Speak up Featured

8:00pm EDT August 26, 2007

Open communication with employees shouldn’t end after the training process. When running a company that relies on good client relations, a healthy dialog among workers, management and the executive level sets a precedent that fosters success and retention.

Smart Business asked Mike Langenfeld, executive vice president for call center operations at InfoCision Management Corporation in Akron, about the role of communication in the workplace.

Is there a particular educational or job background that tends to produce better communicators?

Retailing, customer service, food service industry — jobs that require contact with people are ideal for this. We are looking for anyone with a good attitude and a willingness to learn. We can teach them to be successful.

You can teach product knowledge. Can you teach phone personality?

You absolutely can. We teach sales skills and customer service skills, whatever is needed for the client. We teach the communicators how to listen and then how to respond as well as how to use their voice to connect with the other person. Objection handling, internalizing and assertiveness are all skills that can be taught.

How does the InfoCision training program work?

The initial new-hire training is four to five weeks long. We have one week of in-class training, where the trainee stays in the classroom environment the majority of the week. During week one, we use instructor-lead presentations and take into account adult learning principals in how the information is taught and coached. The in-class trainer then works on the floor with the new hire during the second week of training. Additional classroom time is provided in week two.

During their third and fourth weeks of training, a call center trainer works on the floor with the new hires, continuing to develop their presentation skills, and getting them comfortable with the work. The trainers will work one on one coaching the trainees. We do still provide additional in-class training modules in weeks three and four. After four weeks of training, we are able to have 90 percent of the trainees working within 80 percent of the average performance of the established center. That trainee is then considered a graduate and is moved on to a supervisor team.

If a trainee is not able to perform within 80 percent of the average, they are given an additional week on the training team, and additional help is provided.

Do some communicators work better with one product or service than another?

Yes. We evaluate our communicators on the various programs separately. We will then try and place our people on the programs with which they excel. While the various skills can be taught, the individuals will have natural skill sets that may make them stronger on a particular program.

Employee, worker, team member: does it matter what communicators are called?

Absolutely. In an industry that is known to have representatives and agents, InfoCision has ‘communicators.’ They communicate the message of our clients.

We work for our clients and everything we say on the phones is approved by the client. We are an extension of the client and it is our job to ‘communicate’ the same message regardless of which communicator is making or taking the call.

Do communicators respond more to cash incentives or other perks?

It depends on the location. Cash in hand is good, but workers don’t like taxes being taken out. They like to be personally rewarded for success and prefer instant rewards versus drawings for a chance to win.

It’s also effective to offer incentives, such as flexible hours, vacation time, fitness centers, an on-site doctor, tobacco cessation programs, weight-management programs, wellness competitions between buildings and discounted daycare.

How do you build a sense of team with your workers?

We make daily announcements, hold biweekly meetings, put out team newsletters and maintain team boards in the call centers. There are special recognitions and awards at monthly Employee of the Month ceremonies to top performing teams.

How often do you poll employees about job satisfaction?

Once a month we have a Quality Environment Assessment and will hold open forums with random selections of our communicators to make sure we get feedback. Our president and CEO will end every Employee of the Month ceremony with a Q&A session to encourage constant feedback from our communicators.

MIKE LANGENFELD is executive vice president for Call Center Operations at InfoCision Management Corporation, Akron. Reach him at (330) 668-1400 or mikel@infocision.com. In business for 25 years, InfoCision Management Corporation is the second largest privately held teleservices company and a leading provider of customer care services, commercial sales and marketing for a variety of Fortune 500 companies and smaller businesses. InfoCision is also a leader of inbound and outbound marketing for nonprofit, religious and political organizations. InfoCision operates 28 call centers at 12 locations throughout Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. For more information, visit www.infocision.com.