Good to Great: Improving Answering Service Excellence at Telelink

By Telelink

At Telelink, our vision is quite simply to be the number one response centre in North America. To achieve that we had to redefine what quality service means to our customers and reconsider what our customers truly care about. Our previous quality standards aligned with what the industry (call centre industry) measures, and how industry awards were achieved. At times, the industry standards seemed to be in conflict with our customer’s definition of quality service.

To us, great customer service means the recipient leaves the experience saying “WOW”. We genuinely try to create a “WOW” impression when we provide customer service, but we noticed the criteria by which we were being externally measured for was not the same criteria that made a customer say “WOW”. That type of misalignment caused us to pause and reflect as a quality control team at Telelink.

Telelink’s bold move.

For decades (literally), we have received Excellence awards at the National and International Industry levels. We have won the Canadian Call Management Association Award of Excellence for 17 consecutive years, in fact. If we go by awards, we should be the number one response centre in North America already; but we are not. To that end, there is nothing wrong with the way we deliver customer service. Despite the awards and accolades, we felt strongly that we could abandon the industry standards in favour of a new set of Telelink rules and guidelines based on the metrics our customers hold most dearly to measure customer service excellence.

The decision to abandon industry standards of excellence does not come lightly, nor does it come without great consideration for the cost-benefit trade off. To make the switch worthwhile, we needed to create our own set of rules and guidelines, not just to continue to deliver award-winning service, but to deliver a level of service that would help us achieve our goal of becoming the number one response centre in North America.

Leap from a good to great answering service.

Our operations team felt that some of the criteria that our industry recognizes and counts toward grading excellent customer service did not match up with what our customers were telling us was important to them.

The quality measurement system we abandoned scored based on some legacy practices such as:

  • Did the customer service representative say "thank you" at least twice during the conversation?
  • Did the customer service representative use the word "okay" on more than one occasion (points deducted)!
  • And our personal favourite: Did the customer service representative say "may I" and not "can I".
The scoring did include some “wow factor” points but was too heavily weighted by criteria like the few mentioned above, which forced us to reflect and ask ourselves “does it really matter to our customers?”

The answer we landed at was "yes, but it does not tell the whole story" and does not drive excellence. There are other things that impact the caller experience much more in our opinion. Things like being empathetic and kind to the caller, or genuinely trying to help them resolve their issue. The tone of voice is far more impactful than the use of "may I" or "can I". Once we decided what our recipe for a "WOW" call was, we threw out the old playbook and began creating ours from scratch, based on one singular goal - how to we leave a caller feeling like somebody genuinely tried to help and leave the caller feeling confident that they had been heard, and their issue would be acted upon.

Our new grading criteria is like the Coca-cola formula; only a few people know it in its entirety. It's very special and very secret. It is a little daunting to abort a quality call process that has been successful up until now, but we knew that if we wanted to up our game, this is the type of bold move that we had to make. We’re all in. We've changed the way we coach our team to focus on new grading criteria and we've changed the way we provide training and feedback.

Here is a sneak peek that we will offer up to the public – the new training, coaching and scoring is centered around one of our four company core values, caring and kind. Does the interaction with the caller reflect an interaction based on caring and kind intentions?

The leap from good to great doesn't come by following the pack, greatness, it turns out, is largely a matter of conscious choice, and discipline. 

Jim Collins, Author of Good to Great

Good to great

Awards, rewards, and a new prize.

We will continue to participate in industry associations and awards but there's a good chance we'll be punting on the opportunity to win an 18th consecutive award this year. It's kind of a scary thing to do, given that not every organization is lucky enough to win one industry award, let alone 17 in a row. But we've got our eyes on a different prize.

We're ready to separate ourselves from the pack and let our customers' remarks become their own reward. Every time a customer leaves a call feeling grateful for the interaction, each time our CEOs and management team receive a letter from customers expressing appreciation for how we treat people on the phone, or shoutouts on social media, every one of those is a reward in itself.

Learn more about Telelink answering service.

To learn more about what’s going on behind the scenes at Telelink please visit our website and read our other blog articles. If it’s the human touch you desire, please email spower [at] Shannon is a long time Telelinker (10 years!) and has a great perspective to offer on what makes Telelink a special customer service provider.

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