It’s one thing to have coaching and training in place for your contact center agents; it’s quite another to cultivate and sustain a strong culture of continuous learning. Asda, a large supermarket chain and online grocer based in the UK, has done a bang-up job of accomplishing the latter.
In 2010, Asda implemented its Customer Service Academy – a highly dynamic and progressive learning and development initiative that enables agents to transform themselves into customer care gurus. The Customer Service Academy provides agents with ample training autonomy and accountability, and embraces a wide array of learning methods and styles. I recently caught up with Nathan Dring, Customer Service Academy Manager at Asda, who was kind enough to share his experiences and insight regarding the highly successful learning initiative.
What is the difference between the Customer Service Academy and a traditional contact center training program? Do all agents “enroll” in the Academy, or is it optional?
Almost all of the learning is optional, though there are, inevitably, certain things that need to be trained out – for legal compliance or to support the HR agenda. As much as possible, outside of this, ‘training’ is not a term that is used that much here. ‘Training’ tends to create a state of passivity in the learner (conscious or otherwise) – usually coupled with images of a classroom and death-by-PowerPoint!
‘Learning’, on the other hand, can be done at any point in the day. Yes, in the classroom, and yes, using PowerPoint…but not exclusively. The program of learning in the contact center is under the title of ‘Step On’. As a learning function, we will avail all kinds of development opportunities to you, but you are not forced to take them. If you want to develop, then you take the proactive steps yourself. No one will march you to a classroom!
In doing this, a culture of learning is created, where different-style learners can benefit and peer-to-peer learning is promoted – with no stigma attached to the word ‘training’.
Through mid-year and year-end reviews, as well as a robust coaching program, colleague strengths and opportunities are highlighted – behavioral or technical – and then there is the opportunity to get some learning support…training, coaching, mentoring…on the job or in a classroom.
Please describe some of the modules/programs offered as part of the Customer Service Academy.
Among the programs and courses delivered by the Academy are:
- Candidate assessment – a group of 12 or so candidates are invited to a two-hour evening session (always on evenings to make it easier for people who are in a different job to attend, as well as to check the commitment of those applying!). The assessment includes a group activity, a grammar & spelling test, a telephone role-play, and an interview. and observe candidates. A group of managers, coaches and trainers observe each candidate to see if they have the attitude and personality to fit – we can teach them the skills.
- Induction – new-hire training/orientation.
- The Asda Quality Framework – how we live and breathe quality in all our customer interactions.
- Management assessment – this is run to see which of the existing colleagues have the aptitude and attitude to be future leaders. We use it to identify potential team managers or quality coaches. It features a series of interviews, role-plays, team activities, and some quality monitoring.
- English writing course – this course was a runner-up in the National Training Awards.
All of these have elements of interaction, review, video, game and story. We firmly believe that we cannot write engaging training material/learning activities. Instead, we must design things that are attractive – so that colleagues choose to engage. Therefore, the different elements of training intentionally tap into the things that we know colleagues find attractive – the things they choose to do in their spare time – and then we link them to learning points and weave them through the fabric of what we do.
Have you actively involved your agents in the development of the Customer Service Academy?
Yes, we actively take feedback from colleagues on what they think of learning activities they have completed. In addition, we listen to what they do with their spare time, what things they choose to engage with outside of work, to see what principles we can include.
Who provides the actual training and instruction? What types of training are used?
The training in the classroom is facilitated by one of the Academy trainers, but as much as possible learners lead themselves. We encourage questions to come from the colleagues and where possible, answered by them too. During things such as inductions, we bring other managers and teams into the training environment, but our focus is always around who is the best communicator. Subject matter experts do not always communicate in a way that colleagues can engage with, and seniority does not necessarily mean that a manager can ‘present’. With anything trained in a classroom, powerful communication skills is foremost – subject knowledge can much more easily be learned by our communicators, rather than communication skills learned by our SMEs.
Story continues to be one of the most powerful ways of communicating a message – and a way that helps knowledge retention significantly. In some ways this is not a surprise…people engage in story almost every day of their lives through magazines, tabloids, soap operas, etc.
We do use role-play for some scenarios, but we never use that term as there are too many preconceived ideas about what it will involve and colleagues often disengage at that point. We use e-learning for a number of modules – particularly those that are compulsory/legal and need to be revisited and refreshed on an annual basis. More recently we have started to use apps on android devices – again, this uses a medium that colleagues regularly use in their downtime and therefore does not create a barrier between the training environment and the rest of what they do with their time.
Is there a testing or certification process involved to show that agents have successfully completed a module or program?
We have an electronic system to log colleague training and also have paper files to show what colleagues have attended…though attendance does not always equate to learning! As such there are a couple of different activities that we do. We rarely do a ‘test’ at the end of a module – this tends to simply check the short-term memory of the learners…little more. Instead, we ask colleagues to write pledges to say what they will do differently as a result of what they have learned and then these are given to their manager for review at a future one-to-one. There is also an element of performance – are the colleagues now putting into practice what they have learned?
What impact (if any) has the Customer Service Academy had on…
Agent performance and development? The only metric that we hold colleagues to account for is their quality. They are not given any other operational metrics to hit. To support this quality agenda, the Academy wrote and delivered the Asda Quality Framework – now used in all 32 sites across 24 partner companies. The result of this has been a marked improvement in quality scores. Whilst this is an internal measure, there have been benefits in terms of competition and external benchmarking, in which Asda’s Home Office Contact Center has for the last two years been the Best Contact Center in the Retail sector, Most Improved Contact Center in 2010 and 2011, and Top 10 for both voice and non-voice service – all part of the Top 50 Companies for Customer Service scheme.
Agent engagement and retention? As members of the Institute of Customer Service (ISC), in 2012 we took part in their ServCheck program, which surveys colleagues on their level of engagement with Asda and the how ‘happy’ they are to work here. (Again, this was done for the Home Office Contact Center in Leeds). The survey showed that we had the best score in the Retail sector, the highest score of any UK Contact Center, and the second highest score of any business that the ICS has surveyed in the UK.
What has been the biggest challenge in implementing and managing the Customer Service Academy? How have you overcome this challenge?
One of the biggest challenges that we face is offline time for colleagues. As long as there are operational issues or constraints, then dealing with the immediate can become the focus and therefore time set aside for learning can be one of the first things dropped. This was a challenge in 2012, as Asda operates ‘lean’ and so there was not capacity for a lot of offline time. Since the start of the year, with some team restructure and after lengthy discussion of benefits etc., offline time has become more readily available and there has been a significant increase in the amount of time invested in colleague development.
What do you feel are the biggest benefits of the Customer Service Academy?
Having the Academy signifies an intent to invest in colleagues. This shows colleagues that they matter and that they are more than a just a body. As a result, colleagues will invest back into the business – they will go above and beyond for their colleagues, managers and the customer…often with no further incentive or offer of reward.
Anything new or notable in store for the CSA you’d like to mention?
The launch of a 2014 graduate scheme is very exciting. Elements of this have been piloted in the first quarter of 2013 and a new recruitment drive will start in September.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
One of the things that we are very proud of is that last year we achieved ‘Gold Investors In People’ status…and were invited to be champions. This put the site in the top 0.4% of IIP companies in the UK. We are the only UK retail contact center to have achieved this.
