How to make UK call centres more competitive

UK’s call centre industry must take steps to become more competitive. Scott
Watson, performance director of Summit Consulting and Training, highlights some
key areas for improvement


Get the right person on the seat and help them to want to stay with you in long

Appoint a maximum of two preferred suppliers. This will allow you to develop
more productive relationships, enhance quality and keep your investment down in
terms of time and costs

Always start the recruitment process with a telephone interview. Your customers
need to hear a positive, friendly voice, so check out applicants for yourself

Allow potential new recruits to walk around the call centre and see what it is
like. They can take in the environment, learn more about your organisation and
establish whether they really do want the role

Use realistic role-play situations to check for competence in areas such as
problem solving, developing rapport, overcoming objections and developing
teamwork. Stay away from simply talking through an impressive CV. It could be
costly in the long term

Don’t limit your advertisements to ‘call centre experience essential’. There
are people who have never worked in a call centres but who will bring their own
special qualities. Let them have a go

in quality measures

Measuring ‘success’ simply in terms of calls answered, calls lost and
complaints received is a dangerous practice. Customer satisfaction is the top
priority and all of your success criteria must add genuine value to the
relationship and your organisation

Build easy-to-use, relevant quality measures into your performance measurement
systems. Is there much point in 90 per cent of calls being answered within 15
seconds if quality is appalling?

Monitor and feed back quality and productivity performance to each member of
your call centre at all levels. We all can benefit from honest, genuine
feedback to help us improve


Call centres are a communication business, but this crucial activity can often
be forgotten in the rush to get performance up and lost calls down. Don’t
communicate for the sake of it. Some key areas to cascade down to the frontline
are: weekly/monthly performance against targets, technology/resource pattern
changes to be implemented, recognition from the company board/customers (good
or not so good)

Make sure that any planned changes are communicated positively, in advance and
personally (stay away from e-mail – a team briefing is much better). This way,
you can address any resistance or issues more quickly and openly

Hold regular, relevant team briefings where issues, solutions and new
developments can be discussed and moved forward. The maximum time needed for a
practical team meeting is 30 minutes – try to plan it in for when the phone
lines are at their quietest

Recognition needs to be sponsored from the highest level to develop credibility
and trust right down to the frontline. Build in a feedback process wherever this
is practical and can add value

your people

Many call centres claim ‘our people are our most valuable resource’. While they
may genuinely believe it, with attrition rates averaging 35 per cent, it is
clear that some don’t necessarily put it into practice

Use training as a retention tool to allow both the organisation and individual
to develop relevant skills and approaches that are mutually beneficial

Make internal and external training and development consultants more
accountable for achieving real business results. Ensure specific measures of
success are agreed in advance and applied

Invest in developing your training team. Does your training team consist of
specialists who understand the strategic, technical and operational pieces of the
training puzzle? If not, get them some practical support so you build you own
in-house capability

If you choose to appoint external support for a call centre development
project, insist on seeing client testimonials. This is one easy way to ensure
you are getting high-quality support

Look for every opportunity to broaden the duties of the job. Many call centre
agents complain they are given repetitive, tiresome tasks to do all day, every
day. Consider multi-skilling as a development tool. Variety can improve

your managers

Develop the skills, competencies and trust required that allows your management
to undertake their role as effectively as possible

Promote the right people into management posts because they have the potential
to lead people competently and ethically and not purely on the basis they were
good at dealing with customers as an agent

Delegate responsibility down the management chain and allow each manager to
make crucial decisions within a context of mutual understanding, support and
common sense

Challenge processes and procedures that are ‘habit’ and don’t add value. Long
meetings where you are only needed for 30 minutes and outdated e-mail
distribution lists where you are still included are key examples

Ask your frontline staff for ideas on how to maximise performance. They deal
with your customers, and they are usually overflowing with positive ideas. Just
ask them!

Ask your people what support they need from your management team and then
commit to delivering it (within the boundaries of a ‘win-win’ relationship for
everyone involved)

Allow your leaders to lead your people. With proper coaching and support, there
is no reason why your call centre can’t be a place where high-performing teams
become the norm rather than the exception

Watson has supported some of the UK’s leading call centres to maximise their
management, sales and service performance and is a regular commentator for the
BBC on call centre matters

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