The telephone answering service industry is obsessed with performance. How to get it, improve it and achieve it faster. You can learn how to apply our hard-won knowledge in your own business.
Suite 1000 is a telephone answering service that has been in business for over 30 years. During that time we have served hundreds of business in a multitude of industries. It has given us the opportunity to take advantage of the great ideas we learned from each one and apply them to ourselves. We would like to share a few of the things our industry is really good at with you so you can apply them in your own business.
One of the things that the best telephone answering services do well is to create an environment of accountability. Virtually everything our employees do can be measured. It can also be measured objectively. Performance reviews don’t have to be subject to a manager’s vague impressions or by how much they like an employee. Accomplishments are something that can be quantified with actual numbers.
While businesses in other industries may not have as many tracking tools as we do, there are still ways to create objective measures. Every business has a handful of key metrics. For a retailer this might include inventory turn, for a manufacturer it could be pieces completed per hour, for a service business it might be response times and so on. Start with your key metrics and determine how each of your employees contributes toward those numbers. Those contributions are the most important things for you to begin tracking and measuring. They are the activities that really matter to the company’s bottom line.
Employee performance reviews should be built around those objective measures. In a simple example, let’s say you have determined that there are four main numbers that you need to track for a particular employee. Each one could have a weight of 25% on their performance review. You could also give them opportunities to earn extra points for volunteering for overtime, completing important certifications, etc. Points could be deducted for disciplinary issues or for failing to meet minimum standards. If an employee’s available pay increase is 3% and their salary is $40,000 that means that earning 100% on a performance review is worth $1,200/year. If they earned extra points that put them at 110%, it would be worth $1,320/year. If they only perform at 80%, they would earn $960. Everything is measurable; an issue of fact not impression and it is directly tied to their pay.
Ideally, employees should get a monthly report that show them where they stand so far. Don’t wait for an entire year before you give them a clue about the quality of their performance.
There are some important words of warning to bear in mind before you actually implement this type of performance review.
- Don’t make it overly complicated. Employees need to be able to easily understand performance reviews and the numbers they are based on or they can’t make improvements.
- Don’t set the bar too high. Every organization tends to be guilty of this on their first attempt. Take a look at the numbers of your good steady performers, not just one or two superstars, before you decide where to set the bar.
- Don’t surprise everyone with a new performance review. Roll out a test month so employees have an opportunity to see where they are falling before their numbers officially count on their performance review.
- Don’t carve your program in stone. You will need to be willing to make tweaks and improvements and even acknowledge if some parts of your performance review are not working the way you intended.
Training and Coaching
Training and coaching are the fastest way for a telephone answering service, and virtually every other company, to improve overall company performance. Unfortunately, at many companies training consists of watching someone do something for an hour and then getting left to sink or swim. New hires are extremely expensive. The faster you can get them up to speed, the less they cost and the more they produce. That requires a formal training program, an honest to goodness training manual (with step-by-step instructions) and tests to determine what they retained and what needs to be reinforced again. Even the best hires are going to fail to retain as much as 30% of the information they were initially presented with.
Training is also not a one-shot-deal. Your business is going to grow and change. You are going to add new customers, get new software and tools, change processes, etc. Everyone needs ongoing coaching if you want them to be at the top of their game. Labor is probably one of the biggest, if not the biggest, expense in your company. The more efficient it is, the less expensive it is.
Motivation and Feedback
Telephone answering services have tried every form of motivation you can possibly imagine – contests, games, bonuses, office perks, etc. We have learned one really important truth. You do not have the power to motivate someone; you only have the power to demotivate them.
We have never been successful at motivating an employee who doesn’t come to the table already wanting to do a good job. Incentives can make a good employee a little better and help them have fun doing it. They never turn a bad employee into even a modest success. Wanting to be competent has to come from within.
The vast majority of people want to a good job. If you do a decent job of screening candidates for the right skills and aptitude, provide thorough training and ongoing coaching and give regular feedback on performance, most people try very hard to do good work.
Unfortunately, there are many ways you can demotivate employees. There is one in particular that deserves a hard focus – how you handle mistakes. Telephone answering services pay a lot of attention to the issue of accuracy. That focus has led to the discovery that there is something much worse than having an employee make a mistake. It is creating an atmosphere that encourages them to conceal it.
People do need to be accountable. But it is always counter-productive to berate employees in public, allow criticisms to become personal or demeaning, punish out of proportion or hold employees accountable for things that are outside of their control. Even when you are having a really bad day or a situation has caused you personal embarrassment.
Before you decide how to handle a mistake, you will get a much better outcome if you ask yourself the following questions:
- Do we really understand what root cause of the error was?
- Have other competent people made the same mistake?
- Was it simply an error rather than the result of negligence or a lack of caring?
- Is something missing from our training and coaching process?
- If we made a change to our process, could we eliminate the possibility of an employee even being able to make the same mistake in the future?
It is also really important to lead by example. If your managers make a mistake, do they freely admit it and fix it. Or, do they make excuses, get defensive or throw somebody else under the bus?
Do managers give at least twice as many genuine compliments as they do criticisms? Are they expected to make a conscious effort each day to catch employees doing something right and share their best practices with other team members?
Your employees believe what they see managers actually do, not what they say. And they will act accordingly.
How could you implement at least one of these performance boosting ideas in your own business within the next 30 days?
This blog was written by Laurie Leonard, the President of SUITE 1000, a U.S. based national telephone answering service, inbound call center and outsourced call center service. Her company has specialized in handling legal intake, sales leads, email lead response, appointment scheduling, customer service and help desk calls for over 20 years.