ensure they are who they say they are. But as long as that’s been done, you want to make sure your calls are going to have that A-level rating.”
As the bad actors in the telemarketing industry disappear, the hope is that contact rates will increase.
“In a sense, it solves some of these problems as consumers are going to get less calls from people that are not supposed to call them,” Hakimi said, “and more likely increase that confidence in picking up the phone versus everybody kind of just being scared and not picking up the phone.”
You can also use services that work exclusively to improve your contact rates, Griffin said. Through these companies, you can change your caller IDs to give customers a better understanding of who you are and why you’re calling.
“They can allow you to write your outbound caller ID. So I can write, you know, ‘Heather Griffin Solar Company’ or I can ‘solar follow-up call,’ or I can write whatever I want as my caller ID and that’s what’s going to ring on your phone.”
If your calls aren’t blocked but are labeled spam or scam, registering your numbers with this service can replace the labels. Plus, the ability to test different IDs can help you reach leads more effectively.
“You can try different things to see which gives you the best pickup, but I’ve had success with some of the services that are available,” Griffin said. “And you need that in combination with a ton of other technology within your dialing platform. Those two things can undo a lot of this.”
At the end of the day, Seaver said, the problem isn’t incompetence, but ignorance. When managers are unaware of the problems that may be affecting them, they can’t work to fix them.
“I think what we’re saying here is that there’s no magic pill out there, a red or blue one to take, that’s going to circumnavigate or be able to get you by or around something that’s going to take good old fashioned education and understanding,” he said.
Using Your Next Gen Call Center Tools
AI is an invaluable tool for a call center. Machine learning allows you to automate quality assurance. You can monitor every interaction for problems such as going off script, forgetting TCPA disclosures, or using inappropriate language. Automatic notifications can keep you aware of any changes in your call center, including periods where you aren’t making sales.
More importantly, AI allows you to automate customer interactions. You can set automatic callbacks or texts that streamline the sales process without losing a personal connection with your leads.
“The automation functionality is fantastic if it’s used in a proper way. So I want people to not be afraid of it,” Griffin said. “I would advise consumers and my clients to use it. I think it’s just about the implementation of it and making sure it’s in an ethical way.”
The bottom line, Velardi said, is that you have to use a dialer that offers all of the core features you need. You need omnichannel. You need call analysis reporting. You need to know when you’re being blocked.
“Because, you know, the core functionality that Nima talks about is the core of your money going into your data so that you can really get a credible, reliable, confident system that can deliver the information you need,” he said. “What are you getting, right, if you’re spending a lot of money to get something you don’t get back?”
The call center world has changed drastically. If you’re not rotating your caller IDs, using micro efficiencies, and staying aware of changes, you can’t operate a next generation call center.
“But for every challenge, there’s a new automation, a simple, better way to do things,” Griffin said. “If you’re not aware of these concepts we’re talking about, you’re not in a 2.0 call center.”
High-intent leads are as valuable as gold today, Hakimi said. For the best results, you need to buy or focus on these valuable leads. Call centers also need to work today to solve the problems of tomorrow.
“Use omnichannel, look at your reporting, your analytics, and work with people that are proactive about solving problems. Not just for today, but tomorrow and thereafter. Right?” he said. “That’s consultants like Heather, you know, from a data provider, but also anybody that you can talk to, your peers. Stay proactive around figuring things out.”