Our Up and Close Podcast Interview with Terra Saffen, Dir. of Operations-West Coast of Ansafone Contact Centers

In this full podcast interview, we talk with Terra Saffen, Dir. of Operations-West Coast of Ansafone Contact Centers about what it's like to work for a national call center and the ins and outs of the industry. Terra shares her insights of what are seen as assets of the business and areas of improvement. With the instilled core values of Ansafone Contact Centers, we see what it takes to sustain a business like Ansafone and what has made it a great BPO provider for medical, financial, ecommerce and other niche industries.

Contact Centers – https://vimeo.com/393056810

More Place to Listen

View More Interview Highlights In Our Contact Centers Talk:

The Philosophy and Culture of Ansafone
Contact Centers


Randy Harmat Discusses What Makes Ansafone Contact Centers Different


Transcript:

Judy: Good morning, everyone. My name is Judy Lin and I am with Digital Judy Podcast today. We’re here with Ansafone Contact Centers in Sunny Santa Ana, California. Ansafone is a leading provider of business process outsourcing and call center solutions. With 50 years of delivering world class customer experience and brand care, we offer state of the art communications technology and outsource-call-center services, including in-bound calls, out-bound calls, HIPAA compliance, secure text messaging, email response, live chat and more. We provide a seamless extension of you.

Judy: Hi Terra! How are you doing?

Terra: Great! How are you this morning?

Judy: Good! Thanks so much for inviting us down here at the headquarters of Ansafone Contact Centers. Terra can you share a bit of what you do here as your role?

Terra: Absolutely, so I am the director of operations for our west coast division. And work really closely with managing our call center staff, coordinating process and procedure making it better, and types of events. Things like that. I work a lot on continuous improvement regarding process and procedure.

Judy: So how did you get into this industry?

Terra: I kind of fell into it.

Judy: Did you? What happened?

Terra: So my son was young years and years ago and needed a part-time evening job and I was living in Indiana at the time.

Judy: Oh wow!

Terra: And my brother was working for a little answering service.  So I went in and I was able to just kind of get a part-time evening job there and the rest is history.

Judy: Wow.

Terra: The next thing I knew I was running the place.

Judy: Yeah that’s awesome to hear. So, what kind of call center solutions do you provide here at Ansafone?

Terra: We do a quite a bit of different types of things here. So about a third of our business is telephone-answering service and/or call center share type business.

Judy: Got it.

Terra:   We have a group of 65 agents or so who focus on taking calls for all different kinds of things. We have probable have a very large client base where the client we may get 10 calls a day, they may get 150 calls a day. Then in addition to that, the other two thirds of our business is a more dedicated call center.

Judy: I see. So how many years have you been in this business?

Terra: Oh gosh, that’s going to date me.

Judy: Yeah.

Terra: I’d say about twenty.

Judy: Has it been twenty years?

Terra: Yeah.

Judy: Wow! So, I’m curious to know, you’ve been here for twenty years, what do you see as the most challenging or what do you feel like this industry can improve upon?

Terra: So to be a little bit more clear, I have been with Ansafone for a year and a half. But for the overall industry about twenty years. I think that one of the things that answering service business is process and procedure.

Judy: Really?

Terra: As a general rule.

Judy: Why, why do you feel that?

Terra: I just feel like we often get caught in the day-to-day.

Judy: Right.

Terra: I will often say our job is not to put out fires. Our job is to prevent the fire from starting in the first place.

Judy: Yeah totally agree with that.

Terra: Yeah and so that is what we are trying to do a little bit more of because it comes to us so quickly.

Judy: Yeah.

Terra: One issue happens after another. Right!

Judy: Yeah, I can only imagine. Sounds like you have to be extremely adaptable right?

Terra: Yes 100%

Judy:  Okay can you share some of the most difficult customer service issues you’ve handled and how you resolved it?

Terra: Well that’s a tough question. I’d say are certainly challenging clients that have very high expectations. As an example, we have a dedicated client who is very data driven and challenges us to be certain that we’ve got all of our ducks in a row. And when they first came on board, we were finding opportunities that we could have done a better job managing certain aspects. So, for example are we keeping a tight enough reign on people when they’re supposed to be available taking calls?  Are they actually available and taking phone calls during that time frame? So we spent a lot of time developing a process for reconciling hours between what we are paying and what the agent is actually doing and it ended up being a really positive thing for our business and as a whole because we learned a lot from this client on how we could better reconcile our own data.

Judy: I see. So what does a typical day look like for you? Is it just constantly accommodating to the requests of clients or training your agents? I am curious to know what your daily day look like?

Terra: Well I start my day almost every day with a huddle with our team when we get on the phone and we talk a little bit about how we performed yesterday – what were our service levels? What were our productivity numbers – that sort of thing. And then I spend a lot of time on meetings. Strategic type of meetings talking about what are our objectives –what’s the next process to tackle and figure out to how to improve upon. I spend a lot of time coaching. One of my primary responsibilities is supervisor development. We recently expanded our um operations supervisor pool and we’re working on helping them to understand their role is and how to develop our team members and make them feel valued and help to understand how important their job is – that kind of thing.