Asda – The Big PictureContact center locations:
Leeds and Cape Town (plus 30 other sites around the UK working with 24 partner companies)Hours of operation
: 8am-8pm; Home shopping 7:30am – 10:30pmNumber of agents employed:
250 at Leeds center; approx. 6000 across all sitesProducts/services supported/provided:
Store support, general customer support, home shopping support, and direct sales and after sales.Channels handled:
Phone, IVR, Email
A couple of months ago while on LinkedIn perusing an active group discussion on “call center culture”, I read a post that piqued my interest. It was written by Richard Hall, Director of Revenue Operations for Shopify – a hot e-commerce company that provides everything its customers need to create an online store. Richard wrote about how different the culture in Shopify’s contact center is from most other organizations’ centers, and provided a few examples of how empowered and valued his frontline employees are.
Me being a big proponent of agent engagement and empowerment, I reached out to Richard to learn a little more and to see if he might be interested in having me feature Shopify in my "Contact Centerfold" column. As you no doubt have already figured out, Richard was indeed interested, and was kind enough to share his insights and the secrets of his center’s success with me – and now with you.
I’ve heard that Shopify has a very unique contact center culture. Please elaborate on what makes your center stand out.
For a contact center, Shopify really isn't like many others. What sets us apart is that the ‘Gurus’ [which is what we call our agents] are in a really interesting and advantageous hybrid role of support and education. And because of the immense amount of data at each Guru’s fingertips, they're able to be much more proactive in the support that they provide, as opposed to the reactive support that you'll find typical of the industry. E-commerce is a really complex industry, and bringing Shopify to the masses makes shop owner education a priority.
I understand your agents – sorry, ‘Gurus’ – are highly empowered to take initiative and to continually improve operations and the customer experience. How do they make their improvement ideas and recommendations known?
Being a Shopify Guru really comes to 'acting like an owner' – it's one of the pillars of Shopify in general. When a Guru comes across an issue or problem, it's expected that they're going to act on it. And to back that up, we've made all of the resources and support they need available to make that happen.
Shopify is a very data-driven organization. When we come across a customer pain-point or feature request, we want to know how many people have issue ‘A’, or feature request ‘B’. We have an internal issue-tracker, where we'll log those pain-points and feature requests, and when a Guru is invested in a particular one, we'll usually have a meeting amongst a portion of our team and brainstorm possible solutions and a course of action. We'll log those in our internal tracker, and meet with our developers, designers and product managers to hammer out the details. Shopify moves at a ridiculously fast pace, so there's no single correct way to get things done, but this is a good representation of the norm.
Take me through the empowerment process. How does a Guru get his/her idea or recommendation accepted, and, once it is accepted, what steps occur in getting the idea/recommendation implemented? What roles do Gurus play in bringing their ideas to fruition?
To have a recommendation accepted is all about painting a picture of need, while considering all of the effects of the change – both in terms of development and support. The brainstorming sessions where we think of potential solutions also serves as an opportunity to poke holes in the thesis – e.g., “Do the majority of our customers really need this?” or “Would this be better served as a workflow change?”
The empowerment itself really takes place in leading our newest Gurus to sources of information. For instance, helping them learn which developer knows the most about ‘X’, which designer is working on ‘Y’. When a recommendation is seen as a global benefit, the Guru really becomes a project manager of sorts, as their insight is regarded as valuable and developers and designers will look to them for feedback as the project progresses.
Can you please provide a couple of examples of notable programs or improvements that have come about as the result of a Guru’s idea or recommendation?
Gurus have been instrumental in improving Shopify's streamlined sign-up process by providing valuable data and insight, which allowed our team to cut down on the amount of duplicate or accidental stores created by 92%.
Another that we're currently working on is the workflow around domains. How an existing domain is added to a shop vs. the purchase of a new domain through Shopify. While we don't know the full effect yet, we've worked with our Marketing team to reduce the cost-to-customer of the domain from $25 to $9 in an effort to incite more purchases within Shopify. A win-win for everyone: reduced support cost; better customer experience; no frustration, confusion, time-wasted during set up – we do this all for them.
I’ve heard that Shopify supplies employees with food, games and even some alcohol. Do your Gurus ever overindulge?
The folks at Shopify work extremely hard, and it's a labor of love, I think. If you like to pair your tacos with a fresh pour of beer, so be it. And while we know how to party, it tends to be after hours (whenever they happen to be). Otherwise, it's all about the customer experience.
Are there other notably innovative practices and tactics that help to define your contact center’s culture?
We really get all of the fixings at Shopify. The flexibility to work from home, from cafes, from a friend's house, wherever there's wifi. Mind you, with the allure of a breakfast bar and lunches and suppers [at our facility], it's tough to stay at home all day. Some of our Gurus will work from home for the first part of their shift and then migrate to the office to catch up on meetings, and to be in that energetic team environment. We also get a gym membership to an awesome facility in the Byward Market [here in Ottawa], and a yearly "Sportify Fund" of $250 to spend on anything that will benefit your health. That's not to mention a spending account for educational purposes, the in-house cleaning service, or ownership in the company via share options – among other nice benefits.
What are the main performance metrics Gurus are measured on?
We have a general expectation of what we call interactions. To stay on top of things, everyone is expected to complete a defined number of daily interactions with customers, whether through phone, email or live chat. The other main metrics are focused on the quality of interactions. Going back to Shopify as a data-driven company, we have a ton of data that speaks to those interactions – e.g, the time it took to respond to an email, the length of a live chat, how long it took to pick up a call, wrap-up time, etc. These are all regarded as metrics that empower our Gurus, as they can identify time-sinks and work to improve them.
With that, we've built up a culture that doesn't require a singular focus on metrics. Another thing which is kind of a hybrid of culture and metrics is our internal reward system called Unicorn – it's a system of peer-based recognition, where employees can nominate fellow employees with a Unicorn post, and where others can dedicate votes and the receivers of the votes will actually get cold hard cash. So if a Guru works on a day off writing a killer support tutorial, we'll recognize his or her efforts in front of the team.
What impact has the center’s highly employee-centric culture had on Guru engagement and retention?
Our CEO was quoted as saying we’ve lost only like two employees in the last couple of years. And this [high level of retention] is true for our support team. We're all really stoked to be working on amazing projects at Shopify, which has really helped with our rapid growth. We can recruit, hire and grow without having to worry about re-filling the brainpower. The amount of product knowledge and support intelligence that a Guru has after a year is immense and invaluable. For a position that's been around for a little over two years, only two colleagues have moved onto other opportunities.
Can you provide some quotes from a couple of Gurus on what it’s like working in the Shopify contact center?
Rather than cite a few quotes, here's a short video [less than 3 minutes] featuring several of our Gurus talking about their experience working at Shopify: www.vimeo.com/57479955
Is there anything else you would like to add?
The first Shopify store was our own. Now we help people all over the world sell online. Our Guru E-Commerce team is an industry leader in e-commerce customer consultation. They provide world class service and support to world-class customers.
