A Conversation With Evelin Gazdag, the Account Manager of United Call Centers, Part 1.
How can one become a manager at a call center company who couldn’t even imagine working in the field of customer service ten years ago? Which notions enforce the various stereotypes about this service? Is it considered boasting if we mention that we are proud that we excel at what we do? Among many things, we will find the answers to these questions and much more in the following interview, where we asked Evelin Gazdag, the head of the UCC call center business.
How did you become part of UCC’s team?
A few years ago, I worked in the catering industry and slowly but surely I got to the point where I wanted to switch careers. I had a lot of night shifts, we organized many weddings, which wasn’t an easy task, and on top of that, they didn’t play as well either. But in Erdőbénye there weren’t too many other options, either you did this or you went to work in the vineyards. Before I moved to Miskolc, I had to find a job, I didn't just want to leave my stable position. I submitted my application to about five places, for administrative and other positions alike. I always had the standpoint that when I came to Miskolc, I would have gladly worked at any kind of a position other than a call center.
This sounds quite entertaining knowing what has happened since then. Why did you think this way?
My sister, who has been living in Budapest for 15 years, works in the customer service department of a large utility service provider, she handles inbound calls and shared a lot with me about her tasks. And I thought that I will accept anything other than this because I wouldn’t be able to handle it!
It turned out differently after all since you ended up here.
UCC’s advertisement was very convincing, in addition to being in the position where they were searching for a candidate, only outbound calls were required to be made. I came in for an interview one day and they got back to me in the afternoon asking when I would be able to start. An energy provider company was my first client, I still remember that till this day, I started on Campaign 4. We conducted invoice inquiries and called corporate clients. They were obliged to go through a particularly long questionnaire: what is your consumption quantity, how many metering devices do you own, all these kinds of things were needed to sign a contract, and to request bills. The first experiences of success happened quickly, I wouldn’t have thought that it would go so well.
Almost all executives at UCC started as operators. When did you feel like you wanted to move up the chain?
When the campaign thrust forward, they started training administrators to be telephone customer managers. By then, not only did we request invoices, but we also signed contracts. We prepared the groundwork for them with cold calls for example, so that they could start focusing on specific offers, and background tasks were paired with this as well. A lot of invoices came in, which had to be uploaded into Excel spreadsheets and a CRM system. Szandi Csáki and I were also selected for this task - we were hired around the same time, with a difference of 1-2 months. I kept track in Excel, while she did the same thing with two other colleagues in the CRM system. Then came the next opportunity, a possibility arose to apply as a mentor or group leader through an internal selection process. I wrote my motivational letter and then came the first written assignment where I was eliminated, so I continued my job with the same tasks I had up until then.
Not long after, I attended a telephone client manager training, in the end, I successfully passed the exam. I continued to help record bills, prepare contracts, worked on many outbound campaigns, among these all sorts were included: a questionnaire on natural gas use, surveys on smart services, ISO certifications, and the list goes on. I remember to this day which the 4th, 5th and 6th campaigns were about, there were some brutally long sets of questions, especially in surveys related to different smart devices.
How did you work yourself into your current field?
One of our mentors went to college in Budapest. They needed someone to replace him, so I applied for the position. By then, we were already better acquainted with the management, we talked more, their work also seeped into the operational tasks. I also wanted to work with the team leaders and mentors at the time. I re-submitted my motivational letter, then I became selected for the first time. There was a written set of tasks, followed by a personal conversation, a presentation, various very interesting tasks. I hope that as many people as possible will be able to experience how this works in practice from the current team!
What kinds of tasks did you get?
For example, how do you notify your team that the monthly bonus of colleagues has been withdrawn? How do you present this, how do you share it? How would you distribute the Christmas rewards among each department and staff member? It was a very good, interesting, instructive day that I will never forget. Then happened what had to happen, from then on I assumed the mentoring position. For a day or two, instead of making phone calls, it was unusual to start the day by collecting attendance sheets, sick pay papers, or talking to co-workers to get to know everyone, as it is a mentor’s job to support the team members.
What happened after the first few days?
Zsolt Juhász said that a new campaign would start, the training was already completed, I should take it over and call the client. My reaction was that I didn’t even know what it was about, how to approach it, I don't know, I don’t understand… I was thrown into the deep water, even if I could swim like an ax without a handle: one inwards, the other downwards. But I managed to solve it, and from then on newer, smaller, and larger campaigns followed soon. Educations, training, questionnaires, administrative tasks, searching for contacts for our company databases, and everything similar to these things. I undertook smaller projects on my own. Then, incoming customer service orders also began to appear, with more and more customers from the healthcare sector to publishing companies to the event industry. We visited Budapest regularly as well to be close to where the magic happens and to see what happens on the market.
