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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.