Shopfiy – the Big Picture Contact center location(s):
Ottawa, Ontario (Canada) Hours of operation:
24/7/365 Number of agents employed:
Lots Products/services supported/provided:
Shopify Core product, Themes and Apps, General SEO, Marketing Techniques and Strategies – Full Customer Success Consultation. Channels handled:
Phone, IVR, email, chat, web self-service and social media. What’s so great about them?
Ask just about anybody who works in their contact center, and leave enough time to hear all the reasons.
Being such a big proponent of the home agent model, I love hearing about organizations that have kicked talented staff out of the contact center. I particularly love hearing about traditionally conventional organizations that have done so after seeing the light. So when I heard that the Employees Retirement System of Texas – a government entity – had a successful virtual program in place (and has for several years), I was eager to feature them here.
Following is my interview with ERS’s Assistant Director Scott Murphy about his contact center’s thriving work-at-home initiative.
How long has ERS’ home agent program been in place? What were the main reasons your contact center decided to go virtual?
We started our home agent program about four years ago. Our initial goal was to create a disaster recovery option that would allow our call center to operate in the event that our building had to be evacuated, was damaged, or lost power for an extended period of time, etc. This was also at a time when gas costs were very high and we were looking at alternatives for our employees to save money by not having to commute to work.
Being a government institution, were there added obstacles in getting the green light for the home agent initiative?
Luckily, ERS is very progressive when it comes to new ideas and different ways of thinking when it comes to solving problems, so the support of our senior leadership was there. That being said, we did have some very large obstacles to overcome. Since we deal with health insurance and financial related matters, we had to satisfy the requirements to protect our members’ private information. We collaborated across the agency and with other organizations to understand best-practices when it came to issues related to work-at-home programs that dealt with sensitive and private information. Through that process, some of the things we determined were to require our home agents to work in a room that can be closed off from the rest of the residence by a door. We require that our home agents not allow others, including other family members, etc., in the room while they are working. We use monitoring tools that allow us to ensure these practices are being followed, and the home agents are required to sign a contract outlining all of the requirements before they are deployed to work at home.
How many home agents did the ERS program start with? How many home agents are there currently? Do you expect to grow the program significantly?
We are a small contact center with about 35 total seats, which includes the work-at-home employees. We started slowly with two [home agents] to prove the concept. Once we realized it was working, we ramped up to 10 full-time home agents, which is what we still have today. We may explore other home agent options for some of our back office departments in the future, but have no set plans at this time.
What impact (if any), has the home agent initiative had on the following:
-Recruiting and retention?
I think it has a minimal impact on recruiting, but a much larger impact on retention. We currently only send our more tenured employees home so our new-hires may have to wait before they are eligible based on availability. When employees are hired they know we have a home agent program, but they also know that they may have to wait before they are able to work at home so it is not really something that impacts the recruiting effort. However, retention is a key benefit. Our home agents are much more likely to stay in their positions for much longer periods of time. Our average tenure for our work-at-home agents is about four years compared to about a year for our in-house agents.
We did see an initial spike in productivity through higher availability when we first launched the program. However, over time, that gain has adjusted and is now just slightly higher than the in-house. We do see lower average handle times for our at home agents, which it is most likely due to their longer tenure in addition to fewer environmental distractions at home.
Performance quality is consistent with our in-house employees.
Our hours of operation are 7:30 am to 5:30 pm Monday through Friday, which creates some unique challenges since our peaks occur in the morning and late afternoon. The home agents are much more likely to work split shifts that allow us to staff higher during the peak periods. We provide some of our home agents with a two-hour lunch, which allows them to take care of errands, go to the gym, etc. and allows us to schedule them to start their shift at 7:30 and end their shift at 5:30.
Facility expenses really have not changed; however, we were able to maximize the space in a more productive way.
Do you ever hire agents to work from home immediately, or must they first work onsite for a set period of time?
Due to the complexity of the types of calls, we have found it difficult to move a newer employee to a home agent position. Our home agents are more tenured employees that have already been fully trained.
How do you provide continuous training and coaching to home agents?
We have an online knowledge base that supports the ongoing general call handling information, and we bring them into the office once a month to handle any recurrent or required training.
How do you keep home agents “in the loop” and feeling like a part of the “brick & mortar” team?
We did have a challenge with our home agents feeling like they were not part of the team, and we noticed we were experiencing some mild morale issues as a result of the isolation. We decided to incorporate cameras so that the supervisors could have video “face-to-face” conversations whenever they called their home agents. We also use video conferencing software that allows the supervisors to incorporate the home agents into team meetings. We also discovered, during one of our fire drills, that the home agents were not aware of the drill and were concerned about the sudden spike in the queue and not being able to reach anyone on site. We have since added a camera to our intranet site that displays the contact center and allows the home agents to see what is going on in the contact center in real time. Now when a fire drill occurs, our home agents can see that the contact center is empty.
What would you say is the biggest challenge of implementing and managing a home agent program?
I would say that the biggest challenge for us was figuring out how to protect the sensitive data that we handle and creating processes that minimize the risk.
What quick advice do you have for contact center managers who are considering implementing a home agent initiative of their own?
Talk to other organizations that have implemented work-at-home programs because there are a lot of lessons that other organizations have learned that may be beneficial to your company. Search contact center industry message boards for information related to work-at-home programs.
ERS – The Big Picture
Contact center locations: Austin, Texas; Harlingen, Texas (outsourcer)
Hours of operation: 7:30 am to 5:30 pm, Monday-Friday
Number of agents employed: 35 plus outsourcer
Products/services supported/provided: Employee benefits to State of Texas employees and retirees
Channels handled: Phone, web self-service, Facebook, IVR, email, face-to-face
What’s so great about them: They are one of the few government organizations that have embraced the home agent model, resulting in several big benefits for the contact center – namely increased retention of talented agents and more flexible staffing.
For more on the blazing hot topic of home agents, be sure to check out the following OFF CENTER resources:
"The State of Home Agent Staffing" (research report) - http://goo.gl/XoDAH
“10 Reasons Your Call Center Should Use Home Agents” - http://goo.gl/5MC2Z
“Making Home Agents Feel ‘At Work’” - http://bit.ly/eSyctW
“Home Agents: A Call Center Game-Changer” - http://bit.ly/hXI62g
“Contact Centerfold” article on VPI Pet Insurance - http://bit.ly/gCzLRT
“On the Phone at Home” (song parody) - http://bit.ly/8X3uQj (After clicking link, scroll to the third song sample on the page.)
In addition, my ebook – Full Contact – contains ample info on home agent programs, as well as a comprehensive sample work-at-home agent agreement donated by a real contact center. So be sure to buy about 12 copies of the ebook. http://bit.ly/cl745j
This month’s Contact Centerfold features an interview with renowned contact center expert Tim Montgomery, Managing Partner of the uniquely though aptly named contact center outsourcing firm Culture.Service.Growth (CSG). Tim shares what sets CSG apart from other customer care organizations, and why agents, customers and corporate clients keep smiling and sticking around.
(In the Q&A session below, “GL” is yours truly and “TM” is the one and only Tim Montgomery.)
