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Behind the scenes at one of the industry’s best call centers

It’s no small thing to earn official certification from J.D. Power and Associates for having one of the best call centers around. But when you win that recognition for five years running, as Global Experience Specialists (GES) has, there must be something especially good about what you are doing.

GES has set a high standard among call center operations in the tradeshow industry, and adhering to J.D. Power’s Call Center Certification Program’s standards has helped improve the process.


The GES call center has about 100 people on staff divided among five areas.

“GES was the first in the industry to develop a centralized call center to provide exhibitors with one-stop, hassle-free service,” said Chris Elam, senior vice president of customer service, GES. “Where we have been successful is making J.D. Power part of our core competencies. It’s a very good fit and keeps us focusing on what the customer needs, what they are asking for and helps us to better determine their needs.”

To become certified, GES’s call center operations in Las Vegas successfully passed a detailed audit of more than 100 practices that encompass customer satisfaction measurement and analysis strategies, recruiting, training, employee incentives, quality assurance capabilities and management roles and responsibilities. As part of its evaluation, J.D. Power also conducted a random survey of GES customers who recently contacted its call center, located in Las Vegas.

“Our research indicated that customers noted the concern demonstrated by GES for any issues and felt that they could get to the GES team quickly,” stated the J.D. Power report.

For certification status, a call center must perform within the top 20 percent of customer service scores, which are based on benchmarks established in J.D. Power’s cross-industry customer satisfaction research. The evaluation assesses the customer service representative’s courtesy, knowledge and concern, promptness in speaking to a person and timely resolution of the problem or request.

“Although it is a call center, what we do is not transactional in nature. We are given the opportunity to help,” said Elam. “When you call us, you are not going to get the typical phone prompts. A large part of the frustration people have is getting through the phone tree, and we got rid of the phone tree.”

While the J.D. Power evaluation affirms the success of the GES call center, ensuring excellent customer service begins with the hiring process.

“The first thing we are looking for is the spirit for customer service,” said Elam. “There are people who enjoy doing customer service. We want to know: What’s the true spirit of this person? Do they enjoy customer service and dealing with challenges?”

After the proper spirit has been identified, it must be cultivated.

“We have a full one-month training program that includes more than two and a half weeks in a classroom and another week on the phones with a supervisor within arm’s reach. They are put in the shoes of the exhibitor, and we ask them to live the life of an exhibitor,” said Elam. “We base a lot of our training and discussion on exhibitor needs. It is focused on exhibitor and exhibitor-appointed contractor (EAC) needs.”

Living the life of an exhibitor includes learning what is needed for a show, what a first-time exhibitor must know, what concerns a new exhibitor might have, how to guide them and how to enable them to make sound, informed decisions. Specific tradeshows and events will have dedicated staff to assist exhibitors and contractors.

“Our ‘Know Your Show’ program tells our phone people what the show organizer is looking to accomplish and what the EAC likely will need. A lot of the calls we get are from people who never have done a tradeshow but suddenly were given one to organize and they don’t know where to start,” said Elam. “It’s a real partnership.”

Once trained and proficient, GES call center staffers do not wait for problems to arise or questions from exhibitors and contractors.
“We try to understand what they are trying to accomplish and take the time to work with exhibitors,” said Pat James, national service center director, GES. “If we are not making outgoing calls, we will take calls coming in and make sure we have that dialogue with them.”

Engaging in such a dialogue helps GES staffers to resolve problems and prevent new ones.

“Exhibitors and EACs are all under the gun. Giving them timely and accurate information are the cornerstones of our success,” said Elam. “We work hard to make it as easy as possible.”

The GES call center has about 100 people on staff divided among five areas: inbound calls and chats (30 percent of contacts), resolution group to handle specialized issues and concerns, outbound group to proactively reach out to exhibitors and EACs to ensure all is well, a show manual department for developing show materials, and an order-entry group. Coordinating the call-center’s efforts and assessing its success is a constant battle.

“We have a fair amount of technology to tell us how calls are going. We record the information and can go back and see what they called about and can continue the topic in the future or change based on new needs,” said Elam. “We have a monitoring system that captures the discussion and actual screens used at the time. We know what they are reading and how they are responding.”

“Call volumes typically are representative of the size of the show. About three to four weeks out, the calls might start. The bigger the show, the greater the call volume,” said Elam.

While the GES call center has earned considerable recognition, true success is determined by how well exhibitors and contractors do on the show floor.

“We don’t measure success based on call time. Our reps don’t know how long they are on a call,” said Elam. “We’re predicating our success on theirs and making sure we stay focused on exhibitor and EAC needs and that everything is done properly.”

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