During this election season, I try to do what I can to help the candidates I’d like to see win, and the propositions I’d like to see pass or not pass (I live in California where we have about a dozen propositions to vote on). I decided to make phone calls to undecided voters for my presidential candidate and one of the propositions, and I got to experience what outbound call center agents/telemarketers get to experience every working day. And they have my deepest respect!
My two experiences were very different, as are various call centers, depending on their level of technological adoption. The phone calling system for the presidential candidate was pretty sophisticated, and via the Internet, it provided me with a list of key voters to contact in battleground states, a script to use in my conversations, and an easy interface to report back my contacts. Because it was web based, I was able to make calls from the comfort of my home. The script was simple to follow, and I clicked on the various options to report on the contact (eg, not home, refused to talk, non-English speaker, etc.), as well as which candidate they were voting for or leaning toward. It was a well-run operation that made it simple to make calls. There were links to sites providing background information, FAQs, etc. in case I wanted to read up on the candidate’s platform and policies before making calls. The system automatically kept track of how many calls I made, the outcome of the call, and any additional notes or comments I added.
My experience with the phone calls for one of the propositions was totally different. It was not computerized, and I had to go to the phone bank to make the calls instead of calling from my home. The script was printed on several sheets of paper, and was very complex to follow (eg, if the person answers yes to question 1, go to question 3, which was 2 pages away). The names and numbers of people to call were provided to us on paper, and we had to keep track of the calls and responses on two different pieces of paper, which made it very confusing. At the end of the night we had to manually add up how many calls we made, how many wrong numbers we reached, how many people refused to talk to us, didn’t speak English, etc.
Making calls for the proposition was a very manual process, and not at all easy to navigate through, while calling on behalf of the candidate was all computerized and online, making it much simpler and more user friendly. It was much easier to stick to the script using the computerized process rather than the manual process, so I assume I was more effective while speaking to voters since I didn’t have to shuffle through different pages to follow the script. And because I had to manually record my progress and the results of the calls on two different forms, it was more likely I made mistakes and left out information.
While I didn’t come in contact with overtly hostile voters, not everyone was willing to talk or listen to my spiel (not that I blame them – like everyone else, I don’t like it when I get these kinds of calls). For the most part the people I contacted were cordial, but there were certainly a few who were pretty rude – even when they supported the candidate on whose behalf I was calling. Again, I hate receiving these calls, and I can’t blame anyone who is less than overwhelmed to chat about their political leanings.
What are the lessons learned from this experience? First, provide the right tools for your contact center agents (inbound or outbound). We’ve had CTI for years, but how many contact center actually have CTI implemented? Way too few. Good tools can make all the difference. Also, make the process as simple and easy to use as possible for the agents – it will make them more effective and productive. A good user interface is important for both agent efficiency and accuracy in terms of reporting and tracking results.
And lastly, respect and value your contact center agents – they have a very difficult job that requires interfacing with people who aren’t always friendly or courteous. Give your agents a big pat on the back – they deserve it.