Contemporary Analysis

Data Science

Grant Stanley

How to Build a Small Business Call Center

Everyday, the CAN team interacts with clients, mentors, and friends who are leaders in their fields, and we started this series to share their expertise.

As a part of our research I interviewed Nathan Waite.  Nathan is the National Sales Director for SEMCAT Quoting Software headquartered in Lincoln, NE.  I found his advice helpful and I wanted to share it.

Hire Competitive & Passionate People:  When screening candidates, Nathan ranks competitiveness as the most important criteria for hiring new salespeople.  He has found that salespeople with competitive spirits are energized by quotas instead of being exacerbated by them.  However, he is quick to point out that a competitive spirit needs to be tempted by emotional intelligence.  Nathan doesn't tolerate any drama on his team and salespeople need to be able to stay in the game even when they are down.  The third criteria is that people have to be passionate about SEMCAT's products, since they are going to spend hour after hour talking about SEMCAT's product.  However, passion about the product is different and more important than technical understanding.  Nathan has found that if people are passionate and competitive they can learn exactly how everything works.

Leader Planks not Leader Boards:  Competitive and passionate people love to know their score and the score of the company so Nathan uses call center metrics to keep his people motivated.  However, what used to be a Leader Board is now a Leader Plank.  Too many call center metrics are difficult to keep track of and distracted people instead of focused them.  Instead, The Leader Plank contains 5 call center metrics, current marketing yield, phone minutes per month, total sales per month, evaluations, and accolades.  The following is an example of SEMCAT"s Sales LeaderPlank:

Call Center Metrics LeaderPlank

3000 Minutes per Month: A salesperson's job is to talk to as many customers as much as possible.  However, how much time is enough time.  For people that work a 9-hour day, there are 9,600 minutes of work per month, but how much of that can be spent on the phone with clients?  According to Nathan the answer is 3,000 or 31% of a 9am to 5pm Monday thru Friday work schedule.  At this rate salespeople will feel like they spend all of their time on the phone, but will also avoid burnout.

Power 50's:  To help each sales person achieve their 3,000 minutes a month, Nathan employs what he calls "Power 50's".  Each Power 50 is 50 minutes long.  This is the longest an average salesperson can spend on the phone while being productive and without burning out.  He encourages his salespeople to block out 3 to 4 Power 50's each day, and use that time call on clients.  They are supposed to treat that time like an appointment and focus all of their efforts on making phone calls.  They can return to calls, send emails and schedule other meetings around their Power 50's.

Separate Offices:  While big companies can get away with putting a lot of salespeople into open floor call centers, Nathan recommends that if you have less than 12 people per room it is more cost effective to build individual offices.  The reason is because people are too polite.  He has found that salespeople will take turns when making phone calls or listen to other people calls and take notes.  This is especially true if their are 2 or 3 people in an office.  Basically if you have 2 salespeople in an office together, you would be better off just having one.  So if you are going to spend the money building a call center, hiring, equipping and training salespeople, maximize your investment, put them in their own office.  If salespeople have to share an office you can help them focus by giving them full headsets instead of just single ear headsets.

Phones, Headsets and Providers:  Call center telephony is an interesting industry.  There are so many options, little marketing, and no clear leaders.  Growing up without a telephone monopoly or a landline selecting a phone provider and hardware has been borderline infuriating.  I have struggled with the fact that desktop phone lacking any thought to user experience, with a "cutting edge" 16-bit color screen, that can only make voice calls can be more expensive than my computer, while Skype can make free video calls.  Nathan recommended using a Voice over IP (VoIP) system if you have an internet connection with significant upload and download speeds.  For example, CAN has 5mb upload and download for 30 people.  The VoIP provider that Nathan recommends is OnSip.  His plan for phone is simple.  He gets the phones for as cheaply as possible, and invests in great headsets.  For phones he recommends either the Polycom 430 (1 or 2 line, no backlight) or 550 (4+ lines, backlight), because they are simple and good enough to get the job done.  He recommends buying phones from eBay, because he can get them at about a 50% discount from retail and it doesn't matter if they are used.  He uses the 50% savings to purchase each salesperson a Plantronics SupraPlus CS361N Noise-Cancelling Wireless Headsets.  Personally he uses a Plantronics CS 55 w/ Plantronics HL10, because he prefers to have one ear free in case of an emergency.

Click-to-Dial:  I asked Nathan if he had any recommendation and his only advice was to use a CRM with a Click-to-Dial feature.  This allows people to stay focused on communicating with clients instead of dialing.  In Nathan's opinion this is the most important feature of his CRM, and it helps his salespeople meet the requirement of being on the phone for 3000 minutes per month.

Learn about building a dashboard for your call center, download "Dashboards: Take a closer look at your data."

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