About five years ago, I connected with Donald O’Connor on Twitter. Since then we have created a friendship founded on our shared interest and passion in sales and communication. Earlier this month, when he attended my monthly webinar, I discovered his wealth of great sales and communication stories. This one allows us to appreciate, and learn from, the training that once went into creating excellence on outbound customer calls.
In 1995, I had the good luck of being hired by a Fortune 100 company … Bell Canada. I was excited! Good salary, great benefits, opportunities to advance, and a pension. And all I had to do was talk to people – hundreds of them each month. Easy peasy, I thought. I love talking.
Then reality set in…
What was the reality of training at Bell 25 years ago? And how did customers react to receiving Donald’s calls?
Initial training took one full month. We spent 30 days learning the basics of Bell’s outbound software program, how to respond to customer requests, and, more importantly, how to sell an intangible product to customers over the phone.
Right, no pressure.
In 1995 Bell made a massive investment in marketing via outbound sales. Every facet of the operation was ‘top drawer’. We had the best of everything, from experienced managers and trainers to the latest equipment. No expense was spared. Getting hired was only the first hurdle of many.
One of the more intriguing tests I had to undergo was a Myers-Briggs Type Indicator assessment. The idea was to help you understand … you. I happen to be ENTP (Extraverted Intuitive Thinking Perceiving). It means I like to talk. Another such test was the Compatibility Personality Quotient. The results of this assessment allowed my manager to structure my training using my personal strengths and weaknesses as a guideline. To this day I can’t figure out my chart.
Once I demonstrated my willingness and capability to learn, I was introduced to role-playing and sit-ins. Role-playing was often conducted among the new hires. It was casual and fun. The sit-ins, on the other hand, were conducted by well-trained managers. This was incredibly nerve-wracking; having someone sitting in and analyzing each and every call I made was nauseating.
These sit-ins were my biggest hurdle to conquer. A manager would take a seat next to me and connect their headset into my desk phone. As they listened to each call I made, they’d assess them using a set of specific criteria. Also, each interaction was recorded and documented for future training opportunities. Despite the trainer’s positive and supportive demeanour, it took me a couple of months to overcome my feeling of dread. Yet this one-on-one approach proved to be the most valuable in terms of improving my communication skills and increasing my confidence.
In the end, I finally got comfortable enough with these sit-ins to invite managers to join me on phone calls. By tackling my fear head-on, I began to accept them for what they were: valuable one-on-ones with a knowledgeable coach.
Once I passed all the prerequisites, I went “live”! This was frightening and exhilarating. I was at my desk, headset on, phone at the ready, and the software calling the customer. Data collection had pre-screened these customers in advance for a host of products and services.
I remember the very first connection I made! I bravely, and with as little stuttering as possible, introduced myself to the stranger. The majority of the time, “Why are you calling me at dinner time?” was their very first question.
Listening is definitely one of the key factors of success, especially with phone sales. Bell training taught me to listen for cues during a call. Are there children? Then perhaps voicemail is an option to explore. Is it a busy family? Then call waiting could be valuable. Do they talk about travel? Call forwarding offered a great advantage. Each part of a conversation can offer clues to what product or service best suits a customer’s needs.
And yes, there was rejection. I cannot tell you how many times people hung up or yelled at me for calling. Bell Canada once experimented with calling people at home on a Sunday … during FOOTBALL season! You can imagine the rejection everyone received on those days.
Rejection happens to everyone. It’s part of sales. You should not take it personally. Shake it off. Move on to the next call.
For most of us, a job at the outbound call centre was a stepping stone to other, more prominent positions, such as inbound customer service. But that’s another story.
Donald O’Connor is a speaker and consultant for the retail and hospitality industries. Discussions include employee engagement, customer service, customer experience, and more. Contact: @DonnyoSpeaks – donaldoconnorspeaks.com