Fable Friday Part I: The New York Times crossword and other stories

The New York Times had a fun clue a few weeks ago, four letter answer:  Be a very fast learner?  The answer was “cram.”

Gregory Solo Medtronic 2010The clue got me thinking about the times I’ve had to cram for a test.  Now I make my living teaching people how to sell things, and although it’s an important skill, you wouldn’t think of it as urgent, something you have to cram for.  But over the years I’ve done a few projects where it was critical that people learned skills very quickly, and I thought you would enjoy two of them, one today and another next Friday.

Long before many of the big banks merged, there was a great commercial bank in Chicago that had about the best suite of treasury services in the country.  Their call center was enormous and fielded thousands of product-specific help calls throughout the day.  The manager of the call center was concerned that he had hundreds of subject matter experts on specific products, but no one who knew them all.  This caused routing and queuing problems and wasted time.

It’s easy to see why.  A customer might wire money and the bank would process the wire through the Fed. Later the customer would call back just to get the Fed wire number to confirm the funds had been remitted. Simple enough, but only the wire people could help. So while wire customers were queued up and waiting for help, other consultants might be idle.  It reminded me of the book “Fahrenheit 451”, where, if you wanted to read “Moby Dick” you had to go to the guy who had memorized it, since all books were banned.

Here’s what the manager wanted us to do.  Direct each of the telephone reps to track their top ten most frequent customer inquiries.  Then during slow periods, teach our company’s consultants how to answer the inquiry.  (“Go into Hogan, click on ‘Wires’, locate customer ID number…”)

We took our lists of inquiries and solution steps back to Dallas and wrote them up in direction step language, accompanied by icons (“Stop”  “Go To” etc.), then brought them back to the subject matter experts to verify they were correct.  “Walk through this inquiry following only our directions and tell us if we left anything out, or if there is an error.” We fixed or enhanced all the directions from their feedback.

Then we took them to a few tele-consultants who had no familiarity with the process and asked them to respond to the inquiry following the completed steps.  When this worked, we taught groups of people how to answer each of these questions in short, two-hour sessions in the late afternoons, using our directions as guides.  The newly trained tele-consultants then took the guides to their work stations and began accepting customer calls for the specific inquiries they had just been trained to handle.

In six months we had trained the entire call center to handle the top ten inquiries for every treasury service, which sped up customer handle time and reduced abandon rates significantly. And as the newly trained tele-consultants got more familiar with the products, inquiries and systems, they learned on their own how to answer additional questions.

It was a huge money-saver for the bank, and I always thought that manager was a genius. He knew how to get his people to cram for the biggest test of all, how to…

Think Like Your Customer

Next Friday we’ll look at how those catalog companies know how to sell you a tie to go along with that shirt you bought over the phone.





About Gregory LaMothe
I teach people how to sell things. I own the company ActionSystems. Visit my website at www.actionsystemstraining.com.

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