Being a customer-service rep for Time Warner Cable is a very inflexible job,says Cindy O’Neil, director of training for the company’s Tampa Bay,Florida, call-center division. “The hiring process is critical. We look forregimented people who will be happy sitting at their desks all day talking tocustomers — not to their coworkers.”
It’s no easy task to find these people, which is why O’Neil puts all ofthe division’s supervisors through behavioral-interviewing training. Thetraining teaches them how to identify the core competencies for the job, and howto ask experience-based questions that uncover conclusive evidence of thosecompetencies. For example, instead of asking candidates if they like talking onthe phone all day, supervisors ask them to describe a past job in which theyspent most of their time on the phone and what they liked most about that job.”If they talk about being a team player, they aren’t a good fit,” shesays.
When candidates do fit the profile, even if they have no business orcustomer-service experience, O’Neil is willing to train them. “Findingpeople who will be happy as customer-service reps is the most important thing.”
The new hires spend three weeks in job-skills training, which includesproduct knowledge, how to walk customers through cable hookups, package options,and billing techniques. And, to guarantee that their customer-service skills aretop-notch, all of O’Neil’s trainers are certified through a customer-servicetraining program offered by AchieveGlobal, a Tampa Bay training company. Thetrainers use the techniques learned through the program to teach new hires howto connect with customers, build rapport, and ensure a pleasant experience.
“Customer service is the most important thing we do,” O’Neil says. Infact, she thinks the reps’ interpersonal skills have greater impact on thecustomer’s experience than their product knowledge. When reps can’t answerquestions, their customer-service training helps them manage the situationwithout upsetting the caller, she says. They learn to be honest, to setexpectations, and to follow through on their promises. For example, if reps needtime to research problems, they are expected to be up front with customers abouthow long it will take and make sure they get back to them within that time.
After the initial training, new reps work in pairs with experienced agentsuntil they feel confident about their ability to work on their own. Once newreps are on the job, supervisors regularly listen in on calls, both invisiblythrough a call-tracking system and by sitting down next to them and plugginginto their phones, O’Neil says. “Reps act differently when they know theyare being monitored, which is why we do it both ways.”
The AchieveGlobal program also teaches supervisors how to coach the repsduring the monitoring process and how not to make the experience a negative one.”Supervisors walk a tightrope,” she says. “They need to make sure reps aredoing well on the phone, but also want to make sure they are happy.”
After rating reps on their personal skills and product knowledge, theydiscuss their reviews in one-to-one conferences. Supervisors provide tips onwhere employees can improve, and make a point of acknowledging the tough callsthat were handled well. “Our people look forward to getting that feedback.They want to know how they are doing and they want recognition.”
Beyond coaching, reps are frequently called back to the classroom fornew-product and service training. O’Neil has so many courses going on that sheplans to automatically schedule agents for two one-hour training sessions permonth and then figure out later what the courses will be. “If they don’thave a training need at their scheduled time, then they can stay on the phone,but I don’t think that will ever happen.”
Workforce, March 2002, pp. 66-67 — Subscribe Now!