Winning ways

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Martin Pitt reveals the reasoning behind choosing the best sales calls of the year and discusses the simple but effective tactics that make a good contact centre agent a great one

In 2007, 12 calls were selected by Integra Insight - formerly Direct Excellence - to be awarded the accolade of Contact Centre Agent of the Month. But what was it about these individual calls that made them stand apart from the rest?

To be fair, selecting the best call in any month is not easy as there are normally several candidates from each mystery shopping exercise that would be worthy winners; choosing an overall winner for the year, therefore, is all the more difficult.

Although these calls are not identical in any way, there are usually a number of common themes. Firstly, the agent tends to have an upbeat, friendly manner that makes a good first impression. This might seem obvious but recorded calls have been listened to where the first impulse would be to hang up after the welcome.

Without going through every aspect of the sales conversation, it is normal for a good standard of product information to be provided so that the caller has a good idea of what is and is not included in the price of the insurance product in question. The agents also tend to ask for the business and, at times, the rapport is such that shoppers have real difficulty saying no.

Staying power

The other common trait is call length. These are generally longer than the average, but not disastrously so. With a few exceptions it is difficult to provide a full quotation in a short call. What is interesting is that, when monthly winners are met and their managers spoken to, these successful agents always feature among the top performers in their company in terms of satisfaction, up-sell success and, of course, conversion rates.

So, does service make a difference to telesales success? The answer is a resounding yes. Price is definitely not everything when it comes to purchasing insurance, although it remains important. What that means is that insurers, brokers and other distributors can improve their sales performance without cutting their prices - provided their agents do their jobs properly.

The tables reproduced here reveal the results from home insurance mystery shopping calls made in November 2007. And one aspect that constantly surprises is the fact that some agents seem to prefer going straight in for the kill rather than dipping a toe in the water first. The passive close - where the agent has the opportunity to find out what the caller thinks of the price - prepares the ground for objection handling or an active close. But, as can be seen, the average score shows that this type of close is only used in under half of all calls. By contrast, the more active approach - 'I can set that up for you now if you like' - is present in more than two out of three.

Referring back to those selected as monthly winners by mystery shoppers for their call performance, the close is generally well-prepared and therefore sounds effective and convincing. And this is also built into the assessment of calls; it's fine to ask for the business, but is the close relevant and well-timed? For example, it is not unheard of for agents, in response to the comment "How much? That's expensive", to reply "I can set that up for you now if you like". It happens - but not in conversations conducted with the monthly winners of the mystery shopping exercises.

- Martin Pitt is managing director of market intelligence company Integra Insight

FOR MORE INFORMATION

Visit www.integra-insight.co.uk. Call Martin Pitt on 07932 4924, or emailhim at: martin.pitt.integra-insight.co.uk

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