GL: CSG prides itself on “managing people rather than efficiency”. Could you please briefly explain what that means and why it’s important?
TM: Prior to starting CSG, we worked with hundreds of contact centers to help them improve service and efficiency. In most of the companies we advised, the real opportunity was to refocus the leadership team from managing by the metrics to managing to agent behaviors.
This is a lot more difficult than it sounds, as the leaders have to spend time understanding the drivers behind metrics in order to have an effective behavior-based conversation with agents. At CSG, we train all of our leaders to focus on the person first and understand the "why' behind the metrics.
The real difference is seen in the feedback we get back from our agents, who tell us how their experience in our contact center feels very different than their experience in other contact center environments they have been in.
GL: Could you please provide a few specific examples that clearly illustrate CSG’s progressive management style?
TM: Sure. Our philosophy is simple – treat every agent as an adult and assume everyone wants to do their best every day. We limit the amount of formal policies we have in place and focus more on the expected outcome. For example, we don't have a formal attendance policy other than we expect you to come to work on a regular basis. Same with quality – it's not about a score on a form. We focus on continuous improvement on every interaction. Our lack of formal policies expands to our dress code. We ask our reps to look in the mirror and if they'd go to dinner with their grandmother dressed like that, then they can come to work dressed like that. In two years, we've never had to send anyone home because of dress. We spend all our time focused on what agents do and no time on what they wear.
GL: How do agents feel about the contact center’s unique approach? What are engagement and retention levels like?
TM: We believe a strong indicator of employee engagement is the percent of new employees that come from internal referrals. About 60% of our current staff was hired as a result of another employee referring them to this ‘great place to work’, with many being family members and close friends of existing agents.
GL: To succeed as an outsourcer and get clients to trust you with their customers, you obviously need to have a highly experienced management team. Can you talk a little about the collective experience of your leaders?
TM: Quite simply, we know contact centers and world-class service better than anyone. Our owners and leaders have more than 100 years of experience running contact centers for USAA – the world's most celebrated contact center organization. Our core team members at CSG are experts in contact center leadership, operations and improvement. We are trusted advisors to some of the world's top brands. We've taken the lessons learned from decades of running and improving contact centers to create the core of what will become the new standard in contact center outsourcing relationships.
GL: I’ve heard you mention – and seen you write about – something you call ‘Service 1st’. Please tell us what that is in a nutshell.
TM: ‘Service 1st’ is based on a call reduction philosophy that generates improved customer experiences. Driving improvement from the frontline is the foundation of a world-class organization. This frontline-driven approach allows us to provide continuous feedback to our clients to adjust areas of their organization that may be generating unnecessary customer contacts. Such an approach not only saves money; it directly impacts the customer’s perception of the organization. One of our driving principles at CSG is to help clients continually reduce operational defects, and we do this one call at a time.
GL: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
TM: Our value is based on the fact that we don't see a call as merely a transaction or a number. We see every contact as an opportunity to gather intelligence. From day one, our agents are taught to think of their role as ‘process engineers’ and to look for ways to help the company they're supporting get more out of every contact. By focusing on the total cost of ownership, clients incur lower support costs (fewer calls) and improved customer loyalty (fewer defects).
CSG – the Big Picture
Contact center location(s): Two locations in San Antonio, Texas.
Hours of operation: 24/7
Number of agents employed: 250
Products/services supported/provided: Outsourced contact center support for a wide variety of industries and client types.
Channels handled: Phone, IVR, email, chat, web self-service and social media
What’s so great about them? They pride themselves on a unique contact center culture where efficiency never comes at the expense of quality, and where people are viewed as more important than metrics.
Salt River Project – one of Arizona’s largest utilities – has long engaged agents (and customers) with its positive and powerful culture of service. I recently had the honor of interviewing SRP’s Director of Residential Services, Yolanda France, who was gracious enough to share many of the practices and approaches that drive the contact center’s high employee satisfaction and performance.
(In the Q & A below, “GL” is me and “YF” is Yolanda France.)
GL: I hear that at SRP, rewarding & recognizing agents is a high priority. Please describe some of your rewards/recognition programs and practices, and the impact they have had on agent engagement.
YF: We value our representatives and know that they have a very challenging job – perhaps one of the most complex in our company! We want to let them know that being here and doing a good job assisting our customers is very important and that we really appreciate them.
We have an award given monthly for the best call for a specific topic. An example of a specific type is a high bill call. The winning call is chosen by a committee of fellow phone reps who listen to the call and decide if their peer was able to help out the customer. Prizes include movie tickets, lunch with a supervisor, the rep’s preferred schedule for one week, and an extra-long lunch hour.
All of our reps can also qualify for the “Perfect Attendance” award. Being tardy or absent disqualifies a rep for that award, which is given out on a monthly basis – we randomly choose three winners among those who qualify each month. So, it pays to come to work, literally!
Here’s what a couple of our contact center supervisors have to say about our employee rewards and recognition practices:
Gene Gerhart, Supervisor: “We hear all the time that reps like to be recognized. The opportunities and rewards we provide them motivate them – and a happy employee stays.”
Frank Garshak, Supervisor: “We want to let our reps know that we appreciate their effort because without them we would not be able to have a world-class organization.”
GL: How do you balance individual awards and team awards to ensure that not only the “stars” get recognized? Do you do any “recognition for recognition’s sake” types of things to keep center-wide morale up?
YF: We like to recognize people for their strengths. They don’t have to be the star, but we really concentrate on finding out what they do well and maximizing that talent. For example, if we have a person who is technically inclined, we may have them help with testing of new functionalities of our customer relationship management system. We also have a whole team devoted to doing fun events. They are called the “SWAT” (Spirit Work Activities Team). They plan events for various occasions throughout the year for holidays and Customer Service Week. The team also coordinates things like pot-lucks, games, parties and salsa challenges as well as holiday food drives, Adopt-A-Family volunteering, and many other activities that support SRP’s community involvement. You say you’re having a "lack-o-fun" emergency? Call in the SWAT!
GL: Do agents have a say in the types of incentives and awards that are provided? Do you seek their feedback to ensure that the various rewards & recognition programs are effective?
YF: Absolutely! In fact, many of our current awards programs come directly from feedback given by reps. Call Center management meets monthly with reps to update them on various projects throughout SRP. These meetings also serve as a forum for reps to provide feedback on what is and what isn’t working in the Call Center. We have sessions with the Senior Director of Customer Services, Renee Castillo, known as “Rappin’ with Renee.” And myself, the Director of Residential Customer Service, have meetings called “Yappin’ with Yolanda.” See a pattern here?
GL: I understand that agents have ample opportunities for cross-training and other development initiatives to add diversity to their core job function. Please provide some examples.
YF: Reps are often selected by their supervisors for opportunities to cross-train in other functional work areas within Customer Services, such as Billing, Accounting, Research & Communications Services, and Field Services, just to name a few. Reps can also participate in a variety of special projects and teams. As I mentioned, they participate as user acceptance testers for new software releases and upgrades to our customer relationship management system. They are the primary users and know when things work and when they don’t. These activities do not come with pay raises but build a knowledge foundation and provide networking opportunities when our reps feel they are ready to become Lead Customer Service Reps or move on to other departments within SRP.
