This is the time of year that the phones are starting to slow… the A/Cs that were going to break have broken and no one really has money they are dying to spend on plumbing or electrical ‘nice-to-haves’ because school is just around the corner. It’s tough but it’s necessary to drum up the calls because if you don’t keep your technicians and plumbers busy then they will find someone that will and potentially move to another company OR they will sit around the breakroom sending negativity throughout the company. I’ve been there.
This is a very stressful position to be in. You walk into the customer service department and you ask them to try and call the service partners and get 10 more calls on the board for the next day. They groan and say “it’s Summer, no one will book” and you say “Please try…” Then low and behold, they were right and they are unable to book enough calls. This is not an uncommon issue. I visited companies in many different cities over the past 5 years and many of them had this same situation. We hire our Customer Service Representatives to answer the phones as their primary purpose but I think we are hiring them to do the wrong primary purpose.
I did a few things right and I think that making an outbound calling machine is one of those things. During my time at Bob Hamilton Plumbing, Heating, and A/C, I worked very hard at building the call center culture that complimented the marketing department. Here are a few things that radically changed the culture.
- Get a team that gets it. This is a hard piece to digest, but you might have the wrong people working for you. The Call Center can be a KPI driven powerhouse if you let it. Hold the team members accountable to their numbers and push out the people that do not do the work. I tracked lots of KPIs and coached the CSRs on them weekly. Conversion rate on bookable calls weekly/monthly, how many total calls booked weekly/monthly, percent of emails collected (free marketing material), how many outbounds made daily/weekly/monthly, and how many outbounds booked daily/weekly/monthly. Do not be afraid the get people on your bus that will get the job done. They exist and they are magnificent.
- DO NOT hire people to answer phones and then expect them to outbound. DO hire people to outbound and then expect them to answer the phones. Every time I hired a new CSR I would have them spend their first 2 weeks, sometimes more, only outbounding. I told them it’s the most important part of the job and after they get the hang of it, then I’ll teach them to answer the phones. We had professionals that worked for us and the professional piece of the job was calling out, not answering. Every person in our company, including the bookkeeper, could answer the phone and book appointments. True professional CSRs are experts at calling out to our service partners and getting them booked. It was hard and that skill was valuable to the company. Coming at them with that mentality gives them ownership over a part of the business and the attention for their good work pushes them to do more and work harder. Every time my CSRs weren’t on the phone with an inbound, they were calling out to someone on an outbound. The result was 5-6 CSRs making 300-400 calls a week EACH and booking hundreds of additional calls each month
- Change the words you use. One of my mentors in the industry has been Jim Hamilton, and he taught me this concept about 4 years ago. It changed my life. I don’t want to butcher his life-changing article so I’ll link to it because it’s published in PM Magazine: http://www.pmmag.com/articles/95870-the-words-you-say-can-ruin-your-business. I actually took the content of this article and I put it into our training material. Every CSR read it on their first day and we debriefed it afterward. And the language of ‘system check’ versus A/C check or Furnace Check did not stop with the CSR department. This is a whole company idea and your technicians have to understand the ‘why’ if it’s going to work. If you don’t explain to your technicians why they are doing a system check in August or in February, they will complain to the CSRs (that are working their butts off booking them) that they are a waste of a call- That breaks the whole program down.
- Outbound all year round! You can change the day that you are booking for based on a monthly calendar but you should never just stop calling out. Even during the heat of the season we were still calling out and booked the customers for a date further out. You know when you typically slow back down, so work smart and fill it early. We set different goals as far as how many to book but we never stopped. I am a firm believer in momentum and if you completely stop a train, it takes significantly more energy to get it back moving again. It’s fine to slow down or switch gears (book plumbing or electrical instead) but do not stop.
I think the Call Center is the heart of the company. They interact with the field, customers, suppliers, and more. If you put your time and resources into the Call Center then you will see huge differences in the effectiveness in every part of your company. I think they are the most overlooked and also the most crucial piece of a well run residential service company. I have many more ideas I would be happy to share in regard to the customer service department, including how to compensate them, how to coach them, and how to motivate them. Let me know if you’d like to set up a call and learn more, no charge! Although I might push you to use our chat service because you should be using us already!