Judy: That’s interesting I was just about to ask you about how do you train your customer service agents? I mean, they are taking an immense amount of calls, right? Everyday. How do they handle that kind of stress level and situations where it’s like life and death about prescription call – I mean are they properly trained to handle all this?

Terra: Well sure. I often will say we want to provide them with education that will help them be able to not only process the actual phone call, and know what steps they need to take – which I would call the technical skills of processing the call. But then there is also the aspect of that soft skill portion of it. How do I control the conversation? How do I make the caller on the other end of the call feel valued and appreciated? And that they are being heard? So, we have an extensive department that actually supports our education and our quality control. Its headed up by a wonderful woman who does a really fantastic job, Anna Lynn, on our team. So specific training sessions that we will schedule for folks on certain types of accounts or things like that that come about. But we really do try to do a fair amount of education in real-time – with coaching and we have opportunity to talk to you about this call that you took to help you see your opportunities to improve and listen to it together. That kind of thing that’s really where you’re going to have your ongoing education and that sort of thing.

Judy: Yeah, it’s interesting I actually interviewed one of your agents last summer and she spoke about active listening and I was really just intrigued about that whole concept – can you share what that is?

Terra: Sure. So active listening, I think that we all kind of know that as humans we tend to be thinking about the next thing we are going to say as opposed to really hearing what the other person is saying to us. And so active listening is really kind of shutting yourself off a little bit from what you want to think, or you want to say, or what your reaction is going to be – but really engaged in that conversation with that person. Asking the types of questions that will get to the meat of what the person is looking for. So, repeating back what they’ve said to ensure that you’ve understood them. That kind of thing.

Judy: Yeah sounds like a very delicate art of listening and hearing and that kind of circles to what I was going to ask is, is this how you approach clients in general? Or what is your philosophy when you are going in and approaching and servicing these kinds of clients??

Terra: It’s important to understand the needs of the business that the client is asking us to support for them. Because we have a huge range of different types of businesses from direct sales type of business to order taking to medical insurance. Helping people, members of medical insurance get in contact with their provider. So you have to really be able to know the client’s needs and speak to the needs of that client specifically. But again, goes back to that active listening.

Judy: Yeah that’s great to know. I hear Ansafone Contact Centers had their 50th Anniversary last year, right?

Terra: Yes! Yeah very exciting!

Judy: Yeah it is amazing I mean I don’t hear many companies are able to excel at that level and be so successful at it. I’m curious to know and I’d like to learn from you what do you think has been like the driving force or the winning formula for Ansafone to be as successful as it has been?

Terra: I think we are very adaptable.

Judy: Yeah. Okay.

Terra: We will listen to the need of the client and take any steps necessary to meet those needs. And if it’s something that’s outside the realm of possibility, then we will work with the client to help them understand and come to a compromise that will work both us and for our client.

Judy: I see. And I hear that natural disasters are becoming prevalent and we had just got done speaking with Jared, your CTO about that. Can you share like, what you’ve had to pretty much accommodate at a very quick pace when a natural disaster comes through and how your agents are on it? And how you accommodate these kinds of requests?

Terra: Yeah a few months back..

Judy: Yes

Terra: There were some hurricanes that hit the Florida coast

Judy: Right… yeah

Terra: We had the privilege of helping those people when they would come home to their home and find that their roof was damage, or a tree fell on their house or something. Just really devastating types of things. And when those kinds of things happen to us in life, ya know, it’s very stressful. And you need somebody that you can reach out to and get in contact with who can kind of help you feel “don’t worry about it” “its going to be okay – we are going to help get you through this”. And so that’s what we do. We hired about 125 people to come in and ramp up very quickly to be certain that we can get to that phone call and they weren’t sitting on hold for extensive amounts of times after suffering a devastated loss.

Judy: So, you’re able to accommodate at the drop of a hat?

Terra: Yes!

Judy: I mean for natural disasters and things like that.

Terra: Yeah it takes us a couple of days to source people. We work really closely some um staffing agencies that we’ve got strong relationships with at our locations that really makes a huge difference.

Judy: So, are there other situations that require that kind of high capacity of support?

Terra: Yes! Another type of situation that is similar to that is during the holiday season we all know how that can be (laughing) and everybody is just spending all the money that they made all year long

Judy: Or don’t have. (laughs)

Terra: Right or spending money they don’t have. Exactly! So we have some clients that we just service during those holidays and we do the order taking for them. Same kind of concept – we’ll ramp up, we’ll bring folks in, we’ll give them the education that they need. It does require, a lot of supervision and monitoring to help them to be successful in processing those orders.

Judy: So, Terra, I hear that Ansafone Contact Centers pretty much provide a lot of support for the medical industry – can you share what you do for them?

Terra: Absolutely! On our telephone answering side of business, which is much more take a call, get in contact for the doctor, make sure that that doctor gets back in contact with that patient on whatever their emergency might be. So, we will get a call maybe even from the emergency room …

Judy: Oh, wow really?!

