The people who answer your phones should not be the most overlooked people in your service business. Yet this is what I find most of the time.

“Sally is great on the phones”,  the managers say. “People love her.” Then I ask… “If she is your best call taker why did you introduce her as your bookkeeper?”

When your business is small your people have to wear a lot of hats. Of those hats, call taker, Customer Service Representative, or Client Care Rep… whatever you want to call it, is not the hat your people will claim to wear when asked “What is your role in the business?” The first response is always “Bookkeeper/ job coordinator / office manager.” All of these answered titles place in their minds a higher importance than the client care position. And I think that is crazy thinking. To say a bookkeeper position is more important than the client care position is to say the center is more important than the quarterback.

I find it strange that a client care rep would consider it a promotion to become an accounts payable clerk, yet this is the culture that exists in most businesses. The phones are, in most cases, the first point of contact between your business and your customers. How your customers perceive that contact is how they will perceive your business. Shouldn’t this position receive the most attention from management in the form of training and compensation?
If you want to change the culture of your business to hold your call takers in a higher regard, you can start by not giving raises to the people you move to other, less important departments. The people you move to a position with less customer contact and more administrative duties should feel like it is a demotion.

The best way to keep your team fired up, no matter how small a staff you have, is to hire with the future in mind. I have seen people that are both great on the phones and great at bookkeeping. Once the business grows, this valuable person is stripped of the call taker hat and given more money to keep wearing the bookkeeper hat. Since bookkeepers are easier to find, wouldn’t it make more sense to keep them as a CCR? In these small companies the CCR is usually also wearing the dispatcher’s hat. Call taking and dispatch are revenue positions, bookkeeping is a reporting position. Keep these things in mind during the hiring and training process.

There is a challenge with viewing call taking and dispatch as a revenue position. This is a result of the difficulty in being able to directly attribute revenue to them because there is a field person who visits the client and collects the check. But if you look closely at how the calls were booked and how they were dispatched I bet you would be surprised to see a link from higher tickets, higher sales close ratios, and higher customer satisfaction to one specific call taker. I was able to tie the average time spent booking a sales call directly to a higher sales close ratio. And the difference was significant. Three and a half minutes booking a sales call equaled a 35% close rate – while 5.5 minutes booking a sales call equaled a 50% close rate. I proved this month after month. It takes time to book a call for the sales person to maximize success.

If you have the ability to record calls, be sure to listen to some of them every day.  The person you think is great on the phones when you listen over their shoulder may be a shocking failure when you hear the other end of the conversation. It can be very painful to listen to but by doing this you might find that you place a higher importance on how you train your CCR’s. You might also find just how valuable a good one is and start treating that person as the most important person in the office.

It’s just an idea.