Friday, 23 September 2011


I spent the day yesterday at the NSW State PSSA Netball finals watching 4 games. These were the best 8 of 480 NSW primary teams in a knockout that saw my daughter's team defeated in the first round. They played a consolation round and I stayed with Lauren to watch the finals.

She's expressed a desire to move up to the next level and been selected for rep netball, so while she doesn't always like it, I try to analyse what's happening in the play - who stepped up, what works or doesn't - and we try to figure out what it takes to raise their game.

It's a process we see in elite sports a lot, but in business it's essential, too. I'm talking netball here, but it doesn't require genius to apply the same observations in business - maybe your business.

The first observation was that, having reached the top 8 teams, the best teams had no weak players; there was consistency and depth of talent. For example, while having a tall girl (woman!) in the goal circle who could reliably put it in worked when you had scrappy competition and a couple of players on your team that could get the ball to her, this didn't take them to the next level.

We saw at lower levels big girls who were aggressive and pushed, but didn't have real skills, knocked out before the top 8.

The players who trained at the winning level worked together and could use advanced techniques like leaping to land on one foot and again to the other foot and leap on and throw the ball to a team player already in the right position, and cover a third of the court distance without being called for 'stepping'. It takes trust, co-ordination and skill to do this.

But most of all, in the best teams, all the players had already decided to review and discard limiting behaviours. I saw no sulking when the second best team was losing. Many of the teams had a high level of play and there were lots of rep and state players in some teams, but even this was not enough. The winning team members all had a standard of play in their sights, and came from regions where, based on the results coming into the finals, had serious contenders to test themselves against in their own backyard.

And the winning team? There were no 11 year olds that looked like 17 year old women, as we saw in some teams earlier in the competition. They were little girls from the Hunter Valley. There was no pushing, and while they were fast, there was an economy of effort born of outstanding skill levels and teamwork. It made me wonder what all of the physicality and stress was about in our first game, and the importance of being in a team where everyone had decided to step up.

Friday, 16 September 2011


With so many risks and compliance commitments to employ staff, it's no wonder that outsourcing appeals to Australian business and government. For Gen Y people with an incredible 40%+ engaged in some kind of independent business activities aside from their day job, it must seem a way of life.

You specify what you want, you negotiate a price, and hire a contractor to take responsibility for a task or area. However, outsourcing contact centre services can be a bit different to engaging a marketing consultant or skilled trasdesperson.

When you engage a simple message or reception service with us at Well Done, depending on the service level, there may be a monthly fee plus rates for the calls we actually handle on your behalf. You're generally not tied to providing a set volume of calls beyond this commitment. We effectively supply you with support on a 'standby' basis, and it's our responsibility to ensure that sufficient trained staff are available to take your calls.

When you outsource in this way, you are generally outsourcing defined tasks with clear protocols to respond to a call or event. It needs to be straightforward enough for someone, with good systems and links to more information behind them, to answer in your organisation's name on the fly and follow your instructions without warning, at any time. In other words, while operators will be trained to handle your calls, they won't know when these calls will come next as opposed to the calls of other clients on the same skills-based queue. This is harder than just answering for one business and knowing it inside out, and we look for resilience, common sense and flair in the generalist staff that we employ to do this work.

Alternatively, when you engage dedicated staff within a contact centre to handle your service, this is usually contracted with a time line, known average call lengths and task schedules, and call or work volumes and incidences. You may also specify people with particular skill sets; for instance, at our International Customer Service Centre in Manila, we can recruit qualified sales people, accountants, web designers, IT or general Help Desk staff for your services. 

It's a bigger commitment on your part, but you can still outsource the management of these staff to us and secure service delivery at known rates. It will normally involve some specific training in your processes or CRM software, and because particular staff become familiar with your work. It's reasonable to expect much more detailed handling and facility in your systems.

Depending on volumes, complexity and your service requirements, we may supply a general supervisor for your service, or a dedicated Team Leader on the spot who can ensure KPI compliances and train and guide staff on the team. 

Whether you decide to outsource a simple service on 'standby' or contract a dedicated team, either way, you still have to manage your own business. You can outsource particular work, but you make the decisions that structure your business and ensure that everything is working well together.

Once you realise this and think it through, outsourcing can be a great way to closely review all the procedures in your business. It requires and offers more discipline and control because, fundamentally, you can't outcource what you can't define.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011


Did you get my email?

Working in sales I've sent, received and seen enough missed messages to know that email is not infallible. Technical issues and human error can intervene, so some goodwill and perseverence is recommended if things go wrong. 

For the record, here are some of the issues we've encountered:

1. Wrong Address - it's usually safer to copy and paste than rekey anything, particularly phone numbers and email addresses. If your email program auto-suggests previous recipients, just bear in mind that it can also auto-suggest the ones that didn't work as well unless you clear these from the automatically captured list. You'll normally get a bounce back of a failed email minutes from sending it, but several times I've had such bounces a week or more later, so beware. 

