It’s been more than 10 years since Cleveland Gray entered the hospitality industry as a call center specialist. At the time, he was 22 years old and a recent graduate of Western Carolina University. He took a position with a call center in Charlotte, N.C., and from there worked his way up the ladder. He grew their workforce management team from three to eight and trained representatives in each center across the U.S. He was there for 4.5 years before submitting his resume at Miami-based Inktel, where he now serves as the company’s project manager. In this role, Gray is responsible for managing some of Inktel’s largest restaurant catering clients.
1. What advice would you give to restaurant catering leaders setting up their own internal call centers?
If you’re going to centralize your catering support, make sure to get the full value that can come with centralizing. By that, I mean setup the program in a way which all your catering orders are funneled into the centralized contact center, whether it’s an auto-attendant phone option at your restaurants directing them there, a unique toll-free phone number all customers call to order their catering, or some combination. Make sure the ordering process is standardized for all customers and that your restaurant staff doesn’t still have to spend their energy taking orders over the phone. Also, be sure to setup your program in a way which builds partnership and trust between your contact center staff and your restaurant staff. Be sure to avoid any policies or communications that could make those 2 units feel like they are not working together towards the exact same goal. From there, make sure to invest in the training of your Catering Specialists in the contact center. If you can create the same culture in your contact center that you have in your restaurants, your centralized support will be a huge success!
2. What are the pros and cons to having an internal call center compared to using a third-party provider?
The con is probably the most easy to identify, which is that a third-party may not care about the brand or adopt the same culture as an internal team. That is within your control if you make the right decisions and selection in your vendor though, and if you can overcome that, the upside is much bigger. One of the main pros is simply the infrastructure that you don’t have to carry. Contact center is its own separate industry, and to operate a contact center you must essentially run another separate business with its own separate business units (HR, training, operations, IT, etc.). Through a third-party contact center vendor, you can take advantage of all of that infrastructure without having to carry it yourself, which will allow your company to focus on what it does best, which is delivering great food concepts with great service. Another huge advantage of using a third-party vendor is the access this gives you to their contact center industry expertise and best practices, which can be invaluable.
3. How have call centers evolved in the restaurant space?
I think the perception has changed and restaurants have realized that if you do it the right way, having call center support can help. The challenge is the apprehension that restaurant operators have using a third-party call center. When the phone rings, you do need that friendly, knowledgeable person to answer and many times it can be accomplished better with call center personnel rather than with in-store employees because they have a host of other challenges. So I think a lot of my clients have discovered they can offer better customer service and are more efficient. If you’re a large chain looking to grow catering, it is the best way to support the effort. So if we overcome that apprehension about brand representation, we add a tremendous amount of value to those chains.
4. How do call centers work with their restaurant catering partners?
We look for the training aspect and that’s the No. 1 thing we ask of our clients. We tell them how we think calls should sound and the sequence. Typically, we want our clients to tell us how they should want their customer service to go and we’ll ask them to develop the training for us the first time around.
5. What’s the best way for brands to work with call center providers?
Give us a dedicated resource who is knowledgeable, has a passion for the brand, and can pass along that kind of training.
6. How should brands view call centers?
One big key is brands should look to build a good relationship between their call center and restaurant store employees. They need to like us and not have a negative impression of the call center. They are not losing business when orders go through the call center and that’s important to note for restaurants thinking about outsourcing for the first time. We have gone through scenarios like that, and that’s where the customer experience starts to suffer and that leads us down a bad path.
* Flickr photo by The Open University