Thursday, February 27, 2014

Insider Interview #4: Pamela La Gioia

by: Sean Hawkins

Pamela La Gioia is CEO and Founder of Telework Recruiting, a premier website helping professionals find telecommuting employment. She has been researching remote work since the early 1990s, so we decided to send a few questions her way for an Insider Interview. 

1.       What is your prior experience in the call center?
If you mean me personally,  have no experience working in a call center, either onsite or virtual. Unless you include cold calling as a sales rep. But that was from my desk in my own office, not in an actual center. However, I have helped virtual call centers find call agents or telemarketers, either by posting job ads on my website, or by sourcing people for them.

2.       Where did your interest in telecommuting come from?
After working for a few years as a counselor at an inpatient psychiatric hospital, I started wishing there was some type of work I could do from home. The internet was just taking off, and so I did a search on AltaVista (showing my age!) for working from home. I never even heard of the term “telecommute” at that time. I came across a website that promised me a list of 100 companies that hired home workers, at the cost of $36.00. I paid the fee, received the list, and began contacting every company on it. I was quickly disappointed when over and over either the company said they didn’t hire home workers, or all home workers they did hire worked onsite for at least two years first.

I wrote the company I purchased the list from and demanded a refund. I never got one. Angry, I decided I could do a better job finding flexible companies on my own. Unfortunately, it wasn’t easy. Back in the early 1990s telecommuting (as I learned home working was called), was not popular. And it was a perk given to only very experienced, very trusted employees. And even those employees needed to be within commutable distances to their companies since things like wifi and Skyping didn’t even exist yet.

Nonetheless, while working a regular job, I managed to find around 700 companies that did hire home workers throughout the US, and some in Canada. I also began learning everything I could about telecommuting, reading information from people like Gil Gordon, Priscilla Huff, and Jack Niles.

3.       What was the catalyst for Telework Recruiting?
In 1993 I started, a website to help stay at home moms find work from home. Two things happened. 1. Men would write and ask if my information would help them. 2. Companies began wanting to use my site to recruit home workers, but didn’t like the “mommy” part of my site name. They felt it was unprofessional and excluded men. So, in 1999, Telework was born. Since then, Telework Recruiting has amassed around 2,500 companies that hire telecommuters.

4.       Do you see telecommuting as a viable option for companies?
I can’t see why most companies don’t have telecommuting as an option for their employees. With the technological capabilities we now have, there are very few companies that can’t take advantage of this flexible work option. Obviously, assembly workers in an auto plant can’t work at home. However, that same company could easily allow most of their desk workers to telecommute, saving them a lot of money on overhead.

5.       What are some of the challenges faced when managing employees who work from home?
There are five big concerns I think companies have when it comes to managing remote employees:

1. Security. Keeping proprietary information safe. This also involves data safety. This can be addressed with antivirus, firewalls, or other data protection programs. If an employee is in a medical field, then HIPAA is a concern. If s/he is in a legal profession, than the Attorney Client Privilege is a concern.

2. Co-worker issues: Adult or not, jealously can rear its ugly head if not everyone is allowed to work from home. After all, no one likes to pay high gas prices, wrestle with traffic, or leave their home early in the morning. Even when someone thrives in an office environment they would probably at least like to have the option to stay at home.

Also, making a transition from working onsite to working at home affects everyone. Jealousy aside, co-workers will have to adjust to not having remote staff around if they need them. Inevitably, there will be times when they'll end up filling in for them, even though technically they’re doing their same jobs from home.

3. Communication issues: The usage of e-mail, Google Hangouts, Skype (especially video), and social media are all great ways for co-workers to communicate and interact. However, video calling is still pretty new, and it can actually be uncomfortable for some people, especially “older” workers. It also requires a little bit of training for everyone.

4. Job function issues: Do your staff have all the necessary resources to do their work from home? In other words, will they be able to work just as resourcefully as they did onsite? There should be little difference between their home and work offices.

Make sure homeworkers have well-equipped offices (computer, video chat, fax, landline, printer, scanner, software, and so on), as well as back up plans. Hardware breaks. Computers crash. Then what? How will staff prevent vital information from getting lost? Depending on their profession and the sensitivity of the information, developing a Plan B could be vital.