Check the original name spelling, punctuation within the name, the domain address (especially the .com and variations).  Most addresses will be in the form of <name>@company or ISP domain that you can check on their website, though larger corporates may also have private domains not easily checked and recent changes to naming protocols have opened this up beyond .com, .gov and .org. Look out for .biz and more.

2. Spam filters - a graphic in your signature or an attachment, or the use of a particular word,  can cause the programs filtering your recipient's mail to presume it is spam and file it in the junk folder. Ask your recipient to add your name to their address list to prevent this (or white list it in their domain), or to check their junk folder if your email isn't in their Inbox. When all else fails, email in plain text and remove the images.

3. Lost in their server - in one curious case all emails to a domain address were not received. Our IT was able to verify that the emails reached the server, yet they were not routed to the recipient. Emails from other parties reached him, however, so we could only flag a problem for his webmaster to investigate. 

4. Misconfigured Domain Name Server (DNS) - if your recipient's domain name server is incorrectly set up, emails won't get through.

5. Misconfigured or temporarily unavailable Mail System - if your domain or Internet Service Provider (ISP) have a problem with set up, or find themselves temporarily blacklisted because of a spam issue, emails won't get through until the spam or configuration issue is resolved.

6. Free web mail services - these work most of the time, but they aren't as reliable as an email service you pay to have hosted on your domain or by your ISP. We don't recommend that you use free web email addresses for the messages that our Contact Centres send you.

7. Email deleted - if your program automatically deletes emails after a period or your mouse hovers over the delete button you can lose mail without being aware of this. I've seen Thunderbird move a message semmingly of its own accord just because you've entered certain keystrokes when you think you're typing elsewhere on the screen. 'Undo' and vigilance is all.

8. Work Pressures - in business many of us receive hundreds of emails each day. A few days off sick can take hours to catch up on. We've addressed this problem in Client Services support by introducing a central CSR ticketing system. Emails to this point create a job ticket that is centrally logged and allocated to a staff member to handle with an ETA response period. If someone is away, overdue work is visible and can be actioned by others. In general, though, some understanding of the realities of the working world, and patience, is advisable.

9. Server glitches - for an email to be sent it must leave your PC and be sent by your ISP or server and then be retrieved and routed by their ISP and server. Mostly this works well, but there can be glitches at any point. Follow up by telephone can be sensible if the matter is timely or important.

Fortunately, contact centre messages are less fraught because of the systems in place to send and track large volumes of emails. Our operators use 'Message drop downs' that are set up to send messages to preconfigured recipients; all they need to do is determine what the call is about and who should be notified how.

Email is great, but it is not infallible, and when it fails it's often no one's fault in particular. Keeping tabs on urgent matters and methodically working through the possible causes of email failure with goodwill are always the most sensible courses of action.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Call Recording issues

In the past call recording has been the preserve of larger organisations, but the proliferation of 'on demand' PABX recording and the arrival of low cost 1300 number recording options has brought this within the reach of smaller businesses.

Call recording can be useful where your business wants to record that information or terms have been understood and accepted for legal reasons, or where you're running your own call centre and want to use this for training purposes.

Where you are outsourcing your calls to a contact centre, there probably isn't much point to record simple messages being taken, but used properly there can be some benefit with it to refine the handling of more complex services.

Important Considerations
You need to understand the difference from having staff that answer your calls all the time and know your business inside out, and the job of the contact centre generalist. The generalist gets little warning that this next call is for you, and has literally seconds to orient to your protocols. Simpler call handling protocols and higher volumes make their job easier, but be aware that it is inherently harder to answer for a range of businesses than for one you work in all the time. 

When you listen to calls you should also remember that the operator's perspective will differ from your own. A request that makes perfect sense to you, with your indepth experience, may not be so clear to a generalist. If the call isn't handled in the way you expect, pick a good call recording and one that you have concerns about, and send these to your Client Services support team for an opinion. They are better placed to understand what's going on in the call from both perspectives and can often recommend changes to the screen instructions or operator training that will make all the difference.

Legalities around Call Recording
When we record calls on your behalf, we play a message warning the caller that their call may be recorded for training or quality monitoring purposes. We also advise our operators that these calls are being recorded. This is a requirement of the federal Telecommunications (Interception) Act 1979. 

The general rule under this Act is that calls may not be recorded, but there are a few exceptions.  Organisations are allowed to record calls to record instructions, provide a record in the event of a dispute, or monitor training or coaching of staff handling calls provided all parties to the call are warned at the beginning of the conversation that the call may be recorded or monitored. This provides people with the opportunity to end the call or ask to be transferred to another line where recording does not take place.

When you decide to record calls to your 1300 number, a message is played to this effect to your callers, but this is not heard by the contact centre operators answering your calls. It is your legal responsibility to notify us if you intend to record your calls so that we can advise our operators, otherwise you will be in breach of the Act.

For more information on how this operates in Australia see

Friday, 3 June 2011

Council Customer Service Conference Wrap

How to get good Customer Service DNA for your organisation or team was the theme at this year's National Local Government Customer Service Network conference at Eaglehawk Resort near Canberra but it was 'share the love', the catchcry of Oprah fan and outgoing NLGCSN President, Pauline Webb, that was echoed from the floor. 

