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Tips for an Effective Call Center

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As Fix Auto’s network continued to grow and grow, one entity grew with it: the call center.

Courtesy Lesa Laird

It doesn’t matter if you’re a small- or mid-sized MSO—like, say, Carubba Collision in Buffalo, N.Y., which has a three-person center manning 12 locations—or you’re as large as Fix Auto, which handles roughly 27,000 calls per month for over 180 shops nationwide. A call center can not only streamline the scheduling process, but also free up the collision center to focus on the one-on-one interactions with customers inside the shop.

“Our members really enjoy having us support them,” says Lesa Laird, senior director of client services for Fix Auto. “We handle the shops’ scheduling needs, and they get to focus on meeting and greeting.”

The Fix Auto call center, which is staffed with 30 agents working seven days a week, doesn’t just manage appointments, though. The center collects CSI data for shops, surveying customers on their repair experiences and determining what is and isn’t working so shops know how to improve. On top of it all, the call center itself is staffed with a management team that tracks employee performance in order to improve the customer experience.

Laird outlines some key tips to keep in mind when building a call center for your operation.

Scheduling Appointments

While Fix Auto’s call center doesn’t update customers on a repair order, it does schedule work for its network of shops, freeing up facilities to concentrate on crafting the estimate. Laird has some things to keep in mind when scheduling appointments through a call center:

Contact the customer quickly: The sooner you contact someone after they file a claim, the quicker you get them into a shop. Laird says customers are appreciative of how the call center responds once a claim comes through, which averages about an eight-minute turnaround time.

Coordinate with the shop’s schedule: The call center has a proprietary-based software program that allows it to conform to the shop’s calendar and availability, which is updated by the shop.

“When we’re on phone with customers, we can pull up their calendar and see when they're available, right then and there,” she says.

Conform to the customer’s needs: If a customer is asking to schedule for a time when the shop isn’t available, put the customer on hold and contact the shop to see if it can accommodate the request.

Don’t impersonate the shop: Make it clear that the call center is merely an extension of the shop, and that the customer will be greeted by someone else upon arriving at the shop.

“We have a customer service role. We’re not calling on behalf of a repair,” Laird says. “It’s very comforting for shops and insurance carriers to know that.”

Answer calls on days when shops are closed: The Fix Auto call center is staffed seven days a week, including holidays, which helps shops obtain customers they would normally miss.

“If you get in an accident on Christmas, transportation is very important for you,” Laird says. “You can ease the pain by just scheduling an appointment for the future.”

Schedule transportation: Fix Auto partners with a rental car company to set up transportation for the customer on top of an estimate appointment, freeing up shops even more.

Follow up on estimates: While the call center doesn’t handle the logistics of an estimate, the staff will follow up on a customer who has received an estimate, but hasn’t returned to the shop. If the customer is interested, staff will schedule an appointment—if they’re not interested, the staff finds out why.

“It’s important to know why they’re not coming back,” Laird says. “Maybe the estimate was too high, or they didn’t have a good experience. We capture that data and share it with the shops. That lost business has value to them.”

Customer Feedback

A dedicated phone staff has the ability to focus on gathering CSI data for shops when not scheduling appointments, which is then uploaded into CCC ONE’s UpdatePlus program for shops to evaluate. Here are some things to keep in mind for getting quality customer feedback:

Be flexible and patient with customer surveys: Laird says customers tend to be over-contacted in terms of surveys, which can be especially detrimental to CSI scores when it comes to stress one experiences during an accident. Don’t attempt to contact the customer more than twice.

Use email and texts: The call center staff sends an initial email or text to the customer asking about the experience. If the customer doesn’t respond within a few days, a staff member will follow up with a phone call. Laird says this system lands about 60 percent of customers for responses.

“We contact electronically first because people want to respond at their own pace on their own time,” she says.

Keep questions short and simple: Make the questions very easy for the customer to answer, providing scales for the customers to rate their experience on, and ask yes or no questions, such as, “Would you recommend the shop to a family member?” Plus, Laird says you should be able to get some quality testimonials for the business.

“Thank customer for bringing in vehicles, make sure they’re happy with it, then say, ‘By the way, we have follow-up questions,’” she says. “First and foremost, you have to show you care. Then you can ask questions. They won’t even know they participated in a survey if you did it right.”

Laird says your typical survey call should last less than five minutes, and you should be asking no more than one or two questions.

Don’t leave customers waiting: Laird says a business should shoot for a dropped call percentage between 5 and 10 percent. Fix Auto’s stands at about 7 percent because the staff doesn’t allow someone to wait on hold for more than a few minutes.

Employee Audits

It’s important for Fix Auto’s call center to schedule appointments and track CSI data for shops—but none of that is possible if the call center staff itself isn’t in top form. Laird lays out some ways to ensure the high performance from your staff:

Create a script: The call center script is designed to guide the conversation and remind staff to hit certain points for scheduling or getting feedback.

Record phone calls: While you are legally bound to record phone calls, they can actually offer an opportunity to improve the customer experience. Management audits a certain percentage of the calls at random and scores them on a scale, and then offers feedback if staff members veer from the script.

“We can even listen into live conversations and whisper to them if possible,” Laird says.

Offer recorded calls to shops: The call center keeps a database of recorded calls that the shops can listen to in order to prepare for customers.

“It’s a nice feature for our members to enjoy,” Laird says. “Sometimes they want to better understand the dialogue with a customer when scheduling appointment. You get a temperature of the conversation. It gives full transparency to our shops.”

Adjust to the customer: Being in a car accident isn’t something you look forward to, which means training staff to deal with emotional customers.

“Above all, make sure they’re being an empathetic, real person,” Laird says. “You really just need to understand your audience. For an elderly women you need to speak up; if there’s a language barrier, annunciation is important. It’s about being a good listener.”

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