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Leveraging the Human Equation 
     

    The right training for service, sales and collection employees can make a substantial difference in the corporate bottom line ... but traditional "soft skills" training is not enough.  In ten years of ongoing research at leading corporations around the world, Major Media Learning Resources has identified and profiled the behaviors, skills, knowledge, attitudes and processes that differentiate outstanding performers from the norm in terms of such key business metrics as: 
     

  • Improved customer loyalty, as measured by retention and repurchase rates,
  • Increased employee satisfaction, as measured by employee retention rates,
  • Improved collection rates at all stages of delinquency, as measured by percentage and amount of  promises to pay vs. promises kept.
 
    In every customer-contact task involving more than the most basic interactions, we found that the most successful performers use a consultative process involving task-specific uses of high-level communication skills to build relationships, diagnose and solve problems, avoid misunderstandings and prevent or resolve conflicts.  
    The research also revealed that 95% of  experienced service, sales and collections employees either lack these critical skills or are unable to use them effectively on the job -- despite previous "soft skills" and job-specific training.   
    All Major Media training programs, whether custom-designed or off-the-shelf, are based on this research and analysis, which is continually evaluated and validated in real world application.  The following case studies, tracing the research underlying the design of two of our training products, illustrate the research methods we employ to ensure significant business results. 

 
Major Media used the following methodology to isolate the skills which contribute to an employee's ability to retain individual customers who have decided to withdraw their patronage.  

The research group consisted of 100 members of a dedicated customer retention unit within a major financial services organization's call center. All participants in the study had previous training in product information, customer service and sales, as well as six months to one year of experience in the specialized unit. Approximately 80% of their discussions were initiated by the customer. The remainder were outgoing calls to individuals who had recently canceled their accounts.  

In studying this group, it became apparent that the behavior of the representatives and their customers, cut across industry lines. We found that the reasons why customers leave relates less to the true value of the product or service than to the customer's perception of its value in terms of:  

  • the customer's life situation, 
  • the specific or general competitive environment, 
  • the customer's experience with the company's employees, product(s) or service. 
The common denominator was the customers' belief either:  
  • that they did not have a real need for the product; or 
  • that they could obtain a better price or better service elsewhere. 
This held true even in the small fraction of cases involving a specific grievance or dispute.  

In conducting this study, our goal was to determine the extent to which the individual representatives' behaviors influenced the outcome of their calls -- and whether highly successful, average, and below average results could be correlated to the use of specific interactive communication skills.  The following research methods were used 

  • Analysis of detailed questionnaires completed by all participants. Questions were worded to reveal patterns of behavior and attitudes about the customers with whom they spoke. Responses were cross-correlated to participants' success in retaining customers.  
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  • Confidential interviews with 21 group members whose retention rates reflected the overall group curve, ranging from extremely unsuccessful (less than 10% of customers retained) to extremely successful (more than 60% retained). These interviews were used to amplify and cross-check the results obtained from the questionnaires. 
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  •  Statistical behavioral observation and analysis of the skills used by 20 group members across several conversations (3-5 calls per subject). Subjects included both members of the interview group and individuals who had not been interviewed. In this portion of the study, we statistically correlated the outcome of each call to the behaviors demonstrated by the subject. The results were further checked against each individual's retention rate, as well as his or her responses in other phases of the study. 
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  • Focus group session involving 10 group members.
  • Individual interviews with the direct supervisors of the study subjects, and department management.
Major Media identified two categories of skills which are critical to the successful customer retention call: "Maintaining a Positive Environment" and "Controlling the Discussion Process." Each category consists of a set of measurable verbal behaviors. We found a strong correlation between the way in which these individual behaviors are used and the outcome of the call. These findings were validated in studies conducted at other organizations.  

The study results enabled Major Media to develop the behavioral profile and five-stage process model which underlie our "Customers Saved, Customers Kept"sm training and coaching programs, which have consistently produced significant, long-term business results.  Click here for details on these business results.   

For more information on Customers Saved, Customers Kept  click here to go to our Products page, 

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When Major Media was selected to develop advanced collections skills training for a leading credit card issuer, our researchers discovered that existing training programs in this area were based on anecdotal information or the personal experience of self-designated "master collectors."  

Major Media conducted extensive, on-site performance analysis at three of the client's  operations centers, in the Northeastern, Midwestern and Southwestern United States.  Each of these centers advocated a different methodology from the other two.  Our research was designed to isolate the behavioral factors which contribute to successful collection calls at each level of collection activity, from 30 days past due through charge-off.  We defined "success" as: 

the ability to reach a payment agreement which is mutually acceptable to the company and the customer, and which the customer fulfills. 
To identify the cause of performance gaps between the most successful collectors and those who achieved average or below-average results, our study included statistical behavioral observation and structured, individual interviews with representative collectors at each site. Additional data was gathered through detailed, blind questionnaires, closed-door collector and supervisor focus group sessions, and interviews with all levels of collections management.  

This initial research included nearly 800 collection representatives, as well as their supervisors and managers. The length of collection experience of the collectors studied ranged from two months to twenty years, with an average of six-months to two years in their current positions. These individuals provided a representative sampling of all levels of collection activity ... from 30 days past due through charge-off and recovery accounts.  

Research Findings 

Our study revealed that collectors, at every level of collection activity and job experience, experienced the greatest difficulty dealing with customers who displayed two types of defensive behavior: overt (i.e., aggressive, hostile, belligerent or abusive behavior) and covert (uncommunicative, overly cooperative, or untruthful behavior). Of the two, the covert style was consistently described by the representatives as (and observed by the researchers to be) the most frustrating and difficult to overcome. 

The research showed that, when confronted by customers displaying either of these styles, collectors tended to respond in one of two ways: (1) by accepting a payment arrangement they doubted the customer intended to keep, or (2) by becoming increasingly aggressive. Although the aggressive approach yielded a larger number of promises to pay, it did not generate a corresponding percentage of promises kept. 

In analyzing the data, Major Media found that, at every stage of the collections cycle (i.e., 30 days past due through charge-off ) the most successful collectors demonstrated interpersonal and negotiating skills similar to those of successful sales people and negotiators.  

Major Media identified two categories of skill, which are critical to the successful collection call.  Each category  was broken down to a distinct, objectively measurable set of verbal behaviors. The ways in which these behaviors are used were found to directly affect call outcome. These findings were validated in studies conducted at other organizations. 

The results of this research became the foundation for our "Promises Made, Promises Kept"sm  training and coaching programs, which have consistently produced significant, long-term improvements in collection results.  Click here for details on these business results.   

For more information on Promises Made, Promises Kept training, click here to go to our Products page, or contact your Major Media Learning Resources account executive 

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