Is a Call Center Right for You?
Whether you’re calling your favorite restaurant, the doctor’s office, or the salon, being put on hold is not the ideal way to make your appointment or start a relationship with a new business.
Business owners are well aware of the pitfalls of having their clients waiting too long to speak to a customer service representative and pursue many different avenues to combat the problem.
Online booking, automated systems and staffing extra people during busy hours all help, but sometimes you reach a point where that’s simply not enough.
About six years ago, during a period of intense growth, Van Michael salons were unable to keep up with their guest calls in an efficient manner.
At this time, owner Van Council decided it was time for a drastic change and created a call center for his seven salons.
Nicole “Princess” Prince has served as the Director of the Communication Center for four years and been with the salon for 16 years.
“Our growth led us in this direction for sure,” she says. “We opened more salons and found there is a financial benefit of having a call center when you break it down by cost per call.”
Princess adds, “When you have a group in a centralized location, the overhead cost per call is much lower than a smaller group in each location.”
At Van Michael, there are three call centers that cover seven locations and 300 service providers. The flagship location in Buckhead has a team of six people, the largest team of 12 people is in the Midtown salon and the smallest team of three people in the Sandy Springs location.
“Those spaces were ideal to house us,” Princess explains. “We chose Sandy Springs and Buckhead because they’re our largest locations and have the biggest impact, and Midtown worked out due to available space.”
In Midtown and Sandy Springs, the call centers are located in back areas where they are not seen, but in Bucktown, the call center is known as “hair control tower” and is elevated above the salon floor and surrounded in glass.
“The calls are routed to whoever is available, no matter what location they’re in. The agent who answers knows which location the caller wants to book in before they even pick up the call, so they can use that salon’s greeting.”
Challenges and Solutions
With an average of 1,200 calls per day and online booking making up only about one percent of appointments, Princess usually has 15 to 18 people working in the call center.
“We have figured out Mondays and Tuesdays between 9am-11am are our busiest days/time, so we need all hands on deck then,” she says. “There are still times a guest is on hold, but usually it’s less than a minute.”
Before consolidating, each location was responsible for staffing phones, and they didn’t know which days and times were busiest—information that has proven extremely useful in staffing the call center.
While the call center has many benefits, there are also some challenges Princess and her team have had to address, particularly the lack of direct communication with stylists.
“We often have to place a client on hold to call a location and check with the front desk or stylist at that salon,” Princess says. “But we’re using technology to increase our efficiency. We’ve starting using instant messaging to contact the greeter at a specific location, who will then see if the stylist is available to answer a question.”
The challenge is for the stylists as well, as they have to give up a certain level of control when they aren’t able to speak directly to the front desk about appointment booking.
But Princess has a plan to connect the stylists and call center on a more personal level.
“We’re planning to put together a binder with information, photo, bio—whatever they need—about each service provider,” she says. “Sometimes we get a client who calls in and says, ‘Who’s the blonde girl at the station next to Rob?’ and obviously, we can’t answer that if we’re not physically in the location.”
Princess adds, “The stylists and managers support us having that personal information, and ultimately the call center employees are sales people. I want them to feel comfortable recommending a certain service provider.”
Best Hiring Practices and Motivation Techniques
Call centers typically have a high turnover rate. And in the salon industry, it’s important to get to know the ins and outs of the multi-faceted business and the personalities of the service providers.
“This is why hiring the right people has been one of my greatest challenges,” Princess says. “So we’ve changed the interviewing process to be more extensive and now train for two months before they are set free on their own.”
Trainees grow slowly over the training period before they are expected to juggle all seven salons and 300 providers, and Princess is there every step of the way to encourage and motivate them along with three other supervisors who work under her, two who are in charge of training new hires.
“I find people get very frustrated if they don’t know what they are doing right or wrong,” she says. “It’s important for me to give positive feedback and make sure all the information they need is readily available.”
Princess has found a little healthy competition is also good for her team. Every month, she makes sure there are contests going on for her call center to participate in.
“Right now, our Royal Rewards program is huge,” she says. “The prizes are a big motivator, and I have two people who are gunning for the top prize right now.”
Since they are confined to a small space, the call center team also responds well to earning special treats like free lunch if they achieve a certain goal for the day.
“I want us to become a profit center, not just a call center,” Princess says.
“We focus on upselling so I can show that with the right motivation and incentives, they are capable of increasing our average ticket.”
For example, Princess is currently running an “upsell-a-thon” in the Midtown location to focus on increasing revenues.
“They each have a sheet with five spaces on it,” Princess explains. “They can upsell a Botanical Treatment, Olaplex treatment, or add on any makeup service—brow wax, tint, etc. They write it down whenever they upsell, and when they get five, they get to pick a prize from the prize board.”
Prizes range from points towards the Royal Rewards program to an extra 10-minute break to free lunch, and Princess has already had to replenish the board.
Will it Work for Your Salon?
Benefits to the call center include an increased level of service for the client and, if your business is too big for a traditional front desk structure, you’ll see a financial benefit as well.
“If you have the right size business, it’s definitely beneficial,” Princess says. “And if you plan a lot of growth, it’s the way to go—it benefits the client and the bottom line of the business.”
And if you’re worried about the reaction of service providers to having their front desk off site, Princess says it is a concern, but one that can be actively addressed.
She often visits all the locations and talks to stylists about their needs and frustrations so she can give feedback to her staff. Van Michael stylists appreciate the effort and often show their appreciation to the call center staff.
“They feed us all the time—during the holidays it’s amazing. We get bottles of champagne, cakes, cookies—they let us know they appreciate us,” Princess says.
“And on a weekly basis, we get a card, call or e-mail from someone saying thank you. We feel the love!”