5. Trust: Employers are human; and, like anyone else, they have fears and control issues. Some employers need to feel in control. They think they need to micro-manage their staff to make sure they are actually doing their jobs and that they’re being done to their liking. What's more, there are supervisors who cannot fathom work being done properly unless they have a hand in the process.

6.       In your opinion, what is needed to be a successful work from home candidate?
Not everyone is cut out for the lifestyle of a teleworker. However, for those who still want to 'give it a go', they may wish to take a few minutes to make sure they have the following necessary traits so you will be a successful, productive telecommuter.

     Planning & Organization  Are they organized in general? Do they know where things are at, and what they will be doing next? Being organized is a top trait of successful teleworkers. Having activities for the day planned out in advance is also helpful to keep on track.

     Self-Disciplined  Being self-disciplined means doing what NEEDS to be done even when you HATE to do it.

     Professional  Professionalism isn't just a behavior; it's a way of thinking. It means they CARE about what they're doing, and how their behavior affects the people they’re doing it for.

     Educated  Do they know what they're doing? Do they have esoteric knowledge and/or extensive experience to back up their right to teach, preach, write, draw, add, subtract, or anything else they're doing and demand to get paid for it?

     Find work intrinsically rewarding  If they are unable to stay motivated to give their absolute best just for the sheer thrill of knowing they're doing a great job, they might have a hard time maintaining a high level of performance when it's just them and their computers around to acknowledge it. When someone works alone at home they have to be able to give themselves all the praise they need.

     Assertive  Saying "No" is a word teleworkers must feel comfortable using if they want people to respect their work, their office space, and their time. No one cares about a project or assignment the way they do; so until someone does, they need to learn to set limits on the amount of time others take you away from their work.

     Prioritized  Whether they use lists, pictures, online planners, or secretaries, they need to prioritize their daily activities, and then perform them in their right order. Why? Because I can assure you that if they don't, either they will leave their offices that evening without having done something that should have been done, OR, they will end up working later than they wanted to, eating into their personal and family time.

     Independent  How many opinions do your staff need before they can get moving on something or make decisions? If they aren't confident enough to think through problems and make decisions about on their own, then they might be too dependent to work alone from home.

     Calm  Do they remain calm when nothing seems to be going right? Or, do they panic when unexpected delays or changes occur? When people react in states of panic, then decisions are usually made poorly.

Sean is a Customer Experience, Contact Center and Help desk manager with over 12 years of experience. He has a terrific pulse on incorporating innovation into the contact center. He's implemented social, outsourcing partners, new technology, and new products, while maintaining an award-winning contact center.

In 2011, his team was awarded the ICMI "Global Call Center of the Year" for Small to Medium-Sized Centers. Follow on Twitter- @SeanBHawkins

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Characteristics of a Great Social Agent

Editor's Note: This article was originally posted on

Social media support is still an uncharted frontier for many support departments. As a result, call center managers may be unsure what attributes to look for when hiring or training a social media support agent. Although a great social agent will share many common characteristics with a great phone or chat support agent, there are certainly some traits that are of greater importance in the social media world. Here are a few attributes that I’ve found are imperative for an agent to be able to provide outstanding social media support.

1. Comfort level with social media

Ideally, your outstanding social agent will have a background in social media. If they already have their own Twitter account that they frequently post to, that’s a good sign that they have a high familiarity with social media and an understanding of how communication operates in that sphere. Plus, it affords the opportunity for a hiring manager to evaluate how the potential agent behaves in the social media space and whether they demonstrate the professionalism and comfort level required to excel in the role.

2. Understanding of business sensitivity

It’s critical for your social agent to always keep in mind that a social media interaction can be viewed by anybody. Thus, it’s important to be able to simultaneously find a suitable resolution for a customer while also avoiding casting the company in a dim light. This is not to say that your business should act like it has something to hide, but rather that Twitter is probably not the place to get bogged down in the exact details of your refund policy. Thus, in a lot of cases, it may be better for your agent to view a tweet or a Facebook post as a starting point for a conversation rather than trying to fix everything in one 140-character tweet. If necessary, the agent should be prepared to reach out by private message, email, or phone call.