GL: Is there a clear career path in the contact center (i.e., various agent levels, team lead/supervisory opportunities, management training, etc.)?
YF: Many of our reps are promoted up the Call Center ladder, so to speak. The traditional progression is to start as a rep, then progress to a Lead Customer Service Rep, and then possibly to Call Center Supervisor or Call Center Analyst, and then to Manager. As an interesting tidbit, 14 of the 19 members of the Call Center management team (Supervisors, Managers and Director) were SRP reps at one point in their careers.
GL: Your agents seem to stick around for a long time. Surely your hiring practices help set the stage for such high retention... can you share how you hire and select reps?
YF: Certainly. We have a pretty comprehensive hiring process. We ask candidates to take an assessment test. Those who pass the assessment are then invited to call for a quick phone interview. Those who pass the phone interview are invited to participate in a “speed interview.” Managers and supervisors throughout Customer Services along with members of our Training Development and Customer Interaction group interview the candidates. Each candidate gets two minutes to answer a question and then moves to another seat where another interviewer asks another question. We’ve found that candidates tend to be less nervous, and get to meet people with whom they would be working. In turn, managers, supervisors, and our Training group get to meet potential reps and, collectively, select the best of the best.
GL: Is there anything else you would like to add?
YF: I’d like to share some comments from a couple of members of my esteemed team. I think what they have to say pretty much sums up our contact center environment:
Di Witt, Supervisor: “We really feel that having a balance of fun and professionalism is important so that employees come to work and know that we want them to be happy coming to work. If they are happy, our customers will be happy too.”
Seth Bingham, Rep: “I’ve worked in customer services for over 10 years with five different companies. SRP is the best by far! The caliber of the people who work here is amazing. [Management] makes everyone feel welcome and like they are family. Work has never been so enjoyable until I started working here!”
SRP – the Big Picture
Contact center locations: Two (Arizona) locations: one in Tempe, and one in Queen Creek
Hours of operation: 24/7
Number of agents employed: 230
Products/services supported/provided: Electric utility service
Channels handled: Phone, IVR, email, web self-service and social media
What’s so great about them? The center prides itself on its excellent rewards & recognition practices, as well as its strong focus on agent development and empowerment.
In contact centers, AHT is an acronym for a common (some would say too common) productivity metric: Average Handle Time. At Israeli outsourcing agency Call Yachol, AHT could very well stand for Average Hug Time.
Agents openly embracing one another is a common occurrence in Call Yachol’s contact center, whose “culture of warmth and caring” drives the center’s success both internally and externally. Whether interacting with one another, with management or with customers, Call Yachol’s agents’ words and deeds are guided by a strong sense of kinship, compassion and mutual respect.
Such camaraderie among peers is all the more impressive when you consider the fact that the center’s frontline is comprised of two distinct factions who have historically had their differences.
“We have 220 religious Muslims and Jews working together in harmony,” says Dr. Gil Winch, Founder of Call Yachol and CEO of the consulting firm Tandem.
While it’s nice to see everybody getting along, what’s even more notable about the people at Call Yachol is that the vast majority of them have some form of disability. That said, it’s hard to consider them “disabled” – they’re the very reason the organization is going so strong.
“Our call center representatives are all highly motivated, willing to work for many years, and exceptionally loyal to the task and the client,” says Dr. Winch. “Due to the higher than average level of job stability, we are able to reduce the costs of personnel turnover for the client and offer a high level of professionalism, thus contributing to providing excellent service.” “Able to Do Anything”
After listening to Dr. Winch describe his staff – and seeing them in action – it becomes evident why he named the company Call Yachol. “Yachol” in Hebrew means “able to do anything”.
Few of the centers agents had been given the opportunity to show their abilities prior to being hired by Call Yachol. People with disabilities are often overlooked or outright discriminated against by hiring managers – not just in Israel but the world over. Dr Winch, however, fully understands how capable such individuals are and how valuable they can be.
“There is no reason for these employees' mental or physical limitations to keep them from excelling on the job. But most have suffered from being shunned by mainstream employers, and lack self-confidence in their potential.”
This is where the hugging comes in. To help qualified agents regain their confidence, Winch implemented a parent-based management model where employees are given affection and have scheduled time for team fun. The unusual approach has been very effective – and has garnered interest from organizations in several countries looking to replicate it.
Hugs aren’t the only thing Call Yachol does well. The company’s CEO, Amir Bar-Natan, has 12 years’ experience managing service and sales centers. He and his management team work closely with clients to select, develop and manage staff.
“We recruit employees according to our customer's needs, train them to meet the demands of the job, and take care of whatever administrative and technological needs they require – such as special software for the visually-impaired – so as to create an ideal work environment,” says Bar-Natan.
But you don’t have to take his or Dr. Winch’s word for it. Plenty of praise has come from the one-of-a-kind outsourcer’s corporate clients.
“Call Yachol meets all our needs and we receive numerous 'thank you' letters from satisfied customers,” says Danny Zur, V.P. of Human Resources for Israeli cellular phone provider Pelephone, which uses approximately 130 Call Yachol agents in various areas of telephone service and sales. Zur points out that companies shouldn’t consider using Call Yachol merely because it makes sense from a social responsibility standpoint, but rather because it’s a smart business move. “From our point of view this is a pure business consideration – this is not a favor nor is it philanthropy.”
Nurit Kantor, VP of Service at telecom giant Bezeq International, will never regret exploring the untapped workforce that Call Yachol offers. “The representatives prove that nothing stands in the way of what you really want,” says Kantor. “They are optimistic, fiercely motivated, and have an excellent awareness of service. We are proud to have trained them to join our ranks.” A Proud and Fearless Front Line Glowing reviews from clients certainly speak volumes, but perhaps the best way to grasp the power of what Call Yachol has accomplished is to hear directly from its agents.
“After four years of unemployment, hundreds of résumés, and many interviews without result, I arrived at Call Yachol,” says agent Yossi Zeidovitz. “Much has already been said and written about the family atmosphere at Call Yachol, but for me, Call Yachol has provided many things beyond work. First and foremost, I can hold my head up high and have pride in my disability.”
Another agent, Limor Gotlib, credits Call Yachol with restoring her confidence and a sense of normalcy after she suffered an eye injury that severely impaired her vision and forced her to leave her previous job eight years ago. “The Call Yachol call center is a business in every respect – it does not give its employees any extra privileges because of their disabilities. This gives the feeling of being in a regular workplace, one that has given me the opportunity to realize my talents. I recommend other people, no matter what their disability, to join our family and not to be afraid of joining the workforce.”
There may soon be plenty more openings for such individuals. According to Dr. Winch, Call Yachol plans to open centers in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem in the near future.
“We are already the largest employer of people with disabilities in the open market in Israel. Our vision is to employ thousands of people with disabilities in a countrywide distribution of call centers, leading a much-needed and important revolution.” Call Yachol – the Big Picture: Location:
Rishon LeZion, IsraelHours of operation:
7:30 am-10 pmNumber of agents:
Approximately 220Products/services provided/supported:
Outsourced contact center/customer care services for a variety of corporate clients.What’s so great about them?