This was a conference with a difference for lots of reasons, but the chief one being that it was organised by and for the volunteer Executive of the Network, all Customer Service Managers in the sector themselves, not commercial interests. It was peer networking at its best.

Trust walk exercise at the conference

The network now has 93 members across all Australian states. They organise Council specific training, like this conference, and also group training in regions where enough members are interested in attending. They organise group deals on mystery shop services for members, share information about common issues (procedures and standard forms) and generally provide the invaluable peer support to people working otherwise fairly unsupported in the sector. 

Well Done had people in Sales, Client Services, Operations and Training attending. There can be no better way for us to sit in with our clients (and others) and become acquainted with their concerns. The multiplier effect within our organisation when we all headed back to base was invaluable.

Topics this year included how and when to intervene when you have some toxic behaviour going on within the team; how smartphones are automating some of the easy enquiries and leaving Customer Service staff to handle more complex enquiries in person;  the best ways to build a positive culture within your organisation, and how effective this can be when you create change with backing from the top. 

This year Councils attended from all states - a first! The conference venue changes from year to year, and members are polled for suggested topics and speakers that they would like. Unlike parks, roads and facilities, the results of Council investment into Customer Service are less tangible, and as a result, Customer Service is usually the lowest priority for funding, even though improvements in productivity can ripple throughout the entire organisation. This is more than a shame - it is a waste - because often the real gains in productivity are created by learning from your peers at events like these.

Perspective can be a wonderful thing. I certainly found that many of the issues that we deal with in sales have customer service dimensions. For anyone working in Council Customer Service sector, this annual event is a must!

For more information about the National Local Government Customer Service Network go to www.


Tuesday, 31 May 2011

The minimum that you need to stay in business today

Last night I went to a free small business marketing talk organised by ITEC, a not for profit small business training organisation that helps businesses learn and network in our region. These kinds of organisations get State and Federal funding and are worth seeking out wherever you are.

The guest speaker was Donna Hanson from Prime Solutions Training & Consulting and she was speaking about technology transitions. Had I come to this meeting two years ago when I returned from a long break raising children, I would have taken more notes, but she covered a number of the marketing tools that I have been checking out for our own Contact Centre business over this period. She's particularly good at nailing the practical basics and her video training materials are used by small business and corporates not keen to retrain their staff every time the version of Office in use changes.

At Well Done we handle support enquiries from the whole gamut of business, from start ups to corporate divisions, and based on some of the questions we field, I thought that Donna's checklist for the bare minimum you need to be taken seriously in business was fair enough.

The minimum you need came down to:

  1. Buy a domain name for your emails - free web mail doesn't look serious and professional and a domain is cheap enough to buy. You usually have the email URL and service thrown in and have the option of the web hosting;
  2. A landline with at least Voicemail;
  3. A mobile with Voicemail;
  4. Some serious accounting software - MYOB at least;
  5. Broadband internet, not dial up;
  6. A working printer with spare ink to hand!
  7. A website that is updated regularly.

Although people that are calling us are past the Voicemail fumble and want serious reception on tap, a surprising number still use gmail and hotmail addresses. Donna's view is that you can't be taken seriously in business without a domain name. Our IT engineer's view is more practical - these email services are free but unreliable. 

Their servers can go down, they are more subject to attack, and free webmail is not guaranteed to perform. Messages to web email accounts are far more likely to be overly sensitive to spam filters and messages won't always get through. Why pay us to answer your calls when you may never get the message? It's just not a good use of your time and money to leave this to chance.

Of course, we're talking about the bare minimum standard, and even if you do decide to outsource your reception, there are great differences in what you can hope to achieve with off the shelf call centre industry software and mass market message services and the proprietary technology in use at Well Done... but that's another story!

For more information
Donna has a newsletter with lots of tips that you can sign up for at this website. ITEC also has free online marketing courses for small business worth checking out here.

Monday, 2 May 2011

SMS Delays

Recently we were asked about SMS delays by two different clients. As it turns out, who your telephone carrier is and where you are can have bearing on this...

Causes of SMS Delay

At Well Done, we send out our SMS messages immediately. If a client is experiencing delays in receipt, it is likely to be a problem with the carrier. However, for the record, here are the potential causes of delay:
  • Their phone is out of range - an SMS requires less signal to get through than a phone call, and will normally get through where a call may not
  • Carrier capcity constraints - SMSs will normally get through in metropolitan areas faster BUT where there are high call volumes SMSs are given a lower priority by carriers than phone calls. They may allow a backlog to develop until enough bandwidth is available - it depends on their bandwidth and towers available.
  • Volumes A large number of SMS messages going out at once - this is unlikely at Well Done as operators are taking calls all the time and our SMS messages aren't sent out all at once.
Note that your message is sent once the operator completes their call log. The message is time and date stamped on our Customer Management Application (CMA) both when the call was first received and when the message log was sent. We can also go into our message gateway account and check when an SMS was sent.

At Well Done we use Messagenet because of their superior service provision over cheaper alternatives; we need to ensure fast and reliable handling of emergency calls.