3. Empowerment to seek solutions

If a customer is engaging your company on social media, there’s a good chance that they’ve already contacted your Support department through more traditional channels and weren’t able to find a resolution. Your social agent should have the willingness and to be able to provide a solution that for whatever reason, the customer wasn’t able to find in your traditional channels. That includes the ability to engage with other teams that may be able to assist or to bring in a supervisor or manager when appropriate. If there is something that could have been done better when the customer first reached out, then the social agent should be empowered to pass that message on to the appropriate team so your business can get it right the next time.

Now if you’re reading these traits and thinking that they have a lot in common with the attributes of any great support agent, you’re absolutely right! Ultimately, you want your most outstanding agents managing social media support because a social interaction has such high visibility. Your customer base doesn’t have the opportunity to listen to all of your company’s recorded phone calls, but they certainly can browse your Facebook page to see how you have responded to customer grievances. Your CEO likely won’t be taking the time to read through all of your support chat transcripts, but there’s a much higher chance they’ll be monitoring the company Twitter account. With that in mind, keep the above characteristics at the forefront and put your social agent in a position to shine!

Jeremiah Methven leads two support teams for a leading software-as-a-service company. His teams handle all social media support (primarily Twitter and Facebook) as well as API and custom integration support. They also provide internal assistance and coaching, and document and triage all software bugs.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Five Steps to Superior Social Customer Service

by: Sean Hawkins

Last week, ICMI hosted the webinar “Five Steps to Superior Social Customer Service”. Sponsored by Five9, the goal of the webinar was to help businesses “take the guesswork out of social customer service". Presenters Jonathan Russell of Five9, and Ashley Verrill of Software Advice, offered great insight for both the novice and the veterans of social media customer service.

Let’s face it, social media is more than an emerging channel, it is here! According to Verrill, nearly one in three social media users prefer to reach out to a brand for customer service through a social channel compared to the phone. And to further illustrate the power of social, Verrill pointed out that an overwhelming number of customers will recommend a brand to their friends if they have a positive experience via social media. After setting this stage, Verrill and Russell guided attendees through five steps designed to deliver quality service.

The foundation begins with solid planning. Before starting your program, you need to ensure you have a clear strategy. Jonathan Russell emphasized the importance of observation and organization. “You need to have business processes in place to interact, but those things will come AFTER you define where you are.” As part of their strategy, the group was given some best practices concerning which types of social messages deserve a response. They are:

·         Urgent Requests
·         Gratitude
·         Negative sentiment
·         FAQ (“This is the “low-hanging fruit.” It’s easiest thing to respond to, and it can drive traffic to your web site if you have this content there.”)
·         Technical question

Another point of emphasis was listening to your social channels. This should include mentions with and without your handle. Verrill suggested that companies setup queries that pick up every variation of the brand and social handles. Listening should also be extended to competitors as well.

Often, when a customer is tweeting both you and your competitor, they are at the moment of making a purchase decision,” said Verrill.

Thus, active monitoring could lead to a switch in brands. However, it is imperative to be quick and concise during these moments. A timely response and follow-up is essential.

“It’s impossible to expect that companies reply to every message on social, that’s why creating your strategy first is so important” said Verrill.  However, she continues, "there’s no excuse for some of the response rates I’ve seen. I ran an experiment last year where the brands responded just 14 percent of time.”

To add to this, Russell provided insight on delivering the ideal response. His advice was to maintain the human element and avoid providing agents with impersonal canned responses.

In addition, webinar attendees were given advice on case handling and performance measurements.  Overall, this was an informative session. Those committed to offer amazing customer service on social media were not disappointed. With the knowledge provided by such an outstanding panel, contact center managers have been positioned for success. For those who didn’t attend, you are in luck. A recording of the live webinar is now available for on demand viewing.

Many thanks to our friends at ICMI and their sponsor.

Sean is a Customer Experience, Contact Center and Help desk manager with over 12 years of experience. He has a terrific pulse on incorporating innovation into the contact center. He's implemented social, outsourcing partners, new technology, and new products, while maintaining an award-winning contact center.

In 2011, his team was awarded the ICMI "Global Call Center of the Year" for Small to Medium-Sized Centers. Follow on Twitter @SeanBHawkins