A truly unique and successful customer care organization staffed with a culturally diverse team of agents – all of whom have some form of disability – working harmoniously in an open and caring environment. For more information on Call Yachol, visit their website at: www.callyachol.co.il (click the “English” tab in the upper-left corner to convert the site from Hebrew to English.)Also, be sure to check out this short video on Call Yachol’s unique operation:http://goo.gl/XW4bP
Note from Greg Levin of Off Center: This month’s “Contact Centerfold” feature comes courtesy of guest writer Sherry Leonard, President of contact center outsourcer CaLLogix. Sherry shares how her organization has greatly enhanced agent engagement and performance via a comprehensive wellness program that’s focused on much more than just employee health. If I hadn’t experienced it, I wouldn’t have believed our wellness program could reduce attrition by 50% and absenteeism by 80% while cutting our insurance premium increase and improving our overall company performance.
These fantastic results are exactly what we experienced over a recent nine-month period. As President of CaLLogix, a lean contact center company headquartered in New Hampshire (an expensive geographic area for a contact center), my focus is on being highly responsive to our clients’ changing requirements, delivering exceptional service and managing a profitable company.
Attrition, absenteeism and rising health care costs negatively impact our service and bottom line. Our ability to provide superior service depends on our staff being ready to take the important calls coming into our center.
When 15 people are absent on a single day in a 200 person contact center, we have to scramble to cover the calls those 15 people would have taken. Prior to implementing our Consciousness @ CaLLogix wellness program, we averaged 15 absences each day. Today we average two. As you can imagine, that’s much easier to manage.
A More Conscious Contact Center
We initially designed the Consciousness @ CaLLogix program to address a few big challenges for our agents: Smoking cessation, weight loss, and stress reduction. Our goal was to enable our agents to be healthier and happier by helping them to quit smoking, to eat healthier, and to better manage the stress they face in their personal and professional lives. Healthier and happier agents are better able to serve our customers. Not only has our wellness program increased the health of our employees, it has solved some of our key management issues.
Following are some of the key components (and partners) of the program:
Smoking Cessation. We offer this course twice a year through Harvard Pilgrim Health Care. More than half of the program participants stopped smoking initially, and many are still smoke free one year later.
Stress Reduction. This program, provided by Conscious Success LLC, teaches agents how to quickly reduce stress through easy-to-use mindfulness techniques, which can be used at any time to immediately calm the nervous system and increase effectiveness in the present moment.
Monday Minute. A weekly newsletter featuring monthly stress management themes and providing techniques to reduce stress – posted on our internal site. Examples of past monthly themes include: Managing Holiday Stress, Focusing Your Attention, 4 Keys to Easily Accomplishing More and Enjoying Yourself, and Navigating Change.
Success Matters Webcasts. Conscious Success offers a monthly webcast in which the monthly Monday Minute theme and stress reduction techniques are discussed and questions are answered.
Meditations. We hold brief stress reduction meditations a few times a week using recordings provided by Harvard Pilgrim and Conscious Success.
Program for Leaders. We used Conscious Success’ Emotional Intelligence for Leaders program, which focuses on reducing negative thought patterns and stress that effect leadership and management abilities. We conducted a 360° assessment of each supervisor’s emotional and social intelligence. The supervisors receive comprehensive coaching on the results to help them further develop their emotional and social intelligence competencies.
Healthy Eating. We run this program internally with the aim of making lasting improvements to agents’ eating habits and energy levels. Examples of program features include:
· Healthy Recipes.In celebration of National Nutrition Month, we researched and posted a week’s worth of healthy recipes and healthy dietary guidelines and tips on our internal website.
· Healthy Start.To encourage a healthy start to the day each morning during Customer Service Week, we offered a snack of apples and peanut butter, granola bars, yogurt or orange juice.
· Happy Healthy Day. On Valentine’s Day, we introduced agents to the delicious health benefits of oranges and dark chocolate.
Awaken Your Inner Radiance book. We bought this book for our supervisors and administrative staff to help them learn how to reduce negative thought patterns and live a more healthy life.
Summer BBQ. This is a fun and relaxing outdoor lunch that helps to foster a sense of camaraderie and team among agents.
Theme Days. For additional fun and motivation, we hold frequent themed events in the contact center. Recent example include: 50’s Day; Red Sox Day; Ugly Sweater Day; Hat Day and Super Hero Day.
Customer Service Week. Many of the aforementioned programs are offered during National Customer Service Week (the first week of October each year). Our most recent Customer Service Week theme was “Refresh. Recharge. Reconnect.” During this week we offered such things as a Healthy Start “Souper Heroes” soup and sandwich lunch, fun and educational puzzles each morning, blood pressure screenings, smoking cessation programs, flu shots and office yoga classes. In addition, supervisors wrote agent compliments on paper leaves that we then hung from big paper trees on the walls.
+500 STEP CHALLENGE. A few times a year we give pedometers to all agents and encourage them to log the number of steps they take each day. Each time we offer this challenge we get greater participation. In addition, many agents participate in our walking club, which meets three days a week during lunch. Our agents are now aware of the number of steps they take each day and have become more active. During Customer Service Week, we have a 24-hour step challenge which gets the whole office moving.
Snowfly Program. Agents who consistently meet or exceed goals in key areas – such as attendance, call quality and up-selling – receive Snowfly tokens that they can redeem for cash and other terrific rewards. Agents can also earn Snowfly tokens for active participation in key programs and initiatives. Examples include the center’s walking program, peer mentoring program and the wellness program’s kick-off survey.
We fully believe in walking our talk. Our management team participates in the Consciousness @ CaLLogix wellness program, dresses up for theme days and creates much of the content for our employees. We also celebrate our achievements with our staff. For instance, in honor of our sixth anniversary as a company, we gave each employee a chocolate dipped strawberry, a glass of sparkling cider and a note thanking them for their commitment and outstanding support in fulfilling our promise to our clients and their customers.
Wellness Improves Reps, Revenues and Customer Experience
The wellness program has brought the following notable results:
· Employees are more likely to quit smoking for good and eat healthier once they’ve participated in the Conscious Success program.
· Each time we offer the +500 Step Challenge participation has grown and the group has become very competitive. Now, during 10-minute breaks on rainy days, we see groups of employees walking the halls rather than sitting in the break room.
· The number of employees asking for meditation breaks has grown and attendance keeps rising in these sessions.
But the most notable result is that the company saved $380,000 during the first year of the program – that equates to $2,000 per employee! Further, we haven't had to conduct our usual monthly new hire training in the past 8 months due to big reductions in turnover.
The wellness program has greatly improved our bottom line, our employee health and engagement, and not least of all, the customer experience.
Back in 2008, Allianz Global Assistance (formerly Mondial Assistance) won ICMI’s Global Call Center of the Year Award (large category). I chaired the selection committee during that year’s competition, and was thoroughly impressed by how good Allianz was at customer care and contact center management.
