DIRECT MARKETING: TEACHING TELEPHONE MANNERS - Jade Garrett discovers how companies can help their staff make the most of a vital first contact - a voice on the end of the telephone

Good manners, honesty, sincerity and friendliness are the crucial qualities consumers expect from telesales operators, according to research from the Henley Centre. In addition, operators should strive to sound natural - and not as if they are reading from a script.

Good manners, honesty, sincerity and friendliness are the crucial

qualities consumers expect from telesales operators, according to

research from the Henley Centre. In addition, operators should strive to

sound natural - and not as if they are reading from a script.



The Henley Centre’s ’teleculture’ study looked at the ways business

calls are handled by telephone operators. Tone of voice, listening

skills and a level of product knowledge were areas for concern where

consumers said operators failed to impress.



The survey focused on outbound campaigns (usually cold calling), but the

basic rules apply to all telesales operations. Along with the huge

expansion in marketing on the telephone comes the equally huge potential

to get it wrong. Enter the telemarketing specialists who are only too

aware of the need to train telephone operators to have the right

telephone manner.



But how does an organisation train a telesales operator? I took a

training session at Eclipse Marketing Services to find out more.



Eclipse is a small telemarketing company based in Reading, with clients

including Vauxhall, Bovis Homes, Vodafone and Air France. It specialises

’in the creation, maintenance and development of marketing databases’

and integral to this is the call centre where inbound and outbound

campaigns are run.



In a single morning the company aims to train temporary recruits in the

skills of being a successful telephone operator, in this instance, for

Bovis Homes.



As I travelled to the call centre, I speculated on the possible format

of the training - would everyone be aggressive and pro-active, would the

trainer demand plenty of input or would it simply prove an easy morning

off work?



The three other people in the training session were men (aged 22, 35 and

36), one of whom had previous experience at Eclipse. They were smartly

dressed but the atmosphere was casual.



Harry Singh, the call centre supervisor, was our trainer. He’s 21, smart

and was raring to go. He stood for the full three-and-a-half hour

session and, while he had notes, most of what he said appeared

unprompted.



Trainees receive a file including background on Bovis, copies of the

script to use when taking calls, copies of the ads that callers will be

responding to and instructions on how to use the phone.



After a brief introduction, we were straight into ’telephone behaviour’

- how to open, control and close a call and general telephone

manners.



We were encouraged to add those personal touches: ask about the caller’s

holiday, address them as ’sir’ or ’madam’ and generally take some time

with them. Long pauses are bad, promises that can’t be kept shouldn’t be

made and callers shouldn’t be pushed for an answer.



Singh emphasised that a telephone operator is the first point of contact

between a company and a potential customer and so must make a good

impression.



The other trainees were keen to impress. By the end of the day, if Singh

agrees, they go live on the phones.



Singh has a few catchphrases: ’I always wear a smile on my face’ and ’I

have every faith in you’ are a couple.



We were constantly told that we were not sales people, and shouldn’t try

to be. We were, instead, ’customer service representatives’ and as such

must always be courteous and efficient, offering the caller more than

they expect.



Next on the agenda was a look at the computers where the customer’s data

is input. We were taken through the different screens together. Then the

importance of accuracy was drummed into us. I can see why this section

of the training is important but it’s a lot less interactive, and

borders on the patronising.



The same could be said for the next section, ’How to Use the Telephone.’

This could easily have been taught on the job, not as a class

exercise.



Instead, a disconnected telephone was held up and we were talked through

the buttons. Sitting at a table being instructed on how to put a caller

on hold seemed bizarre although, thankfully, it only took 15

minutes.



The training also included a run through a telephone script. At Bovis

Homes every call must be answered ’good morning/ good afternoon, Bovis

Homes enquiry line’. From then on the questions are scripted - and it’s

not hard to understand why telephone operators have been accused of just

going through the motions, instead of actually listening to what a

customer is asking for.



The three ’real’ trainees then went into the call centre itself. In the

next session they partnered operators, listening in on their calls, and

practising role plays. I asked Harry how he thought they were doing. He

was confident they would all be taking calls by the end of the day but

also admitted that they were probably over-qualified for the job.



This is a major problem for the telemarketing industry as Helena

Fletcher, Eclipse’s operations manager, explains. ’One of the biggest

staffing problems we have is the boredom aspect of the role which can,

in turn, lead to a level of complacency.’



While staff at Eclipse have regular appraisals, and ongoing incentive

schemes to increase their income, it must be hard to sustain interest on

a daily basis, particularly for a long-running campaign. Once the script

has been mastered there is little room for creativity and interest

inevitably declines. Eclipse is trying to combat this by cross-training

staff on several different campaigns, so that daily activity is more

varied.



And keeping that telephone manner up to scratch is vital if you want to

keep customers on the phone. After all, they can go elsewhere. The

Future Foundation will be publishing a report in January on behalf of

the Direct Marketing Association which shows a significant number of

potential customers are now using the internet because they are unhappy

with the telephone service on offer from many companies.



So could we be moving towards a fully automated service where there is

no human interaction at all? If consumers are as irritated as they

sound, perhaps it wouldn’t be such a bad idea.



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