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Expert Answers to Biz Questions

Listen in! Pick up some expert advice to a reader's question that we selected from CyberSchmooz.

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The Biz Question

Does anyone have any good advice for discouraging my service employees from making and receiving personal calls when they're on the phones with customers? I realize everyone needs to talk to family members occasionally but I don't want my customers waiting while employees chat with friends and family. How am I supposed to control or get rid of this problem with some of my service staff?


Answer from our Guest Expert Donna Hall of The Right Answer, Customer Service Consultants

Henry, this situation can be a sticky wicket if not handled properly. But the good news is call centers (or any telemarketing department) have several options they can use to help discourage employees from making and receiving long-winded personal calls.

Freeze, Mister! Drop the Phone or I'll Shoot!

First, there's the "phone-police" -- which is actually the latest in technologically advanced telecommunications/monitoring systems. Many call centers utilize these forward-thinking phone systems to do the so-called "dirty work" of policing the daily telephone activity of CSRs on the job. You can harvest data that details how long an employee is on a call, how many calls sat in the call queue waiting to be answered, and several other tidbits of data.

By using this technology and letting staff know this technology is in place, you can actually help increase call productivity. (Not to mention help CSRs refrain from lengthy personal calls while on the job.) You can use the data gathered to set call center standards for your biz. For example, you could better establish the average amount of time it takes to answer and complete phone calls with customers. This technology is a sure way to monitor, improve, and control phone time and efficiency among your staff.

Add a Cup of Sugar

If you don't want to go for the technology deal quite yet, do some good ole sweet-talking with your staff. Discuss the advantages of being professional service pros who respond promptly to customer calls. If you stress to your employees the value of being dedicated to helping customers, and that everyone's there to work as an effective team-player, I bet you'll see a change in everyone's attitude and approach concerning non-work related telephone calls.

Be Flexible and Fair

Try not to set goals and guidelines regarding personal phone time that are too rigid or unrealistic. As you mention in your question, people often need to speak with family members or make personal phone calls from time to time. You're right, and let your staff know you understand this need. Of course, you'll also set and work to achieve high service standards in the workplace while trying to accommodate your employees' needs. Encourage a team spirit with mission statements, policies and procedures that say "Up on people" and them involved in setting up solutions.

Butter 'Em Up

While we all cater to our customers first, this doesn't mean we should treat our employees like yesterday's leftovers. When employees feel empowered and part of a close-knit crew, they're more likely to watch out for one another. If a colleague's slacking off and chewing the fat on the phone a tad longer than he should, a gentle reminder like, "It's time to get back to the customers" from a co-worker should be all that's needed. No harm done, and it should be back to work as usual.

Attila the Hun would've seen it differently, but you don't have to whip and beat your staff like an egg to get them to cooperate. Teach them to focus on the goals and standards set for the whole department. I guarantee you they'll pull their share of the weight, helping create an effective, efficient crew who gets those calls answered in a snap.

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