I saw first-hand how the company backed its claims of customer-centricity by focusing intently on things like C-Sat data/feedback and contact quality; how they nailed an ambitious service level goal and other accessibility objectives without hammering agents over the head about Average Handle Time; how they created high levels of agent engagement and retention via an impressive array of rewards & recognition programs; and how they sustained such levels of engagement and retention by empowering staff to participate on teams and task forces aimed at continuous process improvement.
As a contact center, you can’t really do much better than that.
Leave it to Allianz to prove me wrong.
I recently touched base with the good folks at Allianz and discovered they have hardly become complacent since winning the aforementioned coveted award. With a new state-of-the art facility being built as we speak, a burgeoning home agent initiative in place, and a proud culture of corporate social responsibility, Allianz is redefining what it means to be a world-class customer care organization.
Moving on Up
When I heard Allianz had recently outgrown its contact center in Richmond, Va. – with its spacious workstations, ergonomic furniture, stylistic meeting rooms and ample natural light – and was planning to move at the end of this year, I felt bad for the hundreds of employees who will have to say goodbye to the impressive facility.
Until I heard about the new one.
“We have hired a team of leading designers and architects to ensure that this will be the most associate-friendly building of its kind in the area,” says Daniel Durazo, Director of Communications (USA) for Allianz. “The build-out has just begun, but we expect to have an expanded cafeteria, a state of the art fitness facility, a coffee bar, video conference-ready meeting rooms, and much more.”
Employees needn’t worry about any major changes to their commute – the new site is just a hop, skip and a jump from where they work now. “We’ll be moving into the former Circuit City headquarters,” Durazo says, “located a couple of miles from our current location. We can’t wait to move in!”
Remote Agent Program Bringing Home Results
As excited as the Allianz crew is about the new digs, not everyone will be making the move. A team of 75 agents – roughly 15% of the center’s frontline – currently handles customer contacts from home, and are more than happy to be staying right where they are.
That’s a pretty significant number of remote staff, especially considering how new Allianz is to the work-at-home model. “The Remote Agent Program was piloted in December of 2010, and then graduated to an ongoing program in July of 2011,” explains Durazo. He points out the initiative was a direct response to the company’s annual agent survey, which revealed that agents were looking for more job flexibility. “Fortunately, the initiative turned into a win-win situation by ensuring we were meeting the needs of our associates while providing for our growing workspace needs.”
Allianz will likely add more remote agents in the near future, which should come as no surprise considering the positive impact the program has had on engagement and retention throughout the contact center.
“The feedback we have received has been very positive. This role has been received as a privilege and associates look forward to being able to join this team,” says Durazo. "The home agent program is a very attractive benefit in the eyes of our new hires. It is one of the most frequently asked questions in new-hire training.”
Many agents may ask about home-based work, but only a relatively small number qualify for such popular positions. To do so, an agent must first work at least six months on site, consistently meet or exceed all performance objectives, demonstrate the ability to work independently, and be highly customer focused. Each candidate must also have a home office that is free of noise and interruptions, and that is equipped with high-speed Internet and a hard-wired phone line.
Having such comprehensive selection criteria has paid off thus far, not only in terms of engagement and retention but performance as well. As Durazo explains, “We’ve been able to achieve both a slight increase in quality as well as a reduction in unplanned absenteeism for associates working remotely.”
Not Your Typical “CSR”
More than its new facility and remote agent program, Allianz prides itself on the memorable service it provides. Not just to customers, but to the local community and beyond. Where in most organizations CSR stands for “Customer Service Rep”, the acronym stands for something different at Allianz.
“We have a comprehensive Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) program that provides opportunities for all associates to become involved,” Durazo says.
Among the CSR initiatives and activities that agents, supervisors and managers participate in include assembling food-kits to be sent to hungry families in developing nations, volunteering at Ronald McDonald house, painting houses for Elder Homes, and more. In addition, whenever an employee gives a donation to their favorite charity or non-profit organization, Allianz matches it.
Durazo doesn’t like to toot the company’s own horn when it comes to social responsibility, but with a program as popular outside the organization as it is inside, it’s hard not to.
“Our CSR program is well liked [by agents], and the community recognizes us as a responsible corporate citizen.”
Allianz Global Assistance – the Big Picture:
Location: Richmond, Va.
Hours of operation: 24/7/365
Number of agents: Approximately 500
Products/services provided/supported: Provide support for a number of products/services, such as travel insurance, event ticket protector, concierge and third party administrator services.
Channels handled: Phone, email, web self-service
What’s so great about them? Their focus on contact center facility design, a burgeoning home agent program, and a culture of social responsibility keep staff inspired and performing at optimal levels.
If somebody were to hand you a copy of informedRx’s organizational chart, you might think that you were holding it upside-down. After all, who ever heard of a contact center organization positioning its agents at the top?
Well, informedRx, for one.
“Without them, there is no us,” says Kelli Barabasz, Senior Manager of Customer Care for informedRx, a leading provider of pharmacy benefit management (PBM) solutions. “[Agents] are the frontline for our members, pharmacies, doctors, and clients. Imagine having two call centers, a director, senior managers, managers, supervisors, team leads, an escalation team… and no agents. How successful would the call center be? The easy answer is there would not be a call center any longer.”
Placing agents at the top of the org chart is much more than just a symbolic move or a publicity play. InformedRx backs its org chart model up with employee-centric action – implementing programs and practices that foster a true culture of agent empowerment and engagement.
The payoff for such employee-centricity? How about an agent turnover rate that’s been slashed in half – dropping from 54% in 2008 to 27% today.
A Finned Philosophy Has Agents Hooked
You might say there’s something fishy about how informedRx keeps its agents inspired and in place.
The agents wouldn’t have it any other way.
The contact center firmly embraces the famed Fish! philosophy, which comprises four simple, interconnected concepts and practices:
· Be There – being emotionally present to improve communication and strengthen relationships.
· Play – bringing a spirit of creativity, enthusiasm and fun to everything you do.
· Make Their Day – serving or delighting people in meaningful and memorable ways.
· Choose Your Attitude – taking responsibility for how you respond to challenges and how that
impacts everyone around you.
Of course, a company can’t just command employees to embody the Fish! philosophy; managers have to live it and let employees see its powerful effects. At informedRx, it’s incorporated into everything from agent selection and development to incentives and facility design.
“To our company, the Fish! Philosophy is not just an engagement tool – it’s a way of life,” says Barabasz. “The philosophy can be embraced in many aspects in and out of work.”
So how exactly does Fish! fit into the contact center? According to Barabasz, it starts with hiring candidates who not only have the skills and knowledge for the job, but who also have the right attitude and personality to thrive in a highly team-oriented and customer-centric environment. “We make sure they are a great fit for the work they will be doing and the people they will be working with.”
There’s plenty of Fish! in agent training, too, says Barabasz. “We create a playful business atmosphere right off the bat with our training classes.” In both initial and continuous training, agents acquire key skills and knowledge via a variety of compelling learning tactics such as role-plays, games and shadowing. Agents also see early on that leadership is “there” for them. “Within the first two days of each training class, it is required for all leadership to introduce themselves to the new team,” Barabasz explains. Throughout training, they are encouraged to stop in when they walk by even if they only have time to say hi. This shows the new team members that we are here, and here for them. It relaxes them and gives them the family feel that we promote within the call center.”
