The challenge: Maintaining high performance on a 400-person outbound telesales operation?
Our client is a tri-play telecoms and media provider. To achieve their financial growth targets, they need to acquire high volumes of new customers in mobile phones, broadband and TV entertainment packages, as well as win back customers who have left or are in the middle of leaving. The business challenge is maintaining high sales performance on outbound activity, week-in week-out, and at scale.
What makes it difficult from a management point of view is that it’s a tough job for the associates. Many people are initially hostile when they receive an outbound sales call, so associates can get two or three unpleasant calls in a row, as recipients can get rude – it is easy for associates’ morale to dip.
The solution: Creating a high performing, people-centric environment.
Firstsource runs a 400-person, outsourced contact center in the UK for our client.
Our approach starts with who we hire. We hire for attitude and then train for skills. We seek people who are up for a challenge – as evidenced in their character. While we value sales and contact center experience, it’s more important for people to show high resilience, competitive nature, problem-solving skills, and tenacity.
We train people as we bring them on board to give them the skills they need to do the job. We focus on bringing all training to life – people need to live and breathe it. Coaching plays an important role as everyone has questions once they start talking to prospective customers and encountering their objections.
The operation is referred to a sales center (not a contact center), and the leadership team attribute high-performance to three interrelated fundamentals:
- Activities to keep it fun and fresh
- Making people feel valued
Ask-listen-act is simple in theory: ask lots of questions, ask people what they want, what will make a difference to their work life, their personal life. The key is not falling into the trap of asking but not listening, or not doing anything with what you’ve heard. Our management team works exceptionally hard on paying attention to what people tell them. They say yes to most things, because they want to do the right thing by their people.
For example, all associates now have total freedom on when and how to take their breaks – most opt for a larger number of shorter breaks. During the 2021 UEFA Euro football championships, the entire center closed at 4:30 pm on the day of England-Germany match so people could get home in time to watch the game. Associates whose families live abroad have the option to take extended holiday breaks so they can connect with family they haven’t seen in a long time.
Team leaders have total freedom to try out different ways to make associates’ roles fun and energizing, and are encouraged to be inventive. There are loads of themes and activities going on at any one time, e.g. there’ll be a tennis theme when Wimbledon’s on.
The number one factor, according to the local management team, is how our people feel. We put the effort into everyday interactions, lots of pats on the back, recognition, celebrations. We constantly look for ways to give associates the motivation to try as hard on the 500th conversation of the week as they did on the first one. We treat people as individuals, not as numbers. Any of our leadership team can walk around the floor and they will know everyone’s name.
During the 2020 lockdown, there was a big question about whether outbound could work from home – a big concern was the sheer number of Ofcom regulations for outbound. Prior to the pandemic, our client had shied away from this, but a long, careful pilot – over eight months – showed it could work. We now have 150 associates working from home – long after lockdown –hitting sales targets equal to associates in the center. We’ve debunked the myth that working from home in an outbound center will never work. We’ve shown it can be done.
The results: Outperforming the inhouse team on all counts
We carry out 85% of the client’s outbound sales activity, with the remainder carried out by their in-house team and a smaller partner.
We outperform the in-house team on both sales and hygiene metrics. For example, when the client launched a major new project, it was handled at first by their in-house team. When this work began to move over to us, we were the top team from day one. And we outperform on employee retention with lower rates of attrition and shrinkage.
For all these reasons, over the four-year relationship the client has continued to give 85% of their outbound work to us.