Terra: Yeah so the doctors patient came into the ER maybe for an injury or something like that and our role is to get in contact with their primary on call doctor at their, wherever they’re usually serviced and get them the help that they need essentially. So that the doctor knows if they need to go to hospital and see the patient or whatever. Um also we do a lot of medical health insurance type business. So helping people make sure that they’ve got the right provider for whatever the concern is that they might be dealing with.

Judy: Yeah sound likes a very critical role that you play ya know because if you’re getting, let’s say an emergency call from a patient that needs a specific kind of prescription and doesn’t know English for example, you do provide other bilingual services as well.

Terra: We do absolutely, yeah. We have access to interpreter services for most languages. And we also have bilingual Spanish agents on staff 24/7.

Judy: Oh wow! Yeah that’s good to hear in those kinds of crisis moments, right?

Terra: Yes, absolutely.

Judy: What would you say are your top three accomplishments so far – here at Ansafone or just in your career in general in the industry?

Terra: So I really pride myself on continuous improvement. That’s my focal point I guess you would say. I like to see a problem and come up with a solution to it and not just for that moment, but for all future moments that might um, might happen. So since I’ve been here at Ansafone, I’ve been really involved in building our supervisor, I mentioned a little earlier, about our supervisor team and we kind of we restructured a little bit and so I am spending a lot of time developing them and helping them understand how you inspire and motivate people to do a really good job for us. I’d say that that’s really what I’m most proud of.

Judy: Oh good, good to hear. What is your culture here at Ansafone and I hear a lot about the core values that your CEO, Randy Harmat, speaks of?

Terra: Yeah, so core values are really important, one of them is continuous improvement as a point of fact.

Judy: (Laughing) Progression Right?

Terra: Yeah. So, our core values, um, really kind of define us we talk about them, we speak in terms of them when we are having meetings with our team members. Another one that ya know we talk a lot about is customer focused. We have… it helps us to keep the um most important things in the front of our minds.

Judy: I see.

Terra: So that’s really why core values really are important. Its’ easy for people to understand them.

Judy: Okay. I’m not sure if I already ask this question before? But I’m just going to ask again. If you could change anything in this industry what would it be?

Terra: We kind of talked a little bit about this. I think it’s the inability to really sit back and think things through and make good decisions sometimes because we are trying to go too fast.

Judy: Oh. I see.

Terra: And so being thoughtful, and truly being able to take a step back and diagnose the issue and come up with a solution so that you’re not just fighting the same battles over and over again.

Judy: I see. And my last question for you is, Terra, what is your happiest experience you’ve had here, at Ansafone?

Terra: Well, the first thing that popped into my mind when you ask me that question was that on my one-year anniversary I walked into my office and they had decorated my whole office and I felt so appreciated.

Judy: Oh wow! Welcomed.

Terra: Yes! Just so appreciated. Everybody had written out a card with sentiments of gratefulness for having me on the team made me feel really really valued.

Judy: Appreciation – that’s wonderful to hear. And so your role seems very intense at times and stressful, so how do you relieve that? Like what do you do for fun?

Terra: Oh … well!!

Judy: (lauging)

Terra: I live in Orange County, California. So yeah, I live about a mile from the beach and I take walks on the weekend and just try to live in the moment…

Judy: Yeah that’s important.

Terra: Yeah, I often will say, I don’t live to work, I work to live. This is my job. And my life is my family and my home. So I really try to put it here when I walk out the door. I think it’s really important to keep that work-life balance – and I encourage that with my team as well.

Judy: Perfect philosophy. And where can we find Ansafone online?

Terra: Ansafone.com

Judy: Well thank you so much Terra – thanks for coming out! We really enjoyed this, and we will see you soon!

Terra: Thank you so much.

Interview Highlights:

What Can the Call Center Industry Improve Upon?



What Is Active Listening in the Call Center Industry?


What Call Center Solutions Does Ansafone Provide?


What is the Ansafone
Service Philosophy?



How Does Ansafone Provide Support to the Medical Industry?


How Ansafone Helps Those in Disaster Situations


How Does Ansafone Train
Their Agents? 



What are the Most Challenging Customer Service Situations?


Does Ansafone Provide Service in Multiple Languages?


Ansafone Provides a High Capacity of Support

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Client Testimonials

Home Health Care Company:
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“Ansafone always goes above and beyond! They are always professional and ensure all messages are properly handled. If I have any questions or concerns, I can always count on my representative Dave! Thank you for your excellent service.”
Donation Information Hotline:
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“I am highly impressed with the exceptional level of customer service, reporting and professionalism with Ansafone.  I have worked with them for many years and found them to be action oriented and focused on quality performance.”
TAS and Call Center Support:
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"We appreciate all you have done for us in the past and wish you all the best.  Please extend my thanks to Laural and everyone at Ansafone."
Energy & Utilities:
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"I would like to express gratitude on behalf of Marion County Solid Waste for the prompt and satisfactory service you have provided to us."
Healthcare /Orthopedics:
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"Honestly, everything has been wonderful... What is most impressive to my providers and myself is the knowledge that the agents answering the phones have... It makes our jobs so much easier."
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