The “Make Their Day” aspect of the Fish! philosophy is highly evident in informedRx’s rewards and recognition programs. Agents who exceed objectives or show notable improvement in key areas (like Quality, Hold Time and Attendance), or who go “above and beyond” with a customer or colleague, receive plenty of public praise as well as prizes likes Fish! trophies, award certificates, gift cards and tokens that can be redeemed for merchandise in the SXC store. Some top-performers have even been rewarded with a TV or an iPod.
Fish! may seem simple on paper, but as Barabasz points out, it requires a lot of effort from management for notable increases in agent engagement and commitment to occur.
“Anyone can read Fish!, show the videos and wait for results, but the philosophy has to be embraced and change has to take place in order to have success. Our leadership team spent months behind closed doors reading and talking about Fish! in order to have a clear understanding of it. If you do not truly believe in something, then how can you expect others to?”
Agent Engagement Begets Customer Sat
With leadership working so hard to “be there” for agents and “make their day”, it’s no surprise that informedRx’s agents aim to do the same for customers. And judging by the contact center’s average C-Sat rate of 88%, the agents have succeeded.
“The impact [on customer satisfaction] is huge!” says Barabasz. “In order to have happy customers, you have to have engaged and happy employees on the other end of the phone.”
Despite it’s consistently high C-Sat results, the center hasn’t become complacent. Managers continue to carefully analyze scores and comments from customer surveys to help identify training gaps and ensure that a high level of service is provided.
“It’s easy to lose focus on the positive things you are doing and let them slip away, and then you see your C-Sat scores fall. We look at the results to formulate a game plan to improve on the lower scores while continuing to focus [on the things that drive] the higher ones.”
informedRx – the Big Picture:
Location: Lisle, Ill, & Scottsdale, Ariz
Hours of operation: 24/7/365
Number of agents: 200-300 (depending on time of year)
Products/services provided/supported: Pharmacy benefit management (PBM) support for members, pharmacies, and doctors.
Channels handled: Live phone, IVR, email, web self-service
What’s so great about them? The contact center strongly embraces the famed Fish! Philosophy to drive agent engagement sky high and deliver stellar customer experiences.
Almost as challenging as handling all the customer contacts that Active Network’s contact center receives is managing the slew of job applications and resumes that arrive daily. Once you hear about how much Active Network values and empowers its staff, it’s easy to understand applicants’ attraction.
The San Diego-based company’s heavy emphasis on agent wellness, development and empowerment – as well as its popular work-at-home initiative – are among the key reasons why the resumes keep flowing in and existing employees keep sticking around. In fact, San Diego Business Journal named Active Network among San Diego’s Best Places to Work in 2011 and listed it among the finalists for the magazine’s “Healthiest Employers Award” in 2010.
“The leaders of Active Network believe in our mission of connecting people with the things they love, want, and need to do,” says Dennis Triplett, Senior Vice President of Operations at Active Network. “This extends to, if not begins with, our employees. From the first day of training, our call center agents feel empowered to provide high-level customer service to our clients.”
Active Network is the largest network of activities, organizations and people linked by world-class technology. The company’s flagship media property, Active.com®, is the leading online community for people who want to discover and participate in activities about which they are passionate.
A Healthy Approach to Contact Center Management
Agents at Active Network don’t merely feel empowered; they feel powerful –thanks to the company’s passionate commitment to employee health and well-being.
Agents at each contact center location participate in a comprehensive employee participation and wellness initiative called “Active X”, which includes such offerings as daily exercise programs, walking/running groups, nutritional behavior workshops, smoking cessation courses, yoga classes, nutritional seminars, and community volunteer opportunities.
“ActiveX is the internal manifestation of our company mission, and one of the reasons why we are frequently listed as a best place to work,” says Triplett. "Our wellness beliefs are rooted in participation and the intrinsic outcomes of being part of something healthy. And our [wellness programs] are filled with success stories – in just a short period of time, they have made significant changes in our employees’ lives. These lives have touched others, infecting active participation across our company, spreading to their families and into their communities.”
Ensuring Agent Success
Having physically and emotionally fit agents on the frontline is a big benefit, but wellness programs alone don’t drive lasting agent engagement and performance improvement. That’s why Active Network invests a lot of time and effort in agent development and recognition, too.
After a careful applicant selection process, new-hires are immersed in a rigorous and engaging training program featuring a healthy mix of traditional classroom training and role-playing as well as e-learning via the center’s Learn.com web-based training/testing application.
Active Network’s agents continue to receive ample training and coaching throughout their tenure. Those committed to serious careers in customer care can take part in the contact center’s Leadership Development program, which grooms staff for more advance positions within the division. “Agents are able to apply for open positions not only in the call center,” explains Triplett, “but also in other departments in our division – particularly with the Customer Service and Help Desk departments. The majority of our call center Support staff, Supervisors, Team Leaders, and Call Center Senior Management began their career as call center agents."
There’s still plenty of opportunity and allure for agents who don’t go the Leadership Development route. For instance, all frontline staff are encouraged to participate on teams and task forces committed to enhancing performance and employee engagement. Direct agent involvement on such projects has led to numerous new programs and initiatives, including a couple of rewards & recognition programs (“Kudos” and “Shining Star”) and improved system workflows (e.g., scripting for sales calls).
Driving additional agent engagement and performance is the extra cash that agents can earn by learning advanced new skills, and by achieving goals set around such key metrics as quality, attendance and sales productivity. Says Triplett, “We foster a ‘The more you know, the more you can earn’ philosophy.”
Not all incentives in the contact center are monetary; agents enjoy plenty of public praise and recognition whenever they exceed key performance objectives, show notable improvement and effort, or receive positive comments from customers.
Work-at-Home Works Well
Many agents get to enjoy Active Network’s enticing culture without ever even having to show up to the contact center. That’s thanks to the company’s progressive and thriving work-at-home initiative, which features up to 170 home agents during the peak season.
Unlike home agents at many other organizations, Active Network’s virtual crew members are truly untethered – they can live pretty much anywhere in the U.S. Having such a non-restrictive geographical policy is a big boon to the contact center’s recruiting efforts and ability to handle an ever-fluctuating workload, says Triplett.
“We have the ability to hire high quality customer service agents in a seasonal environment without expanding the operational hours of our ‘brick & mortar’ locations.”
The only people happier than him and his management team are the home agents themselves.
“We have seen an increase in our [overall] Employee Engagement results," Triplett says, "specifically with the work-at-home team.”
Active Network – the Big Picture:
Location: 7 brick & mortar centers (+ numerous home agents) located throughout the U.S.
Hours of operation: Most centers are 8 am-10 pm ET. One center is 24 x 7.
Products/services provided/supported: Inbound sales and inbound/outbound service for Active Network’s technology solutions (for online registration, transaction processing, and marketing services)
Channels handled: Phone, IVR, email , web self-service, and social media
What’s so great about them? Their heavy emphasis on agent wellness, empowerment and development drives a highly engaged frontline to deliver exceptional customer service.