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Implementing a Phone-Training System

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While a task as simple as answering the phone may sound easy enough, says Robert Rick, senior business development manager at Axalta Coating Systems, many shop owners are oblivious to their employee’s behavior on the phone.

“I work with business performance groups and we do mystery shopper calls all the time,” he says. “These owners and operators, 90 percent of them are shocked by how their customers are not taken care of.”

Jason Wells, CEO of ContactPoint Solutions, says to think of the importance of phone etiquette this way: If a shop is doing an average repair order of $2,000, roughly $800 of gross profit is waiting on the other end of the phone every time it rings.

“They’re either going to get it repaired with you or with somebody else,” Wells says of that customer. “That’s why it’s become so critical. On average, a call lasts three minutes. That shop has got three minutes to capture $2,000.”

That’s why improving your shop’s phone procedure is critical to retaining customers and improving CSI scores. Implementing a phone-training program for staff can make all the difference in capturing that job by assessing employees, analyzing mistakes and turning problem areas into strengths.

The Most Valuable Lead

While it’s impossible to convert every call into a sale, Wells says that based on Google search data, the most valued lead a company can generate is through a phone call.

“When you get a phone call, you have a customer that is at the closest point of buying of any other kind of lead that you might get,” he says.

Wells says the reason many of these leads aren’t converted into business is due to one big missed opportunity: asking for the business. According to LogMyCalls, which provides call tracking and recording solutions (including call tracking numbers and analytics reports), representatives in most businesses are only asking for business 13 percent of the time. However, if an employee asks for the business, the customer is 10.4 times more likely to be converted into a sale.

Rick says reps often don’t ask for the business because they’re scared of the selling aspect and discussing price. But he also points to an attitude problem that he says he often confronts when working with shops.

“So many times people pick up the phone and it’s picked up in a manner where it’s a disruption to the employee’s day,” he says. “I see it every time. They take a big breath. It’s like, ‘I’ve got to get this other work done, I’ve got customers here, I’ve got invoicing to do and now someone’s calling me?’”

That’s why Rick says proper phone training and implementing a standardized way of handling an incoming phone call is key in any repair shop.

“The purpose of the call isn’t to get the customer off the phone,” he says. “It’s to find out what’s ailing their car and professionally recommend a course of action to bring their car in for repairs.”

Creating a Training Plan

Before implementing a phone training plan, Rick says to start by looking at your closing ratio. He says shops should have a sales closing ratio of roughly 70 percent. That means that of 10 incoming phone calls, seven of those should be converted into jobs.

“What we need to do is, number one, open that relationship up,” Rick says.

Wells and Rick outline some simple steps to take to ensure your staff does this:

Assess your staff. Wells says that it’s not enough to just listen in on staff as you’re walking by them in the shop.

“You have to have a consistent measurement,” he says. “You have to monitor progress and track a trend over time. Then it can start to integrate into your culture.” Rick recommends setting up a phone recording system or purchasing a basic recording device.

Wells says that tools like LogMyCalls are even able to use speech recognition technology and proprietary algorithms to extract data from every call coming through a shop and compile it into a comprehensive report.

Rick does note that shop owners have to be aware of any laws in their state requiring the notification of phone recording. It’s something, he says, that should be added to the HR handbook to avoid potential legal issues.

Review the Calls. He then recommends listening to the recordings and evaluating the calls for a period of roughly 20 days to gain a sense of the calls as a whole and any trends taking place.

Rick also advises using “mystery callers” or calling into the shop yourself to simulate typical customer service scenarios.

“Are they meeting your expectations or do they need to be retrained?” he says.

Coach Staff. Once an owner has the information and has tracked the calls for a given period of time, Wells says to start analyzing where the calls were lost. He recommends meeting with employees for individual coaching sessions. During those meetings, he says to focus specifically on the strengths and problems that the employee has. Then play back some of the phone call recordings as an example for the employee to learn from.

“If I grade you on a piece of paper, you may have the opinion that you do better than that,” he says. “When humans listen to themselves on the phone, it’s a different story.”

Ask the employee to grade themselves, and then talk through the recording, discussing any issues from the call or ways to avoid similar mistakes in the future.

For example, maybe the employee sounded rushed or was nervous about “selling.” That provides an opportunity for improvement.

If common problems seem to emerge, Rick recommends creating a standard operating procedure (SOP) that provides a step-by-step process for answering the phone that all employees must follow. He notes that this can also be a way to review progress in the future and evaluate how employees are doing based off the SOP.

Wells also says to make sure you’re celebrating the victories and rewarding good phone behavior.

Rick then recommends creating a standard operating procedure for phone procedures and having each staff member sign it.

“Once you standardize an incoming phone call and what you expect the staff to do, it becomes a lot easier,” he says.

Integrate Training into the Culture. Wells says that phone training can’t just be a “check-the-box” training for continuous success. “If people take the time and take the energy, they can double their conversion ratio,” he says.

Wells says monthly meetings can be key to maintaining the phone communication standards set in your shop. It’s a time to discuss if anybody is struggling with certain situations and get advice from fellow team members.

Rick also recommends a five-minute monthly “mystery shopper” phone call to make sure staff is sticking to the training.

“The customer does not care that you’ve had a bad morning,” he says. “We need to be always sampling our customers. If our skills aren’t fine-tuned, we’re at risk of losing a job.” 

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