Tips for finding and training temporary telephone staff for the
by JAN LONDON
When customers call your shop to place their holiday orders, they need a
friendly, knowledgeable voice on the other end of the line, and poorly
trained temporary workers can be as detrimental to your business as not
even answering the phones. Shops facing the good news of needing
temporary telephone staff for the Valentine’s Day rush also face the
challenges of how to train them and determining how much they need to
know. How much time and effort do you put into temporary employees who
may work for only a few days?
Temporary telephone sales staff don’t need to be able to process complex
orders. Instead they need to be able to handle the basics, with
full-time staff overseeing them, always readily available to back them
up, says Greg Royer, president and CEO of Royer’s Flowers, with 17
stores in Pennsylvania and Ohio.
Each of his stores usually hires about three temporary workers for the
Valentine’s Day increase. Workers may be brought in for Valentine’s Day
as early as Feb. 5 or 6, he says, and then they are available to do
other tasks like helping to unpack and prepare containers or put
together boxes when the phones aren’t ringing.
Having enough staff is essential. “If you don’t have enough people to
answer the phones, you’re kissing away business or paying your full-time
people overtime,” Mr. Royer assures. “Either way, you are losing money.”
Before the rush hits, here are 14 tips to help with finding and training
temporary holiday telephone sales staff.
1. Consider using a temp agency to provide
needed staff. While the agency workers may require slightly
higher hourly wages, they are often better trained than workers hired
independently. Plus, an agency will save shop staff from having to find
the temporary workers, and it might offer the workers for a day or two
of training at no charge.
2. High school and college students can be good
choices for temporary staff members. They are likely to be
more computer literate than older workers, they often catch on quickly
to new things, they often need extra cash but aren’t interested in
long-term commitments and they might be available for multiple holidays.
3. Retired people also can be good temporary
telephone staffers. Many retirees often have good,
old-fashioned work ethics, and like students, they might be interested
in making extra cash without long-term commitments. And like temp agency
employees, they’re likely available well in advance of the holiday for
training, possibly at no charge.
4. Before training begins, always have a lesson
plan. Don’t begin training temporary phone workers before you
know what you want to tell them. Take the time to plan it, write it down
and determine the order in which information will be presented. In
addition to apprising them of your shop policies and procedures, holiday
offerings and sales tactics, paint an accurate picture of what they can
expect in terms of hours, activity levels and stress levels. Spend some
time talking with these trainees to determine their level of experience
and general knowledge.
5. Provide each telephone staffer with sales
scripts, photos and pricing information for all of your holiday
offerings. This will assist them in quickly describing the
products and sharing information about them. Reassure the temporary
staffers that if they don’t know something, it is appropriate and
preferred that they ask a permanent employee instead of giving out wrong
6. If you have a computerized order-entry
system, and if you encounter problems training temporary workers on that
system, instruct them how to write orders by hand. Then give
those orders to a full-time or trained employee to enter into the
computer system. This option, although it ties up a full-time staff
member, can prove more efficient than having temporary employees create
problems with orders or your computer system during the busy holiday,
when things need to flow smoothly.
7. Place temporary telephone workers away from
the shop’s high-traffic areas. Make sure they have a
relatively quiet area in which to work, and see that their area is
equipped with enough supplies. Also make sure that they know how to get
more supplies, when needed, without bothering other staffers or
neglecting the phones for a long period of time.
The phones will ring often, so have a plan in place for the order of
answering calls. Establish who will answer first, second and third.
Answer all calls within two rings, and instruct all people who answer
the phones to refrain from chewing gum or food, laughing or talking to
someone else in the room.
8. If possible, structure it so that temporary
workers will handle only basic orders. For example, if a
customer wants to place a more complex order like a funeral arrangement,
have the temp worker transfer that customer to an experienced staff
9. Instruct phone staff not to ask “yes” or
“no” questions or use common phrases such as “Can I help you?” and “This
is Susan speaking.” Instead, promote phrases like, “Thank you
for calling Jones Florist, this is Susan. How may I help you?” The
difference is subtle but impactful.
10. Encourage phone staff to find out the
customers’ names early on and use them periodically during the
transactions. In most cases, the appropriate way to address
customers is by using formal titles. Tell temporary workers to say Mr.,
Mrs. or Ms. when addressing customers.
11. Train phone staff not to put callers on
hold unless they ask permission first and then wait for the customers’
answers. Transferring calls or putting customers on hold can
frustrate them. Studies have shown that callers become annoyed after
waiting on hold for just 17 seconds unless the greeter explains why
first. Tell telephone staffers to inform customers how long they can
expect to be on hold. That information is especially important for
customers calling long distance or using cell phones. Don’t say, “One
moment please”; instead, say, “I’ll put you right through” or “Helen is
assisting another customer. I expect her to be about five minutes. May I
take your number and have her call you back within 10 minutes [specify a
With a transferred call, it also helps if the person receiving the call
knows who the customer is and what he or she wants before answering, so
instruct phone workers to get that information before putting callers on
hold. Of course, the transferred customer should then be greeted by name
by the person he or she is waiting for.
12. Coach phone staff to be tactful when
discussing how much money a customer wants to spend. Educate
them not to ask, “What is your budget?’ or “How much do you want to
spend?” Those questions may lead customers to believe they are being
interrogated so that the maximum price can be charged. Instead, have the
salespeople ask, “Is there a budget or price range that I should be
13. Teach phone staff to reiterate all
information customers have given to ensure the orders and
billing/payment information are accurate. A good phrase is,
“Let me make sure I have everything correct. What you’ve ordered is ….”
14. Inform phone staff that when customers say
“Thank you” to respond with “My pleasure” rather than “You’re welcome.”
The phrase sounds more positive and expresses that they’ve enjoyed
assisting the customers. When calls are winding down, make sure staffers
thank the customers, repeat their names and say, “Is there anything else
I can do for you?”
Thanks to Greg Royer, Royer’s Flowers, Lebanon, Pa.; Jeff Mowatt,
business speaker, author and client services expert, Calgary, Alberta,
Canada; and Teresa Lanker, assistant professor and coordinator of floral
design and marketing at The Ohio State University ATI, Wooster, Ohio,
for contributing their ideas for this article.
Jan Landon, a daily newspaper reporter for 18 years, is now a freelance
writer residing in Overland Park, Kan.
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