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Happy Reps Make Happy Customers

March 1, 2002
Related Topics: HR Services and Administration, Behavioral Training, Basic Skills Training, Featured Article

Boise Cascade takes no chances when it hires customer-service reps, saysLouis Miller, general manager of the Boise Cascade customer-service center inCasper, Wyoming. The center’s 485 employees handle four million customercontacts per year, including 8,000 faxed orders a day.

Name:BoiseCascade Office Products Call Center
Business:Callcenter for distributor of office and technology products

To make certain they have committed candidates who are capable of handlingthat kind of pressure, Miller insists that all potential customer-service repstake an unpaid 23-hour pre-hire course as a condition of their employment. "Weare looking for a certain type of person interested in a long-term opportunity,"he says. "It’s not easy to figure out who those people are in a one-hourinterview." The course, developed specifically for Boise Cascade inconjunction with a local community college, rates potential hires on their basicphone and PC skills and brings them up to speed on communication techniques andservice jargon.

The vast majority of candidates are excited about the pre-hire course andimpressed by the level of commitment Boise has to training, Miller says. Somereps drop out, but it’s rare that anyone fails. "The pre-hire training showsus who is committed to the job. It acts as a screening process."

It also levels the playing field for basic call-center skills. When reps comeon board, they all have the same skills and knowledge, which they bring to anintensive training course for new hires. It consists of 80 hours of classroomtime and 40 hours of mentoring with an experienced associate.

Since 40 percent of the call-center traffic is for faxed orders, most of theinitial class time is dedicated to order-entry skills. Students handle simulatedorder scenarios, learn to interpret the various entry fields, become familiarwith catalog options, and learn what to do when an order is incomplete orillegible. When they are paired with another agent, they spend half of the timewatching the agent do the job and half the time being observed.

Reps who are slated to manage the company’s 14,000 daily phone orders andtechnical calls spend an additional 40 hours in class focusing on soft-skillstraining and role-playing. They practice handling difficult customers, answeringcommon questions, and not using too much Boise jargon, Miller says. They thenget another 40 hours with a mentor, listening to them on the phone and thenfielding calls while their mentor is plugged in to the conversation. If thenovice rep gets into trouble or makes a mistake, the mentor can take over thecall or guide him to the correct response.

Because new hires are all part-time, they may spend eight weeks or more intraining before they deal directly with customers, Miller says. And once theyare ready to work solo, they have additional training opportunities. Since itsCRM initiative was launched in August, Boise corporate policy has required everyemployee to get 40 hours a year of training.

"CRM is a huge change that impacts everyone," Miller says. "One courseisn’t enough."

The initial CRM course introduced the new processes for managing customerrelationships and recording customer data, as well as the company’s approachto service excellence. To support the message, supervisors hold monthly meetingswith the reps to discuss CRM issues, share stories about great calls, and talkabout how to further increase customer satisfaction.

A rep’s performance using the CRM system and philosophy is also monitoredregularly by supervisors, who provide monthly reports detailing call histories,volume, and data accuracy. This lets the rep review what she’s accomplishedand gives her guidance in problem areas. "It’s a huge time commitment,"says Miller, who estimates that the company’s 24 supervisors dedicate 30percent of their time to monitoring and coaching service reps.

Miller also sends out weekly Web-based news flashes, profiling customers ornew products. Short quizzes are added at the end. And he holds frequentcommunity meetings with the entire staff to discuss customer-service challengesand to brainstorm solutions.

"Everything we do is geared toward making the customer experience apositive one," Miller says. If the reps aren’t trained properly, they can’tdo their jobs, which makes them frustrated and unhappy. "That can have a hugeimpact on the customer experience."

Workforce, March 2002, pp. 65-66 -- Subscribe Now!


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