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Send your best soldiers to the call centre frontlines

Call Centres and Telemarketing

As much money as companies invest in technology and as much effort as they spend getting the business processes right, the key to a call centre that delights customers is  recruiting and investing in the right people and keeping them motivated.

That's according to Tamsin Bradford, Operations Manager at Sage Pastel, who oversees a team of 105 agents who handle more than 50,000 customer calls and over 7,000 web chat and email interactions each month. Bradford says that the contact centre - especially in a service industry like software - is one of the most crucial parts of the customer experience.
When people call the centre for support, they are often already frustrated, which means that the quality of the interaction will have a major impact on their satisfaction with the brand. That means that the agents answering the calls need to be thought of as among the most important brand representatives, says Bradford.
"We believe that the support helpdesk is our customer frontline, so that is where we send our strongest soldiers," she says. "Though process and IT systems are important, we focus on recruiting and retaining the right people to deliver the service our customers expect."
Though many companies think of call centre agents as low-level employees, companies with high-touch, high-value call centre interactions should actually be recruiting highly skilled people with the right personality profile to do what is a demanding job, adds Bradford. "It's by no means easy to find the profile of person we want," she adds.
"We expect our agents to be technically adept and have excellent interpersonal skills. They must be good problem solvers, adaptable learners, and empathetic listeners. To attract the quality of candidate we need, we try to challenge the perception that the call centre is a dead-end for their careers."
One element of this is paying call centre staff well in recognition of the brand value they deliver to the business. Another is recruiting people as juniors and offering them a clear career path that builds on the knowledge they build in the contact centre. "The call centre is the best place to learn the business back to front," says Bradford. "People who do well here are often great assets in other parts of the organisation."
Bradford notes one of the major reasons call centre agents get burnt out and disillusioned is that they feel treated like numbers in many contact centres. For that reason, Sage Pastel maintains a low supervisor to agent ratio - not more than one to 10 - to ensure agents are supported with the help they need to do their jobs.  Coaching and training are also essential to help agents feel connected to the rest of the business and to a career in the organisation.
The right set of tools and processes can help agents to do their jobs more efficiently, says Bradford. A workspace on their computers that minimises clickthroughs and presents customer information on one screen can help agents to focus on the human interaction with the customer rather than on the processes and tools. Recording calls, meanwhile, protects both the consumer and the consultant.
It's also important to recognise that web chat, email and the telephone demand different skill sets, so employees should be trained across all the media they'll be required to work through. Where possible, agents should be deployed to work in the channels where they are most comfortable and proficient, Bradford says.
Another key to running a successful and productive contact centre is using reporting tools wisely. Look at the metrics that matter - customer satisfaction and first call resolution - rather than obsessing with statistics around how many calls agents answer per hour or how quickly they pick up the phone. Dig into the more detailed statistics if there is a problem, but remember to keep focused on the metrics that really matter, advises Bradford.
Idea Engineers (PR agency for Sage Pastel Accounting)
Janina Boezaart
Tel:  +27 (0)11 803 0030
Sage Pastel Accounting
Joanne van der Walt
Marketing Manager
Tel: +27 11 304 3464
About Sage Pastel Accounting
Sage Pastel Accounting is a leading developer of accounting, payroll and business management software for the small, medium and large enterprise market. Since inception, Sage Pastel has developed an in-depth knowledge and understanding of the industry, establishing itself as a market leader in Sub Saharan region. Thousands of businesses use Sage Pastel Accounting to run their businesses and trust Sage Pastel to help them achieve their business ambitions. Sage Pastel is backed by the global Sage brand.
About The Sage Group plc
We provide small and medium sized organisations with a range of easy-to-use, secure and efficient business management software and services - from accounting and payroll, to enterprise resource planning, customer relationship management and payments.
Our customers receive continuous advice and support through our global network of local experts to help them solve their business problems, giving them the confidence to achieve their business ambitions.  Formed in 1981, Sage was floated on the London Stock Exchange in 1989 and entered the FTSE 100 in 1999.
Sage has over 6 million customers and more than 12,700 employees in 24 countries covering the UK & Ireland, mainland Europe, North America, South Africa, Australia, Asia and Brazil. For further information please visit

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