How was the current multiskill model developed?
We started thinking about how to optimize the operators’ time. If there are a total of fifty calls in a day, that would be too much for a single person - why not allow an available employee to pick up incoming calls on the other line as well? We started to study the IT system, what it is suitable for, what is it able or unable to do. Meanwhile, the first assignments were arriving, and five and a half years since then have passed by incredibly fast. After a while – by then together - we decided that I was going to undertake the smaller campaigns, which if there was going to be plenty of. That is how I became a campaign coordinator, but after a while, there were so many assignments - outbound, inbound everything from lead generation for air conditioning systems to fleet management - that help was required. That’s when I started coordinating managers, not “just” operators, and this was becoming a huge responsibility. One of the biggest challenges is to always set an example to your fellow leaders in areas like loyalty and devotion from which they grow, learn so that they would seek to be as good as you are. This is what I always really wanted.
Do you feel that your skills and work within the company have been recognized?
It feels nice to be complimented if I know that the management is content with what I’m doing. I’m aware when it comes to myself that I’ve proven my value since I’ve been here. There are times when it’s not recommended to admit such a thing. You might tell yourself, but otherwise, it might seem like boasting. I don’t think we should be afraid to state this. I am proud that they are proud of me that we have achieved things together and that I have learned a lot from them. I believe that I’m good at what I do and I’m trying to share this with others as well. Perhaps the biggest challenge is to pass on this so-called “UCC sense of life” to your co-workers: to make them feel the same way and make them think with the same enthusiasm about their everyday lives. If they become excel in their field, that is also good, because then their every day will pass pleasantly and they will love what they do. Work among happy people goes smoother as well.
I would like to turn back a bit towards the beginning of the conversation. There are a lot of stereotypes in people’s minds about call centers, even you said you couldn’t imagine working for a company like that at the time. What do you think strengthens these conceptions?
There are a lot of scammers who call a lot of people. And our work also has less grateful sides, for example when you contact a prospect to inquire about if they’re interested in a loan feels far less rewarding as opposed to when you generate a lead for a company and you indirectly guide them towards a new assignment. On the other hand, some believe that call centers for the most part only offer various types of loans, this most certainly affects their viewpoint.
By the way, my sister appreciates what she does, she never shared bad things about her work. But it’s alarming when you hear stories of people who don’t understand what you’re saying, despite having repeated it patiently more than a hundred times and they still yell at you, especially when you hear this from someone who has personally experienced such things. This kind of thing burrows itself into a person's consciousness. I see our staff every day handling these situations very well. The result of this is partly attributed to adequate training and management, but they play a big role in it as well. We can truly be proud of the communication skills and abilities they possess, and I would rather not quote the kinds of sentences now that one would say in their place in certain situations.
Personal contact is drastically different since there a smile or a simple gesture can help. It’s a completely different experience if you have a pretty, well-dressed customer service representative sitting in front of you. But through a phone call, you can only capture the customer’s attention with your voice, your communication, and even in a situation like this, chances aren’t equal, because some have a pleasant, soft voice, some have a rougher one and some are more enchanting, we work with what we have.
Inbound customer service is another category since customers turn towards us for help, whatever the campaign may be, and that’s how we approach it. That’s when we’re equal partners, I’ve always taught this notion. And we can only display through our communication and our voice to our customers that they should also follow this example because we are the ones who will solve their issues.
Then we can say that a well-working call center primarily builds trust with its client. Is it possible that these aforementioned stereotypes are mostly memories of the past?
You can read a lot about everything, from time to time the older model of customer service or call centers may appear even in movies. But just like how cars don’t explode right away in a collision, these things don’t work that way during everyday life either, especially nowadays. As of today, this profession works with the latest methods, unlike in the past, when there may have been six hundred plugs in a telephone exchange and the contacted individual was connected manually.
What are you most proud of when it comes to UCC?
The entire multiskill model which I always think similarly as of my first child. It is a huge thing what we built here, I devoted a lot of energy and work in the way it works. Furthermore, I’m also proud that not only have we created such a model, but that we can all claim that we are “multiskill” as well. Although I don't speak English well, Hungarian collaborations aren’t the only ones I’m involved in - I am acquainted with most of the international collaborations in the same sense, I help a lot of project managers working in that field on how to manage their projects and how to use certain software properly. In the latter area, I improved my skills almost exclusively on my own: I sat down, studied it, and became an expert on the system, which feels very good to say. Or that I am the head of a large account, the owners and executive managers and operational managers trust me and are content with how I perform daily.
The second part of the interview, in which we discuss, among other things, the everyday life of a BPO contact center, its professional solutions, and the challenges of an international expansion, will be published a week from now on ContactCenterWire.com.